Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The plan is simple, which is its charm. GFIA selects a host for the evening and provides the meal and a facilitator to guide the discussion that occurs as the dinner is shared. The dinner is kosher and vegan. The meal and time for sharing is two and one-half hours. The setting is a private home. Everything is done to make the setting inviting and the guests comfortable. GFIA extends an open invitation to the dinner on its website and then selects the hosts, facilitators and guests for each household. I did not know the name of the host until a few days before the dinner. I met the other guests and the facilitator at our host’s home.
When I arrived at our host’s home at the appointed hour of 6:30 two other guests were already there. We sat in the living room and exchanged greetings and pleasantries while waiting for others to arrive. Soon the facilitator for the evening joined us. We were told that two or three of the people who had planned to join us for the evening had sent regrets. This meant that our group was two Moslem women, me and our facilitator. The couple hosting the evening had not planned on participating in the meal or the discussion. We quickly agreed that everyone would be welcome at the table, including the teen-age daughter of our host couple.
After we were seated around the table, our facilitator began the conversation by asking each of us to introduce ourselves. One of the women wore a hijab. She was Syrian by birth and has lived in the U.S. for twenty years. She and her husband own a popular restaurant that we all knew and frequented. The second guest introduced herself as a Moslem but she did not wear a hijab. She told us that she and her former husband were divorced. Our hostess, the daughter of a Christian minister, identified herself as a Christian but she allowed that she had many questions about the church and about Christianity. Our host identified himself as non-religious. Their teen-age daughter said that she thought the Golden Rule was a good thing. Our facilitator identified himself as a member of the Church of the Brethren. He said he was attending seminary on line and preparing to become a pastor. I introduced myself as a retired Christian minister. We were an eclectic group. The facilitator was the only one who had participated in one of these dinners previously. It was a new experience for all the rest of us.
Introductions completed, a stack of three-by-five cards was placed on the table. Questions were written on each card. We were instructed that each person at the table would take a card in turn and have five minutes to answer the question while the rest of us listened attentively. There would be no discussion during or after each speaker. The questions were open-ended. “What does faith mean to you?” “Do you think doubt is the opposite of faith?” “Do you believe in miracles?” “What has your faith been important to you?” “Do you meditate or pray?” Because our group was small, we were able to have two rounds of questions. The last half-hour was open for general conversation. At the end of the evening we were asked to fill out an evaluation form and on a separate card asked if we would consider hosting or facilitating a dinner in the future.
I have participated in interfaith panels and discussions in the past, but this evening was one of the most intimate group conversations that I can recall. The design of the evening was simply to have us to break bread with people from other faith traditions and enjoy a conversation, and to do this in a private home with a limited number of people. At the end of the evening we exchanged emails and facebook information and agreed that we want to continue to meet together in each other’s homes.
Obviously our group was self-selected in the sense that each of us chose to participate in this dinner, but there were no preconditions. I believe that in total there were probably eight to ten dinners that evening. Each dinner probably had six to eight people. I think this is the second or third year for the Amazing Faith Dinner, but I have not checked with GFIA about either the total number of participants or how many years they have sponsored this event. The plan is simple in design and relatively easy to implement. Bon appétit,
David P. Hansen
Friday, November 18, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
|Outside the garage, the morning after.|
Suddenly, out of the darkness, Linda was attacked by a young, well-dressed white man whom the police would later describe as a "would-be robber", a "home invader." Linda's cries of distress roused Jim out of the house. He managed to divert the assailant's attention, and Linda, though severely wounded, managed to get to a phone inside the house and dial 9-1-1.
When the police arrived, two minutes later, Jim lay dead of stabbing wounds in the yard. Linda, however, was still alive.
Today, after a period of hospitalization, Linda continues her recovery at home. The couple's attacker has not been found.
Since learning about Jim's murder, I've often wondered what the final moments of his life were like. But imagination fails me. It simply won't take me where real life took him. This is all I know for certain: Unarmed, he put his own body between his wife and her attacker; between her flesh and her attacker's knife. He sacrificed himself for the woman he loved. I suspect, though, and with good reason, that he would have done the same for a complete stranger. To say this is not to diminish his love for Linda. It is to acknowledge his love for humanity, despite the horrors we human beings are so capable of inflicting upon one another.
"It is in the shelter of each another that people live." So goes the Irish proverb. Jim Miller embodied this proverb, by the way he taught and the way he died, and whether we knew him or not, his life can inspire the rest of us. And "the rest of us" are many. In the very month that Jim died defending his wife, our world's population reached seven billion. Seven billion lives. Seven billion people needing to be sheltered by one another.
Not many of us will be asked to sacrifice our lives to shelter even one of those seven billion. But I do think our commitment to nonviolence asks us to sacrifice something. What are we willing to do? What are we willing to give? These are not questions to be answered once and for all. They are questions to be lived, and answered, daily.
As you reflect on these questions, I invite you to watch the video below. It's presented by Playing For Change, which has partnered with the United Nations to create an original anthem for a world now seven billion strong. The song, called "United," is performed by musicians and singers from around the globe. "We have to bring the world together, we have to live as one," they tell us. "We have to bring the world together, we shall overcome."
It's a song Jim Miller would have loved.
(Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer below, click here to watch the video. Also, translations of those verses that are sung in languages other than English are included beneath the viewer.)
Verse (in Lingala):
This is the answer for the people
Who lost their loved ones from war
This is the answer for the people
Who lost their loved ones from hunger
Verse (in Spanish):
The moment is what counts
Live smiling until the end
But happy days will come
That nobody can believe (Chorus)
Verse (in Hebrew):
It´s time to say
We are all one heart
This song is of all of us
So let´s sing it together in one big voice. (Chorus)
Verse (in Arabic):
Lord of peace
Gift us with peace (Chorus)