Ehud Ahmadi emailed his friends Michael Rosenthal and Pastor Walter Mitty, asking them to meet him at Bernie’s coffee shop, saying he wanted to figure something out.
“You OK?” asked Michael, as they sat down at a table right next to the history of religions book shelf in Bernie’s combination book store and coffee shop. “I got the sense from your email that you were struggling with something.”
Ehud’s smile was tinged with sadness. “You’re perceptive, Michael. You might say I’m on something of a jihad. I’m struggling to conform my life to the will of Allah, and I thought you two might be able to help me.”
On hearing that, Michael and Pastor Walt rolled up their emotional sleeves and got ready to do some spiritual work. That was the kind of relationship they had. “Religion is like the mafia,” Michael often said to explain where each of them was coming from. “You are either all the way in or all the way out.”
The three were all the way into their particular religions, yet at the bottom of each of their traditions was an awareness that an insight from another faith could shine a light on what was most profound in their own.
“Here’s my struggle,” Ehud began with a sigh. “You are all aware of the terrorist massacres in places of worship. Christians in Sri Lanka. Muslims in New Zealand. Jews last year in Pittsburgh.”
Michael and Pastor Walt waited silently as their Muslim friend decided what to say next.
Ehud continued, “You both celebrated Passover a couple weeks ago, right?”
Pastor Walt and his Jewish neighbor nodded.
“Well, from this Muslim’s perspective, the Passover for Jews is about remembering how God freed his people from slavery in Egypt with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. So, if you were one of the people of Israel the Exodus was evidence of God’s love for them, even if it involved thousands of Egyptians losing their lives. But if you were an Egyptian. . . .”
“So,” said Michael, “you’re saying that how you experience God would depend on what tribe you are in, right?”
“Right,” Ehud replied, “but if you are a Christian, the Passover was the occasion on the night before Jesus was crucified when he washed the disciples’ feet like a servant, and then he commanded them to love others as he had loved them.”
“And the two versions seem like polar opposites, right?” said Pastor Mitty.
“Seems clear to me,” said Ehud. “So here’s the question. To which of those versions of the guidance regarding how to respond to terrorists?”
“Love will conquer all,” each one of them wanted to say.
“See, I want to say ‘love’ is the answer,” Ehud finally said out loud, “but unlike the Christian gospels the Quran teaches us to love our friends, but it doesn’t say anything about loving our enemies, much less praying for them. The Prophet, blessed be he, commanded us to not start wars against peaceful nations, but if any of them attacks a Muslim nation, then it is natural to take up arms and defend your country. The Prophet seems more grounded in the real world.”
Bernie Rolvaag couldn’t help overhearing the conversation, and walking over to their table he said, “You know the Catholic tradition created the Just War Theory, which more or less lays out what Ehud just said about the Quran.”
“But that’s the frustrating problem,” Ehud said. “Whoever came up with that theory was in effect saying that Jesus’ approach to life doesn’t work. But I’m not sure that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is working either. And really, down deep I do want love to be the answer.”
“Like, maybe World War II is an example of that Just War Theory working,” said Pastor Mitty as he nodded in understanding, “but as far as I can see most of the armed conflicts since then have been anything but just wars. Violence just seems to breed more violence.”
“Like the bombing of churches on Easter in Sri Lanka was just payback for what happened in New Zealand—at least according to ISIS,” Ehud added.
After a minute of silence, Michael said, “Here’s a thought. In the original Passover and the Exodus that followed, the enemy was external.
“Oh I see,” said Ehud, “and you’re saying that when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet during that Passover meal, he was addressing an enemy that is internal. And that enemy is our inability or unwillingness to love.”
At that point Michael started laughing.
Pastor Mitty and Ehud had puzzled looks on their faces, until Michael calmed down enough to explain, “I tried to imagine Donald Trump washing the feet of a family from Honduras seeking asylum and the scene struck me as beyond absurd.”
“For him,” Pastor Mitty agreed, “the enemy is always external. Someone else is always to blame.”
“Come to think of it,” said Ehud, “I can’t think of any world leader, or for that matter, any of the Democrats running for president humbling themselves in that way either. Can you think of anyone seeking power who would call for a national day of repentance as their first act after being sworn in?”
“You got me thinking,” said Michael who had become serious. “It’s kind of a game we play. I mean criticizing prominent people. But, maybe that past time is a form of avoidance. Maybe focusing on the sins of people in power is a way of avoiding what we need to be doing right here in Poplar Park?
“Like for instance? Ehud asked.
“Like,” Michael replied after taking a deep breath, “when is the last time any of us washed anyone’s feet, if you know what I mean? Especially people we don’t like.”
The three men sat silently for what felt like a long time sipping their coffee and mentally making lists of the people who irritated or angered or whom had disappointed them.
Finally, Ehud checked his watch and said, “Got to get to work. Thanks, guys. I’m not sure I’ve figured anything out, but for some reason I feel a little more grounded.”
Pastor Mitty didn’t say it out loud, but as he followed his two friends out of the coffee shop he made a promise to himself that before going to bed that night he would pray for Donald Trump.