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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

For an UPDATE on this issue, scroll down to the section heading that reads UPDATE: September 9, 2010.

After an extended summer break, I’ve returned to the blogosphere with a story that has been burning up the airwaves … or whatever passes for them anymore. Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, has fallen into the media spotlight with his ultra-controversial plan to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 (and for the uninitiated, the Koran is Islam’s holy text, equivalent to Christianity’s Bible). This bonfire is set to take place on the grounds of his church, the Dove World Outreach Center, and he has encouraged the participation not only of his congregation but of any and all Christian persons. Now, this has raised two main issues: 1) does he have the right to burn a holy scripture, and 2) should it receive media coverage.

I say “yes” on both counts. First, the Amendments to the United States Constitution (the Bill of Rights) clearly allows the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. That includes religions you don’t agree with, like radical factions that preach intolerance and sow the seeds of hate. Likewise, the freedom to express oneself should be recognized. If protestors can burn the flag and I can rally a group to burn, say, L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology doctrine, then Jones should be allowed to burn Koran.
Second, I think this is a good topic for media coverage, when done properly, as it shows the ugly face of intolerance within our borders. Every nation and every religion has its extremists, its radicals, its zealots. I think it’s good to expose them for what they are, to publicize their inexcusable acts so that we can try to move forward, to progress away from narrow-minded bigotry and toward goals of common decency and respect.

Islam gets a lot of bad publicity but let’s not forget that Christianity has a long and sordid history of violence, prejudice, and intolerance despite the peaceful teachings of its prophet Jesus. Does that make every Christian violent, intolerant, prejudiced? Of course not. And not every Muslim is a terrorist. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise. And I think Jones’s plan is completely reprehensible. What would he say to a group of Muslims burning Bibles and denouncing the Christian faith as evil? I dare say he wouldn’t care for it. I think he is, at best, a misguided fool and, more likely, a religious zealot with more mouth than brains. That this pageant of prejudice is set to occur on the nine-year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy further illustrates his poor judgement. Instead of focusing on the people injured and killed, he wants to focus on those who perpetrated the attacks, a radical faction that preaches intolerance and sows the seeds of hate. Hmm, sounds familiar.

It’s obvious to me that Jones isn’t familiar with Islam. Nor am I, actually, but I’ve spoken with several Muslims and read part of the Koran (or Quran, as it’s often known) and not once was there mention of bombing people. It advocates spreading the word to others, of course, as religions generally do, but Islam is as peaceful a faith as Christianity. Perhaps moreso. At any rate, I think the best advice for Jones comes from the New Testament when Jesus says all the teachings of all the prophets boil down to two commandments: 1) love God. 2) love your fellow man. In taking those two things to heart, you cannot fail.

UPDATE: September 9, 2010
My local evening news reported that Pastor Jones has cancelled the Koran bonfire. I find that good news indeed. An ABC news article relates that the change in plans came after Jones spoke with Imam Abdel Rauf, the Muslim leader proposing a mosque and multi-faith religious center near Ground Zero in New York. They are due to meet Saturday, September 11th, in New York but Jones said the Imam has agreed to move the planned center elsewhere. The proposed mosque and cultural center has become a point of contention, with some saying a Muslim-based center should not be allowed so near the site of the Twin Tower tragedy. (Which I think is bollocks, but freedom of speech clearly allows them to say so.) Other sources do not agree that the Islamic center is being moved, and the ABC Evening News reported that the Imam had not yet even spoken with Jones. So we’ll have to wait for more information and clarification on that. But as long as there aren’t any organized book burnings this Saturday, I think it will be a step in the right direction.

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I’m going to come right out and admit that I was an avid fan of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. (I won’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard of them; it’s been roughly a decade and a half since they first appeared on our small TV screen late one night and the niche they fit was fairly limited.) I had tuned in to watch the requisite Star Trek episode that aired every Saturday night when, suddenly, it had been replaced by a yodeling woman in armor and a strong man in leather. I was intrigued. And, hey, there were pretty people in every other shot, so what was there to lose?

To back up a bit, I’m not exactly the nerd that first paragraph may portray me as. Yeah, I watched the mythical shows, and before that I was a Star Trek watcher of old … but I was never a trekkie (or trekker, whatever the difference is supposed to be), never played Dungeons & Dragons, and never felt the urge to dress up like the characters from TV. It just so happened that I cut my teeth on the original Star Trek (a la Kirk and Spock) which aired as re-runs late at night every weekend I can remember right up into the 1990’s. At some point it switched over to mostly Next Generation series re-runs, but it had long since become customary to stay up Saturday night and check out the adventures, whether I had seen them a dozen times before or not. And then in the fall of 1995, a new show appeared. Two new shows, really, and I met Herc and Xena for the first time. It was love at first viewing.

