Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wise Words

Tom Friedman's great article in today's NY Times is worth reading. He draws a line between Tea Kettle movement and Tea Partiers. He says the Tea Kettlers really want to let off steam...and really have little to add to today's conversation. Screaming ain't enough. Friedman says that genuine Tea Party folk deal with the issues and try to seek solutions. Burning down a building is not a solution.

When I was Pastor there was always a little group in every church that screamed and hollered over just about everything. They were always present at Business meetings and kept my phone ringing--not to speak of letters and emails. As a young Pastor I lost a lot of sleep worry about all these people. What I discovered was that they were a small but very vocal group. They didn't talk to anyone but each other and they had the feeling they were the majority. Someone once told me: " But it doesn't take but one pit bull to wound you!"
I guess some would say the same thing about "Mama Grizzles." I've been on a media-be-responsible kick lately. I think if we had not given this group called Tea Partiers so much exposure they would have little power. I still think, like those trouble-makers in the church--there really aren't as many out there as they and even we think.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On An Unclear Day it is Hard to see Anything

"Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens."
 --Wendell Berry, Given

Sitting around with a group of friends we were bemoaning the state of things. Somebody said: Looks like the Republicans are going to take the House in a few weeks. Somebody else piped up: It isn’t just that—it’s that some of the people we are about to put into office elect are totally unqualified. What’s wrong with people? somebody asked. Can’t they remember just two years ago when the nation was on the edge of another depression—and we’re gonna put the same people who gave us this back into office? Another wanted to know how we could possibly extend tax cuts for the rich when the country needs every penny it can get. The problem is, someone else said, much of the country doesn’t think the change Obama promised hasn’t happened. Oh, she said, they forget about health care and this move toward accountability in government and the bail out of the banks which I am told saved the whole country from financial ruin. Another intoned, This is a country of three hundred million people—you don’t turn a boat that size around easily—it takes some time. We all went our separate ways feeling pretty hopeless.

It isn’t easy to keep one’s perspective when it looks like everything nailed down is coming loose. And it certainly isn’t easy when we have breaking news, whatever that is, 24 hours a day. Yet—perspective is what we all need. The long view—not some panicky reaction to everything.

I keep remembering what Ernie Campbell, one-time Pastor of Riverside said in one of his sermons. “Every battle is not Armageddon.” We live in a culture where every crisis is the end of the world. Whatever happened to Terry Jones? Who, you say. You know the guy in Florida that was on TV day after day saying he was holding a Burn the Koran Day in his church? Why that was two weeks ago—we’ve moved on. We don’t even hear much about the Muslim Center two and a half blocks from Ground Zero. A wise person said that after the mid-term elections nobody will care. We have got to quit reacting as if every little crisis is the end of the world.

I’ve been reading Ron White’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, A. Lincoln. Weeks after Lincoln was sworn in eleven Southern States formed a new nation and elected their own President. The South took Fort Sumter and the nation was plunged into war. At the first battle at Bull Run the Union soldiers were defeated. Criticism of the President’s leadership grew deafening. The New York Times wrote on April 25, 1861: “Wanted—Leader!” Yet—Lincoln followed his instincts and did not veer from what he felt was the right path. We know the rest of that story.

Perspective is everything. When, in the fifties, Senator Joseph McCarthy grabbed the nation’s attention, hounded hundreds, maybe more out of their job with the charge of Communism—it was a dark day for the nation. Authors, professors, journalists, movie stars and other folk were targeted and many lost their livelihoods. Some committed suicide. Most folk do not even remember the name Joseph McCarthy. He died of alcoholism and at his funeral there were less than ten people that gathered around his grave.

We have to take the long view. The media that continually rants does not help us much. Neither does the computer. Yet we must find ways to remember we have been here before. We have to keep reminding one another that there has always been a crazy element at the fringe of this country.

Poet Wendell Berry offers me some good advice when everything seems out of sorts. Maybe he can help you, too.

“Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
To the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.”
  --Wendell Berry , Given

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tough Time for Everyone

"Although Ken stopped talking about it, the compiling of the list of Margaret's dislikes became an obcession with him. When she refused to patronize a Chinese laundry, he learned that she was against the Chinese and, it seemed, all Orientals. The Russians she hated with patriotic zeal. The English she thought snobbish, the French immoral, the Germans brutal, and all South Americans lazy. Category by category, she closed humanity out."
    --Sloan Wilson, in A Summer Place

I was struck by something Jimmy Carter said the other night. He was being interviewed by Larry King and he said he thought the mood of the country was as bad as it ever has been. And then he added, if I heard him right, including Abraham Lincoln’s time. Now this could just be an 85 year old talking but listening to his other comments—I have the feeling he still very sharp.


The reason that this has jarred me so is because I have been reading Ronald White’s splendid biography of Abraham Lincoln entitled, A. Lincoln. I have been struck by the similarities between President Lincoln and our present leader. Lincoln was attacked because he was not a member of a Church and it was whispered, “He must not be a Christian.” They didn’t know the word, Muslim back then or they would have wrapped him in that cloth I am sure. Every epithet that could be hurled at any human being Lincoln endured. Natavism was sweeping the country. As immigration surged in the 1840’s brought many to this country especially from continental Europe. A famine in Ireland brought even more to our country and in protest to all these outsiders an anti-immigration movement sprung up. The largest group of immigrant happened to be Irish and brought their Catholicism with them. It was feared that these Catholics, in league with the Pope would furtively take over the country. We have not even mentioned the great divide that slavery brought. The old argument a bout states rights was being fought hard and fast because particularly because of slavery.

Lincoln as a lawyer and politician began to speak in public forums. People had a hard time with this man at first. They were used to vituperation and nastiness from their speakers. One newspaper reported, “His language is pure and respectful, he attacks no man’s character or motives, but fights with arguments.” He took the high road and it served him well. Even during the great divide of North and South he was a statesman and believed in the Constitution and the Union.


I don’t know if our age is as bad as the 1850’s. But I do know in my lifetime I do not remember any President being as vilified as has President Obama. Maybe Roosevelt came close. I grew up with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s pictures on the walls in our classrooms. The President was the president. We were taught to respect the office even when we disagreed with his decisions.

I still think that behind the rage toward our President and his policies is racism pure and simple. If he can be smeared, demeaned—called “not one of us”—maybe, they hope, his influence will be diminished. What these critics do not realize is that a crippled President means a crippled country.

Mr. Obama inherited a whole lot when he walked into office. And much, but not all of his headaches (and ours) can be laid at the feet of George Bush. Many of our troubles have been a long time coming though I think Mr. Bush did not help the matter. But we must remember that George Bush did serve at a terrible time in our history and that was not an easy task.

Bill Boyarsky has written a telling piece in Truthdig, “Don’t Write Off the Right”. In that article he warns that we must take this group of far righters seriously. He states that merely sneering at these people does no good. That rage they feel comes from somewhere deep.

Nevertheless, we have to find some ways to be civil to one another. Stephen Carter spoke at Baylor University at the Installation of their new president days ago. He said, “I worry deeply that we are losing the ability to debate” in meaningful ways. He went to say that Democracy demands that as citizens we “do the hard work of actually sitting, talking and working things out.” He laments that the great symbol of our collapse of dialogue is the bumper sticker. We cannot reduce, he says complex ideas to slogans and applause lines. There is something far more important at stake here than simply winning.

Eugene Robinson takes on waiting-in-the wings-to-be-President Newt Gingrich in his latest campaign to connect our President to Islam. Gingrich’s whole address on how somehow we are about to be besieged by Sharia law, which includes stoning, chopping heads off and returning to the Stone Age. Read Robinson’s response.

We’re all concerned about the future of our country. How we do what we do may determine the kind of people we really are. I do not know if this mood in our land is the worst we have ever had. I do know it is left to all of us to make sure that we do all we can to restore some civility and respect to one another and to those that lead us. Right, Left, Tea-Partiers—all.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Our First House

"How hard it is to escape places! However carefully one goes, they hold you--you leave bits of yourself fluttering on the fences, little rags and shreds of your very life."
  --Katherine Mansfield

(My daughter called the other day and said she had found her old Kentucky friends on Facebook and she was going to pay them a visit. We lived there for six years and left in 1975. She was in the sixth grade and is now in her forties. After that wonderful weekend she sent me pictures of our old house. It looked just as it did when we lived there. Looking at the picture—I couldn’t help but take a trip down memory lane.)

