Everyday Spirituality

Everyday Spirituality

Dealing with the Islamic image today, part IV

posted by Cheryl Petersen

The famous “bell graph” comes to mind when I’m breaking down misconceptions and stereotypes. The graph line starts low, rises, peaks, tapers off, and ends low.

At the low points are extremes. There are extreme thinkers inside as well as outside faith circles. Extreme thinkers have thought patterns that include an ideology that their way of thinking is the right way, the only way.

They are almost in categories of their own–fundamentalist, material conservatism, megalomania, pious hypocrites trying to make peace at all levels. But we are all connected. The rational, practical, common sense people are mixed in with the extremists.

“We have to put a face to the practical and wise truth,” H told me one day. He, a Muslim, and me a Christian, we both agree, “the truth is one.”


I take this to mean, we have to stop de-facing the extremists by repeating “Oh, that’s not true religion.” As if it’s not a part of human nature. We have extremists in science also who use it to prolong mortal bodies, de-facing quality of human life.

Religion and science are human-made tools to find answers to the bounty of questions that plague our heads. Religion is not perfect. Science is not perfect. Neither are truth in and of themselves. We just want to find meaning in life and we use religion and science to do so. To say something is non-___ (put your religion in the blank), is to add to the stereotype of extremists who believe their religion is truth. It’s scary. As scary as surgeons who are switching out body parts and scientists who are growing diseases in petri dishes by the boat loads.


We need to be practical when finding our answers, without some “perfect ideology” dreamed up in our heads. It would be great if someone knew all the answers, but no one does, and no one ever has. There no perfect human life, but we won’t achieve even a reasonable, practical humanity when burdened by some goal of mortal perfection.

As a Christian, I read, from the Gospel, John, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” But I remind myself that Jesus didn’t really say this. Jesus was quoted, decades after the fact. Moreover, this statement takes on multiple meanings.


Does he mean we come to God only through Jesus Christ? If in the affirmative, what does it mean “through” Jesus Christ? Is a human being the truth? Is Christ my life? What is Christ? If Christ is an image of divine Spirit, do I know God through spirituality?

Along with E, H manages a local Café. When they were first preparing the building to open, a few extremists would drive by and yell obscenities, telling them to leave town. It hurt, not only the feelings of E and H, but even my feelings. I was ashamed. I live here.

I told E. “I read about forgiving our enemies and find it works.”

E replied, “Yes. Your Jesus said that and we have the same truth. I’m trying to forgive and have for the most part, because if I didn’t, the resentment would eat me up from the inside.”


I too worked on forgiving, my other neighbors. I too am doing it for the most part and feel a freedom.

Then, E and H invited me to the Sufi Center where they live. “Come for dinner and chanting,” they welcomed. I made plans to do so.

Three things I learned:

  1. The extremists need to be neutralized with pro-action from the practical minded.
  2. There is no sitting on the fence, no making peace with enemies. We make peace with spirituality.
  3. We can love the hell out of our enemies.


Dealing with the Islamic image today, part III

posted by Cheryl Petersen

Advancing past the psychology or religion used to terrorize others, terror can be broken down more effectively.

When I got to know E and H, Muslims who manage the Tulip & Rose Café, we didn’t compare and contrast human thoughts or religions. We certainly didn’t excuse human thoughts or religions or blow them off as if we’ve never had to deal with them.

Some people say the al-Qaeda, Taliban, Islamic State (ISIS), and so on, are non-Islam. This talk is only trying to excuse, or absolve Islam, when the fact is, for example, ISIS is trying to practice a Medieval tradition once interpreted in Islam. It’s an ideology proven to be foul and unworkable. It’s an image that has been outgrown by the majority of Muslims.


That’s why millions of Muslims are escaping the terrorized lands. They want peace.

We can’t hold to outgrown ideologies.

They need to be thrown out completely and they can’t be while pretending not to be something they are.

It’s like when a partner in a marriage cheats on their spouse. They didn’t become a non-partner. They cheated and the practice caused havoc an it needs to be dealt with as such.

All this terrorists talk is nothing new. No religion is immune to terror.

