In Memphis, Tennessee, Christians, Muslims and Jews are jointly commemorating Thanksgiving, behaving like real Americans and proper human beings. The Heartsong Christian church congregation and a Muslim community center in the Cordova district of Memphis, held a joint Thanksgiving celebration in Memphis on Wednesday. They asked a Jewish American to read the opening prayer.
Pastor Steve Stone explained to a local news reporter, “The Islamic Center bought the land right across the street from us, and that makes them neighbors, and Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors.”
Now that’s Christianity.
Of course, the classic Thanksgiving was also multicultural. The poor starving Christians at Plymouth Colony were taught New World farming and fishing techniques by the Wampanoag Native Americans, who worshipped Kehtannit, the Great Spirit and were not Christians. The noblest in American traditions are the multi-cultural and tolerant, and Thanksgiving should exemplify those values.
In fact, one of the things we should be giving thanks for on this day is that we live in a society where, ideally, it should make no difference if you are Christian or Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, agnostic or Hindu. You can build your place of worship anywhere you like, within the boundaries of civic zoning laws, no matter which path you follow. The liberties of the US Constitution require no religious test before they can be enjoyed. They are universal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” Americans are not Americans because they are white, or Christian. Everyone born here or naturalized is an American. Muslim-Americans are Americans.
Ironically, the district of Memphis where the joint event was held is known as Cordova. It was originally a farming village east of Memphis founded in 1835, which was named for Cordoba (Qurtuba) in Spain. It seems to me likely that these American pioneers knew about Cordoba through Washington Irving’s 1832 Tales of Alhambra, about Muslim Spain (he also spelled it with a “v”). Pastor Stone thus stands in a long line of Tennesseean urbane tolerance. And, Cordoba itself was the site, under the later Umayyads of a remarkably tolerant society of Jews, Christians and Muslims that is described so brilliantly by Maria Rosa Menocal in her book, Ornament of the World. It wasn’t perfect, and didn’t last, but at its best it was a damn sight better than the hell of bigotry and religious rancor fanned by the hateful in New York, Gainesville and Murfreesboro this fall. Between the two, Pastor Stone and the hateful mob, I know which one I think is the authentic American true to the ideals of the Founding Fathers.
Heartsong and the Muslim community center are feeding the homeless in this season, when it is particularly tragic to be homeless. Consider donating to their praiseworthy efforts at the Heartsong online donation site.