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A thank you letter from the residents who escaped without injury because of the local MuslimsImagine that you haven’t eaten much for days. It’s the end of long night, and you’re exhausted. You look up and realize there’s a building on fire! By the time you call for help, it might be too late. What would you do?

A group of young Muslim men who had just left their mosque for Ramadan service ran into a burning building, risking their lives to knock on every door until all the residents were safely outside.

One of the residents told the press, They made sure everyone got out. They knocked on each door until someone opened. If it wasn’t for them we would never have got out.”

I saw this news story on Reddit, and was puzzled as to why I couldn’t find it anywhere else online. It’s a feel-good story with heroes and a happily ever after. People of different generations and faiths coming together in the midst of a crisis.

The conspiracy-theorist in me is wondering: Why isn’t this in the headlines? Is it because it’s a story about Muslims that doesn’t feed into the negative, erroneous view some may hold?

Most people are peaceful and want to do the right thing. If only we’d see each other as relatives in the human family, labels and misconceptions would be a thing of the past.

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Boy oh boy, are we in trouble. A 22-year-old Russian man is on trial for playing Pokemon Go in church. A politician in Indonesia is being charged with blasphemy against Islam. Stephen Fry, noted British comedian, is being investigated in Ireland for scathing remarks he made on a talk show, about God — if He exists — being something of a sadist.

I could make more or less well-constructed arguments in each of these cases. No, you shouldn’t play games in church, but if we sentenced every kid who didn’t pay attention during Mass, we’d have very few children left to fill the pews. God is infinitely compassionate, but the British tend to be a bit suspect on such matters, what with having endured hundreds of years of religious-based harassment and executions. And though I don’t always understand Islam, maybe some people just need to settle down a bit. In fact, maybe we all should.

I’m no fan of blasphemy. It riles me up when people make suppositions about God based on limited human experience. But then again, I do this, too. We all do. The thing we so often forget is that God can take it. God’s no hothouse flower, withering away at the scald of an unkind Tweet. God is bigger than we are. We take offense at slights against ourselves and against God. God does not.

In fact, God loves us even at our worst. Especially at our worst. God loves dopey people who do dopey things when they ought to be praying. God loves Islam, even when those who practice its tenets make God into a tyrant. And God loves anyone who makes others laugh — laughter being one of God’s most wondrous inventions.

So lay off, folks. The one thing you can say without a doubt about our species is that we make mistakes. We are error-ridden, clumsy, maladroit, blabber-mouthed idiots on a near-constant basis. And that’s okay, because God made us that way. Out of a pile of dirt and hubris, male and female, we were formed. We make mistakes, but hopefully, we learn from them. We see God only in glimpses, but if we make an effort, those glimpses can be glorious. And we constantly discount God’s capacity — for goodness, for miracles, for compassion and love. We really shouldn’t do that.

But it’s okay. God’s got tough skin. We’d do well to remember that.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going to be sentenced to death. I can understand how this might bring some people a measure of peace. He does not seem to be repentant, after all. His family suffers from an acute sense of denial. Yet, had I been a juror, I would have pushed for life over death. I guess it all comes down to this for me: The very groundwork of my faith, which tells me I ought not to hurt other people, no matter what. I retrench this idea in myself as though I am speaking to a child:

But what if a person wants to hurt others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill ME?
You must not hurt anyone.

It is not an easy lesson to apply to daily life. When we hurt, we want to hurt those who caused the hurt. Simple. But just as kicking the desk you accidentally bumped into exacerbates the pain of no one but yourself, so does striking back at an enemy. It lowers you to your most bestial level. It suffocates your soul.

Nonviolence against oppressors may be the more painfully patient route — often it does not see results in a timely fashion — but it has worked for some of the greatest historical figures: Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, even Muhammad himself. (The Arabic word for nonviolence as a life decision is, in fact, islam.)

I am reading a book about the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by Labor leaders. In many ways, this case resonates with the Tsarnaev case. The perpetrators in both cases felt that their deed was a necessary protest. In the Times case, the protest was on behalf of the working man. Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of The Times, was (by all accounts) a particularly odious individual who — like many capitalists of the time — cared only for profit. (By that, I mean profit at any cost — even the health and well-being of his workers.) He was vehemently anti-union. The bombing killed 21 people, and did nothing to advance the cause of Labor. Rather, it set it back. The men behind the bombing received jail sentences, despite the fact that plenty of people wanted them to hang for it. Had my loved ones been among the dead, I might have, too.

But that would not be right. We must learn this, to our shame, over and over again. I do not look forward to the endless appeals that Tsarnaev is likely to make. I would rather say, “We are not like you. We do not kill.”

Because killing is always wrong.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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