John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40, NRSV)
Many of us were shocked and appalled to awaken to the news of the death of a US Ambassador this past week. Further, many of were still shocked to see violent eruptions of protest at our embassies in the Middle East and other countries. Both the death of four diplomats and the destruction of diplomatic missions remind us of the dangers and hostilities that often are part of this world in which we live. However, I was much more disturbed at the root of all the chaos….
A video had been produced in Los Angeles back in June by a man calling himself Sam Bacile. The video purports to be a feature film that ‘exposes’ the true Islam and its revered Prophet Muhammad. The video in actuality is a poorly produced vile insult to everything that is religious and decent in the world. I have not dignified the creators by watching any part of the video, but many reports portray it as everything from “pornographic to absurd.” The fact that this movie was made in the US (and seized by fundamentalist Islamic clerics) serve to many in the Islamic world to be further evidence of the US’s vile hatred for Islam.
On first account, I am still stunned that such a video (and let’s be clear it is an internet video) is able to produce such a backlash in certain parts of the world. My shock quickly fades when I contextualize my understanding of the Islamic faith with traditional values of the sacred religion. Respect, honor and dignity are of extreme importance in public discourse and are highly valued in the Islamic religious culture. Violations of this code can be treated as gross negligence worthy of retaliation. That explanation not withstanding, the violence and death of last week us not at all justified by the majority of Muslim throughout the world.
At issue for me is the level of our own intolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ in the world. Many in the United States are still deeply suspicious of Islam as a religion and some are outright hostile to what they perceive as a threat to our national security. Many communities deny the construction of new mosques and undermine the work of Muslim groups through openly questioning the motives and their presence. Many professed Christians openly commit to violently “protecting” their native land against a 21st century infidel that looks nothing like the average Muslim adherent in America (or the world for that matter.
Adding insult to injury is the discovery that Mr. Sam Bacile is actually an alias (one of more than a dozen) of an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who is seeking to air his own Islamophobic views. So here, you have a Christian (in the same vein as Terry Jones last year burning a Quran on Sept 11) exposing their deep fear and hatred in the name of truth and free speech. Our fears, our hatred, our hurt and our pain being used to inflict others with hurt pain and injury.
Jesus in the above passage is answering a query from one of his disciples who sees someone operating from a different understanding than the disciples have. The man is casting out demons in the name of Jesus but does not belong to the twelve. He is outside of their experience and from what the disciples can tell, has no experience of Jesus personally. He makes all of the right moves (as testament to his ability to actually cast out demons), but is not in line with the disciples’s understanding of belief and behavior.
Jesus says one of the most profound things in the New Testament. He says, “Don’t stop him. Whoever uses my name to do powerful things will not soon say bad things about me. Whoever is not against us is with us.” I love this statement from Jesus about the ‘other’. What he is saying, is that “a person who operates as I operate will not turn away from me.” Anyone who is not overt in their opposition to our message, our actions, our hope, and our love as Christians is still with us. Jesus’ statement makes the world a little less complicated than we have made it. Their are only those who are against us, and with them, we can see who they are in that they oppose us.
The bigger lesson from Jesus is that we need to acknowledge where we see Him at work in the other and celebrate that as a manifestation of the work of Christ. We are so easily led to acknowledge the difference and separation and the negative points in anything opposite our own perspective. Our conservative ideologies define the norms for both sides: The Muslims who protest violently are the “true Islam” while the Christians who foment anger and hatred are the “the real views of all Christians”. These limited and narrow minded views are minorities within religions that are much more alike in their views of humanity, God and the service to one another. (To be clear, Muslims and Christians are very different in belief and practice, but we are not so different as to not recognize the oneness of God working in both of our traditions.)
Jesus’ statement calls into question our own proclamation of “if you are not for me, you are against.” In fact in turns it on its head, for His statement is literally, “if you are not against me, you are for me.” The only way this idea can be lived out is through a reaffirmation of goodness of our God in the world working through many of our traditions. Seeing someone doing good work in the world (regardless of the tradition) is a reason to celebrate the goodness of our God working in them. Seeing the Muslim feed the hungry or take care of the sick is to see God use them in the same way God uses every one of else.
Places of division and discord are ready and always apparent. It takes a vision of truth to view your ‘other’ brother or sister as a co-worker with God…..and with you.