Thursday, September 21, 2006

Visit to the Mosque

Last night, 51 of us from the church's confirmation program visited a local mosque. I want to capture a few thoughts from the visit:

1. Imam Ahmed Kobeisy of the Islamic Cultural Center of the Capital District was a wonderful host, fielding questions and prompting discussion in a most respectful and helpful manner. There were about as many kids as parents and adults, which we had not expected but which he rolled with very well.

2. I was SO proud of our kids for their respect and demeanor during the visit. I'm new to this church and these kids so I was a bit nervous about how they would behave; I'm pleased to say they were fantastic and I feel comfortable taking them on other trips this year.

3. What an honor for Imam Kobeisy to invite us to watch one of their prayer services. I have participated in such prayers before, in a mosque in Tucson, and find the ritual powerful. Indeed, as the Imam said, if we come before God five times daily with the right spirit, we will certainly be reminded of God's consistent presense in our lives (much more, I might add, than if we only pray to God on Sundays!).

4. I am again struck by the significance of Jesus Christ in our lives. Christ's offer of grace marks Christianity as unique among world religions and is a stark contrast to Islam. So many of the facts about Islam that we were presented with last night were related to what we should DO in our lives (help the poor, pray daily, fast regularly, honor God). The divinity and grace of Jesus Christ allow Christians to spend more energy around who we ARE -- loved and accepted by God, warts and all!

5. In high school, once when we had free tickets to Disneyland, JJ and I rode the "It's a Small World" ride and got out of our boats to "dance" with the little dolls and figures singing that song over and over and over... Imam Kobeisy reminded us again how small this world really is: many people paint him with the same brush as
bin Laden.

6. On a relatively unrelated (and irreverent) note, click here for a Daily Show poke at interreligious dialogue. I'm glad last night didn't turn into this.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I’ve spent a significant part of this past weekend with emergency first responders. On Saturday, I participated in a community-wide emergency drill which simulated a military airplane carrying 40 people and some dangerous cargo which happened to crash in the backyard of the East Glenville Fire Department. For several hours, volunteer fire fighters from at least four departments coordinated efforts for rescue and recovery with each other, local ambulance companies and the military. About half the “injured” (played by more volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol, the Boy Scouts, and the military) were carried to local hospitals.

As a chaplain, I can’t actually “simulate” praying with the injured or counseling the medic who has to amputate a leg in the field. Instead, I met as many people as I could, shaking hands and thanking them for participating the exercise and for their work in their fields. One fire fighter raised his arms to the beautiful sunny morning and said, “I could be home finishing my deck!” Each of us in that drill chose to be a part of the machinery in our society that prepares and responds to disasters and emergencies in our community.

On Sunday, we held a memorial service for Joe Longobardo, a member of our unit and state trooper killed last week during a hunt for an escaped convict. Later in the afternoon, I waited with hundreds of other people to pay condolences to his family and friends and respect to Joe’s memory at his casket. Troopers and police and fire departments and Marines and Air Guardsmen uniforms seemed as prevalent as civilian clothes. I watched as troopers tried to balance their job with the overwhelming emotion of the event. Several gathered around a slideshow flipping pictures of Joe as a child, on duty in the desert, holding his year-old son and dancing with his wife. When pictures of strength contests or around a bar were displayed, those in uniform would laugh and nudge each other. When pictures from barracks or on patrol were displayed, those in uniform would nod their heads in memory. But when pictures of Joe’s young son and wife came on the screen, the reactions of those wearing uniforms was completely different. Some tensed up, some showed open grief and pain, some looked away. These are human beings, these are fathers and brothers and mothers.

After my first year of college, I took an EMT course in Los Angeles. Part of the on-the-job training I spent with an ambulance company responding to calls. I remember a pretty beat up bicyclist who had need ambulance transportation to a hospital after a fall; I remember the screaming of someone on an LSD trip that needed to be restrained; I remember weaving through traffic when the sirens suddenly stopped and we became just another car on the road because the person we were going to help had been declared dead on the scene and the crew I was with was not needed. Because of that one day I spent in an ambulance, every time I hear sirens, I stop and offer a prayer for the safety and wisdom of the emergency responders and the health of whoever is the focus of their call. I’ve taught this to Charis who now pipes up with every siren she hears, “There go the helpers!”

It’s September 11… I’m going to Joe’s funeral today… There are thousands of our neighbors who choose to live as helpers among us. I am grateful for what they are willing to do. May their strength give us strength.