Saturday, March 19, 2011

Imagine a peaceful response

Imagine a Peaceful Response to the Tenth Anniversary of 9.11

The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and the Rev. Gil Stafford were invited to Virginia Theological Seminary to participate in a conversation about imagining a peaceful response to the tenth anniversary of 9.11. Aided by a Luce grant, VTS brought together 44 people. Episcopal bishops, priests, deacons and laity (including ten seminary students) joined together with Islamic Imams and laity from 19 cities and eight countries.

For three days, eleven hours a day, we struggled intensely with theological, philosophical and practical questions. We asked risky and courageous questions about our religious differences. We sought to understand our similarities. We opened ourselves to be vulnerable and to listen to one another. We heard our stories of pain. We listened to one another’s fears. And we imagined what God was saying to us, as a global community.

We heard stories like Ahmad’s. He is the Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe. In the fall of 2006, he and three other Imams were waiting to board a plane in Minneapolis to travel to their home in Phoenix. Before boarding the plane, they said their prayers. As they boarded the plane one of the passengers passed a note to a flight attendant saying he heard these four men saying Allah before getting aboard. The passenger also thought it was suspicious that one man was wearing dark glasses while on the plane.

Subsequently, Ahmad and his three friends were handcuffed and escorted off the plane. The man wearing the dark glasses was elderly and blind, however, he was forced to walk down the jet way, unaided. Obviously, he was frightened. The four men were detained and questioned by the local police and the FBI. After five hours they were released and told they had done nothing wrong and were not suspects for any crime. They were told they could return to the terminal and arrange a flight to go home. US Airways, whose flight they were originally on, would not take these four men as customers. Eventually, they were able to buy tickets from Northwest Airlines to make their way home. These men had their civil rights violated, which was later proven in court.

We heard other personal stories, Muslim and Christian, of prejudice, hatred and marginalization that have increased in our country. Our group came together to share in one other’s pain and as human beings, to acknowledge that we could listen and hear deep into our souls.

Our task was to work together with our local communities in planning healing events for the tenth anniversary of 9.11. In Tempe, we plan to build on our second annual event of listening to the Abrahamic stories of our roots. We will honor our sacred texts, Torah, Bible and Quran. We will hear stories from our traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic. We will listen to one another and we will fellowship with one another.
In Tempe, we are supporting a new young adult interfaith group, iMagine, and we will be joining with them as they lead us to develop a service project for September 11, as President Obama has encouraged us to do.

And in Tempe, at St. Augustine’s, with Bishop Smith’s approval, our congregation has invited Imam Ahmad to be our guest preacher at our 10:30 Sunday service on September 11th.

Our delegation of three also committed to inviting our fellow Christians and Muslims from our neighboring communities across Maricopa County to join us.

These events, we are praying together, will allow us to imagine a new way of listening and working together. Yes, we do have theological differences, but we do share many similarities. Most importantly, we are human beings, God’s creation called to serve God’s creatures and be good stewards of God’s creation. We can only do this in our global economy if we begin to see with the eyes of God’s new imagination for us in the world in which we live. Only if we see with the heart of God’s economy can we reach out with our hearts to embrace one another as sisters and brothers.

I left VTS with a renewed spirit, an encouraged heart and a resolve to my commitment to listen to the intention of God. I left VTS knowing that listening to the heart of God is risky and may require courageous action. I left VTS with a deeper appreciation of our Episcopal tradition and Church that calls us into a new imagination of living in a global village. And I returned home with a new anticipation of the tenth anniversary of 9.11, one that is hopeful and not

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hopeful plans for 9.11

The soul, body and mind are spent. We have given all of our selves, kenosis, for the good work of developing interfaith peaceful gatherings for the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and the Rev. Gil Stafford made some preliminary and tentative plans for our community. For Tempe, we made an offering of hospitality. On Sunday September 11 our plans are hopeful. Imam Ahmad Shqeirat will be the guest preacher at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish on the morning of September 11. We want to encourage our interfaith young adult group iMagine to engage in a service project on the afternoon of September and then we will all gather in Tempe for our second annual Abrahamic Traditions Storytelling event.

