“Cry out! Cry out! O God, what shall we cry? Cry out for justice, cry out for love. Cry out for hope, cry out for mercy. Cry out for kindness, cry out for compassion. Let everything that hath breath, cry out! What shall we cry? Cry out for peace. Amen.”
Bishop Deon K. Johnson (Missouri)
Dear Trinity friends,
As some of you may recall, before I went to seminary, I worked for seven years as the Director of Development for the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS) in Baltimore, MD. The ICJS is a free-standing, non-profit organization, unaffiliated with any religious or academic institution, that “envisions an interreligious society in which dialogue replaces division, friendship overcomes fear, and education eradicates ignorance.” I am grateful to have experienced and worked in this challenging and hopeful vision and mission firsthand.
in a Lenten bible study where Jews and Muslims are around the table as well as fellow Christians as you read the biblical accounts of the Crucifixion together.
in conversation with an elderly Jewish widower as you read and discuss the “Suffering Servant” from Isaiah 53
reading the story together with Muslims and Jews of the Israelites coming into the land of Canaan following 40 years of wandering in the desert with Moses. (Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Numbers)
This idea that we can be friends; open hearted, curious listeners; knowledgeable conversation partners; people who appreciate and respect another’s deep faith, and use our differences for the good of the world is a bold vision in today’s world, just as it was in 1987. The ICJS was founded by Jewish and Christian business people and clergy who were friends around the business table, but wanted to go deeper with each other to create a climate in Baltimore where the “dignity of difference” was a force for change and hope. And of course this work feels increasingly and desperately critical as we read and digest headlines from Israel and Gaza this week.
Dr. Heather Miller Rubens, ICJS Executive Director and Roman Catholic Scholar along with the current board chair, Lee Sherman who is Jewish, and Irfan Malik, former Board Chair, who is a Muslim, offered a moving and helpful (to me) way to pray and be in these tragic, war-filled days. Together, they suggest three things we can do now as people of good-will, peace, and faith:
“First—We mourn. We grieve the loss of life and weep with those who suffer. We condemn the violence, especially against civilians—and particularly children and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of our human family. We pray for peace.
Second—We commit to standing up for one another. We are deeply concerned that the coming days and weeks will see a rise in Antisemitic and Islamophobic bullying and bigotry. We pray for the safety and security of all religious communities in the United States and around the world.
Third—We reach out and we listen. Silence around this moment advances neither justice nor peace. But what do we say to our friends and neighbors? For fear of offending someone, we often say nothing. But our friends and allies want to hear from us. We can start by reaching out to friends impacted by this violence—those in our own faith community and beyond it—to ask how they are doing.”
I have begun to reach out to friends and former colleagues who are steeped in this work, to those who have family and friends living in Israel/Palestine, and seminary friends who traveled with me in 2013 to the Holy Land. I encourage you to take up this 3-part challenge from the ICJS leadership as well, reaching out to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues to be an open- hearted listener. In this work it is critical to remember the complexity of the history and our own limited understanding of a place we love, but cannot claim to fully understand. Our perspective as Americans is always going to be removed from the experiences of the people who live there. It is also important to remember that the story in Hebrew Scripture and the Newer Testament are not to be conflated with the current State of Israel. Politicians in both US parties are picking up the tragedies and politicizing them in ways that may not be helpful to those suffering or to the US and other international allies.
Let’s be people who are prayerful and humble as we sorrow, grieve, lament, and do what we can to be one of the “helpers” as Fred Rogers used to say. When there is violence and pain, look for the “helpers” and pray to the one God who calls each of us Beloved, despite our sins of violence and oppression, and who asks us to pray as people with hope for everlasting peace and hope with trust in God. May it be so.
Your sister in Christ,