Last night Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom held a rally in support of the First Amendment, religious diversity, and our local Muslim community whose property was vandalized yet again this past weekend. I was invited to be one of the speakers.
It was a different venue for me: standing outside on the steps of the Court House without a sound system speaking loudly to a crowd of three to four hundred people. My talk was extemporaneous so I have to written speech to share with you here, and, to be honest, if the local newspapers had quoted me accurately I wouldn’t even bother with this post. But I want to go on record saying what I said, rather than what I was quoted as saying.
I made two points last night. First, we are living through a time when fear is gripping the lives of more and more Americans. Whenever that happens demagogues rise up to manipulate the fearful in order to grow their own power. This demagoguery usually involves demonizing the “other.” Who that “other” is changes over time. It was the Catholics in the late 19th century, the Jews in the first half of the 20th century, and today the Muslims. Hating the other is, for some, as American as apple pie. So I urged people to have compassion on those who are being manipulated, and to take care not to be manipulated themselves.
But the main thrust of my talk, and the part that got lost in translation, was my use of Micah 6:8, “You know, O Humanity, what God requires, Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” I emphasized “your God” and referenced the rabbinic tradition that interprets the use of the word “your” to be a warning against taking your personal belief system too seriously. Be humble about what you say you know, because when it comes to God, no one can know anything definitively. The God who is God cannot be reduced to theology or religion or any set of ideas or concepts. I am no opposed to theology, religion, or ideas, but I don’t want to allow them substitute for Truth, which is ultimately beyond words.
So I urged people to listen carefully to the teachings of their gurus, priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams, and to pay close attention to what is being said and read in their respective religious institutions and challenge anything that smacks of violence and demonization of the other. All this was predicated on the use of “humble” in the book of Micah.
What did every newspaper in middle Tennessee quote me as saying? Not “walk humbly with your God,” but “walk comfortably with your God.” Comfortably? Are you serious? This is the problem: people are too comfortable with their gods; so comfortable that they don’t challenge them or the insanity of much of what they have to say. And the true God, Reality itself, is discomforting. God challenges you to step out of your comfort zone: to leave nationalism, ethnicity, and parental bias behind, and to travel into the unknown and ultimately unknowable realm of divine mystery (Genesis 12:1). The only response to this call is an uncomfortable humility.
I loved standing with all these people. I loved sharing what I had to say with them. And now at least some of you will actually know what it is that I did share.