So…a Jew, a Catholic and a Muslim all walk into a church together and then….
Sorry. No punch line here because, well: it’s no joke. Not at all. Actually it was pretty darn serious, even holy, a sacred meeting held on a recent Sunday evening before a group of nine restless eighth grade boys and girls, youth who attend class at the church I serve in suburban Boston. Most weeks we learn about our own unique God story, as these young adults prepare to become members of our faith community.
But this class was very, very different. Other people of faith would teach us about their unique God story. And so a soft spoken white haired Roman Catholic woman fingered her string of well worn black rosary beads, talked about her visits to patients in a nursing home every week. A middle aged conservative Jewish man carefully draped a blue and white prayer shawl over his shoulders, prayed for us in the language of his faith: Hebrew. A quiet and humble Muslim man gently unrolled a multi-colored hand woven prayer rug, taught the kids about his practice of praying five times daily.
And these days? Well, such a peaceful meeting is kind of a miracle.
Because a week, even a day, cannot pass by without some story showing up in the news about one religious group targeting another religious group, and the reasons are always the same. Religious ignorance. Religious arrogance. Religious chauvinism. Religious intolerance.
My “God” right. Your “God” wrong.
And so bombs planted by religious fanatics go off in churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday. Forty-four worshippers die; 100 are injured. And so last January a Massachusetts man physically attacks a Muslim employee of Delta Airline in London, kicks and grabs at her, shouts: “Trump is here now. He will get rid of all of you.” And so at Jewish cemeteries across the United States and right here in Massachusetts, the past months have seen hundreds of toppled gravestones and scrawled messages. “Kill Jews” declared one threat, spray painted on a headstone in Barnstable.
I claim no moral high ground for my faith tradition. We of the Puritan stripe have a checkered history when it comes to religious tolerance. One of the first things the Puritans did after arriving in Plymouth, in search of religious freedom, was, ironically, to make sure theirs’ would be the only religion tolerated. And so it goes….
As a person of faith it angers and embarrasses me to witness other folks of faith who use their belief in God like a bludgeon: to judge, to separate, to hate, even to hurt. It doesn’t have to be so. Those who employ God and religious faith as a weapon against other people of faith, or no faith: they are an increasing minority in this world. Most of the millions of Christians who will celebrate Holy Week this week; the millions of Jews who will mark Passover that begins this week; the millions of faithful Muslims who gather in mosques across the globe: they practice a faith of inward piety, not outward hatred. They use faith as a way to make their own lives better and the lives of their neighbors better too. It’s important to remember this reality.
At its best this is what religion does: it gives meaning and purpose to the human condition. It offers mercy and love to self and others. It gives a Divine framework and story within which to understand this life and to find our place in the universe. Everything else: the politics, the self-righteousness, the intolerance and yes, the hatred: at least to this person of faith, that’s no faith at all.
So…a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim walk into this life as neighbors, and then, they all get along.
That’s no joke.