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.