I remembered so much about that little house. You opened the front door and there was a small entrance where we hung our first wallpaper. Looking ahead you entered the living room. I thought about that Christmas when we decorated the tree. When it was finally done it came crashing to the floor. In another corner there was our magnificent grand piano we stretched our budget to buy. We borrowed six hundred dollars from our insurance to help pay for the used-rebuilt seven-foot grand. My, my how proud we were.

Leaving the living room I thought about the den and remembered the wooden shutters I worked hard all day long to hang right. We spent a lot of time in that room. TV brought in The Munsters and I Dream of Jeannie and Sonny and Cher and even Ernest Angley, our son’s favorite. Turning left you entered the kitchen with its golden yellow trim, which was quite the rage that year. Funny what you remember. Things like the old portable dishwasher someone sold us for $50.00. Or the time we found our aging Persian Jennifer asleep in the frying pan in the middle of the stove.

Down the hall to the right was the bathroom. One day our boy, playing disappear, flushed my wife’s glasses magically down the drain. Next to the bathroom was our L-shaped bedroom. There must have been yellow-gold paint left because all the woodwork in that room too was painted that color. It was in that room that we closed the door and shut out the world.

Leaving the bedroom you turned toward the stairs and walked up the blue-green shag carpet that led to our daughter’s bedroom. Night after night she would call and say she was scared. And one of us would trudge up the steps and sit by her bed. Her instructions were clear: “Look at me. Look at me.” And if we thought she was asleep we would try to leave and she would rouse up and say: “Look at me.”Leaving your daughter’s bedroom you came to a large room that was where our son slept. And I remembered the rocks, the gerbils, the goldfish and jars filled with insects. It was always a mess—but that was his space.

Downstairs I recalled if you walked through the kitchen door there was a tiny porch outside. There was its trellis where the roses never did grow very well but beside the house was where my daisies bloomed each summer. But the centerpiece of the yard was a tall, tall Norwegian pine where the kids played and the dog slept.

Our home was a little white house with dark green shutters and two little doghouses on the roof. There was a tall oak tree in the front…and to the right, attached to the house was the one-car garage. Next-door Kim lived, one of my daughter’s friends. Their family had a huge German shepherd that they kept chained up in the back. My son was scared to death of that dog and would come running into the house yelling, “The Ben Sippit’s out” which translated meant the German shepherd has escaped again.

Holding those photographs my daughter sent brought so much back. That last day we all piled into the car and began to drive away. I remember looking back at the house that was no longer ours. Our first house—how proud we were—how hard we worked—how much we loved that place. The memories still swirl as I remember that little white house on the corner lot on Montgomery Avenue in a small Kentucky town.

Elizabeth Warren--Go!!

Best news for me lately has been President Obama's deputizing Elizabeth Warren to help launch the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her credentials are great. She has courage. I saw her first on Bill Moyers, Journal months ago. Someone has got to stand up for the consumers in this country--we have been ripped off long enough with small type from credit card companies who have done just about anything they pleased. Read Salon's story in a question and answer with Elizabeth.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thinking About Islamaphobia

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men were created equal' We now practically read it, 'all men are created equal except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal except negroes, and foreigners and catholics.' When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty--Russia,  for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy." 
  --Abraham Lincoln, 1855 as quoted in Ronald White's book, A. Lincoln

I wonder if this Islam bashing will go away once the November election is over? Probably not. I really think  all this hoopla is indirectly pointed toward our President. Is he really who he says he is? Is he really one of us? I have never seen his birth certificate. (I thought about writing an article on how we all ought to be forced to take our birth certificates with us at all times. But I will save that for another day.)

Flannery O'Connor the writer said one time, "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd." I am beginning to feel a little odd in my own country. Fact and fiction afre scrambled these days. Fear does crazy things to people. (I remember a little German history.) Is this country we call America for everyone or just some? We fought that battle with the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Japanese--not to speak of the African-Americans  (Which, by the way I think is part of this whole problem.) With president Obama's election I thought we had turned a page--but I wonder. Change, I know is always hard. I wonder if Jackie Robinson couldn't tell our President about those early days when he stepped on the ball field? I bet he was called worse things than a Muslim.

The hate Merry Go Round keeps going around and it stops now with the Muslims in our country. How frightened many of them just feel. I call your attention to two wonderful articles that speak to this subject. The first is written by Martin Marty, very wise Church historian. He responds to Franklin Graham's charges about Obama's background and faith. It is worth a read.

