I became neighbors with mass murderers when I moved to Redlands this year. They lived several units down. I walked by their front door daily and must have seen them around, but I don't remember them. The homes on the block are look-a-like duplexes. People come and go at odd hours, seldom seeing one another. My time was spent mostly getting to know the people of my new church several blocks away.
Ever since these Redland neighbors committed their evil, violent and deadly attack down the road in San Bernardino, I have sought to offer prayer for the victims and support to the traumatized. I helped put together a gathering of the Christian community on the night after the shooting to debrief, embrace one of the intended victims who had been able to escape the building, and pray for the victims who were injured and perished--and their loved ones. We also began discussing our emotional response to the event that traumatized us all to varying degrees. Most of all we prayed! The prayer that is always in my breath moved even deeper in my heart: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy!
The next day, while the news media set up camp in our old neighborhood, calling it GROUND ZERO for a domestic terrorist attack investigation, I met to pray for the victims with other clergy. Gathering with leaders from various faiths, we condemned the violent attack, showed our support to the victims and sought to promote community unity. Mohammad Hossain M.D., of the Islamic Center of Redlands, decried the actions of the terrorists as antithetical to his Islamic faith, prayed sympathetically for the victims, and vowed to work diligently to know his community and sensitively direct all to the high calling of love. The LA Times featured a picture of us praying. I am shown in a box right next to the evil husband and father who killed and injured so many. It is a chilling image.
On Sunday following the attack, I offered a message in church about Christmas hope in times of terror. I believe the message of the Christ child who was born during a time when a mad king was killing babies, has a profound message for us in our time of terror.
The next Sunday after church, I hosted a Christian / Islam Conversation with a large crowd from our congregation and neighboring churches. This resource was offered to allow people to ask questions about the Islamic religion and seek to gain a better understanding of the religious values of Muslims who are our neighbors.
We dialogued with Dr. Khaled Bahji, who is founder of the Islamic Community Center of Redlands (ICCR), an imam, and a professor at Loma Linda University. He was introduced by Shaan Johri, who is an active mosque member, was a director at Northrop Grumman, and is a close friend of one of our church members.
The imam, Khaled Bahji, spoke of a present day worldwide crisis in the Islamic Faith, and shared his desire that a commitment to love and peace would prevail within Islam. He joined the voice of other Muslim leaders, in our area and around the country, who have condemned the evil acts of local and global terror, proclaiming that this violence is not an expression of their understanding or practice of religion. In addition to his disavowal of any affinity with the violent expressions within his religion, he vowed to sensitively address with proper authorities any observed emergence of violent intentions.
I want to be supportive to all peace-loving voices like those I've heard from within the Islamic Community locally and nationally. I desire success for these efforts, I pray for them as I do for all those with leadership and influence, and I want to do what I can to support them.
I have found several resources helpful for promoting Christian / Islam dialogue and understanding.
Finding Peace within Holy Texts by David Brooks, seems to me to be a kind of call for a Radical Reformation of Love for the Islamic Faith.
Muslim - Western Tensions Persists is a fairly exhaustive Pew Research Study of the Islamic faith in Western culture.
Living With Non-Christian Neighbors - is a helpful video out of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
Honoring the Overlooked - is a sermon message I shared this week, exploring the Christian calling to share our good news with all people.