From The Rev. Kathie Galicia St. Francis, Turlock
Who is my neighbor? Finding commonality amidst diversity.
This past Monday, I attended an event at the Islamic Center of Modesto, a vigil to promote peace and unity and to honor the victims of the heinous attack by a White Supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll stands at 50 as I write this, with at least 40 more seriously injured.
Community leaders from Modesto and Stanislaus County as well as Rep. Josh Harder spoke eloquently to condemn this senseless tragedy. Leaders from many Christian denominations, the Sikh community, as well as Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue reminded the audience that we are all members of the human family, all deserving of love and respect. What undermines us most in these difficult times is fear of the other. Almost all people, no matter where they are from or where they currently live, want the same thing: security for their families, freedom from hunger and disease, and a good education so that future generations may live healthy and productive lives.
It’s not the first time I’ve attended an event that brought out leaders from across the religious and community spectrum. In late October, many of us were present at a similar gathering at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue to mourn the murder of eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
Rabbi Shalom Bochner addressed those gathered on Monday saying, “As I’m taught is said in the Muslim tradition, we come from God, and to God we return. These horrible attacks were attacks on all of us, all civilized people, particularly those with a long history of experiencing disrespect through Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-Semitism, and just plain hate.”
“What happened last Friday was an attack on all of us that stand for peace,” said Rep. Josh Harder. “There’s something particularly heart-breaking about a tragedy that occurs in a place of worship, that’s intended to be a place to search for peace.” Rep. Harder went on to say that while it is critical for us to gather during times of extreme crisis, it is unfortunate that we do not do so during times of relative peace.
This was a sentiment that was expressed several times, by Imam Ahmad Kayello and other clergy who spoke to the gathering of over 350 people. In our various religious traditions, we tend to stay in our own lanes- Bp. David would say “silos”-not venturing out into other religious communities to hear what they believe and see how they worship. In the face of the divisiveness that has threatened to tear us apart, we must remember that the strongest weapon we have against hatred is our ability to reach out to our neighbors, whether or not they are like us.
It is disheartening to witness the “anti-other” rhetoric that permeates our news and social media in our country today. Unfortunately, the United States is not alone in seeing an escalation of attacks on ethnic and religious minorities; whatever the source of this evil is, it is fed by ignorance, bigotry and hatred. As followers of Jesus Christ, as members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and as adherents of The Way of Love, which is being studied and promoted by several churches in our diocese, what should our response be to intolerance in our communities?
One suggestion, made by retired pastor Erin Matteson, was something she has been working on herself lately: she looks people in the eye when she encounters them, whether at the grocery store or walking in her neighborhood. We can look at our fellow human beings and recognize that, however unique we may be, we are all known and loved by our Creator. That is especially true when people seem different from us. Simply walking or biking around our own neighborhood, smiling and saying hello, can go a long way in breaking down our reluctance to interact with someone from another culture or religion.
For those of us in the Episcopal Church, our worship services normally take place on Sunday mornings, our sabbath. Some Christian churches have worship services at other times during the week. What would happen if we “progressive” Christians attended a more conservative church one in a while? There are worship services in Modesto at the Jewish synagogue and the Islamic mosque on both Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, which is their sabbath. In our diocese, most of us live within 20 miles of a mosque or synagogue. What would it be like to attend a service that falls outside our religious comfort zone? Judging by the wonderful level of hospitality we encountered at the Islamic Center and Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto, we can open our hearts to one another no matter where we worship. Finding areas of commonality is a great way to diminish the fear we have of those outside our silos. Defeating ignorance, bigotry, and hatred is daunting, but this is where we can start.