The one thing we shared? A desire to learn, to come together, to understand our neighbors and ourselves. To dispel the fear that comes from misinformation, stereotypes and media-fed hysteria.
For three hours, we sat there and talked. At the direction of the leader, each table was mixed to represent a good cross section of the religions and ethnicities present. Also at her direction, we discussed our backgrounds, our spiritual journey, our beliefs. We mulled over similarities and differences -- and found the similarities to be a MUCH longer list. We ate sweet pastries, and talked some more. At the end of the evening, each table sent a representative to the front to summarize what we had found.
It was a wonderful inspiring experience. And just the beginning. Our next meeting will be at a synagogue, where the learning and dialog will continue.
The very next day, I opened my e-mail to find a forward from my uncle. A former federal agent, now retired. It was a top to bottom diatribe of hatred against Muslims. A no-holds barred rage that "they" would dare to be in "our" country. He had not written it, but he had forwarded it. This particular uncle has forwarded hateful e-mails to me before and I have privately asked, each time, that I be left off his list. But he has not stopped.
Among my very religiously mixed family, this uncle happens to be Christian. Practicing. So I responded to him (and everyone on his sent-to list) with a message suggesting love and understanding as the only truly brave answer to such an e-mail. I then proposed that instead of forwarding messages of hatred, which of course only increases hatred and violence, perhaps he would consider forwarding a quote from the Christian Bible....
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.' "But I say unto you, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and them which despitefully use you, persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.' For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do no even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
That, I wrote, would be a true act of bravery in the face of hateful messages.
The response from my family was ANGER! My answer was labeled "uncalled for" and "inappropriate" They were enraged at me. I was told to "Read a little about the Koran....and don't live in a shell."
I am saddened. Stunned. The contrast between the meeting and the message is too great.
I cannot remain silent in the face of hatred and distorted half-truths. But must I lose my family to stand up for what I know to be right? Does anyone have a suggestion?