Reflecting on a Weekend (of September 11)

Over the weekend many of us observed the anniversary of 9-11.  In many ways our remembrance of this tragic event was overshadowed by the hullabaloo surrounding the antics of an until recently little known Pentecostal pastor.  That the burning of the Qur'an got cancelled -- though there's evidence that others did it on their own -- didn't seem to put an end to the conversation.  But, by and large, most people agreed that burning the sacred texts of other faiths makes little sense.

What is more important to reflect upon, and something that has gotten lost in the shuffle of the controversies surrounding the Manhattan mosque and the pastor's antics, is the real problem of stereotyping and collective guilt that surrounds tragedies such as this.

There are somewhere between one and one and a half billion Muslims around the world.  The vast majority of these people have nothing to do with radicalized forms of Islam.  What we forget is that the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia, a nation that has elected a woman as its President (something Americans have yet to do).  The Indonesian form of Islam is practiced very differently from that of Saudi Arabia.  Shia and Sunni and Sufi are all different forms of Islam, with differing practices and beliefs. 

So, even as I don't want to be identified with Pastor Jones or Fred Phelps, neither do the majority of Muslims want to be identified with Al Qaeda and Bin Ladin.  It is unfortunate that Saudi oil money has led to the establishment of  Wahhabist centers throughout the Muslim world, but there are plenty of other movements out there seeking to counter it.  Islam may be in a period of transition, that is similar to what Christianity went through during the era of the Reformation and during the Enlightenment. 

So, as I look back at a weekend that was full of its highs and lows (as a SF Giant fan I was thrilled to watch my team end a road trip in a first place tie with San Diego and watch the Oregon Ducks win big in Knoxville, TN, but watch as the seemingly luckless Detroit Lions got robbed by a bizarre rule of their first road win in three years), I want to bring back to our attention the importance of working together to overcome stereotypes and misinformation about others.

I read a bit of the Qur'an yesterday.  I find some of it not to my liking, but then I can say the same about parts of my scriptures.  But other parts are very much in tune with what I believe as a Christian.  Like many Christians, I think many Muslims pick and choose what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize.  Both do what Scot McKnight calls "adapt and adopt."  In his book The Blue Parakeet, Scot offers this word about the way we read the Bible.  Is this not also the way the Qur'an should be read.  Yes, I realize that most Muslims tend to be literalists, but like us they do their own adapting, recognizing that not everything fits for today.  So, hear this word from Scot's book:
“When we encounter the blue parakeets in the Bible or in the questions of others, whether we think of something as simple as the Sabbath or foot washing or as complex and emotional as women in church ministries or homosexuality, we have to stop and think. Is this passage for today?” (p. 25).
With this word, let us commit ourselves to better understanding! 


Anonymous said…
Bob, thanks for your thoughtful comments about the weekend, although as a non-fan (football and other activities of that type), I am largely unmoved by part of your column. Your reference to periods of transition is important. Two others in Christian history that are less to my liking than the two you mention are the time when the Western Church, beginning with the Carolingians, became a world-conquering and blood-thirsty empire, and the current period when there is a resurgence of a form of Christianity which sanctifies male dominance in church and society. Keith
Colby Cheese said…
A more nuanced response would be to read the Bible as a constant invitation from God to us to move forward and grow beyond where we are - and move forward and grow beyond the lessons and examples and views and historical limitations of the Bible while maintaining the biblical direction of love and grace.

I fear that "adopt and adapt" would become an excuse for abandoning those sections of the Bible that are deemed not "relevant" because they have no contemporary applicability.

Doug Sloan
Brian said…
I recall Dick Hamm teaching something that I find helpful. Basically, he said that every church dispute comes down to differences in understanding how the scriptures are authoritative.

A simple example would be homosexuality. For folks who understand scriptural authority to mean that scripture is basically dictated by God, then homosexuality is a no-no regardless of science. (If there's a discrepancy between science and scripture, it must mean science is wrong.)

On the other hand, folks like myself who see scriptural authority to mean that the Bible is our gathering place and a collection of writings from our ancestors, we will see homosexuality quite differently.

I will say that I strongly believe that every Christian in every time and place picks and chooses with scripture. I've yet to meet someone who does not do this (in my opinion).

(There are numerous understandings of how scripture is authoritative. I just gave two examples.)
Brian said…
Hey Doug -- I like the Colby Cheese name.

Doug wrote: "I fear that "adopt and adapt" would become an excuse for abandoning those sections of the Bible that are deemed not "relevant" because they have no contemporary applicability."

I don't see that as a bad thing. I don't encourage abandoning the sections, but I do encourage seeing them more like an interesting piece in a museum of antiquity.
Colby Cheese said…
Brian - it's one of the mysteries of life, my middle name is Colby and I have no idea about its origin.

I think the whole Bible is relevant - just not always in a supportive way. Even the harshest scripture is useful, if for no other reason than to say this is where our faith once was - and to spur us to deeply understand why our faith is no longer in that place.
Brian said…
Doug - I think I see more clearly what you are getting at. You and I tend to end up at the same place even though our brains get there by very different routes! :-)

I agree that the entire Bible is valuable. The harsh/bad stuff can be helpful for study and prayer.
John said…
I think the "harsh bad" stuff is there to move us beyond simple regurgitative faith, to force us to dig deeper, seeking for the message within the text for "our time".

So I think we need to read and consider the hard stuff, what it teaches about human capacity and human frailty, and human failure. And what it teaches about how humans, even within our sacred texts, are apt to hijack God away from God's purposes to accomplish our own purposes.

The goodness inherent in the most problematic texts will be lost if we limit the work of the Holy Spirit within us to interpret everything as nothing more than literal prescriptions for our time.

Brian said…
John noted, "And what it teaches about how humans, even within our sacred texts, are apt to hijack God away from God's purposes to accomplish our own purposes".

This view reminds me of some Jewish approaches to the hard texts. For instance, texts in which God "commands" the extermination of cities.

I strongly agree with you that this is a helpful and healthy perspective. It can really preach if you and the congregation are on the same wavelength.

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