If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday (Isaiah 58:9-10 NRSV).
When he was in the second grade, our youngest did not want to ride the school bus anymore. “Why?” I asked. “The kids make fun of me saying ching-chong and other silly words,” he said. “They say that’s how Chinese people talk.”
“Tell them you’re not Chinese, you’re Vietnamese, and to stop it,” I replied.
“Oh Mom, that won’t help! They even slant their eyes with their fingers when they say ching-chong, ching-chong.”
Some may argue that we are being oversensitive. “Can’t you take a joke?” or “We all make fun of ourselves; it’s harmless so don’t make a big deal of it.”
None of us adults would openly embarrass ourselves and others with racist gibberish. After all, we are Christians and this is 21st century America. We have come a long way in the U.S. — or have we?
Since it is not polite to be a racist, some Americans, and, yes, those who identify themselves as Christians, have found another way to express ugly feelings — by proxy.
A handful of people regularly air their narrow views on television, radio, the Internet and social media.
Cable and radio talk-show hosts and their “guests” rant and rave on issues ranging from not granting citizenship to U.S.-born children to who’s to blame for the economic woes of this nation.
Phone lines are then opened to callers for more of the same. This atmosphere has seeped into everyday conversation and is now deemed the norm. Free speech, a right as well as a responsibility, has turned into “I’m right and you’re wrong!” It is a vicious circle.
But it doesn’t have to continue.
Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor from the Gaza Strip. He has spent his whole life building bridges among Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Izzeldin developed deep friendships with his medical colleagues, many of whom are Israeli Jews. He treats the sick regardless of their ethnicity.
For three weeks, Izzeldin and his children were trapped in their home in the Gaza Strip as the Israeli army bombed neighborhood after neighborhood. Then on January 16, 2009, bombs crashed through the walls of the doctor’s home, killing three of his daughters and his niece.
Extraordinarily, Izzeldin refuses to hate.
He continues to be a spokesperson for peace and reconciliation. And in these public forums, he sometimes is shouted down for being a terrorist.
In his book, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, he writes, “Let my daughters be the last to die. Let this tragedy open the eyes of the world. Let us ask each other, ‘Where are we going? What are we doing?’
“It’s time we sat down and talked to each other. As I have said many times since the tragedy, if I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss.”
Real talking (and listening) is not easy, as Izzeldin would attest. It demands that we come into contact with individuals, those who are like us and those we are “not supposed to like.”
We are the church — aren’t we? When we shake a person’s hand, sit next to a newcomer in worship, or pray for someone, we have begun the process of forming a relationship with a human being.
When we talk about an ethnically and racially inclusive church, it makes some people uncomfortable. I’ve heard comments such as “There are no minorities in my neighborhood,” and “They prefer to go to their own churches,” and even “They won’t feel comfortable here.”
Whose comfort is being disturbed? We make so many assumptions even before knowing who “they” are.
While it may be true that you live in a homogeneous community, there are ways to be an inclusive congregation by speaking on behalf of others.
How many of you detest the underlying intolerance that is accepted as part of our everyday lives? How many of you have done something about it? How do our congregations show that we are a “city on a hill,” “a light shining in the darkness”? Do they know we are Christians by our love?
Jesus no doubt caused a lot of discomfort. But he also told us that we are the light of the world. It is time to stop hiding that light — the light that dares us to love.
Fern Lee Hagedorn is a writer, filmmaker and advocate of the Bible for the post-literate. She spearheaded a project to translate Scripture into new media.