I remember vividly, as we all do, where I was just over 11 years ago when American soil was attacked. Less than six months after 9/11 I had moved to New York and was serving as a youth pastor in a suburban town that lost individuals that day. During the one year anniversay, our youth group open our doors for a time of grieving, questioning, and healing. As difficult as that was, it provided a great atmosphere for retelling of stories and sharing of feelings and experiences.
While 9/11 did, in many ways, bring out the best of the American people, it also provided a dark day for many to reveal their true prejudices and intolerance.
Many Americans became fearful, rightfully so, but not only of extremist religious fundamentalism and terrorism, but sadly by anyone and everyone who was different from them. Especially our Arab communities and Muslim friends suffered greatly at the hands of fear and hate. This of course is documented and does not need to be retold.
Last year, our church here in Paris, The American Church in Paris, helped organize an Interfaith Colloquium entited “Becoming a Blessing”: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims can work together for harmony in a world seemingly divided among religious lines.”
A 10-Year Rememberance ceremony was held on September 11 at the Statue of Liberty in Paris and then a panel of religious leaders in Paris gathered in our sanctuary and was faciliated by students from The American University in Paris. I will never forget the cry of lament offered by one of the Islamic leaders.
In attendance were the following:
Imam Mohammed Azizi, a director of Amitie Judeo-Musulmane de France
Rabbi Stephen Berkowitz, a spiritual leader of the Mouvement Juif Liberal de France
Dr. Dalil Boubakeur, Director of la Grande Mosquee of Paris
Rabbi Tom Cohen, founder of the synagogue Kehilat Gesher http://www.kehilatgesher.org/wp/
The Rev. dr. Jeff Powell, pastoral assiatant at The American Church in Paris
The Rev. Dr. Anne Marie Reijnene, professor at the Theologicum of the Institut Catholique de Paris
In addition, there were many clergy members from various Christian denominations in attendance and serving on the panel.
The question asked to these relgious leaders was the following:
“How are we, the descendants of Abraham, living into the promise that ‘in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed’?”
What was fascinating and beautiful was to here the common values and vision of these different religious communities. What we all realized was our common hope for peace and unity. No one was trying to make a case that all religions are the same. Clearly there are differences and these should be acknowledged and discussed, but in a spirit of friendship and humility and not of arrogance or defense.
Imam Azizi boldly challenged us all to see the humanity in all persons and to worship God alone and not ourselves or our religions.
In a pluralistic society we face the reality of living and working together with peoples of different faiths.
This year we are striving to live out the vision of Jeremiah 29: 7
” Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
In efforts to bless the city of Paris, partnerships with organizations and faith communities become essential. A shared sense of purpose with a spirit of openness can be lived out.
During the colloquium, Rabbi Cohen made a wonderful disctinction between tolerance, pluralism, and openness. Tolerance simply “puts up with” someone different but really does not wish to be involved. Pluralism does not fully appreciate the differences and distinctions betwen differences. Openness allows for the mutual growth of both parties, believing that we can actually learn and be enriched from one another, especially from people differnet from us.
I conclude with a challenging question for reflection:
Have we spent time getting to know our neighbors and learning about what they believe and why?
People often say “ignorance is bliss” but when it comes to religious understanding I believe that ignorance is very dangerous. I hope to see more inter-faith dialogue happening in our culture and wish that the Church will lead the way.