Both of these news stories have some valid questions to consider: Do we really believe in religious liberty in this country? Are city zoning regulations appropriate for houses of worship? Does the president's religion (any president's religion) matter? Should we pay attention to polls?
Others have addressed these stories with interesting facts (there's a strip joint right by Ground Zero, too; is that hallowed?), good humor (Colbert and Stewart for example), and historical analysis (see Mayor Bloomberg's speech).
Tucked away in all of this, though is a troubling idea: the idea that Muslims are "wrong," "evil" or "unAmerican."
Each Sunday in worship at the church I serve as pastor, we begin our services by quoting some lines from a story about Jesus. We talk about God as Spirit and Truth. These lines come a conversation that Jesus (a Jew) had with a (Samaritan) woman. Among the remarkable aspects of that story is the fact that Jesus treated this unnamed foreign woman like a person. And she treated him the same way. They worshiped differently, they followed different customs, they spoke different dialects. History taught them they were enemies. But, as the Gospel of John tells the story, they defied the traditions and biases of their day to have a civil conversation, person to person.
That seems to be missing in much of our public conversation today over mosques and presidential religious preferences.
Words like "terrorist," "infidel," and "mastermind" (with its comic book sinister feel) are tossed around. A billion or more people are compared by Newt Gingrich to Nazis. The Internet is too full of harmful people calling others "dogs," "satan followers" and worse.
I can't change all that. I don't have a national news show as a platform.
However, I can do this: I can offer seven quick stories of seven humans whom I know and appreciate who are Muslim. (Why seven? It's a holy number for Jews and Muslims. It's as good a number as any.)
First, there is woman who is my Facebook friend. She likes Darth Vader, Star Trek, U2, and Johnny Cash. She is a Muslim.
Second, one of the kids with whom my son built robots at school last year has an outlandishly loud laugh. He hugs his mom and walks to school with his dad. He's a Muslim.
The guy who bought books at our church's book fair and brought back the $60 he found tucked inside one of the books is Number Three. He's a Muslim.
My friend the imam who's kids were hanging on him while he was trying to lead a service at their mosque. He's a Muslim. My kids hand on me at our church sometime. Drives me bonkers. The imam is Number 4.
The couple who hosted (on their own dime) a breakfast for clergy of different faiths to come together just to to visit. They're Muslim. They're Numbers 5 and 6.
Number 7. The little boy who sat next to my kid all year last year during lunch who didn't eat all of the food his parents packed for him (just like my kid didn't), who whispered and giggled at the table, who talked about video games and Pokemon cards, and who couldn't wait to rush outside for recess. He's Muslim.
These are people whom I know. They are Muslim. And human.