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Praying for our World: The WISDOM of women

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-1101_3_Hope_for_a_World_WISDOM_Friendship_and_Faith_version.jpgHOPEFUL CHILDREN AROUND THE WORLD. Top: NASA image of the planet. Then: School children in Honduras, Guinea, and Malaysia. Images in public domain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.We invited men, women and children to contribute to a prayer that starts with these simple words:
“I hope for a world where …”

Today, we are sharing examples of what people have done with this idea. You are free to share these prayers. (Just inlcude a link to the www.ReadTheSpirit.com version as you share a copy.)

Read the Original Invitation: This story explains the project, which you’re still welcome to try.
Turning 9/11 into a Day of Hope:
Learn how young and old voiced their hopes at AOK Detroit.
A Retirement Community Prays
: This prayer came from the Chelsea Retirement Community.
The Women of WISDOM:
The creators of the Friendship and Faith project gathered their prayers, too.

Pray: ‘I Hope
for a World Where …’

WHAT IS WISDOM? This nationally known interfaith network of women has far too many programs underway to list them here. Visit the home website for Women’s Interfaith Solutions … better known as WISDOM.
HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED?

WISDOM played a major role in collecting unique responses in this prayer project. Over the past month, dozens of lines have come from women attending WISDOM gatherings—or writing independently in keeping with WISDOM’s goals of peacefully sharing stories.
One of the best ways to get involved—wherever you live in the world—is to Share Your Story in the ongoing Friendship and Faith project.

THE WISDOM VERSION:
WE ARE WELL WITH EACH OTHER

I pray for a world where …
We greet each other with love and respect
We honor the God in each other
We greet everyone as a child of God
And, we talk
We eat with one another
Our children play together
And, as a community, we honor the goodness throughout God’s creation.

I hope for a world where …
We open compassionate eyes
We pull on our work gloves and boots together
We are silent no more
And, we share in the hard work of justice, always building that world
Where all families can find food
Where we’ve cleared away the mines, the guns, the weapons that kill children
Where violence no longer is regarded as a solution
Where children grow up feeling safe
Where children know they are loved not only by their own families
But by all families around the world.

I hope for a world where …
We realize that our hopes are already present in the lives we can share
Where our hopes are real, if we have eyes to see
If we listen with our hearts
And llsten to the hearts of others
If we speak honestly and without fear.

I hope for a world where …
We are well with each other
We need not be afraid
Our neighbor’s need equals our own
We find cures for cancers
We heal each other
There are no more tears of tragedy and when tears come
We wipe each other’s tears
Where hope is happening
And, love is living.

SPECIAL THANKS: Longtime WISDOM leaders Gail Katz and Patricia Harris played important roles in spreading word about ‘I Hope for a World …’ Nearly half of the 40 women who contributed hopes to this prayer preferred that their contributions appear without their names—but we certainly thank you, too! Among the many named contributers whose hopes are reflected in this prayer: Cynthia Alloway, Shahina Begg, Dee Chapell, Paula A. Drewek, Elaine Greenberg, Deb Hansen, Mares Hirchert, Motoko Huthwaite, Kathleen Johnson, Barbara Lewis, Judy Lipson, Polly Mehlberg, Anshu Prasad, Elizabeth Ring, Berdis Robinson, Callie Schmidt and Debbie Valencia.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Beth Shalom: An Unexpected Circle of Friends

Friendship and Faith focuses on building compassionate cross-cultural friendships by sharing real-life stories from women who dare to cross cultural and religious boundaries to make friends. We share dozens of these inspiring stories in our book, Friendship and Faith—which you can learn about by clicking the book-cover link in the right margin. Plus, on this website, we publish an ongoing series of new stories.
(If you enjoy today’s story, click the links above this headline to enjoy earlier stories.)

NEWS: In spring 2012, we also are releasing e-editions of Friendship and Faith.
Got a Kindle or use the Kindle app on your iPhone or iPad?
Now, you can enjoy the Amazon Kindle version of our book packed with inspiring stories.
Got a Nook or use the Nook app?
Our book also is available through Barnes & Noble for the Nook.
Got a new story to share with us?
We have some helpful tips for telling your story.

