Many times when I write things such as the following, my premise is misunderstood. Frankly, I think that some want to take it a certain way…looking for areas of disagreement, debate. If that’s the position in which you find yourself, then you may want to stop reading now because this is not an argument in regard to theology, philosophy, or politics. This is simply my journey in a sea of humanity wherein all are searching and many are wandering in darkness. Therefore, before I begin, let me preface this by saying that in no way am I trying to “find common ground,” or “sympathize” with anyone. This is about being human and…hopefully…biblically Christian.On Christmas Day, our day was quite calm. We had taken care of all of our family gatherings and gift exchanges already. This is perhaps the very first Christmas Day that wasn’t somewhat chaotic. It allowed us to do what we wanted in our own time and at our own pace. In the late morning, after opening gifts and a casual breakfast, I decided to go for a run, seeing as how the temperatures were pretty high and more conducive to comfort. My youngest daughter had become ill with some stomach illness which left her nauseated. I told my wife that while I was out I would buy some ginger ale. On my way to my running location, I stopped in the first open store I saw, which was a gas station and convenience store a few miles from home. When I walked in, there was a Middle Eastern man behind the counter, probably in his late 50’s. Due to the easily offended and politically correct climate, I will often simply say hello. (I am not afraid of offending people as much as I prefer to keep lines of communication if possible.) I simply smiled as I walked in and nodded my head as a greeting. Without reservation or equivocation, he loudly said, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” with a thick accent. I was a little surprised and returned the greeting. I made my purchase, made a little small talk, and was on my way.
While I was running, I couldn’t get him off of my mind. I had no way of knowing this, but I firmly believed he was likely a Muslim. Perhaps it was my stereotypical thinking…or perhaps it was something more…perhaps it was Someone…leading me into this truth…leading me into more engagement. As much as I’m not a fan of this sort of thing, I “made a deal” with God. I told Him that if there were no cars there when I went back by then I would stop in and talk to him. I thought that I could use some Gatorade anyway.
I finished my run and headed back home. I got to the station, and sure enough, no cars were present except a gentleman paying for gas at the pump (meaning he wouldn’t go inside). I walked in and as I did, the same man looked at me a bit surprised to see me again (I’m sure the fact that I was a sweaty mess wasn’t lost on him either). I awkwardly said, “I need to get some Gatorade…I’ve been running.” He gave me an affirming nod and then I just stood there…once again…very awkwardly. I decided that this was possibly the only moment I would have privately with him, so I decided to go for it…not knowing if I was going to stir up a hornet’s nest or not.
I thought to myself, “How do I start this conversation…how do I say it without him thinking I’m on the hunt or attack?” I just did my best…and I’m quite sure I had a Helper. “May I ask you a very blunt question…and please understand I mean no harm at all?” He looked a little taken off guard and then said, “Sure.” I asked, “Where are you from?” He responded, “Jerusalem.” (I have to say, I love the way Middle Easterners say “Jerusalem.”) A little surprised, I asked him if he was Jewish. Unashamedly, but VERY respectfully, he responded, “I am a Muslim.” This was my moment. I said, “I thought perhaps you may be…and because of that, I wanted to thank you.” He was a little confused…not knowing why I was thanking him. I went on to explain how I really appreciated the fact that even though he doesn’t believe what I believe, he still felt it within himself to offer a greeting that would likely put my feelings ahead of his own. (It’s a pretty safe bet in the rural communities of western North Carolina to say, “Merry Christmas,” without offending anyone.) He seemed totally relaxed and disarmed after that. The conversation went from consumer and merchant to Christian and Muslim…and ultimately…human and human.
Right now, in this cultural climate of fear and anger, if we’re not careful…we will find ourselves seeing certain people groups or religions as the enemy. There are political candidates saying some pretty audacious things, and it’s safe to say that these subjects are incredibly complex. But…in this moment…in this mountain community…I made a new friend…and what’s more…I learned that this man was never my enemy. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we believe in the same things, and I would be dishonest regarding my faith if I said that I believe his system is true as well as my own. But this exchange wasn’t about that. This exchange was about being a neighbor…being a friend…being human.
I don’t believe that any human is the enemy. I believe that the real enemy is prowling around…like a roaring lion…looking for a fresh meal. I believe the scum of existence, whom we know as satan (yes I’m aware I didn’t capitalize his name), is the real enemy. It is his goal to divide and conquer. It is his goal to deceive. he hates all of humanity and will use anyone that he can in order to accomplish further destruction.
The question we must ask ourselves always is about whether or not we are being used by him in the same way…or are we willing to simply engage for the sake of love of man and trust in God.