The second article is by one of my favorite commentators, Eugene Robinson. His articles appear in many papers thank goodness. This particular article talks about President-in-waiting Newt Gingrich's remarks about Obama's Kenyan connections being suspect. I  recommend.

Civil discourse ought to be civil. And I know looking back through the years this is far from the first time we have dragged our principles through the mud. Vision and task are often unfortunately poles apart. But I keep remembering that verse from the Psalms: "He gave them their request; but sent leanness to their soul." (Psalm 106.15)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Anniversary of 9/11--A Pastoral Response

"Fear is the mood. People are bringing the shutters down from their attics and putting them back on their windows. Fences are appearing where children used to stay freely from backyard to backyard. Locksmiths are working overtime. Once we parked our cars with the keys dangling from the dashboard, and a dog could sleep undisturbed in the middle of the street. No more. Fear reigns."            
      --John Updike, Museums and Women and Other

We are all thinking of the same thing on this anniversary weekend of September11th. The old wounds we thought had healed slowly begin to surface once more. We remember where we were that day. We remember the fear and confusion and the terrible losses. Nine years later what are we to say about all the turbulence of the last few years?

I keep thinking to that wonderful story in Matthew 8. 23-27. Jesus and his disciples got into a boat. Jesus had worked so hard that he just collapsed into sleep. And while he was asleep a great storm came up. The waves shook the boat, the water lapped into the boat; it was a scary, scary time. So they woke Jesus up. “Lord save us, we are perishing.” And Jesus roused from sleep said words we need to hear this weekend. “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he rebuked the winds and the sea and everything was a great calm. In amazement the disciples wondered out loud: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

And so the church kept the story. They told it again and again. When times were hard, when the waves of so much lapped too high. When the clouds of so many things darkened the sky. When it looked like the little boat in which they sailed would just break apart and they would be lost. And when they chose their first symbol of the church—remember what it was? It was a ship. A boat. A vessel that sailed the stormy seas. I do not know a better metaphor for the church or the nation or maybe the world than this symbol: a boat sailing on a stormy sea.

What better Scripture for us to ponder this day than to recall this story? Doesn’t it feel to you like a ship with waves that toss and clouds everywhere? We do not know what the future holds. And like those disciples we wonder if will perish. The dark swirling waters and the terrors of September 11th have left none of us untouched. That terrible day nine years ago we joined the rest of the world when the safety we have always felt was pulled out from under us.


Let’s look at the story. First point: Jesus question to his disciples that stormy night. Why are you afraid? And if there is one thing that travels like a virus around this country that touches all of us it is this word: fear. We are afraid. We are afraid we will sink. We are afraid we will perish. We are afraid of loss of control. We are afraid of the uncertainty of what is to be. We are afraid for our children and our grandchildren and just about everything.

We understand that, don’t we? I have had seven Interims since I retired in 2000. And do you know the central problem that I have had to deal with in every single situation. Anxiety—free-floating anxious. People scared. What’s going to happen to our church? Will people leave? Will the money hold out? Will people quit joining?
But this word anxiety or fear infects all we do. Our whole foreign policy is based on fear. Much of the stance at every level of our lives is a defensive stance. We are desperate for answers and we are desperate for comfort. And it does not matter if we are talking oil or terrorism or the war or companies moving out of every town we know or just scared to let our kids ride the school bus or play outside.
We know about fear. We know about boats that rock and waves that come and the terror that grips all our hearts. I have just finished reading a two-volume biography of Adolph Hitler. The question underneath all those pages was how in the world did he do what he did? At the end of that war 51 million people had died and this does not count the river of grief that was left behind for those who lived. Six million Jews were killed, not to speak of the old and the broken and the weak and the gypsies and the homosexuals that were put to death. How did he do this? Fear. He fed the fears of the people and it swept through the country like a virus. Propaganda was his number one tool. If you say it long enough and hard enough people will believe anything. Fear makes us lose our perspective. Fear forces us to do black/white thinking. Fear cannot tolerate difference. Fear is desperate for comfort and the right answers. Fear points fingers at somebody else as the problem. Fear blinds us to reality and distorts our thinking. Fear festers in the darkness. Fear produces sameness under the guise of closeness. You must be like me or else you or not my friend. Fear sees no way out. Fear is powerless. And maybe the worst of all: fear is as contagious as any virus ever was—maybe more so.