And now, please enjoy our latest story …

Beth Shalom: A Stranger Finds
an Unexpected Circle of Friends

By Veronica Fiegel

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0531_fandf_Scenes_from_Beth_Shalom_Oak_Park_Michigan.jpgSNAPSHOTS FROM THE LIFE OF BETH SHALOM, Oak Park, Michigan: Families are active in most Beth Shalom programs, so an Earth Day cleanup involved young and old. Other photos show a special day for moms and daughters and also scenes from a Women’s Seder. The seder included guitarist Beth Greenapple singing with children. Photos used by permission of Beth Shalom.I finally understood what it meant to be a stranger in a strange land. Not in bondage like the original stranger in Exodus 2 and not as dramatically as the Heinlein or U2 strangers—but I certainly was far beyond my culture. Even my language failed me. I had no idea what a mitzvah was; I only knew that it was usually associated with bar or bat, and I still couldn’t have told you what those words meant.

At Wayne State University, I had been told that I needed to complete an internship since I first declared my major as public relations. At a Wayne State internship fair, I met representatives from some of the area’s communication agencies, local publications and non-profit organizations. Among all the hustle and bustle of suited-up people and nervous students sat a calm woman whose organization was looking for a public relations intern. The position was exactly what I was seeking: publicizing events and writing feature stories for an internal newsletter and for community newspapers and websites.

In the days following the fair, this woman—Mandy Garver, president of Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park—contacted me and offered me the position. I was so excited, but I had one concern: Can a non-Jew do this job?

I am Lutheran. My upbringing was very Christian-traditional: celebrating Christmas and Easter, attending Christian lifecycle events surrounded by other Christians. I didn’t have much exposure to Judaism growing up. I had heard of a few of the major Jewish holidays, as most non-Jews have, but Judaism was foreign to me.

After some deliberation, I accepted Mandy’s offer. Although I was anxious about not being Jewish, I felt good about taking the offer. This was an ample portfolio- and contact-building opportunity but without the intimidation of a big corporation. I couldn’t wait to get started.

Prior to my January start date, Mandy and my supervisor, Bobbie, gave me two books about Judaism to help me understand Jewish faith and customs. The books were fascinating but there is only so much you can learn from books. If you want to learn about religion and culture, the most important tool is personal communication.

As I began the internship, I realized that talking with the office staff would not only be helpful, but necessary in producing meaningful articles and publicity. I needed to know what I was talking about when I wrote for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. Although I read about Jewish culture, I still needed to talk to people who really understood it. Luckily for me, I had an office full of knowledgeable staff who were more than willing to answer my questions.

My inquiries went beyond the professional; I was curious personally. I kept thinking to myself: At what other time am I going to be able to learn so much about Judaism? I carefully observed everything around me and attended events that would help me learn more. A Women’s Seder in April gave me my first inside experience of one of Judaism’s most important traditions.

Every month I sent in calendar listings to The Jewish News, the local Patch and to Local Stew. I wrote press releases, pitched stories and wrote feature articles for the synagogue’s internal newsletter and for community newspapers. Just starting out in my profession, I enjoyed the astonishment of seeing my name pop up in published bylines and having journalists contact me wanting to know more about a synagogue event. Seeing these kinds of results made me feel that I was being helpful to Beth Shalom as a professional—that a non-Jew could not only do this job, but do it well.

The positive energy of the synagogue was undeniable. Everyone I encountered among staff and members greeted me with a smiling face. Although everyone in the office knew I wasn’t Jewish, it never affected how they treated me. I felt so included in this community of friends that, over time, this felt like more than a job, more than a professional role I was playing. I realized that I was living out one of the principles I had learned in my Wayne State course work—I was becoming such a part of the organization I was serving that I was now among friends. At Beth Shalom, I was one of their own.

Aside from giving me professional experience, my time with Beth Shalom also gave me a new perception of Jewish people. Media headlines, photos and stories don’t always portray Jews in the fairest, most-accurate light. In a world dominated by Christianity, most people will not be lucky enough to learn about Judaism as I have. Working at the synagogue for four months has taught me that one key to breaking down stereotypes is forming personal relationships. And, as friends, I found that Jewish people I encountered throughout the community are some of the nicest, most genuine and non-judgmental people I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know such amazing people and learn more about a religion that, up until January, I’ve only heard about second hand.

