An imam, a pastor a (lesbian) bishop and a rabbi walked into a sacred space …
It sounds like the beginning of joke, doesn’t it? It isn’t a joke … but it makes me smile to think about it. This past Sunday I was invited to be a part of Park Hill United Methodist Church’s 106th Anniversary service. Not only were we celebrating that occasion, but preaching at the service was the Bishop Karen Oliveto. Bishop Oliveto was recently elected as the first openly lesbian United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Western Jurisdictional Conference. Oh, and by the way, the Methodist denomination officially bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination. And, it was the 15th anniversary of September 11th … Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali, Pastor Eric Smith and I led a prayer commemorating that anniversary.
The voices of intolerance and prejudice seem to dominate the world around us. The actions of those who would speak these messages make us feel afraid, angry and insecure. And yet, through the cacophony of that noise and in the shadow of those actions … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a (Lesbian) Bishop walked into a sacred space. Our standing together did not quiet those voices (yet), nor did it (completely) prevent the possibility that the makers of such noise from perpetuating more violence. And yet, in a country still fearful of muslims 15 years later … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a (Lesbian) Bishop walked into a sacred space. And yet, still facing one of the many prejudices still buried deep within our American institutions … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a Lesbian Bishop walked into a sacred space.
Rabbi Tarfon taught us in the 2nd century: You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it. (Avot 2:21) The work of the world can seem overwhelming, as if we could never complete it. Perhaps, it is supposed to feel that way … And yet, we just have to keep working.
At this time year in which we are given to asses the work of change and growth we all have to do, we need to honest about the nature of the job AND not give up the work we need to do. That job may be about how we treat ourselves, our loved ones … or people who just look, think and act so differently that we do. No matter the job and how big it may feel … we still gotta do the work.
The image of the four of us — the Imam, the Pastor, the Bishop and I — standing together and praying together in that sacred space makes me smile. It prods me to remember that the most powerful thing we all can do when confronted with the scope and enormity of the tasks before us … are the small, simple acts of love, kindness and peace.
May this time you spend paying attention to your tasks of growth and change and the work required to realize them be rich and renewing.