Yesterday I made my debut as a local newspaper columnist, one of five sharing a weekly religion column. In a world where a shrinking percentage of people ever read a print newspaper, being an unpaid not-even-monthly columnist is not a huge distinction, but like a tree falling in a forest, a writer just needs someone there to listen. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle has given me, and four interfaith colleagues, that audience, so I am grateful. I chose to write about “Loving my interfaith neighbor.”
Yesterday, even though most of my neighbors were not waking up to read the morning paper, most of the neighborhood homes had papers on their doorsteps. We were the recipients of what the alt-right/white supremacist/neo-Nazi/hate groups call a “lit drop,” a flyer depicting a (fictitious) rabbi spouting confusing words calling for a white genocide. The message of the meme was that Jews are dangerous and out to get “us.”
This evening, neighbors came together in the local park to talk about what had happened and what could be done about it. Some brought homemade cookies, some brought poster boards and markers, and many brought their children. The adults talked and listened while the children ate cookies, played in the park, and made posters. “Love lives here,” (or, “Love lives hear”) many posters announced, while one proclaimed, “Love makes America geat.” My carefully chosen words about loving neighbors, published one day earlier, felt puny next to this demonstration of neighborly love. Here it was, in action. Parents, and neighbors, were demonstrating to children that love is stronger than hate.
But just in case you’d like to read my debut column, and you didn’t click on the link above, here it is:
Loving my interfaith neighbors
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he quoted from the Hebrew scriptures. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And a second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he told a story to illustrate neighbor-love. The hero of the story, the one whom Christ’s followers are to imitate, is a Samaritan who shows compassion and gives time and money to help a Jewish traveler in need.
It is an interfaith story, this parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan’s religious tradition was despised by Jesus’ first listeners. Yet this man’s actions exemplified obedience to one of the two most important commandments in the Biblical tradition. Jesus concluded, “Go and do likewise.”
Learning from our interfaith neighbors is one of the greatest opportunities we have in our time. We live in the world’s most religiously diverse nation, and we are more connected to our global neighbors and their varied religious traditions than ever before. In so many ways, interfaith action is imperative for the 21st century.
Locally, we have a wonderful illustration of how interfaith work is essential for our community. Not long ago, the only options for homeless persons in the Bozeman area were a bus ticket or a hotel room, often paid for by a local church or synagogue. Interfaith discussions led to the formation of an interfaith housing network, Family Promise, providing shelter and opportunities for homeless families. Our community is healthier when we work together, combining the resources of our faith communities.
We also need interfaith relationships for the sake of a more peaceful world. While it is far from true that religion is the cause of all wars (just consider World Wars I and II when you hear that claim), religious differences have contributed to animosity between cultures over the centuries. Yet when we listen to and learn to respect followers of other faiths, the incentives to work for peaceful solutions multiply. The “other” becomes not so foreign, and not so fearful. This is not just a theoretical claim. Last year, local interfaith efforts brought a team of Israeli/Palestinian Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders to Bozeman to tell their story of peacemaking in the Holy Land. Peace can be the shared goal across faith traditions.
Finally, interfaith work is crucial for the care of what Pope Francis so lovingly calls “our common home.” Today our earth and its life-giving systems are in danger. Many scientists are calling our era the “Anthropocene,” the first era in which human activity is having a significant impact on the entire planet. Worldwide climate change is already affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations. Drawing on religious teachings about love for neighbors, interfaith cooperation can bring diverse peoples together to preserve, protect, and restore health to this amazing planet on which we live together.
Just as the Samaritan did for the Jew on the road to Jericho. As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”