(This is a mildly updated, second annual version of this post, and I think it may be even more timely this year).
Imagine that a scruffy looking guy shows up on the scene preaching the values of peace, love, and looking out for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable among us. He calls himself Abdul of Damascus, and we learn he is a refugee who recently managed to make his way to the U.S. with his family after fleeing persecution and terror in Syria.
Abdul has an engaging and charismatic manner about him and walks the proverbial walk on his values every day. He speaks truth to power and openly challenges the establishment whenever he thinks they are falling short of living up to these core values. And he finds a lot of material to work with there.
While he speaks of God, he suggests we need to challenge the established religions, noting that they do not always live up to these core values in their policies and practices. In particular, he believes we should be forgiving and judge others by what kind of people they are in their hearts; not by what they look like, where they are from, how much money they have, their sexuality, or their past mistakes.
People are quickly attracted to Abdul’s positive messages of hope, equality and a shared responsibility for helping the less fortunate. The next thing you know, he is an internet and social media sensation, and people everywhere are starting to challenge the status quo.
Where would the story go from here?
I obviously made up this story, and I know that my fictional Abdul would never be mistaken for a moderate (raging or otherwise). As we start this Easter week though, I tried to imagine what the story of Jesus might look like in our modern world, and consider whether our society’s response would be different if it happened today.
XTC, a great band who made my top ten list of musical inspirations for another one of their classics when I kicked off this blog, explored a similar theme in their ‘90’s hit, The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead. If you have not heard that song in awhile, I encourage you to take a few minutes to click this link and listen to it as you read this.
If you know the song, you know Mr. Pumpkinhead met a similar fate to Jesus in the end. While it is hard to imagine a modern day Jesus literally would be nailed to a cross today, it is not so hard to imagine he would find himself in danger. As a refugee and “outsider” who looks and acts differently than most of us and espouses views that fundamentally challenge how we are living our lives—both individually and collectively through our governing bodies—there is little doubt that many would instinctively view him as a threat.
While chances are we will never be faced with this scenario, there are two things we all can take away from this whether or not we are celebrating Easter this week: to be more empathetic towards people who arrive at our borders fleeing persecution and terror, and to be more tolerant of people who don’t look or act like us or always share our same views. So many of the divisions in our country today are being exacerbated by people retreating to their own echo chambers, tuning out opposing viewpoints, and demonizing those who do not agree with them.
While there of course are much larger lessons from the story of Easter than these empathy and “tolerance” takeaways, we all have the power to carry them out and it would make our world a much better place.