In my own faith, Christian Scientists have been typecast as the people who don’t go to doctors. There is some truth to this. For the same reason healthy people don’t go to the doctor, I don’t. However, I’m not going to deny the fact that I’ve met some Christian Scientists who refuse to go to the doctor because they think their prayers can heal any problem, and they die in the meantime. I’m not going to spout, “That’s not Christian Science.” Because, it is, to those who interpret Christian Science, as a religion that is supposed to pray all the time and repeat sacred words


Three things I’ve learned:

  1. I was able to discuss religious principles with E and H, rather than get stuck on human behavior and beliefs.
  2. Many principles within religions are alike.
  3. I like the food at Tulip & Rose Café. It’s prepared with respect for health and for the ingredients from nature.


Dealing with the Islamic image today, part II

posted by Cheryl Petersen

I’m a person who keeps up on the general news. The headlines, full of “terrorist” talk connected to Islam, has conjured the image that terrorists are Islamic, or Muslims who follow Islam.

We know this isn’t true. Terrorists can be of many faiths, or no faith at all. Here in America, non-Islamic terrors are the majority. School shootings, the Boston bombing, and Planned Parenthood attacks are unrelated to Islam. So, I remind myself to repeat the words, “Islamic terrorists,” only when defusing it as a stereotype.

It’s not that I’m against stereotyping. Stereotypes can be helpful to get a point across. They simply our social world. But, stereotypes are full of truths plus lies. When the lies become perpetuated, self-sabotaging behavior takes place. Repeating the lies only amplifies the terror.


On the truth side, when it boils right down to it, most of us know that we can’t rubber-stamp the image of a terrorists onto every Muslim. Most of us will give other people of other faiths the benefit of the doubt. We make efforts to expose the lies and highlight the truths.

But to decrease the terror, we have to do more than try to manage a stereotype. We have to do more than try to love one another. We can’t convert one another.

We need to understand the force behind understanding, not follow old patterns.

Human beings have a habit of labeling, categorizing, and organizing. Check, check, check. This habit often gets us into trouble and produces injustice, bad decisions, and grief. To work our way out of the mess, we must go a step beyond the psychology and history and we must find the answers appropriate to today.


From my own religious upbringing, as a student and practitioner of Christian Science, I’ve learned that applying answers used in the past is not always appropriate. digging our heels in as if some past practice was pure and ideal, leads to pain and confusion.

We have a God of now, of the infinite. This God has already provided the answers we need to resolve questions in our heads and societies. But, we can’t see or hear the answers when our heads are stuck in the past or on some outgrown ideology.

With my “God of now” I went to meet my Muslim neighbors. I began frequenting The Tulip & Rose Café, managed by two Muslims, I’ll call them E and H.


I sat and talked with E and H. We talked about what it’s like to be small business owners and how varied the customers can be. We laughed about how some people put ketchup on everything.

Bad images were being replaced with good images.

Three things I took away:

  1. Terror is increased when stereotypes are thrown around nonchalantly or poked into conversations indiscriminately.
  2. Terror is decreased when behavior reflects a respect for diversity.
  3. Good images were already in place, placed by God, the universal Mind of us all.


Dealing with the Islamic image today, part I

posted by Cheryl Petersen

The global trend of Islamophobia is not very pretty. I don’t want to wear it. I don’t want it in my house. I don’t want it in my consciousness, but hints of it float around in my head and I need to deal with it.

I decided that one way to deal with it was to get to know better those who study and practice Islam, the Muslims.

I have Muslim neighbors. They aren’t neighbors in the sense that I can speak to them over the fence. To reach these neighbors, a good fifteen-minute car drive is required, but after hearing so many crude remarks about those people with the “head gear,” I knew the drive would prove valuable.

It did.

The head gear is a scarf, a Hijab. A man’s hat is a Kufi.

I’ve had a past encounter with people who study and practice Islam. A few years ago, I visited Marrakech, Morocco. It was a week-long visit. Five times a day, prayers were amplified over loudspeakers. The Muslim people were intermixed with other ethnicities. Everyone was helpful, although their behaviors seemed intense.


Today, it was time to get to know this culture, not as a tourist, but as a human being living on the same planet with them.

Where am I coming from? I’m a Christian. It’s the religion my parents knew and shared with me.

Granted, as an adult, I familiarized myself with the Koran, an English version, and the Prophet Mohammad. The Koran wasn’t that interesting to me. The language took twists and turns that I didn’t take the time to follow. It taught me that the language I used to explain my religion probably isn’t that interesting to others either, and doesn’t make a lot of sense to someone trained to think along a different word pattern.


Three things I realized:

  1. Languages are relative. They hold no absolute meaning.
  2. Thought patterns vary, but that doesn’t mean they all patterns are destructive.
  3. I can’t just think I know someone or something. I have to understand.
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