Tennessee Mosque Building Site Burned

Construction had just begun on a worship center for Muslims in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, when arsonists decided to play vigilante and draw the nation’s attention. The arsonists soaked several pieces of construction equipment with gasoline and lit them, destroying one of the pieces of construction equipment and damaging others.

There are a few points that strike me as alternately ridiculous and hopeful.

Spike in Hostility

The center had operated for years out of a small business suite. Planning members said the new building, which was being constructed next to a church, would help accommodate the area’s growing Muslim community.

“We unfortunately did not experience hostilities for the 30 years we’ve been here and have only seen the hostility since approval of the site plan for the new center,” said Sbenaty.

The Muslims here are not newcomers to the community. They’ve been there for thirty years, working and serving and living amongst everyone else. A generation has been raised there.

And who committed the terrorist act? Who burned stuff? It wasn’t the evil Islamic, it was the Christians.

Muslims Support Sharia Like Catholics Support Contraception

“They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group,” Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area, told The Associated Press.

Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators who recently wore “Vote for Jesus” T-shirts and carried signs that said “No Sharia law for USA!,” referring to the Islamic code of law.

Sharia ((I’m not sure what a good source about Sharia would be, so I can’t refer you anywhere to learn more about it. Normally I’d point to Wikipedia, but their article has several warnings up top that it might not be balanced, so I suspect people have been vandalizing it to project their fears and incorrect assumptions into the article. Read it with reservation, and feel free to comment below if you have any questions–I’ll be happy to answer as in-depth as I am able.)) is the Islamic law that supersedes a nation’s law. Iran is founded on Sharia law, making it a theocracy, and many worry that Muslims want to quietly and subtly establish Sharia in non-Muslim countries so they can take over those countries.

Switzerland banned minarets because they were symbols of Sharia to the Swiss, but mosques, worship centers, and Muslims in general are still allowed within the country. What’s more, not all Muslims view Sharia the same way. For some, it is a law for the individual, much like a Christian might hold themselves to the laws of the Bible. And where the Sharia contradicts the United States law, many ignore Sharia.

It’s the inconvenient part of the scriptures that no longer matches our day-to-day life, so just like Christians ignore laws against wearing cloth made from multiple types of fabric or some Catholics still use contraception despite the Pope’s edicts, many Muslims ignore the parts of Sharia that would make life untenable in the USA.

We don’t assume Christians are murderous, cotton-blend hating psychopaths. We didn’t blame the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on a conspiracy hatched by Jews and Christians to kill all shellfish. So why do we assume, with absolutely no proof, that all Muslims want to overthrow our government and institute a theocracy?

This Country Wasn’t Based On Our Christianity

“No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don’t want it. I don’t want them here,” Evy Summers said to WTVF. “Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity.”

If the pilgrims were to see us, they wouldn’t claim us as Christians. We would be heretics to them in every sense of the word.

People go on and on about the founding fathers, who had complex and varied approaches to faith, but we don’t seem to look back any further these days. Yeah, our country was founded (in many ways) by Christians. But they also built in a protection of other religions–without that protection, the Quakers would have had no place in New York, and the Catholics would have never been let in the country.

People aren’t setting fire to Jewish synagogues, so why are they setting fire to Islamic mosques? I could advance some theories, but I’ll keep quiet on that point for now. ((Here at the end, let me share my own frustration-filled assumptions. There are always insecure, ignorant, hateful people in this world. Quakers, Catholics, Irish, Jews, Blacks, etc. have all been targeted by these type of people. Muslims are just the latest and currently easiest target for their hate, and their hate is based on insecurity with their own beliefs and superiority.

It’s a conflict of religious theory. The Christian stance is that their religion is Right, but Islam came along after Jesus and said Christians got it wrong. And if Muslims are living comfortably in our neighbourhoods, working and raising families and worshiping as they wish, what does that say about their religion? Perhaps there’s something worthwhile there after all…

But that thought is anathema. Easier to spew hate and burn stuff than answer for your own faith or lack thereof.))

So what’s hopeful about all this?

The ATF, FBI and Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office are conducting a joint investigation into the fire, Anderson said.

Our national authorities take this stuff seriously. During the Civil Rights Movement, there was state and federal sanction, or at least looking-the-other-wayness, about hate crimes and such. While we may have some vitriolic senators and representatives who parrot the ignorance of their constituents, we have institutionalized protections for people who have been targeted in these ways.

I am confident we will come through this period of gross stupidity and the people trying to oppress others will move on. They’ll die out, get over it, or forget why they ever cared.

