by Audrey Krumbach
On Sunday, my brothers and sisters in Wisconsin were terrorized, shot and seven were killed. MY brothers and sisters, people who are part of MY family. Why do I say they are part of My family when I am not related by genetics, or geography or faith or even culture to the temple or individuals who were present? Because they are human beings, created by God. It's that simple.
But when I think a little deeper, I can speak more clearly - Interfaith solidarity is important because God calls us to love and respect ALL people, and the only way we can truly obey is to appreciate where people come from and our differences – even our faith differences. Interfaith solidarity demands that we act as I believe Christ did with people who are different than I am. Sometimes I 1 realize that I am like the woman Jesus met at a well in Samaria, and Jesus promised me living water which would mean that I will never thirst again, but it first means that I have to talk to this man who is quite odd, and very unlike me.
But this is not only about generic Christian principles of loving the stranger. Actually, my passion for pluralism began the summer before my senior year in high school.
That summer, I visited a non-Christian place of worship for the very first time; in fact, I got to visit a Buddhist temple, a Mosque, a synagogue, and Two Sikh temples. These two radically different trips to the Sikh temples are what I want to tell you about.
These two trips were not different because they were on opposite sides of a continent, one in Vancouver Canada and the other in Atlanta Georgia, or because the experiences within the temples were a little different, No, they were different because of the difference in each of the Christians groups which whom I was traveling.
Vancouver, BC, Canada: The first visit was in Vancouver on a mission trip with my youth group. We visited a Sikh temple in order to "learn about competing faiths" and "educate ourselves against them." But that hostile agenda did not prevent our leaders from arriving at the temple around 11:30 in the morning, just in time for a free lunch. We not only were fed generously with delicious curry which, sadly, American Teenagers did not much appreciate, but the temple leaders set aside an hour to explain the basic tenets of Sikh faith to us. About how the Sikh Guru's arose in a time of great strife in India and how imperatives hospitality and peacekeeping were central to Sikh ethics. And how their Holy Book was called the Guru Granth Sahib because it keep the words of the six historical Gurus, and the book itself is treated today with the respect that one would offer to any leading person of faith. Their respect for the Guru is so great, that every evening the book is placed gently in a place like a bed, and every morning. You can imagine my horror as our youth group leaders giggled audibly and disrespectfully at the Sikh practices.
But our host was kind and patient, and even made time for questions and answers. After we had exhausted our question, the group got back in the vans and drove away. As we did, the same Adult leaders who had laughed and a few of the students began making fun of the Sikhs' for their reverence to the Guru Granth Sahib – I sat silently in the back, not understanding why we would visit a temple, eat their food, take advantage of their hospitality just to ridicule their faith later. I don't remember ANYWHERE in the gospels where Jesus or the disciples made fun of anyone or demeaned their culture and faith.
Atlanta, GA: Less than a month later I was back in Atlanta GA, and I was asked to again visit a Sikh temple, this time with a different group of Christians, now part of a study group led by seminary students from Emory university.
That morning as we left for the temple, I was almost sick to my stomach with worry, because my only experience of Christians and Sikh’s had been so humiliating. I did not know how I was supposed to act- would we again receive the food and kindness from these generous Sikhs just to walk away and hear followers of Christ make fun of them heartlessly?
But this time was different from the start. This time, our leaders talked to us beforehand about "important ways to be respectful" like making sure our feet were clean so that we would be ready to take off our shoes when asked. And rather than just showing up for a meal, we were invited to join the community in a time of song and prayers. We sat with the community in the main worshipping room and listened to their English and Punjabi songs. And when we joined in the Sikh prayer service, our leaders did not smirk and giggle at the Guru Granth Sahib, but quietly and respectfully listened. When the food was passed to us, not a single teenager complained about the exotic food, and some even asked for seconds!
And as we left, I watched our leader bow to our host and thank him profusely for the delicious food and "allowing us to experience God with you." Our ride home was not filled with rude laughter, but quiet words of admiration for these generous and kind people who sang with such beauty.
I realized that day that the Jesus who talked about loving the poor, who met a disgraced woman at the well and treated her with love, would not sit in the van and make fun of another person's faith, no, Jesus would be the leader bowing respectfully to the Sikh host, thanking him for sharing the hospitality, compassion and peace which we share.
And I knew that I wanted to follow that Jesus, the one who calls me to respect and love and to genuine encounters with my brothers and sisters who are different and who come from different places and traditions, with Indian Sikh’s and Arab Muslims. I want to get to know the Jesus Christ who was an Arabic Galilean Jewish man who would risk his reputation to speak with a disgraced women, a woman not that unlike myself.
Audrey is young United Methodist living in Atlanta, Georgia.