I have been enjoying laying out and planting the community garden at our church but on Sunday afternoon I participated in a different kind of garden planting event at the Institute for Islamic and Turkish Studies up the street from our church. It was an interfaith forum on countering religious extremism. The resource people on the panel that spoke to us represented the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths. We’re three different religions with similar roots. As Rabbi Gerald Serotta reminded us, we all trace our faith back to Hagar and Sarah. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the Abrahamic religions but it’s good to remind ourselves that women bear children.
All the panelists emphasized our shared humanity. We all recognize that we’re created in God’s image. Drawing from the creation story, Imam Talib Shareef emphasized that God created women and men, and saw that it was very good. He talked about how a child bonds with its parents. He reminded us that this bond can be broken through neglect or abuse, setting in place a destructive chain reaction.
Gail Hambleton, Vice President of the Global Peace Foundation–USA, drew on her peacebuilding work in Africa as well as with the Interfaith Alliance to Abolish Human Trafficking. She emphasized the need to recognize our shared humanity in order to deconstruct the national, ethnic, racial, religious, and social walls that keep us from working together for the common good.
Rabbi Serotta talked about the need to confront the violence in all our scriptures. This is especially problematic when such scriptures are taken out of context to legitimate our actions against people we consider to be our enemies. For Jews and Christians, this includes texts that command the complete destruction of idol worshippers, including small children. The Koran also has texts that can be understood in this way and we see people like the Islamic State group acting out on them in barbaric ways. The problem arises when we take such texts out of context and read them literally. We all have ways of interpreting these kinds of texts in ways that reject such ugly conclusions.
Imam Shareef said that Muslims need to also consider the life and example of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, other early Muslim leaders, and our own reason. Other parts of the Koran remind us that Allah (God) values human diversity. God could have made us all one but chose not to. Rabbi Serotta said that the long history of Jewish Midrash or interpretation forbids us from taking violent biblical texts literally. And finally, Christians need to interpret violent texts though the nonviolent life and teaching of Jesus, the itinerate Jewish rabbi from Galilee.
There’s a valuable lesson in this for all of us. We need to be humble and listen carefully to each other as we struggle with such problems in our religious traditions. And that brings me back to the community garden we’re creating at our church. One church member with a delightful sense of humor began referring to our garden as “Veggie Village”—a place where many different vegetables and flowers flourish together in harmony. As can be seen from the photo above, it’s still a work in progress but holds lots of promise. May our equally diverse human community also find ways to flourish together through mutual respect and understanding.