This photo of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, embracing a Muslim and Jew says it all. In this time of division and murderous scapegoating of the ‘other’, we desperately need to find ways to come together, despite differences, in mutual respect and a sense of equality. In this spirit, University Christian Church was recently hosted by the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, a Muslim non-profit organization whose primary goal is to help bring together diverse communities in order to promote compassion, cooperation, partnership and community service through dialog and conversation.
For the last four years, this remarkable group has prepared an Iftar feast for University Christian Church during their time of Ramadan. At sunset, they break their daily fast and share with us delicious Turkish foods they have hand prepared. We listen to their leaders explain some of the beautiful rituals of the Muslim religion; a religion so vastly different from the Islam claimed by extremists who have hijacked their religion, as has happened so many times in the history of Christianity. This year was the most successful Iftar, with 76 participants and a vibrancy of the discussions.
Many young Muslims joined us after seeing a notice on a Muslim Meet-Up page, coming with the express purpose of connecting with each other and with Christians who truly know God loves us all, no exceptions!
Does this mean there are no significant differences among us? Of course not, but we believe we are indeed all equal in God’s eyes and heart. At a time when differences are being used to demean each other and to distance ourselves from those who see the world differently, we as Christians have an ethical and moral responsibility to reach out. We need to step out of our inevitable stereotyping and really listen to each other, rather than preparing our next argument or retreating into all-or-nothing thinking– breaking bread together presents a wonderful opportunity to do just that.
University Christian Church has shared other interfaith meals through the years – with the Nueces Mosque and IACT interfaith ministries at their yearly Thanksgiving services. At each interfaith meal, I find my faith deepened and my heart opened wide. I hear similar remarks from just about everyone who has attended these events, regardless of their religion or the color of their skin.
How often do we say to ourselves, “hatred and violence fill the news every single day, and it’s so frustrating that there’s nothing I can do to change that!”? Rather than lose ourselves and each other, mired down in despair, perhaps we can each pledge to reach out toward difference with honest curiosity and interest.
One major way out of this division and scapegoating is to get to know each other on a personal level, otherwise age-old stereotypes will continue to separate us and foster a sense of blind mistrust. This is not to say we should lose ourselves in blind trust, but instead means coming out of our hiding in sameness and getting to know each other. The time is now and the need has rarely been stronger. It is no longer hyperbole to say that if we are to survive as a species, we must be able to reach across differences and discover what is similar and what is sacred in our humanness.