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Service offers a path for understanding

Nov. 07, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

When a gunman killed seven people (including himself) and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Aug. 5, 2012, I found myself mourning alongside the rest of our nation and world.

I was saddened not only by the violence and death, but also at the realization that as a religious leader, I knew nothing about the history, theology or practice of the Sikh faith. When I was younger, I used to laugh at movies like "Team America: World Police." I found the film's satirical characterization of Middle Eastern culture and religion humorous. The one-liners and jokes were fun to share with friends and acquaintances. Looking back, I am now saddened and embarrassed by this movie, as it perpetuates American ignorance of Middle Eastern culture and religion, while painting a distorted image of American patriotism.

The recent YouTube trailer, "The Innocence of Muslims," caused similar feelings to resurface as the clips grossly caricaturize Mohammad, while reinforcing an incorrect understanding of the Islamic faith.

These movies and trailers are major roadblocks for interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance and unity among different people and cultures. Similarly, the majority of Christians (myself included), while sharing scriptural and traditional roots with our Jewish brothers and sisters, are largely ignorant about the beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith. Too often we allow a poor interpretation of the Gospel narratives and movies like "The Passion of the Christ" to incorrectly characterize the Jewish faith as an adversary to the Christian faith.

The underlying problem (among others) in the above situations is ignorance. As the religious and cultural landscape in America has rapidly changed, our willingness to educate ourselves (and our children) about other religions has lagged. While I took a survey of world religions course during seminary and a religious studies class in undergrad, they weren't enough to develop a full understanding of the varied world religions. Why do we remain hesitant?

Over the past two years, I have wanted to attend a service or gathering at the Jewish B'nai Sholom Congregation and the Islamic Muslim Association of Huntington, but I have not. Am I too busy? (No.) Or have I not taken the time and made the extra effort? (Yes.) Often, especially in the presence of my Islamic and Jewish colleagues, I am afraid to ask a question or make a statement for fear of sounding ignorant or unintentionally offensive. These fears have to be set aside if we ever hope to truly know and understand one another.

I am encouraged by Christian leaders, like Thomas Merton, who look to the practice and teaching of other faith traditions to expand and strengthen their own Christianity. Many Christians and preachers are just as quick to quote Gandhi or the Dalai Lama as they are to share the words of Christ. I have found a rich experience and knowledge of God in the Jewish writings of Abraham Heschel and Harold Kushner. My prayer life and religious experience have been deepened by the Buddhist thought of Thich Nhat Hanh.

On Sunday, Nov. 18, at 6 p.m., the Downtown Christian Churches, the B'nai Sholom Congregation and the Muslim Association of Huntington will gather for a community worship celebration at Central Christian Church, 1202 5th Ave. This service provides us with an opportunity to worship God together, learn more about one another, and strengthen our community and city.

If you have never attended an interfaith worship service, or interacted with a person of Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith, this is a good place to begin. Rabbi Jean Eglinton will be the featured speaker, a brass quintet will provide special music and an offering will be collected to benefit the Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity.

Although we practice in different ways, our Christian, Islamic and Judaic roots are all Abrahamic, and each stress hospitality and care of the neighbor, stranger and anyone else regarded as "other." Join us as we find new ways to talk with one another instead of about one another.

The Rev. Kevin Snow is pastor of Central Christian Church.

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