When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22.34-40)
I am an Episcopal priest living in Dearborn, MI where 46% of the population are Arabic speaking people from Lebanon, Yemin, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine. Arabic speaking Christians comprise 5% of that population in this community. As a result my neighborhood looks very different from many other neighborhoods in the USA. Walking the street I will see a young caucasian woman out for a run. Or I’ll see a man out walking his dog, stopping by the church that I serve to let his dog have a drink of water from our fountain that has a spigot for humans and one on the ground for dogs. I walk by groups of women, dressed head to toe in black, sometimes only their eyes showing, who are out for an evening stroll. In the summer the local park is filled with families, children on the swings and slides or running up and down the hill. Fathers and mothers chatting with friends and keeping a close eye on their children. There is a comfortable mix of Arabic and non-Arabic kids and families. There is a friendly blend of women in burka’s, while others wear a hijab and even a number of younger women wearing a more contemporary version of the hijab with jeans and sandals. I walk through the park wearing shorts and sandals or my yoga attire. No one takes notice, except to nod and say hello.
Recently I accepted a volunteer position to serve for three months as the Convener of the Dearborn Area Interfaith Network. We are a group of lay and ordained people of faith, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, along with ELCA, Presbyterian, and Episcopalians. That we have both houses of Muslim at the table is a sign of our desire to be together. In case you are unfamiliar, Shiites believe the Prophet Mohammed should have been succeeded by his son-in-law, Imam Ali, and leadership of the Muslim world should pass through the prophet’s descendants. Sunnis don’t believe the leadership of the Muslim world should necessarily pass through hereditary succession. One of my colleagues often says he is both shiite and sunni, so he playfully suggests he’s sushi. Having a little humor is a good thing it seems to me.
Anyway, I digress. I accepted this convener position because the person who has been holding us together for a number of years is retiring and the group will be going through some transition, which I am willing to help us navigate. As convener the first thing I have asked us to do is to clarify our purpose as a group. This came about because one of our longer term members recently left the group stating that it was feeling too political and that there seemed to be no room for his voice. Our conversation following his departure wondered what “too political” meant? In response some thought that we should never be political. Others wanted to draw a distinction between politics in society that can be partisan, and the values we hold as people of faith. It was noted that these values can seem political because they call us to uphold particular principles and teaching that sound political in today’s highly charged and polarized society.
In the end we decided that maybe it would help to have a mission statement that we formulate from core values of our faith traditions. I have asked us to each bring to our next meeting a sentence or two that articulates the core of our faith and the values that we most uphold. I will bring this quote from Matthew 24. My hope is that we will craft a mission statement from our core values which reflects both our diversity and what we hold in common. Perhaps then, when we discuss how to respond to events in the world around us, we can lean into our mission statement for clarity and support. In this way I hope that we can be faithfully political, because whatever we say and do is formed and informed by common values. Values that define who we are as group of diverse people of faith, seeking common ground in order to make the world a better place.
Last Friday night and Sunday afternoon, people of many faith’s (an no faith I imagine) gathered in a local Dearborn mosque for a prayer vigil and then a memorial service, coming together in prayer and solidarity following the shooting at the mosques in New Zealand. We gathered and prayed and remembered, because this is what we do when we love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is an Episcopal priest serving a parish in Dearborn, Michigan. She’s been a member of RevGalBlogPals since 2006 and blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice.
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