Interfaith

Commemorating 9/11 by Desegregating Theological Education

I just returned from a very moving convocation at the Claremont School of Theology where I am on the faculty. We were celebrating the historic founding of a new interreligious theological university that brings together institutions representing the three Abrahamic faiths, along with our newest partner, the Jains. The Jains are an eastern religion founded in India over 2,500 years ago who are perhaps best known for their deep commitment to the concept of no-harm or ahimsa.

While each partner institution will continue to train religious leaders in their own traditions, the Claremont Lincoln University will be a space where future religious leaders and scholars can learn from each other and collaboratively seek solutions to major global issues that no one single religion can solve alone. The CLU's founding vision of desegregating religion was reflected in the extraordinary religious diversity present at the convocation held in a standing room-only auditorium. I sat next to a Jewish cantor and a Muslim woman who had tears flowing down her face as we listened to the prayers offered in all four religions along with a reflection from a Humanist speaker.

Peace Be Upon Them

 

Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor.

Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church. So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order.

A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood," it read.

That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world. Members of the mosque and church have shared meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and become friends over the past two years. When Stone learned that his Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, he opened up the doors of the church and let them hold Ramadan prayers there.

Critics said that Stone was a heretic for allowing people of another faith to pray in his church building. He says he’s just doing what Jesus taught him to do. "Jesus told us to love our neighbors," Stone told Sojourners. "These people are actually neighbors."

The friendship between Heartsong and the Memphis Islamic Center comes at a time when Muslim-Christian relations have been testy. In communities from New York to California, from Wisconsin to Tennessee, proposed mosques have run into angry, organized opposition.

When the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 200 miles east of Cordova, put a sign on their property announcing a new building, a vandal spray-painted the words "not welcome" on it. Neighbors filed suit against the mosque -- arguing that Islam is not a religion and that the mosque was a terrorist training compound in disguise. When construction started at the site, a vandal set fire to a backhoe and other equipment there.

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9/11: What Have We Learned?

Ten years ago, terrorists hijacked four airplanes over the United States. Two were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, a third into the Pentagon, and the fourth was crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania. By the latest count, 2,996 people died, including the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims.

A few weeks after that tragedy, more than 4,000 religious leaders of all faiths signed a statement that was printed as an ad in The New York Times. We spoke of the moral response to terrorism: "We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be," the statement said. "We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us."

On this 10th anniversary it is appropriate to ask what we have learned. How have we grown as a country? How have we healed, or how have we, in our hurt, turned around and hurt others? In two critical ways, we have shown that we did not learn the right lessons.

First, we have spent much of the past decade deeply engaged in two wars. Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush began the bombing of Afghanistan, which was followed with U.S. troops. The stated objectives were to capture or kill al Qaeda and to overthrow the Taliban government. Al Qaeda was quickly dispersed, and the Taliban removed from power. Osama bin Laden was, of course, killed this spring, not by the war of occupation but with rigorous intelligence and special forces. Yet more than 100,000 U.S. troops continue to occupy the country.

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Hymns for September 11

Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.

The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.

No More Dirty Work! Clean, Green Jobs, Not Tar Sands Oil

1100802-tarsandsPresident Barack Obama will decide as early as September whether to light a fuse to the largest carbon bomb in North America. That bomb is the massive tar sands field in Canada's Alberta province. And the fuse is the 1,700-mile long Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport this dirtiest of petroleum fuels all the way to Texas refineries.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a climate and pollution horror beyond description. From August 20 to September 3, thousands of Americans -- including Bill McKibben, Danny Glover, NASA's Dr. James Hansen, and thousands more -- will be at the White House, day after day, demanding Obama reject this tar sands pipeline.

I'm going to be there, and I hope you will join me -- we need your voice.

Partnering for a New Beginning

In 1999, I was in the midst of launching Interfaith Youth Core, the organization I lead today. One day I received an email from a young man in Jordan named Anas. He wrote, "I found your website, and I want to start an interfaith youth project."

We quickly fell into a rhythm, where I would send him our latest curriculum on interfaith service projects and he would send me photos of the projects he ran, which we would post on our website. Anas and I finally met in person when I traveled to Jordan five years later. I was there on other business and decided to look him up in my spare time, fully expecting that he had gone onto other things.

He both surprised and inspired me. He brought the latest photos on interfaith projects he was leading across the Arab regions and around the Mediterranean, and a copy of the book he had written; he told me about his plans to run for parliament.

I asked him, "Tell me how you got here." And he replied very simply, "You emailed me back."

The biggest thing Anas taught me was not the power of the Internet to connect a globalized world (though this is true) or the bridges that are built through interfaith action (though this is also true). Anas taught me that the fate of the 21st century was going to be decided not just by government-to-government relations, but by civic leader-to-civic leader relations in a global context.

President Obama affirmed this in his May speech addressing the Middle East and North Africa, saying: "The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people."

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