Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter and Interfaith

I spent a whirlwind 24 hours in Kirksville, Missouri this week doing a speaking gig at Truman State University. I got to be the only passenger in an 8-passenger plane, eat delicious Mexican food, and hang out with a group of amazing students from the MSA (Muslim Students Association) on campus. We spent a lot of time talking about the obstacles to doing interfaith work, and why people are so afraid to participate. I always go through a kind of inner turmoil in these conversations, because I don’t think people have anything to fear.

And it is incredibly challenging to tell someone who is afraid simply to not be, and have it make any difference.

If interfaith cooperation is really just the engagement of religious diversity to a constructive end, how can people be against that?

Because people are afraid of what they don’t know.

In the early 1960’s a Jewish rabbi by the name of Abraham Joshua Heschel heard about an African American Baptist preacher from the South by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. Rabbi Heschel was inspired by King’s action in the civil rights movement, and decided to join in. King and Heschel became good friends, and, after marching with King, Heschel said “When I marched in Selma, I felt like my feet were praying.” They were different as night and day. A Jewish rabbi from New York, and an African American Baptist preacher from Alabama. But they agreed that all lives should have equal value, and they saw the power their actions had together.

Working with people different is not about watering down what you believe or pretending you don’t think anything different than the next person, but instead respecting the fact that all lives have equal value, and that we can agree on shared values like compassion and serving others.

As a Christian, this is especially true for me. I am honestly tired of hearing from campus after campus that the Christian groups are the ones least likely to respond positively to this message. That is frustrating to me. I am a committed Christian, and I do interfaith work. Because it matters, and getting to know people who believe differently than me makes me a better Christian because I have to articulate what I believe and why, and see if those statements make any difference about the way I live my life. And I really think Jesus was/would be now surrounded by people different from him so he could listen to their stories, and love them exactly the same as he would with people who believed what he was saying and followed his teachings. I think he loved everyone. Equally.

And we should do the same. Not throw rocks at other people we probably just haven’t taken the time to understand, but instead be brave enough to respect each other and form friendships.

It is Easter weekend. A time Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us all. Sounds like as good of a time as any to love other people…since that is what Jesus was doing.

Am I right?