Care to contact today’s writer, Veronica Fiegel? Email us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

Remember … We also offer e-editions of Friendship and Faith.
Got a Kindle or use the Kindle app on your iPhone or iPad?
Enjoy the Amazon Kindle version of our book packed with inspiring stories.
Got a Nook or use the Nook app?
Our book also is available through Barnes & Noble for the Nook.
Got a story to share?
We have some helpful tips for telling your story.

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You’re never too young to cross cultural boundaries

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0416_Three_teens_for_Faces_to_Faith.jpgFriendship and Faith focuses on building compassionate cross-cultural friendships and project co-founder Gail Katz is a long-time professional in this special field of education.
Gail wrote this about a recent Face to Faith program with high school students …

From the time I was a child, I have been aware of being different. I spent my early childhood and elementary years in a non-Jewish neighborhood, and I was one of the only Jews in my Maryland public school classrooms through the sixth grade. I was always considered “the other.” Because of this, I was drawn to a career of teaching English as a Second Language in the Berkley, Michigan, Public Schools for many years to elementary and middle school children of immigrants who are also considered the “other.” I also sponsored many of my district’s diversity initiatives—teaching students to take a right stand, to stop being bystanders, to advocate for the “other,” and to stop the bullying that was taking place because of differences in ethnic background, religion, size, sexual orientation, and economic status. I also ran a program for 7th graders in Oakland County called the Religious Diversity Journeys, a project sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, where middle school students had the chance to visit local houses of worship and study different faith traditions.

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0416_Circle_of_teens_for_Faces_to_Faith.jpgSo it was only natural for me to respond with great enthusiasm when the Michigan Region BBYO (an organization for Jewish teens) contacted me in 2011 to help set up an interfaith initiative for high school teens. As the Co-Founder of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit), the Co-Chair of the Education Committee for the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and the Chair of the World Sabbath (an annual youth based interfaith peace event), it is my deepest belief that interfaith interaction is a vital way to reduce myths and stereotypes about the “other” and enhance respect and understanding.

Although I do a lot of my work with bringing adults together, my real passion is to get our youth to focus on unity, peace, community building, and mutual understanding as their mission. When we get diverse youth together to talk and break bread together, they find out what they have in common, and our community becomes a better place to live. Face to Faith is a wonderful interfaith high school teen program that gives youth an opportunity to discover how their religion has shaped their high school years, to discuss the misunderstandings and stereotypes they have personally experienced or witnessed about their faith, and to create opportunities for teens to cross boundaries and interact with students of other faiths. In my mind there is nothing more important than helping our children, our teens, and our young adults to build a future of justice, equality, respect and peace—a calling that I hope we all share.

Care to share your own story? We’d love to hear it. Click here for our story guidelines.
More info on the Friendship & Faith project?
Visit the WISDOM site or email ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

Here is Gail’s report on the Face to Faith gathering this spring …

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0416_team_building_at_Face_to_Faith.jpgFace to Faith was the brainstorm of Andover High School Senior Josh Morof, who, after participating on a Chaldean and Jewish Teen Panel at Temple Israel a year ago, decided to form a broader-based interfaith teen initiative. On the evening of March 24th, 2011 about 70 Muslim, Jewish, and Christian teens met for the first time at the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center to learn about each other’s faiths, to talk with each other and to break down myths and stereotypes. The teens continued to meet at the Presbyterian Church of Birmingham in September, 2011, the Muslim Unity Center in November, 2011, Adat Shalom Synagogue in January, 2012 and finally at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills on March 15, 2012, for the grand finale of this school year’s program.

When the diverse teens arrived at Andover High School, they broke the ice by participating in a “Find Someone Who” mixer. They then enjoyed Middle Eastern food purchased from the Muslim Unity Center’s cafe, and had fun breaking bread together.

The teens then divided up into two groups. The first group played a game called “Name That Faith.” Verses from the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament were called out and teams of teens had to identify their sources. It quickly became evident that many of the verses were quite similar across the three faith traditions.

