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Harmony week an opportune time to shed hostility

Posted Feb. 04, 2011, at 6:56 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:16 p.m.

Harmony week an opportune time to shed hostility

In a world where there is much rancor, incivility and downright hatred, we have the opportunity to respond to that negativity with civility, love and harmony. Most of you have no idea that this week is World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Based on a resolution presented to the United Nations in 2010, this week’s purpose is to foster interfaith dialogue specifically promoting peace and harmony. (The website is http://worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com/.) This idea appeals to me. As people of faith, I believe we should talk with, listen to and learn from each other. And we should do so with respect.

When we use the word civility, we often think of politics and the civic “square.” There hasn’t been much civility in the political arena of late; actually for a long time. There are accusations, falsehoods, poor language and rhetoric meant to harm, not explain or clarify. To get elected, candidates feel they must be the loudest and pithiest.

I wish those in the pulpits and in our sacred spaces would provide better role models for how we can engage each other in nonviolent ways. If we were to show how true dialogue happens, maybe that would help those in other arenas.

I would propose we promote multi-faith, interfaith, transreligious and interspiritual conversations.

The United States is the most multi-faith country in the world, the most religiously diverse nation on Earth. Each of our faiths offer opportunities for a broader understanding of spirituality and the practices associated with that spirituality. Living together in peace and harmony requires us to understand and know each other. Unless we talk, we cannot know each other and the values we share.

Two evangelical Christians, Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson, wrote in Christianity Today in an article titled “Conviction and Civility” (Feb. 1) that we can be passionate about our theological and political convictions and be civil in our discussions about those convictions. Wallis and Colson, both Christians, are diametrically opposed on the political spectrum — one is a liberal and the other a conservative. They wrote the article together to reflect that while you can disagree, you can do so using language that is reflective of your religious values.

Using civil language, being our better selves, does not diminish our ability to communicate. In fact, I happen to believe it enhances our chances of being heard. Communication is a two-way street. One may talk, but to truly communicate, one also must have a listener.

Why then is there so much hateful, harmful speech between religious groups? Why do our conversations verge on violence when in fact we have a common humanity — we are made in the image of God? There is good in every religion. There is truth in every religion. We simply need to listen to each other, and in order to facilitate that listening, we must use language that opens hearts and minds, not closes them.

We are urged in the New Testament not to judge others, but to leave that judgment to God. We are urged to love our enemies. If one looks at someone who has beliefs that are different theologically or politically as an enemy — as many of us do — then it is our responsibility as moral people, as people of faith, to love those folks. And it is very hard to love someone without first getting to know them through talking with them.

This does not mean we cannot be passionate. In fact, I want us all to believe passionately in our faith.

Wallis and Colson sum it up: “First we affirm the politics of conviction. Conviction is not inconsistent with civility, which is far deeper than political niceness, indifference or weakness. We recall the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who could never be accused of a lack of passion; yet he persisted in the nonviolent treatment of his adversaries, hoping to win them over rather than to win over them.”

During this week of Interfaith Harmony, I would ask that you seek out someone who believes differently from you. Open a dialogue. Pick a theological issue. Talk it through. Converse, listen, consider, ask questions.

Even if you totally disagree on some points, you will find the holy in that conversation, for God is found where there is an interchange between two or more people. Be civil, kind and compassionate in your dialogue and in doing so you will have lived your values as you speak and listen.

The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She may be reached at uubeckygunn@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

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