Many paths. One welcoming and diverse community.

In the News

Yes, Please Visit

Khleber150x150Joe Sullivan didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. While still very young, he suffered the neglect of his mother and the physical abuse of his father. By the time he turned ten, Joe’s family disintegrated into chaos and began moving from place to place – to more than ten addresses in three years. Because of his mental disabilities, Joe was easily led by other boys, and because he lived mostly on the streets, he fell into petty theft and other small property crimes.

Running with two older boys, Joe broke into an empty house where one of the others stole some jewelry, and then left. Later that day, the woman who lived there came home and was attacked by an assailant she never saw clearly.

The attack was brutal, violent, and shocking. Police apprehended the two older boys who pinned the guilt on thirteen-year-old Joe. Joe turned himself in and admitted participating in the burglary, but adamantly denied knowing anything about the rape. Relying on the self-serving testimony of the two older kids, prosecutors indicted Joe as an adult and, at thirteen, Joe was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Housed among adult inmates, Joe was repeatedly abused and sexually assaulted, and several times attempted suicide. When he developed multiple sclerosis, doctors suggested that his prison trauma probably triggered the disease.
Confined to a wheelchair, horribly mistreated, and condemned to die in prison at the age of thirteen, the childlike, emotionally disabled Joe faced a dreary future in a bleak Florida prison.

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When All’s Right with Our Brothers and Sisters

Khleber150x150I’d never been to a mosque here in Florida, so when the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton (ISSB) advertised an International Food & Crafts Festival a couple of weeks ago, I decided to head up and see what it was all about.

On the drive there, my spouse and I wondered aloud about the anxieties American Muslims must feel in the current political climate. As we turned onto the street that would take us to the mosque, we spied early signs of trouble: the flashing lights of police cars in the distance signaling that something had gone terribly wrong. We got closer and could see officers standing in the roadway and said to each other, “But it’s so early on a lovely Sarasota Saturday morning, what could have gone wrong already?”

As we waited in the resultant traffic jam, inching closer to the entrance of the Islamic Society, it became apparent that there was nothing at all wrong. The flashing lights and the police presence meant that something was, in fact, very right: there were so many people trying to visit the festival that police officers were in the street directing traffic to help the hordes of visitors who had to park across the busy street cross safely onto ISSB’s grounds.

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Letting God Visit

Khleber150x150One of my ancestors came to America from Holland many years ago, leaving me a legacy, a surname, and some genetic material to try to pass on. He (the one who left me a name must have been a ‘he’ because of our patriarchal culture) had to have arrived sometime before 1740 since I can trace much of my lineage here in the States back to that time.

Of course that’s not my only claim to biological fame. Being an American, I probably carry all kinds of genetic markers from all kinds of places. I’m pretty sure of some Welsh and Scottish forebears, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find I had other Euro roots, with some African and maybe even Asian DNA mixed in for good measure.

This is the United States, after all, where all of us immigrants have intermingled in close quarters for several hundred years now.

Throughout those centuries, many new immigrants have faced difficulties when first setting foot here. Waves of Irish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants, among others, were made to feel supremely unwelcome, preceded by boatloads of Africans who were dragged ashore already in chains.

Our history with many immigrant groups is not pretty. The Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II; the Haitians who were turned back in their tiny rafts; the Bosnians who faced discrimination in our Midwest after Yugoslavia broke apart - the list goes on and on.

Which brings us to the recent discussion of whether or not to allow today’s Syrian refugees on our soil. Listening to all the name-calling in the media, it sounds in some quarters as if we’re allowing fear to change our most basic American values, which happens to be one of the terror groups’ main goals. If we change our values, the terrorists have already won. And that’s too bad.

If my genetic ancestry is necessarily nebulous, my religious ancestry is more clear. One of my adopted forefathers is Abraham, the first patriarch in the biblical text, a nomadic immigrant who left his tribal lands in Ur to traverse ancient Palestine. Abraham is considered a common ancestor of the three religions known as the “People of the Book” - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and as such is an example of faith for countless Jews, Christians, and Muslims. 

One of the legends I like best about Abraham is that, no matter where he set up camp, he left all the walls of his tent open because he never knew from which direction God might come to visit.

There is reason for us in our post-modern society to be afraid of our current batch of terrorists. The madmen ironically calling themselves the Islamic State (they’re not actually Islamic, and ‘state’ is a reach) are indeed dangerous precisely because they have become so adept at using modern technology to radicalize young people to help them in their quest to drag society back into the dark ages.

But as afraid as we are, we play directly into their hands when we slam our doors shut to immigrants who come seeking refuge. This is not the American way.

And neither would it be Abraham’s.