Giving birth

This past week, the senior producer of "Interfaith Voices," Laura Kwerel, gave birth to a baby girl, Emily Lynne, after only 27 weeks of pregnancy -- yes, very premature. Laura is fine, but needless to say, she worries about little Emily constantly. Still, Emily brings life and hope, however fragile.

This whole story has caused me to reflect on giving birth and what that means in a season when we celebrate Mary's giving birth to Jesus.

We are all -- in some sense -- called to "give birth" to hope and new life in our tattered world. Like the real thing, giving birth involves "labor pains" and often the need for help in the process. And sometimes, there is a Herod on the horizon.

So what "new life" might we inject into today's world? There are lots of possibilities. I want to suggest one that might well come into play as we greet family and friends over the holidays.

We might give new life to religious dignity and the equality of all faith traditions in the United States, by resolving never to let another person's bigoted word run by us unanswered in our daily conversations.

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Once -- many, many years ago -- someone told me that I should never let the word "n----r" be spoken in my presence without making clear that I did not approve of such language. Although I don't hang around with people who use that word, I have made my displeasure known -- emphatically -- in the few cases where I have run into it.

Today, we need to do the same with the religious bigotry infecting our nation right now: a bigotry focused on Islam -- aided and abetted by some political candidates. In this atmosphere, "giving birth" to an atmosphere of religious dignity and respect means this: If we hear derogatory statements about Islam or Muslims, we need to answer them while the words are still in the air. Without delay.

When people equate terrorism with Islam, we need to make clear that such statements are not the real Islam, which -- properly understood -- teaches peace. We need to make known that Islam is one of the "Abrahamic traditions" with Jews and Christians. We need to be clear that the Islamic State group is grossly distorting Islam ... just as those who fomented the violence of the Inquisition distorted Catholicism.

Not everyone will understand of course ... or find room in their "inn" for our welcoming statements. But ultimately, we will be greeted by various shepherds and "wise persons" who also want to celebrate this new birth of understanding and solidarity.

"Giving birth," bringing "new life" into our world, may require acts of moral courage -- and "labor pains"-- this year. But then ... what is Christmas ultimately about?


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