Tuesday, May 08, 2012

An Imam, a Priest, and a Rabbi go to church

An imam, a priest, and rabbi go to worship service. How do you know whether they are in a mosque, a church, or a synagogue? Depends on the day of the week. Okay, I know, it’s a really bad joke. But, last Sunday an imam, a priest, and a rabbi were together in worship at St. Augustine’s. Sunday May 6, 2012 St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish, Tempe participated in National Pluralism Sunday by hosting Imam Yahya Hendi and Rabbi Gerald Serotta as co-preachers. Later that afternoon St. Augustine’s was the site of a clergy conversation led by Hendi and Serotta focusing on problematic texts from the Abrahamic traditions. Imam Yahya Hendi, founder and president of Clergy Beyond Borders, is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, the first United States university to hire a full-time Muslim chaplain. Imam Hendi also serves as the Muslim Chaplain at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. In Imam Hendi's message during the worship service he said, "All of us Americans, in general, and committed Jews, Christians and Muslims, in particular, must find within their own traditions sound reasons to value other faiths without compromising their own. They must realize that what happened on Sept. 11th cannot divide us. We should not tolerate voices of divisiveness. We must use Sept. 11th to explore the best in each of us. Let us keep in mind that Diversity is in itself not a bad thing provided it occurs within unity, cooperation and coordination. So let us all chose to be united with all of our differences for the best of this nation and all of humanity." Rabbi Gerald Serotta served as a university chaplain and Hillel Rabbi for 28 years, the last twenty at The George Washington University where he was Chair of the Board of Chaplains. He held the position of Senior Rabbinic Scholar-in-Residence at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, working on issues of globalization and economic justice from a Jewish perspective. He is currently the Chair of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the executive director of Clergy Beyond Borders. Rabbi Serotta led the afternoon dialogue reviewing a few sample texts that typically cause concern from within and without each of the three traditions. Admittedly, those present representing Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were of the more liberal persuasions among their particular faiths. Texts from the Koran included those about the treatment of women, perspectives on war, and Islamic views of Christians and Jews. The Hebrew text concerned the Jews being the chosen people of God and the particularity of the land of Israel. The Christian text discussed the exclusivity of the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John regarding he is the only way to heaven. The apparent common thread throughout the discussions was whether each particular faith had a willingness to find room within the texts and their specific tradition for an open interpretation. None of those present for the discussion represented a fundamentalist position. Honestly, my observation from attending several interreligious events is fundamentalist rarely attend these gatherings. The work of continuing the momentum from such a gathering is difficult to sustain. The question is how to stay connected and continue the dialogue. My opinion is the answer lies in relationships. This event was brought together because my colleague and friend Imam Ahmad Sqheiret put together an entire weekend gathering, including worship at the mosque and synagogue, asking our church to host the Sunday event. He and I have worked together at several such events, attended workshops, and maintain a personal connection. I see Islam through Ahmad’s eyes and through his heart. He is a faithful man of the One Holy God. He is kind, gentle, compassionate, curious, understanding, generous and loved by his congregation and by many in this city. I understand his tradition because he shares his faith with me and he listens to my perspective of Christianity. Together, we seek to serve God and our neighbors. I am thankful Ahmad is my neighbor and I am his. Thanks be to God.

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