As we watched the news stories about the memorial service in Oak Creek, Wis., for the six Sikhs who died in the shooting rampage on Aug. 5, we saw hundreds of men wearing turbans or dastars. I found myself admiring those men who weren’t ashamed to publicly witness to what they believed.
Here’s where I’m coming from: When I was teaching Confirmation, I used to ask my eighth-graders to write a personal statement of faith that they would read during what we referred to as their affirmation of Baptism. One of the questions they had to answer was, “How will you live because of what you believe?”
One of the boys said he didn’t understand what I meant, so I said, “Well, think of the Christians you know. How do they live differently than people who don’t follow Jesus.”
He thought for a moment and answered, “I don’t see any difference.”
My heart sank into my stomach. If this kid couldn’t see any difference between the people who came to church on Sunday and those for whom that was not a priority, it must mean that what we were doing wasn’t changing anyone’s life.
During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing pictures on TV of men wearing their dastars, which, in effect, made them walking targets for crazy people like the Oak Creek murderer, and I felt shame that I am sometimes embarrassed to publicly witness to what I believe. On top of that, in the memorial service for the victims, the Sikhs focused on healing and forgiveness rather than retribution. Sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? But how many of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus would have a similar attitude in the midst of such a tragedy?
As I watched the Olympics, I saw two Muslim women athletes from Saudi Arabia who competed covered head to toe with clothing and wearing a hijab on their heads. The irony for me was that these women were being more “Christian” than a lot of us in the sense that they were unashamed of who they are and what they believed.
Neither the Sikhs in Wisconsin nor the Muslim Olympic athletes were trying to proselytize anyone. They were simply being true to what they believed.
In 1951 H. Richard Niebuhr published a theological classic titled, Christ and Culture, in which he examined how people of faith relate to the culture in which they live. Have we so adapted to our culture that we have lost all ability to criticize or transform it? In another book, The Kingdom of God in America, he also criticized liberal Christians as believing that “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
Maybe we need to allow the Sikhs wearing their turbans to make us examine just what it is that we believe. Do our beliefs consist merely of a “theology of nice, of tolerance, of go along to get along, of don’t make waves?”
In our village we have a lot of folks who fit that description, and, to tell you the truth, those kinds of people make pretty good neighbors. The problem with that theology, however, is that it is incapable of producing leaders like Dr. King who call us to invest ourselves in making our society better than it is. When it comes to leaders – in our village, nation and churches – I’m looking for people with a vision that goes beyond being nice, which inspires me, like those Sikh men who wear turbans, to live what I believe.
Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.