We found the aisle with lentils — aisle three, as it turned out — and surveyed the many choices. Which type would a Muslim most likely use to break the Ramadan fast?
Clayton is the interfaith liaison for our church, which has a close relationship with the local Islamic center. Last fall, we partnered with them on a winter clothing drive for refugee families settling in the area. Now the Islamic center was having a food drive for needy families, many of them Muslim refugees. Clayton mentioned the food drive at the end of our church service last Sunday, and people grabbed donation envelopes and stuffed cash into them.
In the blink of an eye, we collected $200. Now, we just had to buy the food. We found a halal market near the mosque and went with a general list of things that we found online – lentils, dates, flour, cooking oil and so forth.
But which ones? Which types? How much? We didn’t know. After a few moments of indecision, we went to the checkout register and asked the manager for help.
We told the man what we were doing. He smiled. He dropped everything he was doing and threw himself into the project. He went to the back of the store and pulled out a box of cooking oil, which would be easier for us to carry than separate bottles. He rounded up bags of flour and packages of lentils.
While other customers waited patiently, the manager filled several carts with food items worth more than the $200 we’d given him. And then he helped us push the carts to the car for loading.
On the way, he paused, took out his wallet, grabbed a $50 bill and handed it to us.
“This is a personal donation for your church,” he said.
Standing there in the parking lot, we blinked back tears.
There are so many loud and shrill voices in various religions today, ones filled with fear and self-righteousness and arrogance and judgement and hatred — the very things that faith tells us to avoid. Those voices try to divide us and diminish us. They twist religion into the opposite of what it’s meant to be, hoping to advance their personal agendas.
And then, there are all those other people – most people, I like to believe. The ones who actually get it. The ones filled with a spirit that makes them try to love one another as best they can. They understand that every act of love, no matter how small, is an encounter with the God who makes all people beloved and all things blessed. Such moments are holy and sacred, transforming and inspiring.
Like the grace-filled one just now in the parking lot.
With our boxes and bags of food loaded in the trunk, we headed to the mosque. Just a week earlier, it had been picketed by an anti-Muslim group toting signs that were hateful and hurtful.
The Muslims responded by setting up a table and offering the protesters food and drink with a sign: “Please help yourself compliments of your Muslim neighbors PEACE!!”
When our church heard about the protests, we prayed for the Islamic community and emailed the imam a note of support and admiration for their act of kindness. The imam wrote back, thanking us for the prayers and support.
“Please continue to spread the message of kindness, respect, loving thy neighbor, and harmony,” he wrote.
This week, refugees will break their Ramadan fast with lentils and dates donated by a local church. On Sunday, the donation basket at our church will include a $50 bill from a store manager who spreads the message of kindness, respect, harmony, and love.
Another shared, sacred moment for everyone. To be blessed with a few more tears, no doubt.