Who Is My Neighbor?

Update: Since I started this, Terry Jones has backed off of “International Burn a Koran Day”, only to threaten to reinstate it.  Who knows what he’s going to do? 

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that, for the last two days, I’ve attended something called Big Tent Christianity.  With 35 presenters in two days and conversations throughout those days saying it was intense would be an understatement.  In anticipation of this, I’d given myself permission to be a slacker (I do consider myself a Gen Xer, after all) but my writing jones had other plans.  Ain’t no rest for the wicked, I suppose.  I’m still trying sort out everything I heard over the last two days, but one thing is getting clearer and that’s the neighbor issue.  

The last few days, the news has been full of Terry Jones and Dove World Outreach Center’s plans to burn copies of the Qur’an.  Jones, a charismatic pastor in Gainesville Fl, says that the Qur’an is an evil book, Islam is “of the Devil” (a good old fundamentalist phrase) and he even said that Jesus, himself, would burn the Qur’an (watch the video, it’s near the end).  There are any number of reasons why Jones chose this course of action and I’m not going to speculate on them.  Instead, I want to talk about my neighbor and who that would be.  To understand where I’m coming from on this, there’s something you have to know about me.  I’ve been a firefighter for over 20 years and 9 years ago, almost to the day, I was working at my assigned station.  My captain called me into the lounge and pointed to the television where I watched two aircraft fly into the World Trade Center buildings.  I was still sitting on the couch watching about an hour later as both buildings collapsed, taking the lives of over 400 New York City firefighters, EMS workers and police officers.  Those of you on the outside may not realize it, but the emergency services community is very close-knit.  When you hear us call each other brother or sister, it’s not just a neat thing to say; we really mean it.  Due to the actions of a few extremists nut jobs, I lost 411 family members that day.  If anyone has reason to hate Muslims and celebrate burning a Qur’an, it’s me.  But, I can’t.  I cannot raise my fist in the air and cheer on Jones and everyone like him.  I can’t because I’m a Christian and Jesus, the Christ that I follow, said I should forgive.  And forgive…, and forgive again.  I do it (or at least try to) because I received grace when I didn’t deserve it.  The least I can do is try and extend a miniscule portion of that grace to someone else. 

Right about now, I’ll bet you’re wondering exactly how this relates to the whole “Who’s my neighbor” thing, aren’t you?  Like this: Everyone is my neighbor.  Every radical Muslim, from the Wahabi mullah who inspired the attackers, to Osama bin Laden who funded them, to the attackers themselves, to the people dancing in the streets in joy over our despair, to the Muslim people who expressed their horror and sorrow at what happened on that tragic day; they are all my neighbors.  But, it doesn’t stop there.  Terry Jones is my neighbor, too.  So is everyone I hear expressing hate about 9-11, Cordoba House or whatever the cause du jour might be.  Even though he makes my skin crawl, Glenn Beck is my neighbor.  So is Andrew Breitbart and every other right-wing blogger, pundit and muckraker who finally drove me away from the Republican party and conservatism.  And, I have to forgive them just like I did Mohammed Atta and everyone else connected with September 11th.  Not only that, if I’m going to be a follower of Christ, I have to love them because the second half of the commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  I’m not sure which is the hardest: which action to take or which group to take it with.