This morning I will attend church. Yesterday I attended a service at a synagogue. Friday I attended a service at a mosque. I wish every Christian, Jew and Muslim in America could have that experience.
One of the course requirements of my Islam class is to have a conversation with a Muslim. Rather than take the easy way out and do this in Tampa, I decided to try to meet a Muslim here in the Danville area. So Friday I just dropped in at the local mosque. I assumed someone would be there, but it was totally a coincidence that I showed up just before the weekly service.
The people there were very nice and neighborly to me. I was invited in and treated the same way I expect a curious Muslim would be if he showed up at our church. A couple of the guys there went out of their way to be accomodating to me. The regular Imam was away on vacation, so someone was filling in for him. The qutba (sermon) would have fit right in at any church I’ve attended. The message was to stay steadfast in prayer and do good deeds. The imam called for people to be sincere in worship, honest in business, and to set good examples in their families and communities. At the conclusion of the qutba they performed salat, the ritual prayer. My new friend Ricky asked me if I wanted to participate, but I told him I didn’t know how. He offered to teach me, but I politely declined and watched from the back, joining them in prayer but without the salat rituals. It was a very interesting and inspirational experience.
Yesterday I attended service at the local synagogue. It was the first time I’d ever been inside a Jewish temple. The occasion was the Bar Mitvah of a son of a good friend of Cherie. There was music and prayer and a reading from the Torah, mostly in Hebrew (just as the recitation from the Qur’an had been in Arabic). The message involved the story of Joseph, which is common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Just as my experience at the mosque had been, it was interesting and inspirational. And just as I had been warmly welcomed and accepted at the mosque, the same was true in the synagogue.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so I expect the sermon will in some way involve the birth of Jesus. I’m sure local Muslims would be very comfortable with such a message. While Jews might be less comfortable, I’m sure they would respect and appreciate the theme of joy and peace that is associated with the celebration of Christmas.
It is a pity that there is so much bitterness among the followers of these three religions. All three trace their roots to Abraham. We are all cousins with very much in common. May we learn to love our commonality and quit exaggerating our differences. And may we learn to separate political disputes from our common spiritual heritages. May we all embrace peace, salaam and shalom. May love win.
Changing subjects dramatically, I was sitting in the edge of the woods yesterday evening in hopes of shooting a deer. (Deer is our primary source of meat). It was a beautiful late afternoon and I was enjoying the sounds of the birds, squirrels and a hoot owl. No deer had appeared. I was within sight of the paved road, but on the other side of the farm from where we live. As I was sitting there a pickup truck came slowly down the road, then stopped near where I was sitting. Someone stepped out of the passenger door and, while standing in the highway, fired a shot across the field next to me, presumably at a deer. I was furious and come storming out of the woods hollering at him. He jumped in the truck and they sped away. I didn’t recognize the truck and didn’t get a tag number.
This is the kind of crap we have to put up with every year from irresponsible “hunters.” Our farm is posted and even if it wasn’t it’s not legal to fire from the road. And these guys could easily have shot me if a deer had been between them and me, or if they had mistaken me for a deer. I’m mad at myself for not being more careful to identify them, but when they stopped and fired I just blew up. It is idiots like them who give a bad name to the responsible hunters of the world. Grrr…
But as I was coming home, angry at the poachers and angry that my hunt had been ruined, I saw a deer on the other side of the field behind our house. It was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I took it. To my surprise, I killed the deer–a nice sized buck. In a few days he’ll be in our freezer and will supply us with meat duing the coming year.
I hate killing animals, but we would be overrun with deer if they weren’t hunted. Heck, we’re practically overrun with them anyway. And we eat so little meat in our household that a couple of deer are all we need. Eating game is much more responsible, environmentally friendly and sustainable than relying on domesticated animals, in my opinion.
After taking care of the deer, we continued a very long pagan tradition by putting up the Christmas tree. Of course our pagan ancestors didn’t originally call it a Christmas tree. They believed that decorating and placing gifts beneath an evergreen tree (which unlike the other trees did not seem to die in the winter) around the time of the winter solstice would help assure that spring would return and bring life to the other trees. It was a way to honor the gods who preserved the evergreens and those who would return life to the forest. Somehow about 1600 years ago someone figured out a way to merge this pagan practice with Christianity. They did the same thing with Easter fertility rites (decorating eggs and honoring rabbits). Clever they were. Equally clever were the marketing experts on Madison Avenue who, a little over a hundred years ago, dreamed up Santa Claus and the notion that we should spend a small fortune buying and exchanging gifts as a way of celebrating the birth of Jesus. A crazy idea, but no crazier that decorating an evergreen tree in honor of baby Jesus. And it worked. We have billions of dollars of debt and mountains of junk to prove it.
For a better way to think about Christmas, check out www.adventconspiracy.org.
So now it’s off to church, completing my weekend Abrahamic trifecta.