Peace be upon you.
May you have a successful Ramadan.
I bring you greetings from Southminster Presbyterian Church, the church which I am currently fortunate to be a pastor.
I also bring you greetings from the presbytery of the Cascades, which includes 100 Presbyterian churches in Western Oregon, southern Washington, and one church in Northern California.
Finally, I bring you greetings from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. which is meeting this week in Portland, representing nearly 1.6 million Presbyterians in the United States.
It is an incredible honor and privilege to offer our space for this Open Iftar. You have made our hearts glad with your presence and your prayers.
I welcome all of you who are Muslims and you who are Non-Muslims, in short, all human beings. Welcome!
I wish to thank the Ramadan Tent Project Portland organizing team for a beautiful event and for including us. All of us at Southminster have fallen in love with your energy, enthusiasm, and joy. You have been generous. In the Qur’an chapter 2 verse 272, we read:
And whatever you spend in good, it will be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged. (Quran 2:272)
I am not a Muslim in outward practice, but I like to think I am a Muslim at heart. I try to be. What I find in the Holy Qur’an is a generous heart, a spirit of generosity.
It is in the Qur’an that we learn what it means to be moderate. That is, what it means to be generous as opposed to greedy, respectful as opposed to wasteful, loving as opposed to fearful, peaceful as opposed to violent. The creation is for all who share it, and for generations not yet born who will inherit what we leave them.
In Chapter 6:141 we read:
God it is who created gardens, trellised and untrellised, and palms and plants of diverse fruits, and olives and pomegranates, like and unlike. Eat of its fruit when ripe, and deliver up its due the day it is harvested. Do not be immoderate; God loves not the immoderate. (Qur’an 6:141)
The feast before us is from the garden of God. The air we breathe, the water to quench us, all is a gift. It is a gift we dare not hoard, but freely give to others. As we grow spiritually, we realize more and more that Life is a gift.
Ramadan, as I am beginning to understand, is here to remind us that all of life is a gift. In this month, specifically, we acknowledge the gift of the Qur’an. This is not a gift to Muslims only. It is a gift to humankind. It is a gift to me. It is for anyone who wishes to seek wisdom. In chapter 2 verses 185 we read:
The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was sent down—right Guidance to humankind, and clear signs of Guidance and Distinction of truth from falsehood. (Qur’an 2:185)
The fast is ordained so that we might be conscious of the gifts of God’s garden and conscious that many go without. The fast is ordained that we might feel the pain of emptiness that so many feel everyday. Hunger pains, but also the pains of injustice and of discrimination. As we feel this pain, we are summoned to respond with generosity to the poor and with compassionate action to those who experience injustice. Ramadan reminds us that Islam is about compassion–feeling with one another.
This basic ordination, this charge to compassionate service is most important as we live in a time of immoderation—a time of selfishness. We have a job to do. We are ordained. Regardless of religious affiliation, we all are spiritually ordained, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, None of the Above, conscientious human beings, we are all are ordained to be generous and compassionate.
There is a rule in regards to how Christians should interpret the Bible. It is called the rule of faith and love. The rule is the same for the Qur’an. If any interpretation leads to attitudes and actions other than faith and love, it is a wrong interpretation. Any interpretation of scripture, if the interpretation is to honor God, if it is to be true and wise, it must increase faith and love.
If anyone interprets the Bible in order to justify violence, to pass laws to discriminate against others, to speak negatively of others, to give themselves an attitude of superiority or of arrogance, it is not a true interpretation.
That means we, the big inclusive we, are ordained to speak truth, to speak faith and love, and to speak out.
And in order to speak truth, we must first listen. We listen to the prophets and to the wisdom of our holy scriptures.
In addition, we also must listen to one another.
I do not think our nation is listening well.
My wife and I are going to be grandparents this year for the first time. Our daughter, Katy, is, inshallah, God willing, going to give birth to a girl in October. Her name is Pippa. We are very excited and proud.
When Pippa is born, inshallah, in October 2016, I will be 55 years old. I wonder what the world will be like when Pippa is 55? She will be 55, inshallah, in October 2071. What will the world be like?
What will she say about the world her grandfather and her grandfather’s generation left her?
I hope it will be a world of peace. A world in which no one has to fear when they walk down the street because they are wearing a hijab, or because of the color of their skin, or their accent. I hope that it will be a world in which people truly listen to one another.
My daughter is married. Her spouse is my daughter-in-law, Amber. They are legally married. I performed their ceremony.
When I heard about the slaughter at the club in Orlando, after the horror and grief, I thought of Katy and Amber. I thought of all the care they have to take, wondering who is watching when they hold hands. Is it safe? The worst fears of LGBTQ people were realized when a deranged, hate-filled man slaughtered gay people because they were gay.
Then when I learned the name of the shooter, I thought of all my Muslim friends, the young people organizing this event, and you who pray at the Islamic Center across the street, or in any of the other masjids in town. I knew that Islamophobia would be ratcheted up yet again. Fear and prejudice would rise again. Calls for banning Muslims entering the country, increased surveillance, being stopped for no reason, being profiled, always needing to be on the alert, all could increase.
Around we go. I speak from privilege. As a white, straight, male, I don’t have to be wary about holding hands with my wife in public or driving while white.
The police are here today. I am thankful for them. They are here for public safety, our safety, in the midst of possible increased tensions since Orlando. I have met them. I trust them. They are good guys who do their job.
But, I know the presence of armed police causes great discomfort and fear among many. While police might make me, a white guy in the burbs, feel safe, that is not at all the experience of many of my black friends. And you are important to me.
Jim Wallis in his book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America wrote about “the talk” that black parents have with their children. He said,
“For the past decade I have coached my sons in Little League baseball. All the dads and moms of our black players have had “the talk” with their sons about how to act, and how not to, in the presence of a police officer — or any white man with a gun. But the parents of the white players have not had such a talk with their sons, and most don’t even know this talk is going on. Should it be acceptable to white parents that their kids’ black teammates’ parents—many of whom they would consider their “friends”—have to tell their children that those responsible for law enforcement in their communities are not to be trusted? What should the lament of white parents be, alongside the fear of black parents?”
This is the world in which we are living.
This is why Open Iftar is so important. And for which I am so grateful to its organizers. Open Iftar is an opportunity to listen. We have the Qur’an because Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, listened to the command, “Recite!” And he did. And humanity is blessed for it.
Now, we must be like the prophet, and listen.
What an opportunity to begin tonight to listen, really listen to someone whose experience is different than ours. These opportunities, these sacred spaces, are the places in which we will strengthen our communities because we can listen and share from the heart. When we truly listen and share, we can feel nothing but compassion.
I hope we will use this opportunity to talk and to listen. What an opportunity we have tonight to expand our circle: Muslim. Christian. Gay. Straight. White. Black. Police. Citizen. May we hear and be heard. Most importantly, may we stand with one another and speak out for one another.
Let us make a commitment this Ramadan to make our community better, let us make Beaverton and Portland more inclusive of all voices, a safe place, a place in which our grandchildren will grow to a ripe old age and not live in fear.
I would like to close with this poem. This is from Martin Neimoller. Sadly, it is as true today as it was in the 1930s.
First they came for the Communists,
– but I was not a communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists,
– but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews,
– but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
We are all in this together. Let us speak out for each other.