An article entitled, "Can you Test-Drive a Religion for a Month?" reminded me of the meetings that were scheduled this spring through the United Religions Initiative (URI). On March 13th, Rev. Hal Hutchinson of St. John's Episcopal Church in Johnson City and Rev. John Shuck of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton offered the first event in a series called "Our Neighbors' Faith" where they shared the basics about their denominations. The NE TN Cooperation Circle (chapter of URI) sponsored that event. Unlike the full immersion in another culture for a full month that is described in the "Test-Drive" article, the local event in March was a friendly, toe-dipping experience for people in our region. Although I was traveling that day and unable to attend, I heard good things about the event and welcomed the assessment that "Those in attendance asked thought provoking questions and the conversation was informational and fascinating."
In our 4th of July celebrations, most of us celebrate not only our independence from Great Britain, but more generally what it is to be a citizen of these United States of America. We cherish our rights -- to religious freedom and to freedom of speech -- that were granted under subsequent amendments to the Constitution. Today, I hope that we will renew our commitment toward this "melting pot" experiment of these UNITED States of America (emphasis added).
Lately when I hear the entire "United States of America", I have to wonder: How are we united? Frankly, we seem ever more fractured these days, and I wonder about the polarity that seems all too common. Perhaps the extremes are only more evident because of media exposure, but perhaps they are also somehow becoming more accepted because of that exposure. It seems that talk show hosts and radio personalities are really quick to point out shortcomings, flaws and differences and then extol the obvious virtues of and support for their own positions. Both the "right" and "left" do this.
I hope we/GINI can be a driving force for another standard in our expressions toward and about others. I want to believe that our society can learn to cherish the opportunity to learn from the perspectives of others. Just as we are enriched by students' experiences in a foreign exchange program and from trips abroad to help others, we also benefit by knowing more about how and why the family down the street observes their traditions.
In fact, I also hope that we will insist upon civility and tolerance by speaking out when intolerance and injustice are displayed and by withdrawing our support for organizations and/or entities who misrepresent or otherwise demean people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds.
It's a lofty goal. But the template for that type of society was agreed upon over 200 years ago and has been upheld as a model since then to other nations seeking a just and democratic society. I'd very much like to see it practiced now, and understand and acknowledge that it begins with what I believe, how I act, and what I require in my interactions with others.
"If not me, who? And if not now, when?" [attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev]