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My first post of the new year! Wait… what month is it?

I didn’t intentionally quit or take a break from this site, but it happened nonetheless. Finally I’m getting around to posting for the first time this calendar year. How many more posts there are to come remains to be seen. Hopefully, I’ll post again before 2012.

I love to read, of course, and never seem to have the time to read as much as I want. And I read at a much slower pace that I would like, which doesn’t help. My goal for this year (as it was last) was to read 36 books for the year – 3 books a month. Not surprisingly, I’ve fallen behind. At this point, I should be finishing up my 20th book, probably, and yet I’m about to complete #16 instead. I got off to a slow start this year again, finishing my first book in mid-February. For some reason, January is never a good month for me. Nevertheless, I still have hopes of reaching my goal (last year I only made it to 34.)

Everything I’ve read thus far this year is posted on my GoodReads 2011 bookshelf, but here are my five favorites of the year so far (in the order I read them.)

  • Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution – Ken Miller
    Many Christians often regard science with some suspicion, under the false impression that scientists’ primary intention is to undermine their faith. And, of course, many also believe that evolutionary theory and Christianity must be incompatible. Modern Christian scientists (and theistic evolutionists) such as Ken Miller, however, disagree. He does an excellent job making the case that trust in God and trust in science are not mutually exclusive.

  • The Inescapable Love of God – Thomas Talbott
    Before the Rob Bell “controversy”, I had Talbott on my to-read stack. Some find it difficult to reconcile the concept of a God of love and grace and, even, justice with the traditional view of hell as never-ending torment for those who do not believe. Some of them find the doctrine of universal reconciliation not just more acceptable, but more biblical. Talbott is an evangelical Christian and he does an outstanding job in laying out what universal reconciliation really is and makes a strong, biblical case for it. A great read.

  • Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It – David Batstone
    If images from the past come to mind when you think of slavery, David Batstone wants you to know that slavery is alive and well in the 21st century, even in the United States. Be it slave labor, sex slavery or child soldiers, both adults and children are being forced to live in slavery all over the world. This is both a difficult and unsettling read as well as a necessary one. Highly recommended.

  • Bossypants – Tina Fey
    If you love Tina Fey (as I do), you will definitely love this book. She discusses her parents and upbringing, her early years in the industry, and her eventual rise to fame via SNL and 30 Rock. It’s part biography, part social commentary, and all hilarious. I laughed out loud many, many times, usually disturbing someone nearby when I did.

  • The Rise & Fall of the Bible – Timothy Beal
    Beal discusses the history of the Bible, how it came to be a “single book” instead of a collection, and how it has been viewed over time, including the relatively recent view as an inerrant divine rule book containing the answers for which humans are searching. And his discussion of the Bible publishing industry is spot on. There were a few places where he seemed to get off track a bit, but overall a very enjoyable read.

My current read is Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, which has been very interesting and informative thus far. It’s an attempt at a balanced history of the founding fathers, their faith, and their vision of religious liberty for the country and how that liberty came to be. Along the way he dispels many myths often spread by both the right and the left sides in the “culture wars” regarding the founder’s faith and the idea of this country as a “Christian nation.” I’m about 3/4 through this fascinating read.

And, as for the second half of the year, I’m planning to read as many of the Harry Potter books as I can by year end. Remarkably, I’ve never read these books (though I did see the first movie when it was first released, but remember very little about it now). I figured it was long overdue, so I’m going to get on that right away.

Here are a few other titles that I have on my stack and hope to read this year as well, though my “to read” list changes almost weekly, so it may be an entirely different list in a matter of days. But for now:

  • High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and the Untold Story of Tennis’s Fiercest Rivalry – Stephen Tignor

  • Bright’s Passage: A Novel – Josh Ritter
  • The Hole In Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World – Richard Stearns
  • The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty – Adrian Wojnarowski
  • Jesus for the Non-Religious – John Shelby Spong
  • I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive – Steve Earle
  • Play Their Hearts Out – George Dohrmann
  • Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN – James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales

Next week, I’m going to try to post a music review of sorts, with my favorites of the year so far. We’ll see how soon that actually happens.

My year in books 2010

Now that I’m done with my favorite music for the year, it’s time for my favorite books.

My goal for this year was to finish 36 books. I thought I could handle three per month, and I’m almost there. I’m trying not to fall short as I’m trying to finish up #34 this week and then two more that I think I can knock out before the end of next week.

I read a number of books that were really outstanding this year and I found it too difficult to choose a favorite book of the year. I didn’t even bother to rank them, either. I just picked my favorite dozen (of the first 33, that is) and let that be it.

You can see all of what I’ve read this year in my 2010 bookshelf at GoodReads. Here are my favorites, in the order that I read them.

 


 

Columbine
Dave Cullen

A very detailed and well-researched account of the events surrounding the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999. Cullen takes you through the past of those involved, especially Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, on through the events of that day and the aftermath of the years that followed. Harris’ and Klebold’s intentions were to top the body count of Oklahoma City through the use of homemade bombs, but the bombs failed to go off. The basics of the story are known – two kids arrive at school and commence shooting their classmates – but there is much more. And some of the well-known accounts about what happened that day are either inaccurate or altogether fictitious. Cullen does an outstanding job of sorting through this complex story.
 

Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul
Edward Humes

Monkey Girl chronicles the battle between parents, science teachers and the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2004-2005. You may recall news stories regarding this battle over the board’s introduction of creationism into the biology curriculum by way of “intelligent design”. Humes’ book is very well researched and detailed, and I believe is pretty fair. He introduces all of the personalities involved, gives you a seat at the board meetings to listen to the board’s ill-conceived plan, and guides you through the eventual trial (after a group of parents sued). He also provides a significant amount of detail regarding the evidence and arguments for Darwin’s theory on the origin of species, as well as the arguments the ID proponents make as well. Overall, just a terrific book, definitely worth the time.
 

Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson
Rus Bradburd

An excellent account of the life and career of Nolan Richardson. He is often remembered for the glory years of Arkansas basketball in the early- to mid-90’s, as well as for the stormy events that led to his dismissal in 2002. But there is much more to his important story. He was not just a great coach, but also a true innovator in the college game (for which he is often given too little credit) as well as a spokesman on issues of race and civil rights (for which he was often misunderstood.) I admit that I didn’t care much for Nolan early in his career at Arkansas (though, granted, I was not an Arkansas fan at that time, either), but did warm to him a little during over the years. This book has only made me appreciate him and his story even more.
 

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Descending from a failed climb in Northern Pakistan to the summit of K2, Greg Mortenson found himself separated from his group and stumbled into the small village of Korphe in the shadow of K2. After weeks of recovery in the village, he noticed the children of the village had no school building, instead learning in the cold temperatures outdoors, using sticks to write in the dirt. Because of the hospitality they had shown to him, he vowed to one day return to Korphe and build a school for their children. He knew nothing of raising funds and getting things done in this culture far different from his own, but he was determined. After some bumps along the way, he eventually did return to Korphe and build that school. And since, he has founded the Central Asia Institute and built schools for villages all over northern Pakistan and now into Afghanistan. There is much to this story, but Mortenson believes that education – particularly for girls – is the key to slowing (and eventually stopping) the terrorism that is born in this part of the world.
 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot

In the early 1950’s, a poor, black woman from Virginia was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins. While she died after a brief treatment, doctors there took a tissue sample from her cervix, which, over time, continued to reproduce and live while other such cell lines would eventually die. Since that time, these cells (known as HeLa) have been instrumental in all types of medical research and breakthroughs, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, and the polio vaccine. Skloot tells the story of both Henrietta – her life, her family’s life since (her children didn’t even know that her cells were still alive until nearly 20 years later) – as well as the story of her cells and the medical and scientific discoveries which they aided. A fascinating, true story.
 

Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)
Frank Schaeffer

As the subtitle suggests, Schaeffer desires a faith for those like himself who are unsatisfied with typical fundamentalism, be it the religious fundamentalists that most are well aware of, or those on the other side of the fence – the so-called “new atheists” (see Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.) Part-critique, part-biography, he rejects the dogmatic certainty promoted by many of these people, and instead believes that there is plenty of room for both faith and doubt in our spiritual journeys. While many everyday evangelicals would find much here with which they would disagree, it spoke to me and my own journey quite a bit. A very good read.
 

Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference
Warren St. John

Luma Mufleh grew up in a very priveleged family in Jordan, and then came to the US for college. After she finished, she decided – much to the displeasure of her father and family – to stay in the US and make it on her own. After bouncing around a little, she ended up in the Atlanta area, and began a youth soccer program for children of refugees (from Africa, Europe and the middle East) who had settled in the area. She not only helped the kids by coaching their soccer teams, but also by investing in their lives, including their parents. She developed a tutoring program to help the kids – often struggling with English – in their schoolwork, and helped their parents in myriad ways with adjusting to a new culture. This is a fascinating and beautiful story about people from very different cultures around the world coming together and making a difference in each others’ lives.
 

Zeitoun
Dave Eggers

Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian-born painter and contractor in New Orleans who chose to stay behind when his family fled just days before hurricane Katrina hit. This is an account of his and his family’s experiences after the storm – his days there following the storm, his families travels while waiting to return to the city, the help Zeitoun provided in rescuing various neighbors and strangers from their homes after the floods came, and the grave injustice of his inexplicable arrest and three-week imprisonment by the post-Katrina police and military, despite never being charged with a crime. (hint: he is a middle-eastern born Muslim.) While non-fiction, it reads like a novel, and is an outstanding book. Everyone should read it. (I got to hear the Zeitouns tell their story in person this summer and meet them afterward, which was pretty cool.)
 

I Am Ozzy
Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres

I’ve been a fan of Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo music for over 25 years. Ozzy’s story, in his own words, was not only interesting and informative, but also hilarious. Ozzy has great sense of humor and has always been funny, but this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, it’s not for the faint of heart. Some of the stories are a bit rough and his language, of course, is horrible. But it’s what you expect from Ozzy. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably love it like I did. After finishing it, though, I have to say that it’s a miracle that this guy is still alive.
 

Open: An Autobiography
Andre Agassi

This is just an outstanding book by the tennis great, chronicling his life and career. I’ve always been an Agassi fan, but there was a fair amount that I never knew about him (for starters, “I hate tennis.”) His father drove him to be the star he would become, and was in many ways a colossal jerk, though this is not a big surprise when it comes to fathers of young phenoms like Agassi. It was a rough road for Agassi at times, but he ultimately became one of the greatest American players of all time. And his success would provide an opportunity for him to do something greater than anything he did on the court. His work with his charter school in Las Vegas is no doubt the achievement of which he is most proud. A definite must-read.
 

Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace
Pam Cope and Aimee Molloy

When her 15-year-old son died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition, Pam Cope was devastated and struggled to make it through each day thereafter. But she found a passion to carry her through the rest of her life after a visit to a Vietnamese orphanage. Instead of dwell on her own suffering, she chose to try to relieve the suffering of others – specifically, orphaned and/or trafficked children in Southeast Asia and Africa. She devoted her time and resources to rescuing children from orphanages (adopting two of her own from Vietnam) and slavery, and eventually started the Touch A Life foundation to continue that work. An inspiring story.
 

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

A fascinating look behind the scenes at the 2008 presidential campaigns – particularly those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John McCain. There’s a lot here: Obama’s calm demeanor and his difficulties in dealing with the Reverend Wright issue. Hillary’s disorganized mess of a campaign and the “Bill” problem. John Edwards’ delusions of a high office despite his personal life blowing up all around him. Sarah Palin’s glaring incompetence and obsession with herself. The genesis of John McCain becoming the bitter, sad, old man we see today. And much more. It’s a wild, wild ride, and a great read.

 


 

A few honorable mentions:

  • When The Game Was Ours – Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, w/Jackie MacMullan
  • The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash – Dave Urbanski
  • Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World – Gary Haugen
  • Death To The BCS: The Definitive Case Against The Bowl Championship Series – Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, Jeff Passan

 


 

That’s it. That’s the list.

Part one can be found here.

There are several albums from this year that I want but have not yet acquired, most notably the new Sufjan Stevens and Mumford & Sons. I’ve been listening to Mumford & Sons a lot during the past couple of weeks as it’s been streaming at spinner.com, and look forward to getting it soon. So, while there are these and others that might have made my list, this is the top ten of those that did.
 


 

10
American VI: Ain’t No Grave

Johnny Cash

This album is a collection of songs from one of Cash’s final recording sessions, centered on death and eternity. A very good closing album to the American Recordings series. Listen to: “Ain’t No Grave“, “Redemption Day“, “Can’t Help But Wonder…“, “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream“.
 

 

9
So Runs The World Away

Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is one of the best singer-songwriters out there today. His last two albums have been exceptional pieces of work, and this newest is also very good. Listen to: “Change of Time“, “Lark“, “Long Shadows“, “Folk Bloodbath“.

 

8
Something’s Coming

Ty Tabor

I’ve been a huge King’s X fan for about 20 years now, and guitarist Ty Tabor’s solo work continues to get better with each album he releases. I believe this one to be his best to date. Listen to: “Free Yourself“, “Politician’s Creed“, “When The Sun Shines“, “Bring It On Back“.

 

7
Contra

Vampire Weekend

I really liked Vampire Weekend’s first album a lot, but worried they would be something of a “one-album wonder”. But I had no reason to fear. Another great pop record and, as good as their first album was, I like this one even more. Listen to: “Holiday“, “Cousins“, “Giving Up The Gun“, “Diplomat’s Son“.

 

6
American Slang

The Gaslight Anthem

If Springsteen and his band had a child, it just might be called The Gaslight Anthem. Another terrific blue-collar rock and roll collection from this New Jersey band. Listen to: “American Slang“, “Stay Lucky“, “The Diamond Street Choir“, “Old Haunts“.

 

5
The Suburbs

Arcade Fire

I had this album at anywhere from #2 to #7 as I was finalizing this list. I read something recently calling them “the next U2.” That’s hard for me to imagine, but nevertheless, another excellent record and they keep getting better. Listen to: “The Suburbs“, “Modern Man“, “Sprawl II“, “City With No Children“.

 

4
The Promise

Bruce Springsteen

The songs were recorded over 30 years ago, but this collection of unreleased songs from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions is just one more example of why The Boss is the legend he is today. Listen to: “Outside Looking In“, “Someday (We’ll Be Together)“, “Save My Love“, “It’s A Shame.

 

3
God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs

Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne’s newest adds a bit of a country feel to his brand of folk and his trademark scratchy vocals. I love this album and can’t recommend it highly enough. Listen to: “Beg, Steal or Borrow“, “God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise“, “For the Summer“, “Devil’s In The Jukebox“.

 

2
Heaven is Whenever

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady is back with another collection of stories set to classic rock and roll music, and it’s a blast. These guys have quickly become one of my very favorite bands and this is a must-have. Listen to: “The Weekenders“, “We Can Get Together“, “Soft in the Center“, “Our Whole Lives“.

 

1
The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden

No surprise here. After one listen, there was never any doubt that this would be at the top of my list. Ten outstanding songs. Despite some great stuff in the last decade, this is their best since 1988’s Seventh Son…, and proof again that Maiden is the best metal band of the last 30 years. Period.

 

Listen to the entire album in all it’s greatness and awesomeness:

1. Satellite 15…The Final Frontier
2. El Dorado
3. Mother of Mercy
4. Coming Home
5. The Alchemist
6. Isle of Avalon
7. Starblind
8. The Talisman
9. The Man Who Would Be King
10. When the Wild Wind Blows

Up the irons!
 


 

That’s it. That’s the list.

It’s that time again. I’ve managed to download around 90 albums this year, 50 of which were new 2010 releases.

So, you’re wondering: which ones were your favorites? Well, since you asked…

Here’s the first half of my favorites for the year, at least at the moment. (I always rethink them a month later and wish I’d ordered them differently.) Some of the artists are older (like me) and some of them are newer, but they’re what I listened to and liked the most this year. So, here you go…
 


 

20
Court Yard Hounds

Court Yard Hounds

I admit I’ve always been biased against country music, but occasionally I’ll come across something I find myself enjoying. This one by 2/3 of the Dixie Chicks is one of those. Listen to: “The Coast“, “See You In The Spring“, “Ain’t No Son“.

 

19
Imperium

Grammatrain

I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything Pete Stewart’s had a hand in over the years. Grammatrain was a favorite of mine in the 90’s, and it’s nice to have them back with maybe their best yet. Listen to: “Damaged“, “Forever“, “The Last Sound“.

 

18
Wilderness Heart

Black Mountain

Canadian psychedelic band Black Mountain appeared on my radar a couple of years ago. You would think that they just arrived from the early 70’s. I’ve become a big fan and really love their sound. Listen to: “The Hair Song“, “Old Fangs“, “The Way To Gone“.

 

17
The Learner

Griffin House

Unfortunately, Griffin House’s best song of the year (Head For The Hills) was recorded after this album, but it’s still another solid collection from one of my favorite singer-songwriters over the last few years. Listen to: “If You Want To“, “Standing At The Station“, “Just Another Guy“.

 

16
Mojo

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

I’ve said many times before: I love all things Tom Petty. This newest album, with a heavy dose of blues influence, displays again the greatness of this band. Listen to: “Jefferson Jericho Blues“, “I Should Have Known It“, “Something Good Coming“.

 

15
Scream

Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy has recorded a handful of good songs in the past 20 years, but, sadly, most of them were spread out over several mostly forgettable albums. Finally, Ozzy’s back with a full album of really good songs. Listen to: “Let Me Hear You Scream“, “Life Won’t Wait“, “Diggin’ Me Down“.

 

14
Band of Joy

Robert Plant

While many artists his age are busying themselves with glory days “reunion” tours, Plant just continues to record great music, this time a folk/rock winner aided by Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin. Listen to: “Angel Dance“, “Silver Rider“, “Harm’s Swift Way“.

 

13
Women and Country

Jakob Dylan

Dylan’s largely-acoustic solo debut was a favorite. He switches gears here with more of a country sound, with backing vocals provided by Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, and it works well. Listen to: “Nothing But The Whole Wide World“, “Everybody’s Hurting“, “Holy Rollers For Love“.

 

12
Le Noise

Neil Young

It’s often loud and heavy, something Young called “folk-metal”. Just a man and his electric guitar. Well, and his producer, who had a large part in making it what it is: one of Young’s best in years. Listen to: “Sign of Love“, “Love and War“, “Angry World“.

 

11
True Believer

Matthew Barber

For the second time in three years, I hated to leave Matthew Barber out of the top 10, but again he’s my #11. I’m sure I’ll rethink that later, as I did two years ago. Nevertheless, a great singer-songwriter and another terrific album. Listen to: “Insanity or Death“, “True Believer“, “Revolution of the Sun“.

 

Next up: my top ten favorites for the year.
 


 
But first, here’s a few honorable mentions that I wanted to mention but didn’t want to bother with a full post. Obviously, I can only put 20 albums in a top 20 list, so here’s a list of other albums I liked a lot but couldn’t make the cut.

In no particular order…

  • As I Call You Down – Fistful of Mercy
  • End Times – Eels
  • High Violet – The National
  • Infinite Arms – Band of Horses
  • Letting Go – Jennifer Knapp
  • Little Vigils – Mark Erelli
  • Sea of Cowards – The Dead Weather
  • Together – The New Pornographers
  • Transference – Spoon
  • Volume II – She & Him

That’s it. That’s the list.

In April, the Duke Blue Devils won the 2010 college basketball national championship.

Order has been restored.

Now, college basketball season is upon us again.

And there is much rejoicing.
 
About 10 days ago, practice officially opened with the annual Midnight Madness events on college campuses around the country, and at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, the Devils celebrated not just the beginning of a new season, but also the national championship from last April. They received their championship rings, and witnessed their fourth championship banner being unveiled in the rafters.
 


Despite losing three seniors who were very instrumental in their strong finish last year, they are loaded up again this year and ready to go. The obvious focal points of the team are seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, who chose to forgo a shot in the NBA until next year, and instead return to Duke for their final season. But point guard Kyrie Irving and transfer Seth Curry will make immediate impact for them as well, and I look forward to see the contributions of freshmen Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston, along with sophomore Andre Dawkins. If the Plumlee brothers have improved since last season, as I expect they have, the Devils should have another outstanding season, and certainly in position for a possible repeat.

This team, on paper, should be better than last year’s championship team, but that remains to be seen. In recent years, Duke has not quite been the target they have in the past. Despite being a #1 seed, most expected them to go home early last March. Now, as the reigning champions, the target on their back will be as big as ever. Duke is back on top of the college basketball world, and everyone not wearing Duke blue finds that offensive and unacceptable. Repeating is a difficult for any team. For Duke – the team everyone loves to hate – it will be much more so.

When the official preseason polls were released last week they were, as expected, ranked #1. Then they opened their exhibition season this weekend with a blowout of St. Augustine’s, 141-68.

The march to Houston – and title #5 – has begun.

GTHC.

Go Duke!
 

Zeitoun

Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian-born painter and contractor from New Orleans who chose to stay in New Orleans when hurricane Katrina hit. A few months ago, I read Dave Eggers’ excellent book Zeitoun, which tells the story Abdul’s and his family’s experiences after the storm. Abdul’s wife Kathy and their children fled the city, leaving to visit family until the storm was over and they could return to the city. Eggers recounts Abdul’s days there following the storm, his family’s travels, the help Zeitoun provided in rescuing various neighbors and strangers from their homes after the floods came, and the grave injustice of his inexplicable arrest and three-week imprisonment by the post-Katrina police and military, despite never being charged with a crime. (Hint: he is a middle-eastern born Muslim.) While non-fiction, it reads like a novel, and is an outstanding book. I highly recommend it.

In July, just a couple of weeks after I finished the book, I received an email from the Clinton School of Public Service here in Little Rock that the Abdul and Kathy Zeitoun would be in town as a part of their speaker series. I called and made my reservation and, the following day, went to hear them tell their story in person.

Since they usually post the video of these presentations on the Clinton school website, I expected to find it there. I checked back a couple of times during the week following the presentation, planning to post it then, but it was not yet available. I guess I forgot about it after that, but just remembered today to check back again.

So, here it is. It’s not much new material if you’ve read the book, but it was pretty neat to go hear them in person and to meet them afterward.

 
http://www.viddler.com/player/c1e89c8c/

I usually avoid the obligatory “9/11″ post. There are always scores of them and I don’t see the need to add to them. Last year, however, I did post on September 11th due to an article I’d read that I thought was worth mentioning. In light of recent events, I thought it was worth mentioning again this year, and probably even more relevant.

Considering all of the media attention currently being given to “Pastor” Terry Jones in Florida and his moronic pledge to burn a Qu’ran today, as well as the continuing debate regarding an Islamic community center in New York City, I decided to post this again this year.