This was where the disciples were. They were in the middle of the sea and the waves rocked and the boat shook and they were afraid. They saw nothing clearly. No wonder they woke Jesus and said, “Lord save us! We are perishing.”

After September 11th I was terribly touched by the response of people around the world. We joined hands and hearts. We had been attacked and we drew together. Almost every country reached out to us in one way or the other. We were one in this rocky ship called the earth.

I don’t know when it changed but it did. One of the responses to grief is fear. And maybe this was one of the things that slowly separated us from one another in this country and around the world. Why we are trying to build a wall between us and Mexico—it’s impossible. We have tightened our borders to people in many countries. Islamaphobia is a new word we have coined for a very old problem: fear. It gripped us like it did those fishermen that Jesus had called. They knew about storms. They knew about squalls. They knew how to handle a boat even in rough water. And knowing all of that these strong men were terrified. This is where we are today. But this is only half of the story.


The second word in the story comes from Jesus’ question to those in the boat: “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” If the first word today is fear, the second word is faith. All the way through the Old and New Testaments we hear these same words spoken over and over: Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Old Abraham starting out on a journey in a land he did not know with a wife that did not particularly want to move—heard: Do not be afraid. Moses called to Egypt and to stand before Pharaoh and to try to set his people free was told: Do not be afraid. And when they sent the spies out and they came back with the report that there were giants over there and they were just sure their enemies had Nuclear weapons—remember the minority report. Do not be afraid. Remember that verse in Psalm 46.1-2a: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” Skip on down to the New Testament. In those early pages when the angels came to Mary and to Joseph and to Elizabeth with the words of a new baby —the angels said: Do not be afraid. And when the Shepherds heard the angels singing the old scruffy Shepherds heard them sing: Do not be afraid. And all the way through the book we have these same words. When the women came to the tomb that Easter morning—weeping as if their hearts would break—the angels this time said: Do not be afraid. And if that were not enough John told the early church in First John: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”(I John 4.18)

The early church told the story about the boat and the disciples’ fear and Jesus speaking peace to the winds and the waves to anyone who was or is anxious. This does not discount the troubles of our world. It does not push under the rug the difficulties of our time. But it does say the Christian’s stance is not fear but faith. And we know, you and I that the faith journey is long and hard. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step backwards. Sometimes it is two steps backward and one step forward. Like the disciples we, too, will find our hearts failing us for fear again and again. But we won’t stay at this dark place. For we remember that we are not in the boat alone. Christ is here and Christ will be with us. And he uses that wonderful word: always. He will be with us always.

Osama Ben Laden will win this war on terrorism if we move through our lives with fear. We Christians have been given another way. “Why are you afraid, you of little faith,” Jesus said. “Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him.” Thanks be to God.

(  You might be interested in Jim Wallis' take on the annivdersary of 9/11. Good.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My visit to the local Islamic Center

"For the sun and the moon and the stars that light the night, we give you thanks. For the rain and the wind and the storm, we give you thanks. For the diversity of people whom you have created, we give you thanks. Holy and precious God, we ask that you would grant us the understanding and the patience to live in peace, with your creation, and with all those whom you have created.  Help us remember that we are all brothers and sisters in you. Amen."
   --prayer from God's Politics Blog

Weeks ago I received an invitation to visit the Islamic Center in Birmingham. The request stated that it would be an opportunity to learn more about Islam and to make new friends. I forgot about the invitation until I kept reading about the furor over the proposed Muslim Center near Ground Zero. Then word came about the suspicious fire at a Muslim Center in Murfreesboro Tennessee. None of us have been able to escape the rantings of that Pastor in Florida who is promoting the burning of the Koran on September 11. I decided it was time to see Islam up close.

So Tuesday night my wife and I drove out to the Crescent Islamic Center in Hoover. There were about 20 of us who came to observe and learn. We were met by several members of that community and the leader who is called an Imam. We sat around tables and listened as their leader talked and we asked questions.

I learned much about this group that I did not know. The Muslim faith is the fastest growing religion in the world. There are between 1.4 and 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. There are approximately ten million members in America. Interestingly, the majority of Muslims can be found not in the Middle East but in South-East Asia. In Birmingham there are two Mosques and another is being built. I was surprised to learn there are seven to ten thousand Muslims who live in our community.