I blame Spiderman for all this. The old Saturday morning cartoons of our great hero Spidey were crude, cheesy, predictable, repetitive, and almost plotless. And, of course, I loved them dearly. I think it’s important for children to have heroes, even fake ones. Perhaps especially fake ones, because real heroes are just people, with real problems and shortcomings and flaws, and children rarely elevate a real person to true “Hero” status. But a cartoon character, a comic book sensation … they are already Heroes to begin with (the narrator says so, and the narrator wouldn’t lie), and children accept them unequivocally as such. These Heroes are constant companions, wellsprings of goodness and morality to help steer a child down the right path. Spiderman never killed. He never punished. He never lost his temper or gave in to temptation or compromised his ideals … not my good ole Saturday morning Spidey. He took dangerous people off the streets, saved innocent bystanders, and brought criminals to justice. He was a Hero. How could you not love him?

Herc and Xena hit the same sweet spot, but for a somewhat older and slightly more mature audience. While Herc was very much like Spiderman (except that he did occasionally lose his temper and often dealt out non-lethal punishments), Xena’s was a classic tale of redemption, of the sometimes daily battle to be the better person we all know we can be. If the shows also happened to be partially crude, cheesy, predictable, repetitive, or almost plotless in places, it didn’t really matter. The better points always shone through. Both shows also strongly encouraged fighting the good fight and putting the greater good before your own wants and needs. But perhaps more than anything else they stressed the power of friendship. Hercules and Iolaus, Xena and Gabrielle. Their relationships weren’t perfect and they sometimes quarreled, but when push came to shove they always backed one another up. That was the very heart of the shows; the rest was just entertainment. Like watching Spidey swing on his webs from skyscraper to skyscraper. It’s the main reason I kept watching. They pushed good morals and were imperfect heroes I could almost believe in.

And now I want more. I want another hero I can put some faith in, someone who’ll meet me every week and remind me to fight the good fight, to keep my nose clean and stay out of trouble and consider the consequences of my choices.

And to never ever give up hope. That’s the biggie. That’s what Superman, Mighty Mouse, Batman and Robin, and all those other heroes were really selling, hope. And really, I sometimes think that’s what we all need.

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I have returned.

Now how about a bit of literature? I recently finished Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient. It’s set primarily in Italy against the backdrop of WWII though very little of the story includes battle. The main characters include a nurse who remains nameless for the first 30 pages, a patient who remains nameless nearly the length of the book, an English-trained Indian sapper who defuses bombs, and an ex-intelligence officer and thief … Hana, Almasy, Kip, and Caravaggio. Between these four and a handful of secondary players who enter and exit, Ondaatje weaves interesting tales with language and imagery that is often quite beautiful. It’s not a terribly recent book (the ones I read rarely are…a symptom of the bargain bin) but I remember advertising surrounding the publication and it being well-received by the general public. It might possibly have become a movie…or I might have gotten it mixed up with something else. With this mind, it’s hard to tell. At any rate, it’s a pretty good novel.

Hana is emotionally withdrawn and somewhat shell-shocked from her role in the war when Almasy enters her story, a man burned terribly and without hope of recovery. She vows that he will be her last patient, and they both refuse to leave their makeshift hospital in a ravaged Italian villa when the rest of the staff and patients move on. Caravaggio hears about Hana, an old family friend, while being treated in another hospital and goes to her. Not long thereafter Kip arrives, lured by the notes of a piano and the possibility of clever bombs. And an interesting love…square…develops. Though several years her senior, Caravaggio has always loved her; she loves the mystery and familiarity of the patient; and she loves the quiet presence of the sapper Kip. They are all emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, which manifests itself in different ways at different stages of the story, culminating in Kip’s unexpected explosion (emotionally, not physically; pardon the pun). At times, it’s difficult to follow the storyline, decipher who is speaking, understand how certain pieces fit together, but as a whole it’s interesting, beautiful, and certainly worth a read.

My favorite pieces come from the desert descriptions and stories from the burned patient (the “English” patient). They are really, extraordinarily beautiful.

Some of my favorite passages:

“Gradually we became nationless. I came to hate nations. We are deformed by nation-states. … The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East. … It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape. Fire and sand. … Ain, Bir, Wadi, Foggara, Khottara, Shaduf. I didn’t want my name against such beautiful names. Erase the family name! Erase nations! … Still, some wanted their mark there. On that dry watercourse, on this shingled knoll. Small vanities … But I wanted to erase my name and the place I had come from. … It was easy for me to slip across borders, not to belong to anyone …”

“… They are wakened by the three minarets of the city beginning their prayers before dawn. … The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows.”

“A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water. There is a plant he knows near El Taj, whose heart, if one cuts it out, is replaced with a fluid containing herbal goodness. Every morning one can drink the liquid the amount of a missing heart. The plant continues to flourish for a year before it dies from some lack or other.”

There are other great passages but these remain among my favorites. If you have a rainy afternoon and hanker for something a bit foreign, this would make a nice read.

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