But that’s little comfort for those who are suffering now. For them we should pray that they be kept safe, protected, and free.

Pray for our neighbors, both the hate-mongers (that love would fill them and change their actions) and for the oppressed.

Two-Way Mirror

Folding handkerchiefs one afternoon, I was reminded of my father.

One of his many jobs after leaving the military was as a security guard at the Holiday Inn Express here in Springfield. He would regularly take me there of an evening, and I recall walking into the shadowed hallway in the bowels of the hotel, down white painted corridors, and to his office. It had a large window on it that was a perfect mirror when the office lights were off, so you could sit inside and see people as they went past on their way to the pool.

I would often go swimming for a bit then dry off in the office with the lights off, naked and nervous that someone would see me, but reveling in the freedom of being invisible. I was at my most vulnerable in that office, completely myself with nothing between me and the world except that two-way mirror. Sometimes I would lie on the floor, or read for hours, or just sit and think. It was a dangerous place, that office, because while I couldn’t be seen I also recognized the instability of the moment. It could end with the flick of a light switch, or the opening of a single door. It was foolish and wonderful.

I don’t think I will ever again experience that thrill of stupid liberation.

Life Without Sin


The definition of “sin” has been a matter of great dispute throughout my Christian life (about 7-8 years now), not necessarily within the Church at large, but among the people I have known during that time. In particular, I used to have long debates with a friend of mine who leads a local college ministry here in Springfield about the meaning of “sin.” What does it look like? How does it affect us? Is it conquerable and, if so, only once we reach heaven or can it be overcome in this lifetime?

I was still relatively new to Christianity (and, to be honest, I continue to consider myself a “young Christian” and probably will for another 5-10 years), so I found his points interesting. My friend claimed that sin could be overcome in this lifetime, and his claim was founded on a differentiation between “sin” and “mistakes.” That while the first separates us from God, the latter is just a slip that doesn’t really affect anything. Therefore, one can make the occasional mistake, but not be committing an act that separates them from God. With the help of Jesus, one can be free from sin in this lifetime

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

By way of comparison, I offer The Message paraphrase, which I find a bit easier to understand in this case:

1 John 1:8-10 (Message)

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.

Let’s break these down one at a time.

Verse 8

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Before I became Christian, and even until some time after I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, I didn’t know what sin was. I didn’t understand its existence or implications, and I certainly didn’t know that I needed to be saved from sin. It had been made clear to me that I must follow Jesus, but the whole salvation thing was a mystery. Less than a mystery, in fact–I didn’t really think about it.

My ignorance stemmed from my lack of understanding of the Bible. I hadn’t read it, and even as I began to read it, I certainly didn’t understand. Because the Bible is a historical document as well as a religious text, there are thousands of years of study and surrounding pieces of information that are key to its comprehension.

Romans 7:7b

Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.

In the Book of Romans, St. Paul explains in chapter 7 how sin makes us do things we don’t want to, and how it prevents us from doing the things we know are right. We cannot recognize sin without the knowledge of God and his Word, though, and that same concept is applicable to verse 8 of the first chapter of first book of St. John. It is a fact that sin is in us, but we can not and will not know or recognize this fact if the truth, that is the Word of God, is not in us. If we do not read and understand the Bible, we will deceive ourselves and think that we are free of sin.

Verse 9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

This verse is pretty straightforward. God came to earth as Jesus to act as the sacrifice for sin, once and for all. To put it more simply, through Jesus our sins are forgiven. If sin is that which separates us from God, the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus builds the bridge between humanity and God.

We cannot build that bridge ourselves, and to be honest, it wouldn’t occur to us to cross that bridge if God hadn’t chosen us to join his family. Let’s face it, a life of sin is generally a life of hedonism and pleasure, so who would choose to leave that? The only reason we know that our life is better with God is because we have experienced it, but when you’re not Christian, you simply don’t know that.

Let’s break this down further.

If we confess our sins

It is written in Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” God’s design for how this all works requires an action on our part, and confession is the first step asked of us. It isn’t enough to quietly accept Jesus yet hide it from everyone else. We must state out loud that we believe in God and follow him.

He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins

There is a particular sermon, or type of sermon, that often gets bandied around under a title like, “Mercy and Justice.” The general message is that while we often praise God’s justice and call our for his justice, none of us really want God’s justice. The just reward for our sins is death–none of us “deserve” anything better. However, because God is merciful, we are forgiven.

A good preacher will observe that God’s justice was served in the sacrifice of Jesus, who committed no sins. That the death of Jesus, upon whom the sins of all the world were laid, paid the price for all of us.

