Due to the recent re-publishing of my website I have had several questions about the proposed, “Divine Mosaic: Crossroads of Faith” exhibition.
Did you know that Mohammed Yusuf, the founder and leader of Boko Haram from 2002 until he was executed by Nigerian police in 2009, whose followers kidnapped 276 girls in 2014 from a boarding school based his ideology on, Boko, meaning Western education and Haram, meaning forbidden in Arabic? The jihadists are now known as, “The People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”, specifically targeting schools and children, and thus the ignorance continues.
I have struggled mightily with this concept…realizing and understanding the anxieties resulting from actions/atrocities of the radicals/extremists within the various Islamic sects, however, having met conservatives in each of the religions represented my original thinking and goals return to the purpose…if not now, when? If not us, who? Where does it start before it ends?
This was an idea stimulated by my wife, Sylvia, some 15 years ago when she said something along the lines of, “you are a big shot exhibits designer, why don’t you create a traveling exhibition on the three faiths spawned by Abraham…they all have the same God but we each have such a limited knowledge about one another’s beliefs”.
So…I began to think about the challenge and talk to colleagues about their interests in the subject and individuals who had a great deal of knowledge and experience in the history of religions and all were intrigued with the concept. These people were glad to offer their expertise to the exhibit, all the way from Harvard to Israel and Egypt. What was surprising then, and even more so now, was the moderate Muslims like those found in China for example and those that I have personally talked to were all, without hesitation, extremely critical of the radicals that they felt were or had become representative of their faith. They wanted to be identified and separated from the jihadists in whatever way they could. Members from the Christian, Jewish and Islam beliefs all thought this exhibition could bring about a greater understanding and awareness of the similarities, as well as the differences, of the doctrines and practices of each. Hopefully, ideally, this could/would lead to a platform for educational dialog and tolerance among all faiths.
During the planning stages of the proposal that resulted I began to keep notes on some of the things we might address and/or think about. Keep in mind I was raised in a Christian Church, literally, The First Christian Church, in Hobbs, NM and went on to become the first Youth Minister on Campus at Eastern New Mexico University for the First Christian Church in Portales, NM (very briefly).
Here are a dozen of my many notations:
What if… we didn’t judge others only/solely on what religion they were raised in or were identified with?
What if…we accepted how others worshiped the same God?
What if…we tried to better understand the origins, contributions and practices of each of the religions?
What if…we didn’t try to build the tallest steeple or the biggest edifice or argue over the color of the walls or carpet or whether there are stained glass windows or even be disparaging about what the worship center is called?
What if…we let a newcomer sit in “our” seat and even welcomed them into “our” service?
What if…we let our fellow worshipers pray in whatever manner they are accustomed?
What if…we didn’t condemn others by their appearance, language, customs or race but actually offered our understanding, empathy and compassion for all who seek their divinity or are in need of solace?
What if…we offered our praise of God without boundaries and included those of different backgrounds who have the same goals for peace and tolerance for the whole of humanity?
What if…we faced our fears induced by our ignorance and prejudices but tempered by knowledge and understanding of one another’s lives and customs?
What if…we all believed that the monotheistic deity we call God allowed all who believe in Him the opportunity to inherit His covenants?
What if…we educated our children to respect the ways and circumstances of other children and impressed on them the value of human life and their chance to make a difference in the world for the future?
What if…we sought the truth no matter what translation or tradition we are familiar with and attempted to be more perceptive of how many things are beyond one’s control especially in today’s social, economic and political environments?
These thoughts are, admittedly, very biased and Christian based as my connections to other denominations, religious systems and/or organized worship practices are very superficial even though I have studied the history of religion for many years. Thus, many of the “what if’s”, also, maybe especially, apply to the plethora of different beliefs and denominations within the Christian faith.
However, as I have learned not everyone is an extremist like the skinheads or jihadists that receive the most attention as there are good people of every faith who very much want to live every day as though it were their last day and try to do all they can for all they can, especially for the children who are commonly influenced by a plethora of personal and media encounters to be skeptical if not prejudiced of those who are different. Since there are millions more moderates in each faith than the radicals it is time to join together in making this a safer, more humane and civilized environment.
Therefore, the idea/goal/purpose is to leave a better place for our children, a legacy of meaningful discourse resulting in a more peaceful world but that can only occur with a major commitment from the moderate followers of each faith.