America, We Have A Problem.

Ahmed Mohamed. Please tell me you know who this is. If not, click here for one of many press pieces regarding Ahmed and what happened to him this week.

Up to speed?

Ok.

When I first saw the social media uproar over Ahmed and his clock, and noted the ensuing hashtag #IStandWithAhmed, I thought, just for a brief second, maybe we north Americans had done something–again–for which we’re infamous these days: creating an entire national debacle over something that doesn’t really matter so much in the grand scheme of things. We do that, you know. We get all righteous and indignant and start throwing around hashtags as if we have full knowledge (or even a right to know everything in the world that happens to begin with). Worse, we far too often work ourselves into a social media fervor over issues that we really have no intent of doing anything about…not if it means we have to give one little inch of our abundance, comfort or freedom.

So I was cautious. Followed the links and got as much of the story as I could (I’m sure I didn’t get it all). And then came to this conclusion, which I posted on Facebook:

When we start accusing gifted and creative and motivated high school students of being terrorists, we have a problem.

And while I am grateful for–and tried to hear–the comments of some respected colleagues and friends who offered some possible nuances to the situation…this morning, I’m standing by what I said.

We have a problem when our Very. First. assumption of a dark-skinned Muslim kid is that he is a terrorist.

Dear God…. I’ve lost track of all the 14 year-old boys I worked with in 15 years of congregational youth ministry. Honest-to-pete a lot of them were total pains in the ass, but they’re kids. Growing and defining and navigating puberty and figuring out who they are…kids.

And when one of those 14 year-olds (because they are all so much more alike than they are different) walks into his school having made a clock (Can you make a clock?), he gets arrested. Suspended. Branded and stereotyped.

We’re so damn broken and divided in this country we’re shooting ourselves in the feet every day over one thing or another.

We have a problem. And it isn’t Ahmed’s fault. Or any other kid’s for that matter.

Last night, in my beautiful Louisville, the River Road Mosque (and Louisville Islamic Center) was vandalized. Some people took bright red spray paint and used it to write and draw all over the external walls and property of the mosque–awful, terrible, hateful things. The sort of things that spark violence, lead to real harm for folks. I found myself stunned. Heartbroken. And this morning I cannot shake either reaction.

Meanwhile, during a joke of a GOP presidential debate (near as I can tell from Twitter feeds and news posts this morning anyway), Donald Trump raged pompous and hateful himself (per usual).

If the United States were a toddler, I’d have sent her to bed early last night, with no supper, and told her to come out of her room when she was ready to act nicely, play well with others, and share. 

Between Ahmed, the mosque and that stupid debate, it felt like the darkest and ugliest of nights.

And then this morning…this morning my social mediums were full of the flip side to the horror: MIT’s invitation to Ahmed to come take a tour (and POTUS offered the same); the tweets of Ahmed himself (see story link above), expressing his own humble delight in how much support there is for him; men and women of all faiths in my still-beautiful (even in this dark moment) city standing with the leaders of the Louisville Islamic community and offering their prayers, help and affirmation; clean-up crews of those same all faiths scrubbing spray paint. And the most gracious words you can imagine from leaders of the Islamic community, still proud to be Americans, so grateful for the overwhelming support they’ve received since last night.

Something comes to mind–a scripture from my own faith tradition–about how weeping, it may last all night, but in the morning…in the morning often comes joy.

We still have a problem in this country. It’s real and it’s twisted and we’ve let it seep into our ways of being such that every day seems to bring a new conflict, a new way we can cast lots with one side or the other and so lift up our side as better, stronger, more right.

There are no winners, should we continue along this path. There is only everything to lose.

But we have Ahmed, y’all. And lots of other kids like him. We have spray paint remover. And we have a will to not let our communities be defined by that which would seek to destroy us. Even if on some days that will is hard to find.

And because of these things…we have hope.

What we do with that hope, with the small glimpses of grace that keep us from total chaos…well, that will make all the difference.

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