Breaking news! This just in! America surprisingly tolerant, diverse nation!
For those of us who are beginning to despair over the news of the past few weeks, there's another story going on, somewhat less sensational, somewhat quieter. Just when it seems that the voices promoting intolerance and disunity are ruling the national conversation, I've noticed that people are surprisingly coming together to support one another and learn to know their neighbors.
A church (that's right, a church!) has pledged to distribute Qur'ans to "prisons, to hospitals, to shelters, or to any place where there are Muslims without access to their sacred text." (see Massachusetts Bible Society).
A woman who was widowed on 9/11, Susan Retik, will be speaking at a mosque in Boston asking members to help her battle poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan (see The Healers of 9/11 ).
Ali and Bassam Tariq just completed a visit to 30 mosques in 30 days and found "that America still embraces immigrants and the nation is filled with welcoming and loving people" (see CNN story on Ramadan road trip ).
We no longer need to feel helpless, we can add voices of tolerance to the conversation and help to heal our community. If you need some ideas, you might want to try the following (and add your own ideas in the comment box!)
1. Educate yourself. Learn about diverse religions and cultures. Here are some great films that you can watch online including "Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think" which helps to clear up some misconceptions: Ground Zero Dialogue. Here's another place to find films: 20,000 Dialogues. Bonus points for inviting a couple of friends to watch!
2. Ask your religious or secular youth group to work with another church, mosque, synagogue or group on a project such as cleaning up a park or serving food at a shelter. When youth work side by side we learn that we have a lot of values in common. In Allentown we do this once a year in a citywide event, any many more times informally. Here's our 2009 event and our 2010 event.
3. Research your own religious, spiritual, or secular tradition for messages which encourage unity and peace.
4. Ask your neighbor or coworker to lunch, especially if he or she is from a community you don't know well.
We do not have to despair during these times. People from every tradition and culture are beginning to see the need for the world to come together and are working to unify our communities, one conversation and one heart at a time. We can be part of that movement, we can change our world.
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.
Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.
When soldiers of the world draw their swords to kill, soldiers of God clasp each other's hands! So may all the savagery of man disappear by the Mercy of God, working through the pure in heart and the sincere of soul. Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain!
Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God.
If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men.
-'Abdu'l-Bahá , Paris Talks, p. 29