“There is a story they tell of two dogs. Both at separate times walk into the same room. One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling. A women watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so sad. To her surprise, she finds a room filled with mirrors. The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him. What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are.” (author unknown)
During the Christmas season (all 365 days of it) we need to celebrate by looking for signs of love, hope and peace to counter all the negative narratives issued daily by the mass media. These positive signs, rather than the negative narratives, are the stories reflecting the gift the birth of a child in a simple stable so many years ago brings to our suffering world. They can help calm the storms of fear and stereotypes that negative narratives stir up in our emotions. We must not let the mass media dictate how we see the world – only God’s love should, and does do that through the Christmas experience. When we truly understand the Christmas event, we will see the world as a place filled with much love, hope and peace, because that is what our own life will reflect back to us.
The positive stories are there, but we may have to struggle to hear them above the mass media’s storms of islamophobia, homophobia and a multitude of other phobias. As we listen to, and celebrate, these positive stories that reflect “Joy to the World”, we strengthen them and the love, hope and peace that they bring to us. Only love can overcome fear and hate, and what better place to find love than in a manager tucked away in a stable in far-away Bethlehem?
So, in this time of joy and celebration, I share one such story out of so many I hear and witness during my travels around Asia. It challenges the stereotype that Islam is a religion of violence and all Muslims are extremists. It shows that if we go into the world with a happy disposition, there is a good chance that happiness and compassion will be reflected back to us.
My friend John is a Christian from Bangladesh. Christians in Bangladesh are a small minority of the population and are generally surrounded by Muslim communities. While the relationship between Christian and Muslim is normally peaceful, violence does occasionally break out. When that happens the mass media (perhaps a growling mass media?) tends to highlight news about these “radical Islamic” forces in the country that threaten peace-loving people. John shared a very different story with me.
John’s father is the pastor of a small church which is situated in the middle of a Muslim community on the outskirts of Dhaka. Early in 2014, his father suddenly became very ill with a heart condition. He was rushed to a hospital for treatment and doctors reported his situation as very critical.
It was the Islamic celebration of Ramadan and all of the Muslim neighbors were observing the required fast by consuming no food or water from sunrise to sunset. This is a very important practice of devout Muslims and is followed religiously. However, when the news that John’s father was in serious condition in the hospital spread around the community, some of the Muslim men decided to end their fast and begin eating so they would be strong enough to donate blood in case a transfusion was needed. They did this out of high respect John’s father.
How much better it might be for the world if the mass media entered the global arena with a smile rather than a growl. How much better for the world if we, as Christians, entered the global arena with a clear expression of “Emanuel – God with us” rather than fear and anger.
“Those who see the world filled with storms, do so because they have a storm in their heart.” (Author unknown)