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0416_Clergy_advisors_for_Face_to_Faith.jpgFrom left: Hamilton, Al-Masmari, Morgan and Silberstein.Contributing to this group game were Imam Mohammed Al-Masmari from the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, the Rev. James Hamilton from the Trinity Episcopal Church of Farmington Hills, the Rev. Amy Morgan, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, and Marc Silberstein, instructor at the Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield.

The second group engaged in a Team Building Activity, led by Andover teen Josh Morof and Frankel Jewish Academy teen Ilana Woronoff. Teens had to build a structure that only selected members of their team were allowed to see. It was clear that team cooperation and accurate verbal instructions were what was needed to win this game.

At the end of the evening the teens shared what they had learned about each other and the value of Face to Faith in breaking down barriers and stereotypes. Some of the teens who have been very active in this initiative will be going off to college next fall, and will not be part of the program next year. We asked the teens who will be returning next fall what they might like to include in next year’s Face to Faith programming. Some responses included learning how to deal with misconceptions and conflict, and perhaps participating as an interfaith group in doing community service. We look forward to some of our Muslim, Christian, and Jewish teens re-joining us next school year, and to attracting teens of other faith traditions and cultures (such as Chaldean, Sikh, Hindu, Unitarian, Buddhist, and others) who have not yet been part of Face to Faith.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. Share these stories with friends. (See links below.)

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

 

 

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World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation showcases creativity and hope of our children

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0123_World_Sabbath_children.jpgHere’s a great idea for making friends that cross cultural chasms:
Let children lead a celebration!
Today’s story is from WISDOM co-founder Gail Katz about the World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation, which she transformed into a hugely popular annual event focused on young people.
We know most of our readers don’t live in Michigan, but the Michigan interfaith community is inernationally recognized for its innovations—so we proudly share this idea today. After reading Gail’s story below, visit the World Sabbath website to learn more about this idea that you can use, too.

A SABBATH FOR PEACE
THAT INVITES CHILDREN TO LEAD US

BY GAIL KATZ, CO-FOUNDER OF WISDOM

Children are the heart of the World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation—all of those third through seventh graders who express so much creativity and joy each year. We call them the Children of Peace as they gather to create their banners on white cotton. Then, we staple their banners onto basswood poles, so they can wave them proudly as they march in the processional that opens our celebration. Eventually, all of those colorful, hopeful banners are sewn into our Children of Peace Quilt.

The mission of the World Sabbath is to teach our diverse population that the work of building a community of justice, equality, respect and peace is a calling that we all share—all of us, no matter what our faith tradition might be. But most important to me is the fact that our children, teens, and young adults not only participate—they lead us!

Most of our Friendship and Faith readers live far beyond our home state of Michigan, but you might have heard about the World Sabbath. The Sabbath grew out of concerns raised by wars around the world that raged in the 1990s and continue to rage today. In the beginning, the Rev. Rod Reinhart, an Episcopal priest and nationally known peace activist, decided to underscore the message that God is a God of peace. In spite all of the differences and disagreements among religious groups, the central message of all faiths is love and compassion for humanity. So, Rod created and proclaimed the World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation—an interfaith holy day of peace and reconciliation among all religions, races, ethnic groups and nations. Soon, the Rev. Ed Mullins at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was collaborating with Rod and agreed to host the Michigan celebration at the landmark Cranbrook church in 2000. These two pioneers carried the idea far and wide. They presented the idea internationally to the Parliament of the World’s Religions and shared the idea so widely that a handful of cities around the world have followed their example over the years.

(Care to read more about Rod Reinhart? He recently wrote about the need for peace activists to work with returning military veterans and their families.)

13th Annual World Sabbath
of Religious Reconciliation

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0123_World_Sabbath_2012.jpgCLICK THE IMAGE to visit the World Sabbath’s website.January 29, 2012, is the 13th Annual World Sabath. In 2004, when Rod moved to Illinois, I took over as chair of the event in Michigan. Because of my background as an elementary and middle-school teacher and diversity-club sponsor, I felt we needed to move the focus of the World Sabbath from clergy offering diverse appeals for peace—to young people, our future leaders.

