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Nov 14

Conversations at the Gym

So I’m slowly getting back to the gym after a few nagging injuries. I actually won a free membership to a local gym that I’ll not name here, but suffice it to say it’s been a nice place to work out with two great trainers.

Often I take my shower after my workout and get dressed quickly and leave. I don’t particularly socialize much at the gym with the exception of my trainers and the others in our group. And as men might attest, we usually don’t talk in the locker room as a general rule unless we are well known to one another. It’s not exactly good etiquette to strike up a conversation with a naked stranger!

But the other night…this one really disturbed me.

I was standing at my locker, partially dressed after a superior workout, when a guy came into the locker room. We were alone. He said to me,

“Boy you would think that with global warming, it would be warmer out, huh?” (Temperatures in Buffalo dipped into the high 20s this week)

I replied, “Yeah, getting nippy, huh? I guess winter is here after all, but we’ve been pretty lucky so far.”

“Well, yeah, I forgot…it’s a hoax this global warming. And the President says he’s going to fix it, just like he’s going to fix the economy and the health care system.”

“MM” was my brief Democratic response.

He then added:

“Well, what do we expect? I mean the twin towers fell because of THEM and then we elected one of THEM!”

I’m facing away from the guy at this point and it was like a record scratched in my head.

He went on:

“I mean these (expletive) Muslims! What do we expect the President to do? HE IS A (EXPLETIVE) MUSLIM! They should all die with a (Expletive) piece of pork in their mouths!”

I thought better of engaging this guy. Ken Dolan, an old radio colleague, once taught me a valuable lesson when one of our co-workers was acting irrationally. “THAT guy, doesn’t get it! And you just can’t argue with someone who doesn’t get it. So just walk away.”

And so I started to. But my sense is that the guy got the idea that I was less than pleased with his remarks. So to intimidate me he said, “Oh, just so you know, I’m a former Marine.”

“Oooooh a Marine. You are so scary!” that thought went through my mind. And my sense is that he’s not a former marine and that he’s inventing that. But it took all of my energy to walk past this guy without saying a word other than “Take it easy.”

Which when you think about it, is exactly what he needs to do.

It’s amazing how many people think that the President is a Muslim and even if he was, that doesn’t make him a terrorist or sympathetic to Al Queda or any other fanatical group. But to be accurate, Cathleen Falsani delivered this amazing interview on Barack Obama’s religion in 2004 where he even kind of invites Falsani to his Christian Church in Chicago. Here’s a snip:

I’d be spending an enormous amount of time with church ladies, sort of surrogate mothers and fathers and everybody I was working with was 50 or 55 or 60, and here I was a 23-year-old kid running around.

I became much more familiar with the ongoing tradition of the historic black church and it’s importance in the community.

And the power of that culture to give people strength in very difficult circumstances, and the power of that church to give people courage against great odds. And it moved me deeply.

So that, one of the churches I met, or one of the churches that I became involved in was Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.

GG:
Did you actually go up for an altar call?

OBAMA:
Yes. Absolutely.
It was a daytime service, during a daytime service. And it was a powerful moment. Because, ti was powerful for me because it not only confirmed my faith, it not only gave shape to my faith, but I think, also, allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith.

GG:
How long ago?

OBAMA:
16, 17 years ago
1987 or 88

GG:
So you got yourself born again?

OBAMA:
Yeah, although I don’t, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I’ve got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.

I think that, particularly as somebody who’s now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there’s an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.

GG:
Do you still attend Trinity?

OBAMA:
Yep. Every week. 11 oclock service.

Ever been there? Good service.

I actually wrote a book called Dreams from My Father, it’s kind of a meditation on race. There’s a whole chapter on the church in that, and my first visits to Trinity.

GG:
Do you pray often?

OBAMA:
Uh, yeah, I guess I do.
Its’ not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.

Al of this is of course, beside the point. Hatred for an entire group of people continues in factions. I’ve worked closely with an Imam here in Buffalo and I love our Muslim students here at Canisius. They are some of the more peaceful people I know and many are dedicated to peacemaking in so many different ways. They know and fear terrorism, just as we do.

But yet the hatred for Muslims continue.

So let us pray for tolerance, for peace and for God’s sake…for accuracy.

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