I hope that more Muslims, especially myself, demonstrate the courage to choose despite pressure to conform.
It was while in the military I realized the power of choice far outweighed the power of identity. After I got out, I stumbled into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. There I found many like myself; outcasts from former faiths by reason or choice. It was the one place you could be a doubter, a skeptic, and still remain a member of the tribe of man. Furthermore, UUs really do see mankind as the ultimate tribe. To a UU a devout, explicit belief in God is irrelevant for if there is a god, all roads ultimately will lead one to Him.
So I threw myself into my new tribe. Like my peers in the service, I found fellow UUs banding together across time and space to bear the universal lash of injustice together. Whenever one falls, another rises. It’s who we are…not by birth, but by choice. Our choice, you see, trumps any and all identities we might otherwise claim by force of habit.
One such choice we tend to collectively make is to see the similarities between people rather than the differences. Because of this we choose to champion the courage to assert one’s right to the identity of choice or rights to accompany the identity of circumstance. We know this courage because it’s the same courage that is required on our part to express doubt in the face of certainty. So you see courage, we have found, is universal wherever we look.
Such courage was on display again yesterday in the body of Greg McKendry…using his to shield those of others from the blasts of a madman’s gun. Such courage was also on display in the form of those brave members of the congregation who set aside the risk to tackle the man threatening to kill others and render aid to those injured. Our tribe was attacked. Our herd was threatened. The wolf came thinking he would find sheep but instead, found lions.
What else could he have expected? Did we expect different from ourselves and our friends? No we did not. From suffrage to civil rights we have many times faced armed tyranny with the empty hand and open heart only to prevail. Yesterday was no exception. While I have never lacked that fierce pride that comes with membership in my chosen community, never before have I felt the fire of the Chalice in my own heart burn as bright as it does now in my grief and admiration. I grieve for those lost. I admire how bravely they have lived. A man came to our church thinking his hate and anger would put out our love and compassion. He has failed.
Yesterday, I cried. Today, I stand. I stand with Greg, Linda, their families, and those courageous men who stepped in to mitigate tragedy; not because of a shared identity as Unitarian Universalist but by the force of my own choice to do so. I will not live in fear anymore. No gun or outrage, I swear it, will ever again turn me from what I know is right. Our choice is what we are. I choose the path of our friends and those more like us than not…the path of courage.