Two things: Last night I attended an interfaith iftar, a breaking of the Ramadan fast shared with Muslims and people of good faith, at the Muslim Educational Center here in Tigard. Ramadan is the annual month of fasting from sunrise to sunset observed by all Muslims who are able. For years now, MET has hosted these evenings in an effort to build relationships between people of all faith -- and no faith -- backgrounds.
Last night, as I visited with friends and new acquaintances I was reminded of the importance of meeting people who are different than I am, some of them the sort of people I’d classify as strangers and, sometimes, avoid. Meeting strangers is essential if we are to salvage civil dialogue in our lives and live up to the demands of our respective religions. But I know that it often requires us to make a decision to approach strangers, exchange names and chat -- let alone have a deeply significant conversation. Please think about trying it today -- at your house of worship, at the grocery store, on the golf course, at the library. It takes practice to create a practice.
The other thing: This morning I read another sermon from Ellen Davis’ book. She writes about how, in the gospel of Luke, whenever Jesus is eating, revelation happens. When he eats with sinners, revelation is on the menu. When he eats with religious leaders, revelation is the main course. Even when he shows up after the resurrection, the moment of revelation comes when he asks his startled disciples, “Do you have anything to eat?"
Davis is much more eloquent as she explains it, but at some level we all know that sharing food with other people can open us up to each other. And when it does, revelation occurs. When the Institute for Christian Muslim Understanding meets, there’s always a potluck supper involved. Sometimes, that irritates me as I scramble to prepare a dish to share, but in the midst of eating together, I realize why it’s so important.
Today I’m thinking about the intersection of meeting and eating. Next year, I’ll do more to publicize MET’s interfaith iftar, where we can all practice together.
I confess that I’ve not finished Ellen Davis’ book, Preaching the Luminous Word. I set it aside in favor of some research, writing and home improvement projects. But I returned to it today and, as usual, her writing about preaching is almost as good as a fine sermon. In her essay, “Preaching in Witness to the Triune God,” she reminds us that our romanticized version of “biblical times” often overlooks a reality very similar to our own.
“It was a violent, highly militarized world in which human life and labor were often held to be cheap; an increasingly urbanized society with huge and growing economic disparities, instability, and collapse in many local communities; a culture that held the faith of Jews and Christians to be contemptible if not illegal and worked actively to eradicate it,” she writes.
That’s something to think about as we try to grasp the radical thinking of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus. Context is not a magic key to opening up scripture, but it’s one number in the necessary combination.
Laurie Goodstein wrote a thoughtful piece in the New York Times this morning: Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game. She included this quote by the Rev. William J. Barber II of Moral Monday fame.
“How do you take two or three Scriptures and make a theology out of it, and claim it is the moral perspective, and leave 2,000 on the table?” he said. “That is a form of theological malpractice.”
I think he’s right, and I recommend reading this piece here.
I’ve waited days to write about the fatal stabbings Friday on the MAX train here in Portland. Like many people, I was in shock. It’s taken me a few days to get a grip. And when I did, it seemed like I didn’t have much to add to the conversation. Maybe, only this:
Like many people, I am in mourning: for the two men who died because they reacted instantly to hate hurled at two young women; for the one man who survived and wept on television as he talked about those who died and the girls they wanted to protect; for those young women, who may have endured hatred before and will never forget this experience; for the people on the train who ministered to the wounded; for the families and friends of all involved -- including the assailant’s mother -- who may be reeling from these losses; for all who must immerse themselves in the incident as they investigate and prosecute the case; for all who gathered at the vigil Saturday night; for those who spoke out -- yet again -- to condemn such acts; for all those who imagined that they would act in the same heroic way and realized what it might have cost them; for those who have spoken out against hatred and prejudice and fear in the aftermath; for city officials trying to find a way forward; for those who argue that this action illustrates the racist elements in our city and state’s past and for those who cannot, will not, acknowledge them; and for those who argue that the public reaction to this violence is racist or that white supremacist demonstrations are at odds with First Amendment rights and for those who disagree on both points.
Then yesterday I woke up to news of a suicide blast in Kabul that killed at least 90 and wounded 400 and wondered how many others died violently here and abroad while I slept. I am in mourning for all of us.