To be continued...

Yesterday I had planned to travel to Connecticut to be on my friend Hal's afternoon radio, WTF, to talk about our recent trip to Turkey.  It is Robin Hood Radio - the smallest NPR station - and you can find it at:  Hal does an INCREDIBLE live show that mixes the best of contemporary music of all types with the vibe of the best FM radio programming of the late 60s.  Whenever I can, and it isn't often enough these days, I listen between 2 and 4 pm each afternoon.

Well, my dear brother recently had surgery - so we have postponed this conversation until next Tuesday - in the hopes that he will feel better.  Maybe you can tune it for the fun as I am sure there will be some surprises.  I have a stack of Turkish music to share and we will see where the Spirit leads us. 

Being back in my office, however, gave me an opportunity to speak with a local Berkshire Eagle reporter who is working on a story about how September 11th has changed us as clergy - and has altered the work of our churches.  It was a wonderful time to reflect on that horrible event and I think I made three points:

+ First, living and pastoring through September 11th has made clear to me that one of the gifts that Christ gave the world is what it looks like when governments and religious leaders turn their power into the fear of the people.  Specifically, Jesus shows the world what it looks like when fear and hatred is manipulated for social cohesiveness:  find a scape goat, focus all your anxiety and anger upon him/her and then make sure you use violence - and lots of it - in a way that promises redemption.  Not only will the nation come together - as it did - but leaders can manipulate that fear to advance goals that would otherwise be challenged and resisted.

This is, of course, the insight that Rene Girard discerned in his anthropological and theological writings, that might be summarized like this:  a) There is a "mimetic desire" at work in human society - that is, imitation is an aspect of human behavior that not only affects learning but also desire - and imitated desire is one of the leading causes for conflict. b) The origin of sacrifice - and the heart of human culture and religion - often revolves around a scapegoat mechanism; religion manages and controls the violence that our mimetic desire creates by given shape and form to which scapegoats should be annihilated. c) The Bible reveals the two previous ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism as one of the gifts Christ gives to the world:  This is what such organized violence looks and feels like from the perspective of the innocent victim; God is now seen NOT as the source of the violence, but the very victim in the hope that the violence will cease.

Talking about the rise of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the reporter brought to mind my duties as pastor to the men who deployed to those wars and the on-going relationship our faith community had with them.  I was blessed by that time - challenged and enriched beyond my comprehension - as we struggled to find ways of being supportive to our soldiers and critical of our government.

+ Second, in the 10 years since the terrorist attacks on American soil, it has become clear that most Christians in the US are profoundly ignorant about Islam.  We are unaware of the breadth and depth of theological reformation that is taking place, we know nothing about the foundations and core practices and don't know what to do about the straw men and women we are shown in the mainstream media.  Consequently, the churches I have served in the past 10 years have set out on a journey to:  a) learn about the basics of the Islamic faith; b) find ways of supporting common ground; and c) speaking out in supportive of our Muslim sisters and brothers as cousins who share Abraham.

We have raised money for Greg Mortenson to build schools for girls in Afghanistan, we have publicly challenged the Islamophobia of hate mongers and made certain to bring a more nuanced and compassionate voice to other public conversations.  We also chose to change the name of the former Pittsfield Area Council of Churches to the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregation.  This has not only created seats around the table for our Jewish neighbors, but also our Muslims ones, too.

+ And three we have supported and participated in the Peace-Making Through Music journey to Turkey where we met new friends, shared American jazz and talked a lot with people about common ground.  Next steps need to be worked on, of course, but this was a life changing encounter that will only ripen over the next few years.

So, one public door closed yesterday, but another opened - and now I STILL get to go see Hal and do his gig, too.  We will be away when the 10th anniversary of 9/11 takes place here - we will be in Montreal - and that, too, will bring its own unique blessings.


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