Today’s world. A world where the climate as we know it is changing so drastically, and in some places is forcing people to migrate from the land they know, the language they speak, and the culture they understand, to a new and uncomfortable place where they must adopt a new set of customs. A world where we have lost track of our basic human, religious, and peaceful values so much so, that there is extremism to the point of terrorism, replicated over and over again with the assistance of rapid connectivity via internet and social media. And here in the United States, a nation that represents equality and understanding, a man is running for president who speaks of building walls to keep others out–and some citizens actually connect with him over this and other xenophobic statements.
But though today’s world seems bleak, throughout history we have seen fluctuations in the stability of the earth and stability of human relations. Just as we are now.
Tracing through history, we can also find a great many scholars, prophets, teachers, who have lived their lives with the goal to re-establish these values and show the world what it means to live simple, peaceful, and gentle on the earth.
Mahatma Gandhi taught, “Religions are not meant for separating men from one another; they are meant to bind them.” After recent events like the San Bernadito shooting in California last week, or the attacks in Paris on November 13, Gandhi’s statement, one that can be found in many other forms throughout his teachings, can be hard to understand.
I recently found a second passage in a book I am reading called “We Make the Road by Walking”, which represents this through the lens of the Christian faith. Before this passage, the book is discussing the birth story of Jesus, when the three Magi– or “wise men” as the bible refers to them, went to honor Jesus shortly after his birth. These men were “astrologers, holy men of a foreign religion,” who came from the east. It also discusses the time shortly after the birth of Jesus when his parents fled with him to Egypt to avoid the danger of King Herod. It was here Jesus’ family resided as refugees until King Herod died. The book then continues on to describe what we can analyze from the most prominent figure in the Christian religion interacting in such a meaningful way with other areas of the world and other spiritualities.
“Throughout the centuries, religions have repeatedly divided people. Religions, including the Christian religion, have too often spread fear, prejudice, hate and violence in our world. But in the Magi’s gifts to honor the infant Jesus, and in the Egyptian’s protective hospitality for Jesus and his refugee family, we can see a better way, a way Jesus himself embodied and taught as a man. They remind us that members of Earth’s religions don’t need to see the counterparts as competitors or enemies. Instead we can approach one another with the spirit of gift-giving and honor, as exemplified by the Magi. We can be there to welcome and protect one another, as exemplified by the Egyptians.”
“Instead of looking for faults and errors by which other religions can be discredited, insulted, and excluded, we can ask other questions: What good can be discovered in this religion? Let us honor it. What treasures have they been given to share with us? Let us warmly welcome them. What dangers do they face? Let us protect them. What gifts do we have to share with them? Let us generously offer them.”
I think these two statements–that of Gandhi and the excerpt from “We Make the Road by Walking,” perfectly embody what interfaith peacefulness means. In my opinion, this is the big takeaway from spirituality and from religion–it is the peacefulness taught in all major religions, living a simple and humble life as also taught in all major religions, and loving our neighbors on this earth.
Last night I stood alongside roughly 200 individuals from various faith traditions at the Islamic Center in Fort Collins, Colorado in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters. The Islamic Center opened their doors for an interfaith vigil with Temple Or Hadash, Congregational Har Shalom, several Christian denominations, Buddhist community members, and of course our Muslim neighbors.
Several of the church and faith leaders led the vigil with meditations, song, and prayer. Standing in the middle of the crowd with a candle in my hand, I looked up to see a sliver moon, almost symbolic, imitating the symbol for Islam. To my right on the second floor above me I see several women and girls, heads wrapped in their Hijab, looking down on the hundreds of people gathered to show their love and support for Muslim neighbors.
It was a powerful experience. Standing with so many people, defying fear and religious intolerance. Discussing what it means to live in the United States, what we actually stand for as a nation but seem too frequently to have forgotten.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, mounted inside the pedestal of the statue.)