The blessed experience of these three days is to know that we in Tempe, the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, are doing a good work – a work that is unique across the communities of America. I am very proud to be friends with Dorothy and Ahmad and I am filled with the joy of God and inspired by their personal commitment and leadership in our community. I know that our actions are risky and dangerous – but I believe that our new imagination can foster peace and healing in our community.

Thank you to the Luce Foundation and to Virginia Theological Seminary for these blessed and power filled three days of being in the presence of God and our sisters and brothers of Islam and Christians.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Interfaith work in Washington, DC (oh yeah, Jesus drank Guinness)

Today our interfaith group did the hard work of sharing our theological stories. We were challenged with the question of “suffering,” in our traditions of Christianity and Islam.

We quickly found some questions that caused us both to struggle within our own traditions. Is suffering inevitable or necessary? Is sin inherent or inevitable? And is sin and suffering related? It was obvious that our group of Christians did not stand in a theological unification – and neither did our sisters and brothers of Islam.

We found some ideas of commonality. God has created us and God will forgive us. From God have we come, to God will we return. We have all experience both sides of life, both good and bad. We are responsible as Christians and Muslims to reach out our sisters and brothers who are suffering the bad of life.

And, of course, there are some differences in our theologies – the theology of suffering and the suffering of God caused quite a long and passionate conversation – and the Christian idea of Trinity is not coherent with the monotheism of Islam.

What came out of this very long day of conversation, dialogue and discussion was a better understanding our of sisters and brothers, Christian and Muslim.

God moved among us as we gathered to pray together at the end of the day. We heard stories of personal suffering, lifetimes of pain, and stories of prejudice. We laughed, we cried, and most importantly, we listened.

We gather again tomorrow to envision the possibility of creating safe and sacred spaces for our communities to gather locally to hear the stories of our sisters and brothers of the Abrahamic traditions.

Oh, by the way – Jesus did drink Guinness (or maybe a highly alcoholic beer). One of our participants has done excavation of holy sites in Jerusalem. Their work had uncovered Philistine beer mugs. The Philistine’s produced a wheat beer (IPA maybe). So maybe, at those weddings Jesus was turning water into wine, he might have also been sharing a pint with his mates. Slainte and blessed Saint Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Peaceful Response to 9.11 session one

There are 49 of us at Virginia Theological Seminary developing plans for a peaceful response to the tenth anniversary of September 11. There are teams from Louisville, Bethesda, Washington, DC, Alexandria, Tempe, Pasadena, Webster Groves, MO, Harrisburg, PA, Dearborn, MI and from the seminary as well South Africa, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Malawi and Peru. There are seven Bishops and the Deans of two seminaries here. Included in the group of some of the most prominent leaders in national and international interfaith dialogue. One of the presenters described this group as a Nobel Prize collection. If any group could come up with some ideas, it has to be this collection of intelligent human beings.

Today, we started with the basics of “listening;” working on our skills of truly hearing one another. We learned to listen with our mind, our hearts and our hands. We focused on listening for the facts, the emotions and the actions. And we experienced being listened to at the deepest level. Honestly, it is hard for a room full of clergy and educators to listen to each other – we are very equipped to tell, but listening pushes at some of our edges.

The most profound moment came at the end of the day when we asked questions that have gone unanswered since September 11, 2001. Why have American Christians responded, or not, as they have? How are Muslims dealing with the pain inflicted on them by a few radicals of their own religion? Do all Muslims have the same interpretations of the Koran? Do all Christians have the same beliefs about the Bible? These were hard questions to answer and explain in groups of three. These triads worked hard and then reported to the plenary. The expressions were intense.

Tomorrow we move closer to planning. The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, the Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat, and Dr. Catherine Stafford are here with me. It has been a long day – and tomorrow will be longer still. Pray for us that we can be creative as we develop strategies for our communities.