Now, we kick off the World Sabbath on the last Sunday afternoon of January with a Jewish young person blowing the shofar, a young Muslim chanting a call to prayer, followed by middle-school, high-school and college-age youth adding more prayers for peace from various religious traditions. Among the many faith groups we’ve welcomed are: Jain, Buddhist, Baha’i,  Zoroastrian, Christian, Hindu, Native American, Sikh, Quaker and Unitarian.

If the heart of the World Sabbath is youth, the soul is music. Choirs, bands, dance groups and various other forms of spiritual expression reflect many languages, cultures and traditions. We have been enchanted by Hindu dancers, Yiddish Klezmer music, Jain songs, Sikh Shabads, Christian dance ensembles, and Arabic elementary-school drummers. 

The World Sabbath has grown! We’ve expanded so much that the historic Christ Church Cranbrook, where the first 10 World Sabbath services were held, can no longer hold us. In 2010 we held the 11th Annual World Sabbath at a Catholic church in Novi, Michigan. In 2011, we held the 12th World Sabbath at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, the first time that this event will be held in a Jewish house of worship.

On January 29, 2012, the 23th Annual World Sabbath will be held at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, a historic church in the city long associated with both with civil rights and interfaith peace activism.

What a wonderful lesson for our youth—and from our youth!
If you live in Michigan: Please join us in Detroit for this beautiful coming together of our diverse community to champion World Peace and the building of respect and understanding!
It is a spiritual high that shouldn’t be missed!

For our many readers around the world: This story is our way of offering one more idea from the FriendshipAndFaith project for building diverse friendships in whatever community you call home.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. Share these stories with friends. (See links below.)

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

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A New Year’s Resolution for Peace: Try a Hug

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-1209_friendship_and_faith_hugs.jpgIn recent months, the world’s billion-plus Muslims have marked the fasting month of Ramadan, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the Islamic New Year 1433. From the Eastern Christian church to the Western church, the world’s 2 billion Christians are celebrating the season of peace that leads to Christmas. The world’s millions of Jews are looking forward to the season of Hanukkah, a celebration of religious liberty in a diverse world that begins at sunset on December 20, 2011.
And all of us—all 7 billion of us on planet Earth—are thinking about our New Year’s Resolutions.

Writer Teri Bazzi-Oliveri has a simple yet profound suggestion: Resolve to open your arms.

THE POWER
OF A HUG

By Teri Bazzi-Oliveri

I never thought that I would say this, but I like Jews.
Yes, a Lebanese-American-born Muslim loves Jews.
Are you surprised?

The world tells us that Arabs and Jews should not be loving one another—that we should be killing and shooting and destroying not only each other, but also our homes, our lands and our religions. I know that some in my own community would not approve of friendships that I am forming these days. I know that even my father might have some harsh words for me for opening my home and sharing a meal—like iftar, the joyous breaking-the-fast dinner after sunset in Ramadan. This year for one special iftar, I hosted not only some of my closest Muslim friends, but Jewish friends, as well. I just might be let off the hook if I mention that I mixed it up at my diverse iftar and had some Christian friends at my home as well. I was crossing several boundaries as I opened my door.

Writing as a Muslim-Arab-American, I feel the tensions around me when I risk this kind of openness. The most prevalent media stereotypes of Muslims show us as strict and unwilling to compromise. If you doubt this, just look at network television, websites, magazines, Hollywood movies. We’re usually protrayed as extreme. In fact, the whole Middle Eastern situation usually is depicted as impossible to resolve. I have often heard people say things like: “The Middle East does not want peace.”

I can tell you: This is not true. Peace is possible. For long stetches of Middle East history, families enjoyed peace. We want peace to return.

The question is: How do we define peace? I have learned from my Jewish brothers and sisters that what I define as peace in the Middle East from my perspective as a Lebanese-American does, indeed, involve different steps than the definition of peace by a Palestinian or an Israeli. We share the same deep desire for peace—but finally achieving peace across the Middle East does involve different requirements for each group.

