Thursday, 06 October 2016

Tough questions over strong coffee

Written by Semisi Kailahi

Interfaith September is over and it has me asking how we relate to other faiths and where should we be going – as the Uniting Church, as Christians and as a society. It was all about strengthening our ties to those of all faiths and none. It was about establishing links where such ties barely exist.

This year, Interfaith September extended to Aboriginal Spirituality. Relations with Other Faiths Convenor Rev. Michael Barnes took his flock to hear the stories of the Gai-marigal people on a trip to ‘Carangal’ at North Head near Manly. After reflecting on their visit, someone asked, ‘How many sights and beliefs of cultural and sacred significance to any culture, including Aboriginal, am I ignorantly tramping over? How much inspiration am I missing out on because of my ignorance or insensitivity?’

For me it is the tough questions that make interfaith September worthwhile. We must be willing to challenge our understanding to the core of our being and learn about our neighbor. Tough questions widen the mind to examine our preconceptions of those around us. However, I must emphasise that we participate in discussions respectfully and sensitively.

While we can certainly ask these questions during formal interfaith events, there tends to be a more natural discussion through the information conversations over coffee before, during and after these events. I feel this is because it is only in more relaxed settings where people converse, become acquainted and make friends when the real conversation begins, from the mind and heart.

When Mona Abdelraheem was asked how to build interfaith relationships he suggested having coffee and building ‘ordinary friendships’ with people of other faiths. Michael Barnes said, “I think that sharing a cuppa is akin to Jesus’ practice of gathering with people around a meal table. The gospels record some of the enduring stories that were spoken on such occasions.”

It seems more and more people are recognising the power of the informal gathering. A Muslim couple Mohsen and Mervat Abdelraheem have kindly invited Uniting Church members to their home for coffee on Saturday 22 October from 12pm and if you are interested in attending, please let us know. Their story is a fascinating one, Mohsen was originally cynical when it came to interfaith interaction, however he has changed his position which was a gradual process over time through attending several interfaith building bridges events. Now, the upcoming gesture of hosting people of other faiths within your home is truly remarkable for Mohsen.

There have been so many wonderful interfaith events in the life of our Church. Jesus calls us to love. If we do not understand, we fear and if we fear, we cannot love. We must take the first step and leap into a world that confronts us. We should endeavor to really know our neighbors - understand them. Create the time, effort and situation for those tough questions over a friendly chat over a strong coffee.


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