The key to all of this is that God is faithful to humanity and to his chosen people. He promised us salvation, and here it is. He promised forgiveness and he provides it. God’s justice was served in the death of Jesus, so if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then our price has been paid. God is faithful to his own plan, he’s faithful to his justice, and he therefore forgives our sins, every last one of them.

And purify us from all unrighteousness

I have a saying I coined a few years ago that continues to ring true to me

Innocence comes from ignorance,
but purity comes from God.

Through Jesus, God purifies us and sets us apart. The Word doesn’t deny that there was ever impurity or unrighteousness, and more importantly God’s purification is recognized as an active process. Too often we get locked into this mindset that “forgiveness” means that something never happened. That sin never existed. That isn’t what God is telling us.

There is unrighteousness, but God is actively working to purify and set us apart. God is making us holy as he is holy. This isn’t something we are capable of doing on our own, and it doesn’t pretend that sin never existed. Rather, it recognizes that there is impurity and it deals with that.

Verse 10

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

I had a lot of trouble with the word “liar” in this verse, which is where the Message paraphrase was particularly helpful. It puts this passage as, “If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.” This concept of contradiction is important here.

The bottom line is that sin exists, and God’s forgiveness occurs in direct recognition of this sin. By claiming that we are capable of existing without sin, or by claiming that sin does not exist, we call God a liar because we are making a claim contradictory to his Word (by which I mean both Jesus and the written Bible). To make such a claim while one also claims to be Christian just highlights one’s ignorance of God and the Bible.

God forgives us because we need forgiven, and due to the nature of our hearts and psyches, we continue to need to be forgiven. Pope John Paul II prayed every day to be forgiven his sins, and paramount among these were the situations in which he failed to act or the times when he had done less than he should have. Every day he felt like he wasn’t doing as much as he could, and so he confessed and asked God to forgive him.

Wonderful Love in Relationship with God

As I wrote that last part, it occurred to me that this whole Christian thing seems very negative and depressing. Though it isn’t directly related to the verses I was studying this week, I want to share something wonderful with you about God’s forgiveness.

As Christians, when we pray for forgiveness, the sense is not ultimately one of failure and melancholy. We may begin that way, but God’s Spirit comforts us. As I wrote two weeks ago, God is intimately familiar with the trials and struggles we face. When we experience God’s forgiveness, it is like a terrible burden has been lifted from our shoulders, or like chains that weighed upon our necks have been broken. The feeling of freedom and joy is stupendous, and God’s loving embrace is comforting and divine.

Yes, the law and our recognition/understanding of sin leads us to sorrowful repentance, and it should, but a loving and open relationship with God alleviates our sorrow. My only reply to those Christians, or ex-Christians, who felt only the depression of sin and guilt and none of the freedom and love of Jesus is that they weren’t listening to God. I am sorry that they never had the truth in them, as verse 8 puts it, because it is there and it is wonderful. And I will continue to pray that they will quiet themselves so they can hear God calling out through all of nature and the universe for them to come home and become free again.

The Bottom Line

There is a difference between “defeating sin,” and “living without sin.” Jesus did the first for us. None of us experience the second in this lifetime.

Ironic Independence

Earlier today, I started to update my Facebook status with a saying (or something very near what we were saying) from last night. April and I went out to Cody’s parent’s house to celebrate the 4th of July, and we commented (as so many do) that we were celebrating our country’s independence by blowing up a small portion of it. Of course, we didn’t really–blow up a part of our country, that is–but we did get a number of parachutes caught in power lines and trees, dropped them on his neighbour’s homes and into their yards, and left long streaks of ash and char upon the street. Lots of explosions and pretty lights filled the neighbourhood.

As I typed my status into Facebook, however, I realized that it could be misconstrued as somewhat terroristic. “Matthew celebrated Independence Day by blowing up a part of America!” That just seemed like a bad idea in today’s climate of governmental paranoia and arrest-first-torture-later. The Supreme Court finally ruled that terrorist suspects deserve a trial, but that took 5+ years. It’d be silly to get myself arrested for something so minor as a Facebook status.

Regardless, the somewhat silly line of thought left me with the amused realization that our current state of affairs has left us 1) fearing terrorists who blow things up but 2) celebrating our independence by blowing things up.

I’m not the first to wonder whether we give up too much for the sake of security, and I don’t have any deep concluding thought, but it was an intriguing realization. It puts me in mind of I Am Legend, which Kevin (my boss) recommended to me on Thursday. I haven’t read it yet, but I think I’ll have to now: we must always be wary of becoming that which we fear most. How does Harvy Dent put it in the upcoming Batman movie?

