And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
- Mark 11:17 -
A RIDE TO REMEMBER
I landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport late on Friday evening.
It’s taken me awhile to perfect the art, but this time I nailed it. As soon as I exited the doors outside of baggage claim, my car pulled up.
The driver took my bags, put them in the trunk, and opened the door for me to get in the car. JFK is a bit further from Manhattan than La Guardia is, so I had some time to kill before arriving at my apartment. I thought I would fill the time by getting to know my driver.
I looked at the dashboard. Driver Name: “Mohamed Islam.”
“Oh my,” I thought to myself. “This could go really good or really bad.”
I started with the usual:
“How long have you been driving?”
“Do you enjoy driving as a career?”
“What borough do you live in?”
“Do you have any kids?”
He answered them all, then he started in with his own questions:
“Are you in town visiting?”
“How long have you lived in Manhattan?”
“Do you like your neighborhood?”
“You have children?”
It was all going so well. We were only about five minutes from my building and then he dropped the question I feared that he would;
“What do you do in New York?”
I thought of alternate answers I could give without “fully” lying to him.
Options for how to answer flashed through my brain.
“I’m a motivational speaker.”
“I work for a non-profit.”
But I couldn’t do it. The guy asked me an honest question and deserved an honest answer.
“Well... um.... I’m a pastor at a Christian church.”
We both looked out our windows in silence for a second that seemed like years. I decided to break the silence.
“As-salamu-alaykum,” I blurted out.
“Wa-Alaikum-Salaam,” he responded.
“Do you even really know what that means?” he asked, “Or did you just hear it in the movies?”
“Of course I do,” I responded. “Religion is my work. What good is my own religion if I don’t understand yours?”
He quizzed me about the five pillars.
He questioned me about the different sects of Islam.
He asked me about the Koran and the history of his faith.
I passed with flying colors.
“You may be the first Christian pastor I’ve ever met that knows the answers to those things.” he said.
“Christianity doesn’t own God,” I responded. “I’m no closer to God than anyone else is. If your faith is making this world a better place through love and service, then you are my brother regardless of what name you call God by.”
By this time we were pulling up in front of my building so I said, “In my faith we use the same greeting, we just say it in English. ‘So peace be with you.’”
“And also with you,” he responded. (It seems that he knew more about my faith than I thought he did, too).
We shook hands and departed.
SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND
Francis of Assisi once wrote these beautiful words about faith. They have had a deeper impact on me than just about any other extra-biblical writing.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
- Saint Francis
Our world (and our religions, especially Western Christianity) is in dire need of these words in times like these where we so easily lump all Muslims into radical-extremist categories. We judge a massive population of faithful, compassionate people by the actions of a small pocket of crazed fundamentalists.
The ways that we interact with people of different faiths holds great promise for peace in the world, but we’ll never get there if we pass judgement before ever getting know someone.
We must reach across the man-made boundaries of sectarianism and prejudice. For this is the heart of God, the Father of us all, ever trying to get us to see the divinity in others.