Thoughts of Faith: Lessons learned from the Interfaith Amigos

On Nov. 10 and 11 the Marietta area was graced by a visit from the Interfaith Amigos, a trio of three gentlemen comprised of Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Imam Jamal Rahman. These three clerics have formed a special bond and since Sept. 11, 2001 have been travelling all over North America, the Middle East, and Japan speaking to groups about the importance, principles, and practices of interfaith dialogue.

To a large group of attendees that nearly filled the auditorium of the McDonough Center at Marietta College, the Interfaith Amigos captivated the audience with an inimitable blend of warmth, humor, and intellectual depth about the three Abrahamic religions that they represent. They emphasized the importance of seeking universals among different faith traditions rather than particulars.

While these three have formed a powerful bond of mutual commitment to interfaith dialogue, the process of their collaboration has deepened the faith of each. Rabbi Ted spoke of the core message of Judaism as “oneness” and that this notion of inherent goodness and connection to God can apply to believers of any faith tradition. Pastor Don referred to the Christian principle of unconditional love, and citing references from the New Testament, spoke to the need to apply that principle to members of all faith traditions. And Imam Jamal, quoting from memory relevant verses of the Koran, mentioned the core principle of his faith as compassion and how the Messenger Mohammed taught acceptance of all people of the book.

Given the depth and breadth of problems throughout the world, particularly those rooted in religious differences, a focus on shared values, the common universals among different faiths, and the need to come together in peace, the Interfaith Amigos assert that interfaith cooperation is important for nothing less than human survival. An important prerequisite to interfaith dialogue, which these three demonstrate vividly in their own interactions, is the establishment of a personal relationship between those who wish to engage in meaningful interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is not about conversion but about deeply sharing one’s faith tradition with another and searching for shared values. These universal values can be expressed and strengthened by sincere non-judgmental dialogue but also through participation in activities like service projects, where people of different faiths work together for the common purpose of helping the needy or serving as responsible stewards of our environment.

In their first book, Getting to the Heart of Interfaith, which, by the way, Marietta College has adopted for its “Marietta Reads Program” (a single book that all faculty, students, and staff are encouraged to read and discuss), the Interfaith Amigos assert that there are stages of interfaith journey. The journey starts with moving beyond separation and suspicion to the sharing of stories, spiritual practices and traditions, and ends where people of different faiths move beyond safe territory to tackle the more difficult issues.

At the workshop on the morning of the November 11th, also held on the Marietta College campus, approximately 50 people engaged with the interfaith leaders in exercises designed to establish trust, share common values, and actually practice with another person how to listen, respect, and connect– the first steps on the journey toward interfaith dialogue.

After such inspiring events, we are now faced with the question, what next? The Interfaith Dialogue Planning Group of Greater Marietta is committed to continuing the momentum on the journey to interfaith with several follow-up activities. These include additional courses on interfaith and diverse faith traditions through the Institute for Learning in Retirement, offering a course on Islam to additional local congregations, participating in national and international gatherings such as Parliament of World Religions (which is holding its annual meeting in Toronto in 2018), interfaith service projects, interfaith reading clubs, ethnic dinners seasoned with interfaith themes, exchange visits among people of different faith traditions, inviting additional speakers on interfaith dialogue to the area, and other events. We welcome ideas from the community and we welcome the participation of others in our planning group (e-mail address for those interested: gbanz42@suddenlink.net).

George Banziger lives in Marietta. Thoughts of Faith appears each weekend on the Religion page.

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