A Ramadan reflection for Christians
Outside the church my family attends there’s a large sign that proclaims: “We are a church for such a time as this.”
For many Muslim-Americans, I can only imagine that this year’s Ramadan carries similar connotations. While religious holidays often lead us into self-reflection, it seems, this year, our religious holidays are leading many people into an external reflection of the world in which we live. This is healthy. My personal faith leads me not only to question my relationships with friends, family or even my creator, but also, as my pastor puts it, to “confess my part in the pain of the world.” And there is so much pain.
This Ramadan, however, I believe this external reflection needs to, in turn, lead all of us into renewed self-reflection. As we question the decisions made by our leaders, we must also ask whether we, ourselves, are contributing to the toxic atmosphere of division, polarization, scapegoating and fear in our country. In short, as we ask, often rhetorically, “Who are we going to be as a people?” we shouldn’t forget to ask, “Who am I going to be as a person?”
In an era of fear and violence, from London to Portland, the easiest thing in the world is to retreat into our own homogeneous communities. The organization I direct, the One America Movement, believes we should do the opposite. As a people, yes. But also as individual persons.
We bring people together across religious, racial and political lines to serve together in their communities and then to have a meal together and a conversation together. We are building a movement to lift up the values of respect and inclusion and inspire Americans of all kinds to confront fear with hope; to confront isolation with human contact and polarization with respectful engagement; to walk as Jesus did into the messy waters of humanity and be present in its pain, its struggles and its contradictions.
Our first project brought together Muslims, Jews and Christians to serve at a men’s shelter in Washington, D.C., share a meal catered by Syrian refugees and hold a two hour-plus conversation about religion, politics and American society. It would have been so easy to not do any of that. Our politics, our media and our social media push us daily to see entire groups of our fellow Americans as evil, stupid, ignorant, selfish, strange, dangerous and — most of all — at fault for our problems. We are constantly urged to put up walls and fight, and to see our existence in the context of a good-vs.-evil struggle against “them.”
But when I examine my own faith, I see myself called in a different direction.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. This idea is at the heart of what we do. I, as a person, cannot control the beliefs or actions of other people (or even my own kids, as I discover every night when I try to get them to go to bed). But I can control my own actions. I can choose to see people as labels and dismiss them, or I can choose to get out of my bubble and into the world to engage them. In so doing, I can choose to nourish or damage my own soul.
This Ramadan, as I watch my Muslim brothers and sisters engaging their neighbors in the face of so much hate and misunderstanding, I’m inspired. We, as a people, can do so much better. I, as a person, can do so much better.
Outside my church hangs another banner, too: “Jesus didn’t reject people. Neither do we.” And that means all people — not just the ones who think like me, worship like me, look like me or vote like me. Like all banners, we can choose to admire the elegance of the message it displays. We can even turn it into a bumper sticker and put it on our cars. We can tweet it.
Or we can live it.
Andrew Hanauer is director of the One America Movement, an organization founded by faith and community leaders in the aftermath of the 2016 election to address divisiveness in American society.
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The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.