Monday, September 20, 2010

Unity Walk: Building Peace By Serving Each Other

by Ace Parsi

This weekend I experienced something pretty wonderful: a broken narrative. The narrative the last few months has been one of religious conflict between Christianity and Judaism against Islam. The conflict could be seen as Glenn Beck drew thousands of Christians to action while ignoring Matthew 25 and really the rest of the Bible which call for justice for the poor. It could be seen at a time when the notion of an Islamic center in the neighborhood of the World Trade Center brings such national anger and a leader of a church could actually call for burning the Muslim holy book. It could be seen as relationships between Israel and Palestine as projected by the media seem to harden.

Similarly, those of us who believe in religious pluralism and loving our neighbor as ourselves face tests to our faith. Uncertainty has been frowned upon. We can’t express doubt that we may not have the exact answer in our faiths and that maybe each faith is expressing part of the truth. Too often it seems like our authentic religions are being hijacked. It is projected as unnatural to walk together with fellow brothers and sisters of other faiths to fulfill the promise all our holy prophets call us to: bringing justice, love, and peace to a broken world.

So, as you can imagine events like this Sunday’s Unity Walk take an added significance. In this time of conflict, this year’s theme, Building Peace By Serving Each Other, seemed all the more appropriate. The event began at the Sikh Temple where speakers across religions took the stage to affirm that walking together did not contradict their faith—it manifested it. We ate delicious Indian food prepared by the organizers and after getting our fill, we set off for an hour of open houses in places of worship across the city. Different houses of worship opened their doors in a spirit of inclusion and unity. People were not turned away, they were not judged, and their relatively small differences were not magnified to eclipse all they had in common. When we reached the end location at the DC Islamic Center, Christians took their shoes off and women borrowed hijabs to see what it was like to go into a mosque. It was really beautiful. What made the event more special was the presence of youth. Youth organized interfaith service activities all day and expressed their commitment to acting out their faiths together.

As I expressed at the beginning of this post, there’s so much out there today to convey that our hope is being held hostage. Amidst all we see on TV and read in the newspapers, it’s hard to not think that events like this seem like drops in an otherwise intolerant and broken down pour. But as cheesey as it might seem, the event this weekend gave me so much hope. It may not reclaim a national narrative, but it highlighted the truth of unity can still rise in this environment. As William Cullen Bryant famously wrote,

Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshipers.

I am hopeful that continued small actions like this can continue to build on each other, bring us together, and help us each achieve what we could not do alone: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Ace Parsi is a progressive Christian and education advocate in Washington DC.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly Reflection

by R. Warren Gill III

I just got finished attending the United Methodist Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly in Berlin, Germany.

Because of the diversity that God has gifted us with in our time, after the GYPC voted in a very hurtful way, I was able to sit in a circle of wounded youth and young-adults from a world-wide connection as we reflected about what had happened that evening. There was pain in that circle. But there was also love and caring in that circle. This was a gift.

There was pain in the circle because earlier in the evening, the delegates gathered decided to uphold the United Methodist Church's homophobic stance on the marriage of lesbians and gays by our clergy and in our churches. The debate was not civil. One delegate implied that those of us inspired by the Holy Spirit to work for inclusion were not a part of the Body of Christ. Another called LGBT people aberrations. But the delegates also heard words of hope. They heard that God's love is every expansive. They heard that God loves queer people.

As we gathered the following day, the conversation took a much more civil tone, and supported the Majority Report of the 2008 General Conference by the legislative committee, Church and Society II. This report was not heard at General Conference and included some very supportive gems. It also reflects the actual disagreement that can easily be found in our Church.

Diversity in the church is good. Not only diversity in the ways we look, not only diversity in the way we talk, not only diversity the clothes that we wear. But because when we come from different places, we see the many different ways that God is working which shows the greatness of God.

If we believe as United Methodists that Wesley's quadrilateral is important, we simply must remember that in the Christian Church there is a tradition of difference.

The earliest of formalized Christian Creed, The Nicene Creed, is written to resolve conflict in the church, and has had limited success in the last 1700 years since it was written. At that time, there was only one word that could be decided on, and that word was open to multiple interpretations, and theological debates continue today.

The earliest church in Rome worshiped differently than the ones in Alexandria. We also hear from Egeria, a Spanish woman who traveled to Jerusalem, that the Easter Celebration she experienced there was significantly different from her homeland.

Diversity in the church has always been there. It is good.

God has called it good.

The Council of Jerusalem as we find in the book of Acts. The question was then about Circumcision. The question was must you be like me to be like Christ? And the answer from God over and over again was no. In Ephesians 2 and in Galatians 4, the answer again was no. Over and over again through scripture and tradition, God has told us that diversity is good. You do not need to be like me to be like Christ.

Our unity as the Church is made in our relationship to Christ. As we find in John 3:16, it is through our confession of Jesus that makes us united. Nothing else. Not our uniformity of thought. Unity and Uniformity are not the same.

Our tradition is a tradition of difference. Our scripture is a scripture of difference.

The diversity of opinion in the church today about God's queer people, is just one more way in which God has granted us the good gift of diversity.

And it has been a good gift.

In a city that was once divided, both physically and metaphorically by a wall, we are reminded that no matter how high the wall, and no matter how thick, it can come down. We must work for this change, and with the help of God, no amount of concrete can stand. As I toured a section of the Berlin Wall, someone had written on it, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Let us pray that God makes us crazy enough to make change happen in the Church. Amen.

R. Warren Gill III lives in Berkeley and is a third year MDiv/MA student at the Pacific School of Religion. Warren is a long time member of the MOSAIC Leadership, and has served on the Board of Directors of RMN. Warren attended The Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly as a voting delegate from the Western Jurisdiction.