The word, Islam means submission to the Almighty. They revere the Koran as their holy book as much as most Christians revere the Bible. We met during Ramadan which is the holiest season in the year for Muslims. From August 11 until September 9 this faith community fasts from sunrise to sunset. As the sun sets they enjoy family and community meals, use this season to refocus their attention of God and practice self-sacrifice . Part of their observance was to open their doors to members of the Birmingham community for dialogue and understanding.

Someone in our group asked why they left their own countries and came to the United States. The leader told us they came to Americas because of corrupt government and the brutality of dictators in some of their countries. Most came from poor nations and wanted a better life for their families. They came to get a first-class education. But most of all they came because the United States is a free land.

I met members who study at UAB, some who have graduated in computer science and engineering and medical fields. I talked to members who were proud of the accomplishments their children found in our schools. The people we met were kind and gentle and wanted us to understand their ways. They listened to our concerns.

Someone asked if Islam was a threat to America. The Imam shook his head. Most of the Muslims, he said, were peace-loving people . He went on to say that most of us fear what we do not know. Those terrorists who have caused so much heartbreak and destruction do not represent the Muslim faith any more than Christians are to be judged by that Pastor in Florida who wants to burn their holy book. Every faith group has its radicals and it would be unfair to judge a whole people by a handful of terrorists.

Many Muslims dress differently that we do. They worship Allah--take their shoes off when they pray five times a day. The women and men are separated in worship. They pray in the Arabic language. Their sanctuary is lined with Arabic quotations from the Koran. Most comes from other countries and bring with them vestiges of cultures that seem foreign to our ways. They taught me a lesson I often forget: to be different is not wrong at all.

I assured that group that we were embarrassed by the Pastor in Florida who talks of burning the Koran. I reminded all those present that this man had 50 people in his church and if the media had not focused on him, few would know about his prejudices. I told those present that we should never forget that there were over 60 of their faith that died that sad day of September 11th. These were Americans--they were not terrorists.

That night we ate together, enjoyed each other’s company and parted knowing a little more about each other’s faith. People all over the world look to us as a country where all are free to live and worship as we choose. What a shame it would be if people fled the oppression of their country only to find the same thing in America. To make the word, all large and encompassing word is still part of our homework. Last Tuesday night I felt hospitality. Surely Birmingham will return the favor.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Burning the Koran for Jesus

There’s been a whole lot of hoop-la over the Pastor in Florida who has proclaimed September 11 “International Burn a Koran Day.” Terry Jones, pastor of a 50 (yes fifty) member church in Gainesville, Florida announced he would burn the Koran “to bring awareness to the dangers of Islam and that the Koran is leading people to hell.” He appeared recently on the Chris Matthews show last Thursday. All the media have picked up this story--even General Petraeus has commented on the craziness of this idea. Muslims who listen to the news are up in arms. To burn a Koran is serious business for Muslim folk as burning a Bible would be for Christians.

My complain is with the media not with this very disturbed Pastor. 1) He has a church of 50 people and if you know anything about how we count numbers in church--those figures are probably padded. We call that “ministerially speaking.“ 2) When are we going to quit giving power to crazy people? 3) Every religious leader of any reputation has protested this irresponsible action. 4) Why don’t we talk about some of the religious groups that will be remembering 9/11 in some responsible and meditative way?

It is time to put a moratorium on making these people famous. Remember the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas? They parade around with “God hates fags” signs. They picket the funerals of our soldiers killed in the war because we have a don’t ask--don’t tell policy. They say these deaths are God’s judgment on a nation that permits gays in the service. This Church is made up of one minister and mostly members of his family. It is a handful of people. Yet--everybody knows this group--and people everywhere think that because they hang the word Baptist and Church on their shingle that a great many must agree with them. Not so. If we had not turned the spotlight on them--nobody would not even know they are around.

The point of all this? Let’s quit dignifying ignorance. Let’s return to the real news. Let’s focus on what we might do to make this a stronger nation and a healthier place for all to live.

Pastor Jones has a right to spout out his poison. This is part of democracy--everyone can have their say. What is not part of democracy is giving these people a forum and power that they do not deserve and it makes Muslims around the world think we really do feel this way.