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We Either Live Together, or We Die Together

Coptic Church in Aswan, Egypt (photo: sweet mustache via Flickr)

As a child growing up in southern Illinois, we learned a lot about the Civil War. Not just from books and movies, mind you, but from field trips and visits around the area. We visited with a woman who was 104 years old, who told us family stories of her older brothers who died in the war. We went to one of the cemeteries that claims to have the oldest Memorial Day celebration. Most memorable to me, though, were the visits to old homes that were stops on the Underground Railroad, where people put their own lives on the line to lead escaped slaves to freedom.

We learned about ordinary people, standing up and doing extraordinary things — things that changed the world.

This past week, as the Coptic Christian Church prepared to celebrate Christmas (celebrated by them and other eastern Christian churches on January 6), Islamic fundamentalist militants in Egypt threatened to carry out bomb attacks on their churches if they gathered for worship. Given similar attacks in recent months in Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east, this was no idle threat.

And the people of Egypt reacted:

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

Tomorrow in our worship, I’ll be praying for Mohamed El-Sawy and the people of Egypt, giving thanks for their acts of solidarity.

“We either live together, or we die together.”

When I read this, it reminded me of how a white clergy friend of mine, Robert Graetz, described his experience of the civil rights battles — literally battles for him — of the 1950s and 60s.

“We either live together, or we die together.”

Each time this gets said, each time this gets put into practice, the world changes for the better. The haters of the world may think that the silent majority around them supports their hatred, but this refrain brings them up short. “No, you and your hate don’t speak for me.” Suddenly, instead of dreaming that they are leading a vast movement, the reality of the smallness of their thinking comes crashing in on them.

“We either live together, or we die together.”

Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s how the world is changed.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.