Interfaith Amigos coming

Community members in the Mid Ohio Valley are preparing Marietta and surrounding communities for the greatly anticipated visit of the Interfaith Amigos on November 10-12, 2017. You won’t want to miss these gentlemen.

They have dedicated their life’s work to teaching others how to begin the journey of interfaith dialogue. This trio is comprised of three clergymen; Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Imam Jamal Rahman, who, since September 11, 2001, have dedicated themselves to the promotion of interfaith dialogue through public presentations and workshops all around the U. S. and internationally. The goal of all interfaith dialogue efforts is cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different beliefs and traditions. The first presentation of the Interfaith Amigos will be held November 10 at 7pm at the McDonough Center of Marietta College. The following day, on November 11 at 10 a.m. there will be a workshop in the Great Room of Andrews Hall on the MC campus. It is an honor and a privilege to have these distinguished practitioners of interfaith dialogue visit the Mid Ohio Valley.

The visit by the Interfaith Amigos also provides all of us with the challenge and opportunity to begin our personal and collective journeys on the road of interfaith dialogue. Many steps on this journey have already been taken in the greater Marietta area. A course on interfaith dialogue, coordinated by Dr. M.J. Ebenhack is currently being offered through the Institute for Learning in Retirement at Marietta College. A course, “Understanding and Appreciating Islam,” is being presented at two Marietta congregations, Christ United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Society. The campus-wide program, Marietta Readsat Marietta College, is featuring the first book by the Interfaith Amigos, Getting to the Heart of Interfaith, as its common reading for the current academic year.

As we prepare to engage in interfaith dialogue in our community, both before and after the visit by the Interfaith Amigos, it is important to identify and practice the principles that our visitors and other experts on the topic have recommended. Interfaith dialogue, first of all, is not about conversion, confrontation, challenge, disparagement, or being judgmental about other faiths. It is about curiosity that arises from sincere interest in understanding and appreciating another faith. The Interfaith Amigos tell us that inclusive spirituality–not a spirituality that excludes non-believers, is needed as a healing force in this divided and conflict-ridden world of ours. Interfaith dialogue is further advanced when members of different faiths seek common ground through such shared values as love, peace, compassion, and justice.

Another important step on the journey of interfaith dialogue is to participate occasionally in the celebrations of another faith. A non-Jew can learn a great deal about the significance of the Jewish holy days of Passover and the reminder of the periods of bondage of Jews by participating in a Seder service; Muslims will often invite non-Muslims to share the outpouring of joy, generosity, the meaning of month-long fasting –and the wonderful array of foods– of the Eid al Fitr celebration, which marks the breaking of the fast of the holy month of Ramadan; and non-Christians can learn much about the significance of the crucifixion and Jesus (who, by the way, is regarded as a prophet by both Jews and Muslims) and of Christian salvation by participating in an Easter service.

The Interfaith Amigos have demonstrated through the power of their personal friendship and of their productive professional lives that genuine interfaith dialogue is fully achieved when personal relationships are valued and established over time. Shared activities, such as a course on interfaith dialogue, a discussion group on the topic, and even more importantly, service projects that bring together people of different faiths for a common purpose, such as serving the hungry, flood relief, or building a home for a homeless family. Eboo Patel in his book, Interfaith Leadership: a Primer, how getting to know one another through one simple question: “tell me story of your name” is a welcoming starting point. When we begin to establish personal relationships with those of different faiths, we take a major step on the journey of interfaith dialogue and thereby do our small part to make our country a more civic nation.

George Banziger is President of the Board of Trustees for the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta.