I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago. Checking my mail at the church office, I opened an unsigned letter (never a good sign!) from someone who walks by our church. She’d read the quote about peace by Gandhi on our church sign. She was not impressed. She pointed out that – although he may have done some good things for his country – Gandhi was not a Christian and therefore would go to hell. “Weren’t we a Christian Church? How stupid was I?”
Wow! It’s good that it wasn’t signed because I’d hardly know where to start! But it got me to thinking; the author’s perspective revealed what I fear has become the frightening normative assumption in our culture. It is the very unhelpful assumption that those who do not believe or think as I do have nothing to offer me and most certainly are not those with whom I can join hands to work toward a common goal.
I imagine the letter writer would have been even more distressed had she known that, just a few days prior to receiving her letter, I’d participated in an interfaith panel on fasting followed by an Iftar (the meal eaten by Muslims when they break their fast during Ramadan)!
About a month ago our Indiana Conference awarded Trinity (my church) a grant focused on Urban Transitional Communities. The Centennial neighborhood (where my church is located) is undergoing significant change. This summer my congregation is hosting “Garden and Grill” gatherings on our front lawn. It is a meal for our community. It has attracted a diverse crowd reflecting our diverse community. What a blessing. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most has been watching people at the tables connect to one another; to chat and share together as they broke bread.
I really wasn’t angry at the writer of that letter about Gandhi. Honestly, I felt sorry for her. I suspect she lives in a world as divided as our congress is right now; divisions of “us” and “them”; a world where those who believe differently don’t have a place with “us” or can’t teach us anything or offer us anything useful or helpful or meaningful. But thinking like that will never solve our nation’s healthcare crisis or any other challenge we face. Sometimes the most helpful ideas come from people who see the world from a different perspective. They are apt to see or consider something that might not have crossed my mind.
In the 9th chapter of Mark, Jesus has an interesting interaction with his disciple, John…
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. Mark 9:38-41 (NRSV)
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” I guess I need to put that up on the church signboard.
If you live in the Lafayette area, join us for our next Garden and Grill on Tuesday, August 15, at 6 p.m. on the church’s south lawn. Get the details at http://www.trinitylafayette.org