It’s that time of the year: the time when I need to carry my favorite poem in my pocket and read it frequently. I do this to inoculate myself against the fantasies that come up about now. Not Christmas fantasies of sugar plums dancing in my head—New Year’s fantasies.
We were seated on chairs arranged in a circle in the aptly named Hospitality Room, men and women from Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Japan, and the U.S. We were reading the Qur’an. Some were Muslims who many people would not consider Muslim; others were Christians who many people would not consider Christian.
My words feel small. Like I’m trying to beat back the ocean with a stick. I could command the waves to stop, but the sea will keep pounding the sand. Recent world events have generated a lot of fodder for preachers and writers, and yet I have nothing to say.
Writing at a safe remove from the fever swamps and the hate crimes—without, in fact, even mentioning them—Ross Douthat argues that pious Muslims must inevitably face conflict between the “lure of conquest, the pull of violent jihad” and the ambiguous, unsettled place of traditional religion in a secularizing culture.
I was raised in an ecumenical church community affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. When I later joined a Mennonite church, where many members were not raised with the church calendar, I became a bit of an Advent purist. Maybe a lot of one.
Donald Trump’s proposal to screen all Muslims in the U.S. has drawn considerable backlash from liberals and conservatives alike. Journalists, bloggers, politicians, and religious leaders have condemned Trump’s plan and argued that it is inconsistent with core American values such as equality and religious freedom. They argue, rightly, that Trump’s comments are definitive proof that he shouldn’t be president. Really, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the presidency. He shouldn’t even be allowed to watch The West Wing.
This criticism is justified and necessary, but it is unlikely to be heard by those most drawn to Trump’s rhetoric.
Like many others, I have lived the last few weeks from one devastating news event to the next, aching for the people lost and left hurting from mass shootings, trying to imagine myself into the shoes of refugees and those caught in the Syrian War, letting the pain of Paris, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, and the U.S. presidential campaign compound my sense of the world’s terrors, wondering if I can do something to stop the madness.
But while these thoughts have been in my head, I encountered, or re-encountered, a powerful song.
The humanitarian plight of Syrian refugees and the terrorist threat of ISIS seem likely to dominate the cable news channels for weeks to come. But it’s unclear whether Christian preachers will continue to discuss these issues now that the season of Advent has arrived.
On the surface there is little connection between ISIS’s campaign of terror and a season that invites us to prepare for the return of Christ.
Religious people have been their own worst enemies in recent weeks.
First came a study from the journal Current Biology showing that children from religious families are less generous and more punitive than their peers, and that the more exposure to religion they received, the worse they behaved.
When you read children’s literature you expect to smile at the quirky characters fumbling to figure out their growing independence. You might expect to cry as you watch characters face the pain of growing up.
You don’t expect to be confronted by current events like a refugee crisis—and inspired to imagine the kind of society we could be even in the face of terror and fear.