My assignment was to talk about interreligious engagement. It didn’t seem too difficult a topic given the recent shooting in Kansas City. The interconnections between Christians and Jews would be obvious. The shooter had meant to kill Jews but unintentionally had targeted Christians, showing that we’re all in this life together. Hate hurts all of us. In the aftermath, the helpfulness of already-established relationships between rabbis and pastors would be evident, the value of dialogue clear.
But just as I was getting deep into my topic, a frustrated hand went up.
“Sharon, I don’t think you know what it’s like here in the heartland. What you say may be true in Wichita or Topeka, but in rural Kansas, we don’t have rabbis or imams or Buddhist priests. We think we’re doing interfaith if we meet with the Baptists!”
As I mentally scrambled to regroup my thoughts, he continued.
“Our challenge is a community of Spanish speaking people who we don’t understand. The English speaking people think the Hispanics are talking about them! There’s a lot of suspicion and fear going both ways.”
“So we’ve started an English-as-a-second-language class to reach out and try to make connections. It helps everybody.”
Ahhh…Not inter-faith, but inter-cultural in this case. A Disciples pastor and congregation, reaching out beyond the usual boundaries of their community with Christ’s love. Making connections, establishing relationships, moving toward dialogue. Being part of a movement for wholeness. This is what Disciples do.
Another pastor jumped in.
“One night at youth group, one of the youth spoke up, ‘We’ve never talked to a black person.’ They all nodded agreement. So I got on the phone and called my African American colleague in the city and asked if we could come and visit.”
Making connections, establishing relationships. Moving across the usual social boundaries. At our best, this is what Disciples do. Because this is what Jesus did. Jesus broke bread on a hillside with anyone and everyone who had shown up. All were welcome. Jesus dispensed forgiveness and healing to whoever asked.
It stirred up controversy then as it does now.
Even so, all across the US and Canada, Disciples every day join with neighbors to create partnerships. Sometimes it’s in the aftermath of storms, sometimes in the midst of social change, often in the wake of economic downturn.
Another pastor told me, “The diversity we deal with here is economic diversity – trying to build community among the have’s and have not’s.”
The details of the situation will differ, but the underlying theme is the same: We are disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness, God’s wholeness, reaching across the boundaries that separate. We make connections, establish relationships, share in community. In this Easter season, whether it’s interfaith or ecumenical or inter-cultural or economic, I celebrate disciples’ witness. God’s love is stronger than human hate.