The following is an abridged account of true events that occurred just yesterday. Enjoy a laugh or two at humanity’s expense.
Yesterday, Aug. 28, 2013, I took a crowded bus from East Lake Street in Minneapolis to Black Dog Cafe in downtown St. Paul to meet a friend for coffee. I had over an hour to kill on the bus. I read an abandoned sports and weather section from the Star Tribune. I watched the urban scenery fly by.
Then the ultimate time killer got on the bus: A big dude in a black t-shirt reading “Ask me about Islam” in giant slashing white letters. He sat down near me in the back.
So I asked him.
“Hey man, are you serious? Your shirt? Tell me about Islam.”
He stared straight forward, ignoring me. I’ve seen that move plenty of times. Black man doesn’t trust white man, understandably, and so brushes him off. But I wasn’t to be brushed off so easily. I wanted to know this man’s thoughts. I wanted to know if Islam brought him feelings of peace, and if so, I wanted to celebrate it as brothers in the brotherhood of man. I wanted to know if he was experiencing the same peace I was experiencing in the Christ figure.
“Sincerely,” I pressed, “I want to know about Islam.”
“You already know,” he snapped, keeping his eyes off me.
“No. I don’t.” I knew what Islam was, basically, and I’ve known a few patient and gracious Muslims who have shared with me their thoughts about religion, but I wanted to hear what this man’s heart held.
“You already know.” Ask Me About Islam was starting to get pissed.
“Dude, don’t start s*** with me. I’m in no mood.”
“Dude, it’s all good. Your shirt says to ask you about Islam, and I am genuinely curious. I’m not challenging you, it ain’t like that. I just want to know what you think. But if you don’t wanna talk, that’s all good, I’ll leave you alone, all good.” I was going to shut up, but apparently my letting him go made him want to play ball.
“What. What do you wanna know. You already know. Look at you. Look at what your lifestyle choices did to you. All you wanna do is drink and fornicate.”
Game on. “Nah man. That ain’t me. You asked me what I wanna know. Here’s what I wanna know. I wanna know how it makes you feel, Islam. How does it make you feel, what kind of feelings?” I figured that was as good a place to start as any.
Heads started turning. The bus was silent except for the dulcet sounds of a nascent religious war emanating from the back of the bus where my new best friend and I sat.
“Don’t f*** with me, man. Feelings. What kind of feelings. You’re stupid, man. F*** you. Get off my back.”
Another guy, an older Native American dude, had heard enough, and chimed in:
“Man,” the new guy said, “your shirt says to ask you about Islam! Why won’t you answer the man?”
“Nah, f*** you both. Look at you people. Pathetic. Fornicators.”
“Read Deuteronomy, man,” the Native dude said. The two got into it and started interrupting each other. More heads started turning.
“You keep asking me about Islam, but how can I tell you about Islam if you keep interrupting me?” He pronounced the name of his religion with a long “a”, so that it rhymed with “lamb” or “ham”.
“Islahm,” Read Deuteronomy said, rolling his eyes.
“IsLAHM, IsLAHM,” came the mocking reply. “IsLAHM.”
A fourth man, a young Black man, removed the earbuds from his ears, rolled his eyes at all three of us a few times, rolled his whole head at us a few times, and loudly rebuked us: “Are y’all seriously arguing about religion? Y’all are grown-ass men, arguing about religion on a bus.”
Ask Me About Islam said something back, Read Deuteronomy said something back, Grown-Ass Man said something back, White Fool in a Pinstripe Fedora (me) said something back, and now there were four grown-ass men arguing about religion, and arguing about arguing about religion, at the back of an otherwise silent, crowded bus rumbling towards downtown St. Paul at the height of rush hour. All around us, people held their faces in their hands, slowly shaking their heads. This was not what I was looking for when I took Ask Me About Islam’s t-shirt up on its (apparently merely rhetorical) offer to have a wonderful dialogue about the wonders and mystery of the peace and love and kindness and goodwill that religion can spread among the variously hued peoples of God’s blessed, abundant earth.
“F*** this,” Ask Me About Islam said, “I’m moving. I’m not keeping company with sinful, wicked men.” He huffed off to the front of the bus. I stifled a laugh. My heart was racing. The argument died down a bit as Read Deuteronomy and Grown-Ass Man and I discussed the African origins of humanity, how religion makes us feel, and which books and authors each should read in order to get a clue (Colors and Templeton, respectively). Fist bumps of respect were exchanged.
Grown-Ass Man got off the bus, still fired up. “Read Colors!”
Read Deuteronomy and I spent the rest of the ride discussing Ask Me About Islam, Read Deuteronomy’s PTSD from Viet Nam, computer software, our fathers, and the changing landscape of St. Paul since the 1960s. The conversation turned more manageable. Only two other people, a lady who hadn’t witnessed the earlier sideshow and the driver, remained on the bus by the time it reached the depot, the end of the line. The lady asked us all for some walking directions. The driver and Read Deuteronomy graciously gave them to her.
Read Deuteronomy and I shook hands, exchanged real names, and wished each other a nice evening.
I’m still laughing. Oops.
Anybody got a biblical passage to shed light on this? Or a passage from the Quran? Or anything? Bueler? Bueler?