You know how you can just tell when someone's looking at you? Well, I could just feel him looking up at me every few minutes or so and finally he made a comment about the book I had with me, the second volume of Women of Faith in the Latter Days. "That looks like some heavy research," he said. "Oh, it's actually really good," I replied, in what I hoped was a friendly-but-not-interested-in-conversation voice. Then after a pause he asked, "What religion are you?" I looked up. "I'm LDS -- Mormon."
His response? "I'm so sorry."
Knowing that this would not be a productive conversation, I hoped to end it quickly. I smiled. "I'm not." I looked back at my computer screen, but he wasn't quite ready to leave it alone.
"No, I'm really very sorry. I've never met a Mormon that gave me any reason to think anything good about that sect," he continued.
"Well, that's too bad. You haven't met the right ones, then." I replied, still trying to focus on my writing. "And then there's that false prophet..." he started. Just then a friend of mine - also LDS, as it happens - came over and said hi and we had a nice conversation during which the "so-sorry" man left. He did return a while later, but as he didn't say anything and I had to leave shortly thereafter, it was only minimally uncomfortable.
The contrast with my experience just the day before was striking. On Sunday afternoon, I joined my mom, my sister and my sister's husband at the first (hopefully annual - or even more frequent?) Faith Feast: An Intercultural Progressive Dinner, put on by Spokane Faith and Values, a non-profit dedicated to increasing interfaith communication and understanding.
I've been interested in interfaith work for years, an interest that was piqued, though not initiated, by Project Conversion (see my posts here and here). My sister and her husband recently joined the Spokane Interfaith Council at the request of the regional Public Relations representatives for our church. So when we heard about the Faith Feast, we jumped at the chance to interact with those of other faiths in their holy places.
|Mom, Meredith, and me outside|
the Spokane Islamic Center
And then we ate.
It was just supposed to be appetizers at the mosque, but the table was practically groaning under the weight of all the appetizers. Hummus and baba ghanoush (basically hummus made with eggplant instead of chickpeas), melt-in-your-mouth falafel, two different kinds of sambousa, homemade flatbread, a delicious salad, the list goes on and on. Everything was delicious and I easily could have filled up right there, but managed to restrain myself and leave some room for the next stop. The conversation - and eating - went on so long that we were late moving on to the second station of our dinner.
|This is the only picture of food I got|
the entire evening. I kept forgetting
to snap a picture until I was halfway
through eating and by then it just
didn't look as pretty...
|The Sikh Gurudwara (Temple) of Spokane|
|Millwood Presbyterian, just as the sun's setting|
Come, Come, Whoever You Are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
All three houses of worship we visited, Muslim, Sikh, and Presbyterian, were warm and inviting. Every person we met, both our hosts and the others in the dinner group, were friendly, eager to share and willing to learn. Rather than vague and unwelcome accusations, such as the ones I got from the man in my first story, there was open conversation, with sincere questions and helpful answers. I'm so grateful to have had a chance to participate. We need more events like this, more outreach to those of other faiths, more people willing to learn and to share. Look around your own community for similar events, or perhaps organize one yourself, or simply look for ways to interact humbly and respectfully with those of other faiths. (Just a hint: accosting busy people in the library and denigrating their religion may not be your best bet.)