This past difficult and charged weekend, when the nation was commemorating the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and, beyond that, was all atwitter about threatened Qur'an burnings and such, my church, Second Presbyterian of Kansas City, did something sane.
We invited a Christian and some Muslims (who had just marked the end of Ramadan) to come to an adult education class and talk about their long friendship and why it matters.
Ed Chasteen (third from left in this photo), a wonderful soul who is founder of Hatebusters, brought with him (from left in this photo) Imam Yahya H. Furqan, a Muslim community prayer leader, Bassam Helwani, Syrian-born founder of Culturally Speaking, and Imam Taalib-ud-Din al-Ansare, (known as Al) a clinical pastoral educator and chaplain supervisor at
The idea was not to solve all the problems in Christian-Muslim relations or to unpack the mysteries of the Qur'an or for Muslims or Christians to try to convert one another. Rather, the idea was simply to listen as these old friends talked about the common values that they draw from their religious traditions.
As our associate pastor, Don Fisher, said at the end of the hour, this is a conversation that has just begun and will need to continue at some length if we're to build a friendship more fully.
But in the midst of lots of anti-Islamism rampant in the country, it was helpful for members of our congregation to spend some time with people with whom they share a common humanity, even if they pledge allegiance to a different religious tradition.
As Ed explained about his Muslim friends, "We go around and we hold conversations. We try not to make speeches. We talk among ourselves about our families, our friends, what we eat for lunch, where we go on vacation -- just ordinary things to show that friends can be friends across racial and religious lines."
Bassam added: "The accommodation and the welcoming that we immigrant Muslims feel from this society is overwhelming," contrary to a common perception drawn from news accounts of interreligious struggles. "Everything is open for discussion because nobody is born educated. We learn from each other."
"Our friendship is cherished," Yahya said. "We're all human beings. That's the common denominattor. . .We are one family. We are one human family. . .When a baby cries, a baby doesn't cry in English. A baby doesn't cry in Chinese. A baby doesn't cry in German. The baby's cry is as a human being."
"If we look around," Al said, "we find a great variety of folks in every group. And America is the foremost place for the acceptance of this. . .And in the diversity is where our beauty is."
It's hard to hate people when you get to know them first as human beings who share common hopes and dreams. I wish the violent extremists who claim to be following Islam and radicals from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and all other faiths could learn that lesson. A conversation on a Sunday morning at a church is a good place to start.
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YES, AND WHAT RELIGION WAS JESUS, ANYWAY?
Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the United Kingdom, a Catholic official there says the British people are essentially ignorant about religion. What? Just because lots of people think Joan of Arc was Noah's wife?
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P.S.: Do you know about Care of Poor People? Headed by a formerly homeless man, Richard G. Tripp, it has collected and distributed clothes, food and other necessities each year to help poor people in the Kansas City area make it through the winters. A phone-in conference call to plan this year's event is scheduled for this Sunday. Click here for a YouTube video in which Tripp explains it all and how you can participate. His special goal this year is to increase involvement of people of many faiths.