This has been quite a Lenten Season.

This has been quite a Lenten Season.  

Sadly its specialness wasn’t the result of my personal devotion and discipline. It was good Lent because of the very fine Lenten Study Series offered by my Church.  

Earlier, I reported on a “Good to Go!” Wednesday evening presentation calling us to consider our certain death, and for the sake of those who love us, prepare for it legally, liturgically, and lovingly.  It was a great program that got much attention and response from those who participated.

Then on Wednesday last the Church hosted a visit from four Muslim men, who came from Wichita to share with us the rudimentary beliefs of Islam and the extensive and rigorous religious rituals lived by faithful Muslims.

The guests were delightful, their presentation informative, and their openness and respect for those of us not Muslims were very impressive and enjoyable.  Those who listened learned a lot.  

It was an important learning.  Prior to 9/11/01 few Americans thought about Islam; Muslims were mainly providers of our oil, and often blamed for volatile prices. Following that fateful day in September 2001, however, Muslims mostly have been viewed with suspicion, anxiety, and hostility.

Surely since America’s preemptive attack, conquest, and ongoing war in Iraq, American uncertainty about Islam has heightened.  Words like “insurgent”, “al-Qaida”, “terrorist”, “suicide bomber” are what came to mind when Muslims were considered.

Our media focus is on Muslim ferocity and violence against America and our troops in far off lands, lands that we seldom acknowledge as basically Muslim countries that America invaded, conquered, and in many ways destroyed.

Few recall that Iraq never attacked or harmed America. There were no Iraqi’s in the attack on the World Trade Center. The nineteen young fanatics were mostly Saudi’s, recruited, trained, and led by a maniacal radical from Saudi Arabia.

Yet as with so many “groups,” the peaceful majority is lumped together with the radical minority.

So it was a joy to share for a moment with Muslim men committed to worshiping God, serving His people, and living in peace with all others.

I would add that  during Lent of 2005  I spent my Friday afternoons at prayer with the Muslims in the Mosque in Wichita.  After  9/11/01,  I knew I had to learn more about this great monotheistic religion that was claimed by those who so willingly sacrificed their own lives to injure America.

During my extensive “self-study” of Islam, praying with the Muslim community was truly an awakening.

I found a most hospitable people, generous, kind and longing for peace. I became friends with a number of Muslims.

I knew then that the media’s portrait of Muslims was skewered and dangerous to them and to us. I had objected to the war with Iraq since early in 2003; it was blatant aggression that would accomplish nothing. Ironically our Wednesday time together was near the 10th Anniversary of that horrible wrong.
Indeed no “mission was accomplished” but the intensifying of hatred toward America.  So many lives and limbs were sacrificed to the arrogant pride and ignorance of America’s leadership.

Not only were thousands of lives lost, but America suffers still with the financial deficit resulting from that wasted war.

As many of us believed then and are now totally convinced this military adventure will be remembered as one of the blackest decisions and actions of our beloved nation. Still none of those responsible have ever been called to account. We still try to deny the foolish and fatal folly that wrecked the lives of so many Americans.

It was ironic that a few persons of good will, both Christian and Muslim, could share an evening of peaceful community on this most horrible anniversary.  Perhaps at future times of mutual respect and fellowship more of the wounds of the war can be healed.

The other ironic reality was that as we shared in communal friendship with Muslims, our President was in Israel and Palestine seeking again to bring some peace to that troubled area.

This historic meeting again reminded me that the root of all the bitter hatred felt by so many Muslims against America is simply the visceral reaction to America’s unwavering, unqualified, unquestioning, unilateral support of the State of Israel and to the subjection and oppression by Israel of the native Palestinian people, mostly Arab and Muslim.

Sadly, most Americans still see the Israeli’s as the oppressed and abused Biblical “Hebrew Children.” 

Far from it!  

Israel is a modern western theocracy, with the strongest military in the area, and the possessor of nuclear weapons; the only nation with such weaponry in the Middle East.

That America tacitly accepts that reality while strongly denouncing any other nation that seeks equal armament (i.e. Iran)  is another source of Muslim ire.

Also, America has repeatedly vetoed UN Resolutions condemning Israel construction of permanent settlements on “occupied territories:” a flagrant breach of international law.

Israel is a nation created from conquest of Palestine and Palestinians, supported by the Western World from guilt over allowing the horrible holocaust of the 40’s.

The only justification for claiming the land is found in their own Holy Scripture. Israeli’s claim that their God gave them the land of Palestine forever, even though they only ruled it some 150 years out of all the centuries.

On that private and exclusive claim the Israeli’s continue to suppress and oppress the indigenous Arab Palestinians. If that injustice could be righted, the hostility and hatred toward America would dissolve into vapor.  

Hopefully the President can somehow achieve “justice and only justice” for Muslims as well as for Israelis.  Much of the angry tensions throughout the world would be eased.  

So maybe, our little Lenten Wednesday evening program of “sitting and supping and sharing” between Christians and Muslims might be just a small moment of such hope.  

For those in attendance, perhaps some modicum of pleasant relaxation of anxiety may have happened. 

That would be a good thing….even for little McPherson, out here on the American prairie.

Fr. Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest, living in McPherson.