Oh yes. You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

The true meaning of apathy

For whatever reason, I have always associated apathy with a certain level of bitterness and cynicism. Obviously, the definition is erroneous, because apathy would imply there are no strong feelings such as the aforementioned bitterness or cynicism, but in my day-to-day life, such emotions have always been there. Apathy was reached via frustration and, eventually, giving up; I felt that I had become apathetic once I had decided to no longer care about a subject (usually because it was annoying me so much).

I have now learned the true way. Apathy is not reached via a decision, for if a decision must be made, one is clearly not apathetic. Rather, it is a state of being. And regarding my finals, I reached this nirvana.

I just didn’t care. I had other things I cared more about, so my finals had no hold on my whatsoever. I wasn’t giving up on the classes and throwing in the towel. Towels are worth keeping, so instead I slung it over my shoulder and sauntered into the sunset. There are better, more interesting things over the horizon, and I have no reason to stay here.

April accurately pointed out how terrible apathy is, for it means that one doesn’t even care enough to dislike or hate something. But with limited application, I think it can be a beneficial state indeed. Like Luke Skywalker who learned that the true power of the force is to balance between Light and Dark, I think we need to learn to let go of the less important things. To be happily apathetic in some circumstances.

My finals are over, and for a couple of days, my schedule is busier than ever with social calls and spending time with people. This is always the case at the beginning of a new chapter, as we attempt to get re-acquainted and learn about the dark holes each other have recently crawled from. But a glorious time is upon us, and we are set free by limited apathy.

I’m already looking forward to next November.

God’s Love Gives Freedom

It is worth stating up front that I am a firm believer in free will. Recognizing God’s omniscience, I believe that he knows what will happen, but I also believe that he does not necessarily force certain actions on our part. Foreknowledge does not mean that God dictates our actions. I believe that God gives us free will because he wants us to choose to follow him, rather than being mindless automatons.

We are free to worship him in a wide variety of ways, to do with our lives what we will (provided we do it for his glory), to go where we will… God is like a true father who is pleased with our actions, whatever they may be (again, with the caveat that those actions should/must fall within the boundaries of goodness). We don’t all need to look the same, go to the same church, or do the same things.

There are certain similarities we, within the Church, must have. God is the One True God, Jesus is God who died for our sins, and the Bible is the Word of God. You cannot worship Vishnu and claim that his is just a different face of God, for the faith represented in Hinduism is mutually exclusive with Christianity due to the message of Jesus. But within the parameters laid out within the Bible, we have freedom.

G.K. Chesterton compared this sort of freedom to living within a keep upon a high hill, circled by steep drops and cliff faces. Outsiders might look at the walls and wonder at how one can be happy to live such a confined life, but the truth is that these walls give us freedom. Without them, we would be huddled in the center of our home, afraid to move for fear we would stumble or fall off the cliff. The walls protect us so we can run around and have fun without concern. So long as we stay within the walls, we are free to do whatever we like without fear. God protects us.

I have been told that a person might quite like the freedom to fall off the cliff if they prefer. That is possible, I suppose; a person can go outside the walls and toss themselves over the edge if they wish; God gives us that freedom. Personally, though, I think I quite like not being dashed upon the rocks. I prefer a life not lived in fear any longer.

As we westerners have come to live in cities without walls, we have forgotten the comfort those walls can bring and we see them as prisons. We have forgotten that the castles that once preserved life had walls, and that those walls represented the strength of the lord who lived there. But I suppose, should one wish to not study and remember their history, and instead live in fear, they have that choice.

Someday, you may have children, and/or you may view doing so as a very foolish undertaking. Your children might grow up, rebel, spit in your face, run off with the wrong crowd, dishonour or destroy you and your family, and get killed. Though this is a possibility, would you rather have children or not, recognizing that your child might grow in grace, beauty, and intelligence, bring honour to you and your family, become a leader and a servant to their people, bringing peace and joy to many?

God has created all of humanity, with all its breadth and wonder, all of the good and bad people, and he loves us all. He created us, knowing that some would be completely vile, just as there are some humans who are truly amazing. Out of love, he lets us live and make our choices, and the most important is this: Eternity with God, or without. He gives us the freedom to be happy, and that recognition of the frailty of life. That frailty forces the recognition of beauty and joy upon us (the old saw that one cannot recognize joy without knowing pain), and such knowledge would not be possible without the freedom God gave us in his love. Personally, I think I prefer it.