In light of recent events we are producing this PS Extra by Steve Stockman, minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church. It is taken from his Soul Surmise Blog (http://www.stocki.typepad.com) and is reprinted with permission.
There has been a lot of talk in the Northern Ireland media this week about Muslims and racism and what Church and political leaders have said. I have blogged enough in response to all of that. It is time now to move on. I don’t mean leaving it behind. I mean moving on to the next stage. We have responded to the lazy stereotyping of races and religions and the tone that sometimes incites wrong reactions. We have looked at how Jesus name can be easily discredited for the wrong reasons. It is now time to move from the negatives to imagining creative positives.
There are lessons to learn. It has been a wake up call to our lack of proactive loving of ethnic group neighbours. I know we in Fitzroy are privileged to have a few different ethnic groups dotted across our congregation but they are dotted. We have many nationalities at our Baby and Toddler group too. We have a few African nationalities using our halls through outside groups. Yet, relationships are sparse and our Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship’s intention to meet with those from the Islamic Centre, before this recent controversy, has taken on a new urgency.
Was it Shane Claiborne who said that if we want to reach the poor we could start by getting to know them. The same needs to be said about our ethnic minorities, particularly in our recent debate the Muslim community. It is when we connect with people on a personal level that we stop seeing them through stereotype and caricature. Our relationships with flesh and blood is always more knowledgable, honest and authentic than when we relate to people through impersonal beliefs, ideologies and histories. Goodness but hasn’t this been the problem between our Catholic and Protestant communities over the centuries. Surely we should learn from our past mistakes as we find a new future with a plethora of ethnic neighbours. One of the positive things to come out of this week is how many Church leaders have visited the Belfast Islam Centre for the very first time.
As I have thought about how to move forward I have been reminded of a powerful story that Jim Wallis tells in his book On God’s Side. It is of how Steve Stone, a Christian pastor in Cordova, Tennessee, was concerned when he heard that the Memphis Islamic Centre was moving onto his block. However, after praying, Steve decided that Jesus was telling him to love his neighbour. Having put a sign in front of his Church that read, “Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Centre to the Neighborhood,” friendships developed and both communities learned about one another.
When a national media hot story arose over another pastor Terry Jones’ planned burning of Qu’rans CNN ran a piece that interviewed Steve Stone and his neighbouring Imam. A group of Muslim men seeing the news package in a Mosque in Kashmir responded in a remarkable way. They were so moved by Stone’s welcome to the Islamic Centre that one of them went to the local Christian Church and cleaned it inside and out. They phoned Steve Stone to tell him that they would now be supporting this neighbouring Christian community in whatever way they could.
This is not a diluting of Steve Stone’s theology or his belief in Jesus. It is the very opposite. This gives the life, cross and resurrection of Christ robust proof and positive witness. The radical way that Jesus laid down his life for the world is preached in our actions as the word is literally made flesh in our neighbourhoods, media centres and across the world!
Let us move on. Let us follow. Let us surprise the world. Let us live Jesus to our neighbours.