Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, Senior Pastor, GLIDE
Last week, as political pundits continued to fan the flames of fear and intolerance, a call went out to religious leaders and others to stand in solidarity with Muslims, who are encountering increased instances of bigotry in the United States. Committed to a world of diversity, religious tolerance, and generous hospitality to strangers, I posted a picture of myself on Twitter, with these words: As a Christian pastor, I stand with my Muslim brothers & sisters and against #Islamophobia #WeAreAllMuslim
I thought it was a fairly innocuous tweet. Nothing much controversial. Silly me. Within moments, my Twitter feed absolutely exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of tweets, berating and ridiculing me for standing with Muslims. The vitriolic speech, the hatred and threats of violence blew me away.
I need to say this right away: this isn’t about oh, poor me. My discomfort at horrible tweets isn’t what we should be focusing on, for I am standing as an ally. What this experience has done is rip the blinders from my eyes and my naivety to see more clearly the level of intolerance that our Muslim brothers and sisters must contend with every day, and it is fueled often by a Christian bigotry that is totally missing the point regarding what the Christian story, and in particular the Christmas story, is really all about.
There is a very dark side to the Christmas story many would like to ignore: after Jesus’ birth, the political leader Herod was so afraid of the power of this innocent baby that he ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two. That is what happens when fear runs rampant, when we stop leading with love. Fear breeds mistrust, which gives way to violence, which leads, ultimately, to death.
Joseph, being warned of this horror in a dream, ran into Egypt with Mary and Jesus to escape the violence and the certain death of his son. They became refugees, strangers in a strange land, where they stayed for several years before returning to their homeland.
Let that sink in: the Hope of the World was run out of his own country because of violence. The Prince of Peace became a Middle Eastern refugee escaping certain death. Imagine if Egypt closed the borders, if folks said, “Keep his kind out of our country.”
In the movie, “City of Joy”, actor Patrick Swayze plays a medical student confronted with the overwhelming poverty of Calcutta. A woman challenges him with three choices: “You can run. You can watch. Or you can commit to getting involved with compassionate response.”
This is why a community like GLIDE gives me so much hope. At GLIDE, we don’t run from the problems of the world. We don’t turn our back on suffering. We don’t sit on the sidelines to see people struggling. We engage in compassionate responses, we build relationships of mutuality and respect, we companion one another through the pain to rediscover joy and hope.
This is what the miracle of Christmas is all about: reaching out in love when all seems bleak, building relationships across lines of difference, and believing that beloved community can be a reality.
Come be a part of the work of GLIDE, where Christmas miracles happen every day.