Well, I haven’t finished my Common Word report yet because some other exciting things have come to the front burner since coming back from California. Last Friday I was the guest speaker at a local mosque, addressing the community gathered for Friday prayers. You heard right. This picture is not THAT particular mosque as many of you might know, unless of course I was speaking last Friday in Istanbul. My two sons just visited this city, but that is another story.
About a month ago I spent the good part of an afternoon with an Imam in the Seattle area for a great conversation, with another friend. This was one of those times when that certain click just happens and for one reason or another, or perhaps all of them together, we went deep fairly quickly. Near the end of our conversation I got this amazing invitation to come as a guest to the mosque to speak on some issues on Christian-Muslim relations. The agenda evolved a bit in the intervening time but last week it took shape. The Imam wanted me to address his gathered community during Friday prayers with the following questions: “why is there such a negative view of Muslims in the Christian Church? and what is your church doing to help change that predominant view?” More generally he wanted me to lead a discussion on how we could both minimize the negative perceptions of each other that are fostered by minority, fringe groups in our respective religions?
As you can imagine, these questions were somewhat delicate so I tried to tell my personal journey from ignorance of Islam to a better understanding and new respect for Muslims. I told the story of how I seek to help churches understand Islam better by teaching classes, and building bridges with local Muslim communities, etc. I also shared about what I learned through building friendships with Muslims. Then I told the story of a Palestinian shop owner I met in Jerusalem last year who was bitter about injustices that his people regularly suffer. That seemed to hit home. Maybe because it has hit me and is a growing burden. I also asked for their forgiveness if they had ever experienced painful or negative things at the hand of Christians.
They initially didn’t know how to respond to my confession. I really kind of bared my soul to them. There was an awkward moment of silence and then a string of spontaneous responses from the crowd across the main prayer room. The Spirit of God seemed to be especially present. We finished up the formal session with some Q & A, engaging me and another guest, a Catholic priest, in discussion and dialogue. Get this, after all of that, we were invited to another room for snacks, cookies and tea and I joined my 8 other Christian friends who accompanied me in multiple conversations until about midnight. The topics of conversation ranged from Middle East politics to who Jesus is and what is the nature of sin in each others’ faith tradition. I also heard the Imam declare in one circle that violence has nothing to do with Islam, that terrorists have a political agenda and do not represent true Islam. When I step back and ponder all that happened, I’m really quite amazed, blessed, and excited to see where God leads next in these relationships and conversations.
Let me know if you’d like to join me in the mosque sometime. It just happens to be one of the places where discussions on life and faith, between Christians and Muslims are getting pretty dynamic for me these days. And I really, really love it. My new friends have extended an open door to continue the conversations and relationships. One thing for sure, Muslims understand hospitality and we seem to keep coming around to talking about our respective faiths with a deep respect for each other.