By Charles Redfern
It’s time for the peacemakers to get savvy in a lurid culture – even now, at this stage, when we’re clutching the polished vacuum cleaner after the salesman leaves with his I’ve-just-conned-another-sucker grin and our faces are tomato-red and the thoughts fly: I’ve been tricked, hoodwinked, duped … had! What happened? How’d we get here? Why?
It’s a sorry state: The Earth’s population rivets on a ratty, wayward church of about 50 in Gainesville, Florida, whose pastor, Terry Jones, still promises to burn the Qur’an on September 11. The world-wide furor mounts: Afghan demonstrators have burned the American flag; over 17,000 Facebook networkers have tapped the “like” button for “Everybody against Pastor Terry Jones burning the Holy Quran on Sept 11” (sic); and condemnations surge from the high and mighty: The president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, General David Patraeus, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Attorney General Eric Holder, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs, US Senator Joe Lieberman, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, House Minority Leader John Boehner. Inter-faith leaders held an emergency summit, condemned American Islamophobia, and called for Jones to cancel his plans. He refuses, of course.
The protests against Jones are absolutely necessary, but … This vacuum cleaner … We own it – even when Dove tells only an infinitesimal fraction of the real story of modern Muslim-Christian relations. There’s the Vatican, which represents one billion Roman Catholics, forming the predecessor to the Pontifical Council for Religious Dialogue in 1964 “to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of other religious traditions.” Its “Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims” fosters positive Muslim-Catholic ties. There’s the 2007 call for dialogue from 138 Muslim leaders of all schools: A Common Word Between Us And You. There are three annual consultations between Evangelical Christian and Muslim thinkers in which each side discusses real differences and contact points.
Haul out the calculator. Punch in the numbers: Robed leaders of a billion Catholics versus an isolated church of fifty; 138 Muslim clerics and scholars versus a Harley rider with a handlebar moustache (not that there’s anything wrong with that …); recognized evangelical heavyweights versus a pastor featured on loonwatch.com. This isn’t even close … Terry Jones and his church aren’t even a skin cell in the Body of Christ – and yet all eyes are on him.
How did we end up with this vacuum cleaner?
For one thing, we really can blame the media on this one. Reporters rarely cover the necessarily nuanced, slow, plodding discussions between leaders of the monotheistic, Abrahamic faiths. No one is yelling; no one is screaming; no one is shooting; everything is civil. Where’s the fire and where’s the crash? Journalists even have a ready-made excuse: “News, by it’s very nature, is usually bad. It’s no news when 3,000 planes land safely at the airport; it’s only news when the plane crashes.” But that’s simplistic. Why did news organizations send the photographers to the Battleship Missouri in September, 1945, when the Japanese formally surrendered? Why did the cameras roll when Jonas Salk announced the polio vaccine? “News” has actually been redefined. It is no longer the conversation on ideas, processes, and events shaping society; it has become mere sensation, a nightly show of jarring images. The savvy play to it. Witness their waving English banners in foreign lands.
But we own the cleaner for another reason. The peacemakers do their studies, hold their seminars, and write their reports in academic language for think tank owls. We’re on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand people. We deliberate and sometimes pontificate, but we’re out of sync with story-hungry, caffeinated reporters boarding planes to Florida before the flight to Juarez for their “up close and personal” interview with the shooting victim’s mother. They’re feeding a society addicted to anger’s adrenaline rush. They’re putty in the hands of people like Terry Jones.
We need the wisdom of Otpor, the student-led organization that guided the peaceful revolution in Serbia when it overthrew Slobodan Milosevic. Otpor used many tools, one of which was comedy. They actually drew cameras and got the nation laughing …
… Wait …
… Perhaps …
… Could it be? Maybe …
… What if …?
What if crowds poured in on Gainesville on the night of September 10 and occupied the designated burning site, leaving Dove no room for its fire? I see some burnishing John Rankin’s suggested signs; I see others: “We love you, Dove, that’s why we can’t let you burn the Qur’an,” or, “Be dovish, Dove,” or, “Fires are for marshmallows, not books,” or, “Ditch your match and rise in Christ,” or, “Glow in the Glory, not in a book fire.” And, instead of ranting, how about everyone sing something like “Pass It On” (“It only takes a spark …”). What if we transform the day of dread into an afternoon of laughter? The reporters themselves might snicker and delay their trips to Juarez — and maybe we can turn in the vacuum cleaner and get our money back.