As a controversial pastor prepares to burn copies of the Quran in Florida, he might be able to use some advice from the people of Tennessee. They know a thing or two about fires.
The burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan trace their heritage to Pulaski. Arson is blamed for damage to a mosque construction site last month in Murfreesboro. University students in Knoxville couldn't even resist setting mattresses ablaze when their football coach ditched them for another job in January.
Something is again burning bright in Tennessee, but this time it's a beacon of hope.
If only Terry Jones, the firebrand behind "International Burn a Koran Day," were going to Graceland. A small detour could lead him to the doorstep of fellow Pastor Steve Stone.
When Stone read in the newspaper that a new Memphis Islamic Center was coming to town, he scrambled to make a sign and took to the street.
"Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood."
This sign hasn't received much attention since it went up a year and a half ago. Certainly not as much as those carried outside Park51's proposed Cordoba House, two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, a thousand miles from Memphis, and a world apart from Heartsong's hospitality.
Stone's counterpart, Dr. Bashar Shala, was overwhelmed by the reception. The sign was only the start of a heartwarming relationship that formed between the two communities. Heartsong eventually decided to let the Islamic Center use their hall while building a new facility.
Besides bringing their own constituencies together for some interfaith activities, Shala and Stone have gone public together with their example. They appeared on MSNBC's "Countdown" on Wednesday night.
The conversation with host Keith Olbermann covered everything from their own all-American tale to foreign reaction to Jones's plan for the upcoming anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Stone found one more example that should resonate with observers:
"I heard [Jones] on a station the other day saying about radical Islamists that 'these are people you just cannot reason with.' And I thought that was the pot calling the kettle black."
Stone doesn't stand alone. Last week, he blogged that, "The majority of the response both locally, nationally and internationally has been positive and affirming. And honestly, that has been both surprising and heartening to me. My guess would be that 90+% have responded that way."
The Memphis Commercial Appeal recently trumpeted a separate local gathering of 150 supporters after the arson in Murfreesboro. Attendees brought their own signs, with slogans like "We're all in this together" and "My God is not a bigot."
There are some things in Memphis that can put a smile on your face and locals look down on burning. And it's not just their world famous BBQ.
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