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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Duke and the Call to Prayer

For the last week we've been in Ireland meeting with the leadership team of Serge.  Twice a year Area Directors and the executive leadership congregate to pray and discuss, to set strategies and discern objectives.  These are "our people", comrades in the battle for two decades.  It is good to be together.  We affirmed a focus on the poor and vulnerable, a theology of the cross, a call to spiritual formation in leadership, a desire to diversify, a commitment to building infrastructure and publications and training.  These are the kinds of rallying cries that reflect Jesus shining through.  Inspiring stuff, particularly in the nitty-gritty context of praying through the hard times we experience as we move out.

And while we were there, the Paris shootings and Nigerian Boko Haram massacre were in the headlines.

Which provides the context of cross-cultural living in the 21rst century.  Terrorism.  Religious divide.  Hate.  Extreme measures.  And glimpses of heroism and unity; the African immigrant who protected Jewish victims, the outpouring of emotion as marchers and activists identified with victims.

And in the middle of all that, the announcement and retraction that Duke University would institute a weekly Muslim call-to-prayer from the chapel's bell tower.

Which, I confess, I find very confusing.  On one hand, it strikes me as ridiculously "politically correct" to suggest that a private University founded by Methodists institute a public Muslim proclamation from the iconic center of the campus.  Yes, the bell tower does chime bells.  Which carry the tunes of hymns, recognizable to those raised in that tradition, and quaint background melodies to those not aware.  They do not amplify preaching, or the name of Jesus, or a creed which is officially espoused.  The Muslim call-to-prayer, on the other hand, harkens to a history and an area of the world where religion and politics are one.  It is a declaration of a particular faith.  It is loud and universal in many countries, and carries a social pressure and assumption that all stop and participate, which is probably close to the medieval roots of bell chimes and church services.  It is a carry-over from an age before watches, and has persisted because it enforces religious control.  The idea of instituting this from a Christian chapel in the very week when the world is reeling from two terrorist attacks carried out in the name of the same religion, well, that struck me as inflammatory and peculiar.

However, in reading the responses of people, I feel compelled to remind us that Muslims are not our enemies.  We are not here to prove ourselves right.  We are not compelled to defend our territory. Giving Muslims a hospitable worship environment for one hour of the week is not equivalent to the loss of America or civilization.  Jesus didn't really spend a lot of time insisting that the government stay true to Judaism, or criticizing Roman beliefs.  He did spend a lot of time challenging us to love our neighbors.

So, Duke, how can we actually love Muslims?  Personally I think the call-to-prayer broadcast is polarizing and political and misses the point.  It causes more divide.  But getting to know individuals, affirming them as humans, listening, welcoming, encouraging dialogue, giving voice to the moderate muslim majority, fostering respect on both sides . . these are the activities that prevent Charlie Hebdo hate.  This is, I believe, at the heart of the Duke ethos.  Connecting individuals, a few at a time, to actually know each other.  Christians coming in the name of Jesus to share their lives, to heal, to honor, to worship, to enter relationship, this is what changes the world.  Not drawing a line in the sand to restrict something that to Muslims is a part of their culture. Yes, affirm truth, but do so in love.

So it's complicated.  And in those complicated situations, let's stick to what we KNOW is right.  Love does not set up us vs. them.  Love wins, by losing.  

1 comment:

Hunter said...

Thanks Jennifer. Good ideas for me as I, too, struggle to know how to think. Helpful.