By Ruth Broyde Sharone
REMEMBERING RECENT MINEFIELDS AND MIRACLES
If you’re an interfaith activist, you may have noticed how the movement is growing exponentially, how our dreams to reach around the world in one giant interfaith embrace are slowly, surely coming true. Globally there is good news (and bad, I’m afraid) coming from all directions.
Take a look at the Interfaith Harmony Week’s website. Harmony Week has become an international annual event in early February, initiated by King Abdullah of Jordan in 2011, to spur and support interfaith engagement worldwide. Their website offers all sorts of innovative interfaith activities that go far beyond the “usual suspects” of dialogue and multi-faith panels. The ingenuity of the projects – such as interfaith parks, gatherings to bake ethnic breads, photography exhibitions and songwriting competitions for youth – is matched by their geographical Reach… Doha, Amman, North Carolina, Guadalajara, Jerusalem, Rome, New Delhi, Toronto, Auckland, Bali, Vienna, and more.
This landscape is gratifying to old-timers who’ve waited so long for it to unfold. Yet many minefields remain to be cleared. Islamophobia keeps raising its ugly head; thankfully, people are responding is imaginative ways. Violence continues to rage in Abrahamic Middle East – though thousands of brothers and sisters, a growing number, are dedicating their lives to finally finding a resolution to this family fight writ large.
In My Backyard – Southern California
While memories are still fresh of the incendiary hate rallies in New York at Ground Zero, protesting the building of a Mosque and Cultural Center, Los Angeles is facing its own interfaith crisis. In the interest of advancing Christian-Muslim interfaith ties, All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena recently agreed to host the annual convention of the Muslim Political Affairs Council (MPAC) on December 15. Immediately the church began receiving hate mail, including some from its own membership.
Reverend Ed Bacon and his All Saints colleagues used the controversy as a teaching moment. They would not back down. Instead they called together interfaith leaders from around the city and held a solidarity press conference with MPAC to publicly decry the hate campaign. Not far away in Pomona, I’m happy to report, a mosque has been hosting interfaith Seders for two years. Pomona’s interfaith community recently voted to make it an annual event.
Another Los Angeles event broke new ground last April, but without a backlash. The Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (SCCPWR) brought together, for the first time, 16 diverse communities that don’t ordinarily interact. They participated in Meditation and Contemplation as Seeds of Peace and shared their meditation practices with one another and the wider community. Keynoter James Doty, a Stanford neurosurgeon, explored the nexus between science and spirituality and the long-term benefits of meditation.
In Orange County, S.A.R.A.H. (Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope), an interfaith organization of women, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Founded in the aftermath of 9/11, S.A.R.A.H excels at grass roots community involvement.
They honored three women with Vision of Peace awards: Vicki Tamoush is founder of “The Interfaith Witnesses,” formed in 2012 to silently greet and escort attendees at faith-based events and worship when they are being harassed. Dr. Paula Garb, co-director and co-founder of theUniversity of California Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding was honored. So was Ajarat Bada, a young Muslim woman from Nigeria who founded “The Missing MDG (Millenium Development Goals) Initiative,” a campaign for ending religiously motivated violence and urging the adoption of a “blueprint” for inculcating religious diversity into a global development agenda. Remarkable women, each one, doing precious work in the local community.
Interfaith is alive, if sometimes wounded, yet more vital that ever in places near and far from us all. May the good stories, the blessed ones about healing and peace and friendship increase this coming year for you and your community.