Think of asking a Palestinian who is living in occupied territory to explain what peace means. What do you think that this person would say? How would a Palestinian living in Gaza define peace? You will hear many common themes. Yes, peace involves a years-long yearning for land. Yes, peace involves mourning lost parents and children. And, our dreams of peace also involve practical hopes that most people overlook—like clean water and a good education. Like the freedom to live without the terrors people face each day in many places. What does peace mean to my father and his Lebanese-American friends? You will hear yet another somewhat different definition. No question: Dreams of peace are big and diverse, drawing on deep memories and aiming at high hopes for our children and grandchildren.

Now think of this: If we were to turn and ask a Jew, perhaps a European Jew or an Israeli Jew, about the meaning of peace—what would we hear? A Jewish friend once told me that she will never feel safe unless the State of Israel is recognized by all nations. But does that step alone define peace? I cannot answer that, of course. But think about the many perspectives within Judaism. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a Holocaust survivor. What might peace look like to this person? The answer likely would include freedom from the haunting memories of all that has been endured during and after the Holocaust. For Jews answering this question, would peace include shaking hands with a Palestinian? Or, as people do every day in the cultures of the Middle East: Might peace involve an embrace, a hug, a friendly kiss on the cheek?

These are the questions—and the hopes—that inspire me to open my mind and my heart and my home to all of those who are trying to figure out the same thing—this “peace” thing that we all keep talking about. Can we, one by one, begin to achieve this “peace” thing? Or is “peace” just a buzz word we feel cool and sophisticated tossing around—and almost confident enough to have the audacity to say that we know what the hell we are getting ourselves into when we talk about it?

I—for one—blatantly admit that I am still trying to figure out my role in the peacemaking project. I know that I will not make waves in the Middle East. I know that I will never get heads of state and the UN and the IDF and Hamas together in the same room for a hug. But I do know that I am part of a larger, diverse community where I live. Christians, Jews and Muslims live around me and we all want this thing called peace that seems so elusive. I do know that we can, at least, discover what peace means for each of us as individuals. And, most importantly, each of us can make sure that we listen carefully and find out what peace means for “the other”—whoever that “other” may be for each of us.

That is why when Abbey, a Jew, tells me about her Holocaust study in Poland, I listen. That is why, when she comes into my mosque, I kiss her not in the American way on one cheek, but I embrace her and kiss her twice, once on each cheek, in the style of my Lebanese friends. That is why when Jeff, a Jew, comes to my house, I hug him, even though my religion has strict rules about socializing with the opposite sex. I cross a line in embracing Jeff because I want Jeff to know that I care about him so much that even this social barrier will not prevent me from fully showing my concern for him. That is why when Jacob, a Christian, offers his opinions about the crisis in the Middle East, I try to listen with my head instead of my heart. And that is why when John, another Christian, asks questions about culture vs. religion, I try to give him an unbiased answer. That is why when Molly, a Christian, tells me about her experiences with Arab culture, I try not to cry because it is so refreshing to hear that someone is out there is trying to learn rather than merely spout slogans at me. That is why when Amy, a spiritual Christian, responds to some of my concerns, I know that in her answer I am hearing her concern for me, as she speaks. And that is why when Hussein, a Muslim, tells me his “philosophy” about how to handle the world, that I find I respect him so much more every time I hear him speak. And that is why when I find myself in the same room as Sarah, a Muslim, I know that I am in the presence of greatness and I find that I have a lot to live up to and, at the same time, I am somehow responsible for her.

Why do I do these things? Why do I dare to open my door and my arms in these ways? Because, in doing so, I realize that I am not alone. I discover, for example, that my notion of taking steps toward peace is much like that of Rashid, a Muslim friend. We have that bond—cut from the same cloth and now we understand one another in a deeper way. We are reaching toward the same hopes.

I know that my Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters want the same thing: to understand what peace means to one another. As I enter the Muslim year 1433—and we collectively approach the new year 2012—I am urging all of my friends to follow a simple yet powerful suggestion.

Open your eyes.

Open your ears.

And, open your arms.

Open arms. That’s the only way we can even begin to cross barriers—and truly enjoy the warmth of a hug.