A few words about these recent stories: First, I think Jones is a clown and a media whore, and I question whether he ever intended to burn anything. I think he’s gotten exactly what he wanted out of this stunt: attention. And as for the so-called “ground zero mosque” (which isn’t a mosque), I think the opposition to it is misguided at best. The heated opposition to other Muslims’ attempts to build new centers of worship around the country tells me this goes well beyond a location in New York. It appears that it has much more to do with a conflation of everyday Muslims (and American Muslims at that) with Al-Qaeda and/or an opposition to the practice of Islam in this country in general.

On The Daily Show recently, correspondent John Oliver said (in jest, of course) that people are right to oppose the center in New York, because “Islam, like every religion, has to be responsible for its biggest assholes”. As a Christian, I don’t want to be held responsible for the idiot extremists who do evil in the name of Christ. Muslims shouldn’t be required to do so, either. But too many Americans see all Muslims as potential terrorists and, therefore, enemies.

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Thomas Paine

In this country, I would hope we can do better than this. Time will tell. Here’s what I wrote a year ago today (with a couple of edits.) It’s not your typical “9/11″ remembrance post, but it was on my mind this time last year, and has been on it again in recent weeks, leading up to another anniversary.
 


 
A different perspective
 

I don’t usually post a “September 11″ post, but I just read an article and wanted to share it.

The article is from the New York Times, titled Explaining 9/11 to a Muslim Child by Moina Noor. In it she shares her thoughts and feelings, as a Muslim living in the northeastern U.S., on attempting to answer the question her eight-year-old son Bilal asked: “Mom, what happened on 9/11?”

The demonization of Muslims in this country has been astonishing over the last eight years. Noor writes about her attempts to explain to others that “we are just like you” and “Islam is peaceful.” I suspect it often fell on deaf ears. I’ve heard and read plenty from those who see all Muslims painted with the same brush as Osama Bin Laden and the 19 that boarded those planes in 2001. Many of them are Christians who, ironically, would distance themselves from extremists in our own camp such as Fred Phelps, Scott Roeder or Steven Anderson, and would vehemently object to being considered like-minded with these poor examples of Christ-likeness. For all of the talk that the Muslim world is full of hate, I’ve heard plenty of it from our own as well.

She writes about her own fears for her child, living in this country at this time:

Since 9/11, I’ve worried how Bilal would feel about his identity as a Muslim living in America. A survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life appeared in 2007 stating that 35 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion about Islam. Could one of those 3 in 10 people be Bilal’s teacher or soccer coach?

Over the past eight years I’ve read about Muslims being deported and pulled off airplanes and mosques being vandalized. My sister, a former middle school teacher in Brooklyn, heard kids taunt a Muslim student on the playground, calling him a terrorist. And even though I fear the possibility of discrimination for Bilal, what I fear most of all is that the din of Islamophobia will rob my son of self-respect and confidence.

I’ve heard many express concern about Muslims living in America. I’ve not often heard them mention feeling any compassion for peaceful Muslims living here who are at least just as concerned about living among non-Muslim Americans. Certainly this is not an easy time to be an American Muslim.

When we moved into our house four years ago, someone visiting our home observed our neighbors, an Indian family, outside in their garden. They jokingly said, “hey, maybe you’re living next to terrorists.” It was a comment I ignored, although I shouldn’t have. Despite the facetious tone of the comment, I know that there was real distrust there. Everyone from “over there” – even if they’re from a country that is eighty percent Hindu, apparently – is to be regarded with suspicion.

September 11th will always have a prominent place in American history. It will always be a day of remembrance, as well it should, and the thoughts of those tragic events and the people involved will be with us forever. Hopefully, someday soon, the fear and cynicism with respect to our neighbors will not. All Christians are not the same. Neither are all Muslims.

I did try and answer Bilal’s question. I relayed the day’s events in broad cartoonish strokes: bad guys attack, buildings collapse. Don’t worry, I assured him, we’ll get the bad guys so they won’t do it again. As I looked at Bilal in the rear view mirror, I explained that good and bad exists in every group, even your own. I think he understands.

As should we all.

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