For long years, I have resisted the idea of hanging anything on my car indicating religion. This isn’t because I worry for the safety of my car. Rather, I know that when I drive, I find it very hard to embody the Christian values in which I believe. I try, don’t get me wrong. Every day I try. Rarely do I succeed. Many, it seems don’t think about what kind of ad they may be for their religion. I was thinking about that the other day.
For many Americans, a trip to the Middle East marks the first time they’ve come in contact with Muslims. They likely don’t have good friends showing them the beauty of what Islam can be. So, they come to Jordan and find… what? What kind of ads do they find for Islam? Set aside the vendors who will give them the ever-present “American discount” which doubles or triples the price (although if I were Muslim this would really tick me off).
If they find themselves at the Dead Sea, the American is likely to find a man with his niqabi wife (or wives if they are as lucky as I have been, more than once) ogling them. What an exceptional ad for Islam this man is. Or they may find themselves on the wrong end of Ramadan road rage and have their lives threatened for allowing themselves to be hit.
Each of these circumstances saddens me. They showcase that side of Islam that the US media continually tries to display. For many Americans, it is the only Islam they see. I’m actually quite fortunate. The first Muslim I met in America was a wonderful ad for Islam. She always smiled, even while wearing hijab and jilbab in the excruciating Alabama heat. She was happy to be Muslim and it showed. Here in Jordan, I’ve found a fabulous group of ladies who are practicing Muslims. They represent everything that I believe can (and should) be. But they are outside of the norm of my experience. And that is what saddens me. Equally, Christians who are poor advertisements for my religion sadden me.
The evangelical Christians, like our former President, who talk such a good game about loving life and yet feel no qualms at signing death sentences sadden me. Those who would use Hurricane Katrina and the World Trade Center as opportunities to berate others for sin rather than demonstrate love. Because, after all, faith, hope, and love… the greatest of these is love. And Christians who forget this, who advocate for Israel out of a misplaced desire to hasten the second coming of Christ, represent the worst of what Christianity can be. You see, we have bad advertisements on both sides.
So, really, what I’m saying is… we should try to be a good advertisement every day – in every thing that we do. Whether it’s giving a foreigner a realistic price on goods or showing what love and compassion your religion is really about, each of us needs to show what we want to be. Our call to faith needs to be aspirational. We need to find the best in ourselves to show others because after all, God wants us to be good ads, don’t you think? So, I’ll try to be a nicer driver (I said TRY, okay…).