Peace, Shalom, SALAAM.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Young women & men in Florida find Common Ground

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-1102_Common_Ground_Friends.jpgThe first Common Ground Friends meeting in the Ft. Lauderdale area in June 2011. At this gathering, these friends planned interfaith events for the year ahead. Photo courtesy of Emily Goldberg.This autumn, high school student Emily Goldberg emailed the Friendship and Faith team from Florida to share inspiring news. On her own—and with inspiration from our success in Michigan—Emily and her friends organized an interfaith circle in her area of southern Florida. We invited her to share her story and provided a link to How to Write Your Story. Emily wrote about her journey with friends in Florida, provided some photographs—and here is …

My Journey Toward Common Ground

By Emily Goldberg

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-1102_common_ground_friends_logo.jpgThe Common Ground Friends logo now graces shirts, Facebook pages and our special events.The weekend before beginning my freshman year of high school, I found myself standing in the spacious sanctuary of Calvary Chapel in Ft. Lauderdale, which I was told is the largest church in our state. The worship center was filled with big screens and far too many seats to count—packed with people of all ages and backgrounds from South Florida.

For most of them, this was church. This was their spiritual home. This was comfortable. For me, this was my first experience in this kind of religious structure after growing up in a Jewish bubble.
I had no idea what to expect on that Saturday evening. I didn’t expect that this visit would lead me to new interests and new friendships.

I did not explore this unfamiliar worship service alone. I was standing next to Madison, my first Christian friend and neighbor of thirteen years. Having grown up with her throughout my childhood, it seemed natural that we would explore each other’s faiths together. However, surrounding us that night was a sea of churchgoers. I was a neophyte at the concert-like service that seemed to unite everyone else around me.

As a band on stage began to play popular gospel songs, congregants sang along with the lyrics projected on the big screens. I watched in awe as average people suddenly seemed to be humbled by their communal voice that echoed throughout the church. Connected to the powerful music, some people began to raise their hands in the air, while others fell to their knees in prayer. It was truly amazing to see all types of people uniting to worship something greater and more empowering than themselves.

Religion is beautiful when it unifies people like this. Today, too many people denounce religion, arguing that it is the ultimate cause of wars and despair in the world. Unfortunately, these people overlook the beauty behind religion, which most of us today refer to as faith. That word, faith, describes our unproven confidence in our religions. Faith—whether unwavering or doubtful, strong or shaken, reaching out or exclusive—secures and shapes organized religion. Faith is an experience that Madison and I have shared throughout our childhood; it is also the core factor that unites Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale each week.

While religion draws boundaries and lines that people hesitate to cross, I believe that we can share a larger circle if we focus on our faith. Too many people today are limited by their individual beliefs and typically overlook the potential of creating a community.

‘I Took Action … with Friends’

These are not idle thoughts. I took action on these ideas. Now, with friends, I am combining my two passions—community and religion—through a project that I hope will be a life-long commitment. We are connecting people in a world of differences.

Here is how I started: With these beliefs in mind and my father, Michael Goldberg, as a guide, I created “Common Ground Friends,” a new community interfaith group in South Florida. We focus not on the differences that divide us, but on the common ground undergirding all religions in the world. This interfaith group is an opportunity for people to form unique friendships, like that of mine with my childhood Christian friend. This outlet for communal dialogue reassures us that it is perfectly okay for people to step outside of their respective religious bubbles and explore the power of faith in others’ lives.

Over the course of one year, I traveled to synagogues, churches, temples, and schools in order to create a core circle of leaders to propel this interfaith group. While the planned interreligious services and meetings will not immediately mend all the religious disputes in the world, they are intended to promote awareness, understanding, and respect. I knew that while standing alongside my closest Christian friend and opening my mind to new religious experiences, something seemed right. Along the way, I was able to my own faith more fully. As friends, we have never let our religions divide us. We are using our religious differences as an opportunity to learn more about each other and grow closer as friends.

