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,
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.