In the wake of a shooting last night, at an anti-Islamic event that took place in Garland, I am drawn to this section of the powerful Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
“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.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
What’s tragic is that everyone involved in these events seems to miss the wisdom and spirit of the prayer. “Cartoons” were at the heart of this “American Freedom Defense Initiative” (AFDI) event. And this morning, everybody seems to be speaking cartoonishly of everyone else. This morning, no doubt, the rhetoric is burning hot all across the internet and cable news (I call it “The Moral Outrage Machine”). But let me make a few, short observations, with the prayer of St. Francis ringing in my ears.
If you host an event that you know will be provocative, and it provokes exactly the response you were hoping for, do not expect me to laud you as a hero, patriot, defender of free speech, or Christian. The people of AFDI are none of these.
No, they did not “deserve” to have their event shot up.
But they are provocateurs. They were hoping to get exactly the kind of response they got. In case you had not heard this yet, the AFDI was one of the groups most responsible for picketing an anti-Islamophobia event at the same convention center, earlier this year. They organized thousands of protestors to show up at that event. (That protest directly led to this event at Northaven) The radically anti-Muslim AFDI then booked the same convention center for this “Draw Muhammed” event.
Anti-Muslim pamphlets and leaflets were found inside the hall, and the keynote speaker was a virulently anti-Muslim Dutch politician who is so controversial that he travels with his own security detail.
So, congratulations, AFDI, you got exactly the response you were looking for. But you fail, miserably, the test of St. Francis to “understand” more than be “understood.”
Why, in God’s name, you intentionally choose to be provocative in the name of free speech is beyond me. Free speech is not the same thing as provocation. You have the “right” to say anything you want. But it doesn’t make it “right.”
I don’t know why some Muslims are so offended by depictions of The Prophet. But I know they are. So, no, you didn’t deserve to be attacked. But, I say quite clearly, on this morning when I am sure you are feeling justified and vindicated: you should feel neither.
You don’t speak for me, or for many other Christians and Americans.
And so I say, “I am not the AFDI”
But in saying this, I must also tell my dear readers: “I am NOT Charlie either”
And, while we’re at it, I’m not Andres Serrano (Google that, if you don’t understand).
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, many of my friends took up the “I Am Charlie” meme. But I could not bring myself to do this. Without equivocation, the good people of Charlie Hebdo did not deserve to be shot and killed. I have great compassion for them and their families.
But we must step back from these events, take a breath, and admit something here. Charlie Hebdo and the AFDI were engaged in exactly same kind of provocation of Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims ignored the provocation. They did not take the bait. They stayed home, and kept their mouths shut…even if they were offended by the cartoons.
By the way, don’t miss the last point…
The AFDI organized thousands of out-of-state protesters in January, to protest a peaceful Muslim event. But, please notice that the good, faithful Muslims I know –who live down the street from you and me here in the Dallas/Garland area– did NOT counter with thousands of protesters at this AFDI event this weekend.
In fact, the local Muslim community made every effort to stay away from these events. And, from what we know, at least one of the gunmen was from Arizona…was from nowhere near Texas. (The good folks of Garland, then, don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud in this…)
Charlie Hebdo not only drew offensive cartoons about Muslims. They also drew offensive cartoons about Christianity too. I saw one depicting the Holy Trinity in a sexual “three-way.” I found it deeply offensive.
So no, “I am not Charlie. I am not the AFDI. I am not Andres Serrano.”
Just because you can say something, doesn’t always mean you should.
Our right, our absolute right, is to free speech. But we must exercise that civil right with spiritual wisdom. This, friends, is what’s lacking in our society today. And that’s where The Prayer of St. Francis comes in.
At the precise moment we might feel drawn to make some bombastic, cartoonish statments about other people, God would call us to ask: “Am I seeking to understand more than I am seeking to be understood?”
If I am doing something “just because I can,” or without care for how it might be received by others, then I have failed the test of seeking understanding.
Look. There are a lot of crazy individuals out there. There are a lot of people living on the edge. If you want to incite/provoke some lone individual to violent acts, then you absolutely can do that.
But you don’t get to claim that you’re a defender of free speech and liberty because of it. As I noted earlier, a Dutch politician was the keynote speaker at this anti-Muslim AFDI event.
It’s worth remembering, then, that it was a European CHRISTIAN, a few years back, who committed the largest single act of religious terrorism in modern history, killing young Muslims in his country. In his apartment, they found a rambling diatribe that cited his “Christian faith” as the reason for his actions.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Norwegian citizens refused to see the Christian faith as culpable for his lone acts of savagery. I’m grateful that my faith was not held responsible for that event.
We need the same response here. This shooting, I am confident, was not in concert with the beautiful Muslims who live, work, and worship here in the DFW area. Far from condemning Muslims this morning, we should be trying to understand them.
Here’s what blows my mind about this last point…
Last evening, while these events were unfolding in Garland, there were three separate United Methodist Churches, hosting events to seek to understand and embrace our Muslims friends and neighbors. One in Old East Dallas. One in Garland. And at one at my own church too. In fact, our interfaith peace event yesterday not only featured Buddhist chanting, Hindu Kirtan, Sufi Meditation, and a Christian Labyrinth Walk, but it also opened with this very prayer of St. Francis!!!
So, in sum, here are some things I know this morning…
I know that I am not an offended shooter, on a terrorism watch list.
I am not the AFDI.
I am not “Charlie.”
I am not Andres Serrano.
I am not a terrified Muslim friend, again cowering in fear this morning for their health and safety.
I am a believer in the Prayer of St. Francis.
And I’ll continue to hope, pray, and work for more understanding.
I hope you will too.