‘Small Steps and Never-ending Hope’

Will my small interfaith group create universal coexistence in the world? One can only hope. I know that many other like-minded people share this hope. It’s the positive impulse we feel when we look across a room of strangers and see someone who intrigues us. We want to know more. And, in faith, we take a step to meet, to talk, to discover that we see eye to eye in many ways. If repeated over and over again, that process holds the possibility of uniting humanity. It takes small steps and never-ending hope to create peace. Common Ground Friends was created to take those first steps.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

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Mitakuye Oyasin: We All Are Related

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0912_Lakota_Beaded_Saddle_Belt_1850s.jpgThis Friendship&Faith story comes from writer Karla Joy Huber. As in all of our stories, she describes her own search for meaning through relationships with others. In her quest, Karla discovers truths in her own Native American tradition that are captured in the popular phrase “Mitakuye Oyasin.” Wikipedia has more about the complete Lakota Sioux prayer that begins with these words. The image at right shows a Lakota beaded saddle belt from about 1850s. The image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Mitakuye Oyasin:
We All Are Related

By Karla Joy Huber

Diversity is something I always wanted to experience growing up, but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I had opportunities to actually seek it out. I was particularly interested in the Native American community. Because I am a small part Native myself, I wanted to find out if what I could learn from Michigan’s urban Indian community would fill the spiritual and cultural holes in my life. When a friend invited me to go with him to the North American Indian Association (NAIA) Wednesday social night, I saw this as the ideal chance to make that connection. 

We drove to the NAIA on Plymouth Road in Detroit, a plain one-story tan building that used to be a church. Inside, the stylized motifs of animal spirits and the framed photos of Indians of various ages in both modern and traditional attire showed me these were people working to reconcile urban living with traditions practiced on the reservation. We sat down at one of the round tables in the main hall, and I was introduced around as I listened to folks telling stories.

Some were doing beadwork or weaving while they talked, and others focused solely on the stories that night. I found myself learning more from just listening to my new friends’ personal reminiscences than from when they were explaining specific customs to me, since for Native people storytelling is as much education as entertainment. Most of these stories were about Indians in the past and present, but I noticed the stories of a woman named Dee were different.

Dee’s stories encompassed more because she came from a tri-cultural background: European, African-American, and Native American. She was drawn to legends about bridging the gap between Native Americans and everyone else, prophecies that pointed to now being the time when all the different peoples of the earth would come back together as one family. She told of a Hopi prophecy about a great spiritual leader who would one day come from the east and contribute to the reunification of humanity. Her enthusiasm made me feel hopeful, and her description of this spiritual leader’s present religion, the Bahá’í Faith, planted the seed of the spiritual path which would shape the rest of my life.

“They called this brother from the east Baha’nah,” Dee said, “which meant ‘Glory of the Creator’.” This Baha’nah turned out to be Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í religion, which emphasizes the reconciliation of conflict between religions and independent investigation of the truth. As I worked this all over in my mind, I realized the Bahá’í Faith’s goals fit perfectly with the Native American spiritual and social tenet of “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which means “we are all related.”

Because of all this, I was rather surprised when Dee said she wasn’t a Bahá’í. Rather than declare herself as a Bahá’í, she chose to do instead what Native people have always done when introduced to new spiritual ideas or practices. They tend to supplement rather than replace the perspectives and practices they already have. Instead of seeing their relationship to the Creator in terms of one path that’s better than all the others, they take what’s good from other paths and expand upon these ideas to deepen their understanding of how all of creation is interrelated.

Dee was very happy for me, though, when three years later I told her I became a Bahá’í and was integrating that with Native American teachings. Not only was she effusive in her congratulations, but she was proud of me, and pleased that her own efforts had helped guide me on my life’s path.

Over the years I’ve continued integrating the good from various faiths into the context of my Bahá’í and Native American spirituality. Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve seen Dee, and I’m not as in touch with the Native community as I used to be, Dee and everyone else I met at the NAIA always have a constant spiritual presence in my life.

Please help us with Friendship and Faith!

As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

You can help in many ways! Purchase our book “Friendship and Faith,” which is packed with dozens of stories by women about their real-life experiences with cross-cultural friendships. Bookmark this page—or subscribe via the link in upper right. If you’re on Facebook, please click the “Recommend” button below to share this story with friends. 

Interested in Indian stories?

ReadTheSpirit also publishes Dancing My Dream, a memoir by Warren Petoskey about his family’s life and major issues in 20th-century Indian life, including the traumatic legacy of boarding schools.

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

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