Can't Nobody Turn Me Around
In 1995, I had this incredible experience. I got a chance to sit with Muslims and Jews in a project called "Genesis," developed by legendary Bill Moyers. Sitting with those of another faith or in this case, different "faiths" could have been a disaster. I was, however, able to suspend that area of disbelief that keeps barriers high. Instead, I lowered my defenses, especially the defense of protecting my own faith and letting God do the rest, opened my heart and senses to those who live in this world with me. I have never been the same and truthfully, where I go now--well, can't nobody turn me around.
I'm a Christian, but what that means depends on whom you say it to. If you say it to another Christian, it's like carrying the fish symbol--you're supposed to know one another. But, to a person of another religion, it can mean a myriad of things and sometimes what it means is less than positive. Our experiences or knowledge (yes, even stereotypes) can undermine how we respond to the other--the other being anyone not of your community.
Even when you say, "I'm a Christian" to another Christian, you might still be polar opposites. These past sixteen years have shown me that "buzz words" are not a guarantee that people will understand you or that you will understand another. There can be misunderstandings and if you are trying to collaborate on solving some of the world’s problems, you are risking the good work by failing to build interfaith relationships.
I have been part of an organization for almost 14 years named United Religions Initiative (URI)—an organization whose purpose it is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. This purpose does not encompass all that becomes URI. It is an organization made up of stories of interfaith that also includes removing barriers of cultures, race, religion, and women, men and children that separate us. The more I share an intimacy of our faiths, our traditions and cultures, the more I know that interfaith is a powerful tool when put in the right hearts to seek and absorb.
In sixteen years, I have met people of different faiths and from different cultures. I have shared meals and prayer—two very intimate times in a person life. My grandmother said that I should only eat with friends and only pray with believers. I understand now what she means because I have found friends in unlikely places and when they pray for me, I know that I’m am enveloped by love. What I find is that friends are not only Christians and that people who believe don’t all believe the same thing or the same way—but people of faith come in a variety of religions and traditions. All good.
Last year, I met a young Middle Eastern man who was finishing his last year of college. We were in Jordan and for almost a year, we have been talking on Sundays via SKYPE. Morad is Muslim and a man of faith. I am no novice to the Islamic faith. I have a plethora of friends both in the states and in other parts of the world—but he is a young man (most of my friends have been my age and women) and he understands that there are those who would paint him a terrorist. Like my sons—I get it. It was not a matter of “IF” the cops stopped them as they became men, but “WHEN” and so Morad became like a son to me, too. I don't want this next generation have to accept the "WHEN" of bigotry and prejudice.
I love him because I know how much he loves his little sisters, how happy he was when his little brother was born, and that he loves God/Allah and is not only guided by the wisdom of his sacred texts, but a gentle humanness that comes from getting to know someone like me. You see, there’s that intimacy; one that makes a person want to share a meal and to pray for one another and once you've experienced it, you can't go back.
Bigotry and prejudice, xenophobia can only be cured with having a commitment to humanity and those who make up humanity. Sitting with those individuals not like myself taught me a valuable lesson. People of faith have to cross those barriers that keep us apart. We’re only as strong as our weakest link—and hatred and bigotry are those weak links. I ain’t going back to a time when I thought my faith was superior. I’m never going back to a time when I vilify another of God’s children. There’s an old Negro Civil Rights Spiritual that starts, “I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around. I’m going to just keep on walking, keep on talking, and keep on marching until change comes.
Be the change you wish to see. And remember, “God bless the whole world. No exceptions.” P.K.
To hear the song (song by Sweet Honey in the Rock) go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5Z1trynEHs&feature=related