Daily Devotion | August 24, 2021

Building Bridges

by Rollie J.

My dear dialoguing damsel, Siri, reminded me that I had arrived. My destination would be on my left. Problem was the parking lot was jammed with traffic and all the side streets were filled as well. I grabbed the first available parking spot on the street and walked the two blocks to the building.

As I rounded the corner to the main entry, people were pouring out of the building. Many stood in small groups of three or four conversing. Handshakes, laughter, and smiles flooded the parking lot as people from the previous service were heading towards their cars.

I felt awkward, out of place, and I was definitely the square peg in this round hole. I was the only gray-haired, pale-skinned white boy. I was now the minority. The one and only.

I stood self-consciously on the sidewalk searching faces for my would-be host for the day. I nervously checked my phone for messages on numerous occasions. Maybe he forgot. Several folks that passed by me smiled and offered a friendly “good afternoon.” Many of the men and boys were dressed in the traditional long-robed thobe. Many wore the headdress of a kufi. Others dressed like me in jeans and t-shirt.

Soon behind a covid mask, coming through the parking lot, I saw the smiling eyes of my friend, Nidal Omar. Relief and gratitude were my first reaction as he vigorously shook my hand and welcomed me to the Mosque, the Fargo Islamic Center in south Fargo.

We entered through the main door, and he immediately grabbed my elbow and pointed to the long shelves on the left of the entryway. “We must remove our shoes as a sign of respect,” he politely whispered. Nidal then began introducing me to dozens of people that were passing by in both directions. It seems that he knew most folks personally. I met several Sanford and Essentia Doctors, business owners, his brothers, and sons. It turns out Nidal is the president of this Mosque. I couldn’t have picked a better host!

Before we entered the mosque proper, I shyly inquired if I could take any photos, as I feared this might be rude impolite, or forbidden. Nidal reassured me that I could go anywhere I wanted and take as many photos as I liked.

I was soon introduced to the Iman, who would be the guest speaker for the day from Michigan. He was dressed in long-robed, clean white thobe and matching head covering kufi. His thick, long black beard just added to his classic look. He was generous with smiles and a warm handshake and seemed pleased that I would want to take his picture from the pulpit. He invited me to ask any questions I may have.

Nidal soon escorted me to the back wall where I could sit on a chair and observe the entire service. Only men were allowed in the Mosque proper, and they began wondering in to find a space on the carpeted floor of the very large room. I noticed one man who had a large compass laying on his prayer mat. A sign pointing to Mecca I presumed. On the entryway wall was a large two-foot-wide paper dispenser, that men could tear off a temporary, disposable prayer mat. Some men had their own, some did not. No one seemed to be uptight either way.

Soon the Muezzin, or cantor began singing or chanting into the microphone. I found it mesmerizing, and it was soon followed by the Iman speaking or giving his sermon which was mostly in English interspersed with what I assumed was Arabic. It lasted 20 minutes or so and I laughed inside for the similarities I witnessed between the crowd here and our own church services: A fired-up preacher spewing lots of words…and an audience that seemed mostly tuned out and bored! I also noticed a couple of red Menards five-gallon buckets that were catching drips from a leaky roof. Something that happens all too frequently in our own church! I smiled knowing we have lots more in common with our Islamic brothers than I first assumed!

And the sermon itself was fairly benign and straightforward. lt was about urging the men to daily read, immerse, memorize, and practice the teachings of the Koran or Quran. It is when you listen to and obey the teachings of God, your life will be better and blessed. Gee whiz!! That is so different than what we do!! No wonder that we are so threatened!

All in all, my Friday afternoon was a blessing. I met many kind and friendly people. I saw families who loved each other, who worshiped together, fathers that caressed their sons with tenderness during and after worship. And as the proverbial sore thumb odd duck, I felt welcomed as a stranger. I met business owners who were struggling to make it through the Covid crisis, I met blue-collar construction workers, and I met many bright, professionals who were surgeons or professors.

I am not sure about you, but I am who one is sooooo tired of hatred. I grow weary of one group bashing another. I grow agitated by the arrogance and self-righteousness that permeate our cable opinion (formerly news) networks. I cringe at both strangers and good friends alike who bash one another with anger-filled social media posts.  I often just shake my head in disgust, and disappointment after viewing posts, even from people I love and respect. It seems that just about anything can cause hatred and division these days: race, color, creed, masks, vaccinations, politics, candidates, or even weather and climate.

My recent journey into the Muslim world came from a long-felt prompting in my gut. I call that the tugging of the Holy Spirit. I can either be part of the problem and spew off like most of the world, stay silent or act on teachings of my own faith in Jesus to become a bridge builder or a peacemaker. How can I offer up an opinion on a person or group of people when I do not personally know them? I decided it was time to quit hiding behind the safety of the fortress walls of my own church and venture out across the bridge to build conversation and friendship.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, to pray for our enemies, and to do good. Sadly, most of us only love those who look like, act like, believe like, and talk like us. But "neighbor" is a very broad term. I have a hunch that if Jesus himself, returned to earth today, he would sadly shake his head in disappointment and disgust. And that disappointment would most likely begin with those of us who sit in churches and proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

We cannot wait for our cable news channels to bring peace and understanding. We cannot wait for our favorite politician or political party to build the bridge of peace and understanding. It won’t happen. We cannot wait for our preferred Christian denomination or church of the month to lead us into tearing down bricks of hatred and prejudice. Jesus’ call is a personal one… one that starts with you, and me. Jesus commands it. It’s not a suggestion.

May you have the God-given courage to step out from the comfort and safety of your preferred church fortress walls and help to build bridges of Christ-like love, acceptance, and understanding. Go and make a new friend.

-- Rollie J. 

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt:22: 34-40

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out! or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 5:13-14

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-14

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17-18



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