If you want to enjoy time with people there's one rule - never talk politics or religion. It seems no matter how much we advance in technology we can't seem to stop fighting over who's right. When I made my list of dreams I decided I wanted to sit down with people from many religions and have an open discussion. Though I was raised Catholic, my mother brought me to the Ayurveda Maharishi Center to learn meditation, to Healing Arts Festivals with New Age Philosophy, and conversations about religion were never closed-minded. I had friends who were Muslim, Spiritual, Born-Again, Hindu, Mormon, and Jewish. No one ever had a problem with one another and one Christmas Eve my diverse group sat around my dining room table celebrating. But when I moved to California, I met a group of Christians who told me that I wasn't a Christian because I was raised Catholic.
I had no idea what to say to this comment. Aren't you Christian if you believe in the teachings of Christ? I didn't say much to their comment, but I did ask them if they thought that Christianity was the only way to get to Heaven. They commented that they felt that anyone who wasn't born-again wouldn't be accepted. When I asked about the billions of people on this planet who believed in other faiths, their answer again was - no only true Christians could enter and that their's was the only true faith.
Why do so many people on this planet believe that in order for their faith to be right everyone else must be wrong? I thought if everyone could sit in a room and realize that we're all just people, trying our best in life, that maybe it could end prejudice - at least in that room.
This dream came about when I was invited to join a group at my church to go to the Salam Center (Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims). Imam M. Azeez had put together a course bringing together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths to explore the differences and likenesses of each religion to bring about peace.
For six weeks all three faiths sat together with great scholars, rabbis, ministers, and the Imam discussing history, faith, and misconceptions. At the hour of prayer for the muslims, we joined together hearing the Imam chant and prostrating next to one another.
I was never asked to convert, though learning each religion's beliefs made me want to join in their ceremonies. I was never told that any religion was bad or wrong, but instead that they're similar. They each teach the same principles: to be good to your neighbor: to love and trust something bigger and more powerful than yourself; to hold dear your loved ones; to not always give in to the pursuit of the body so to be able to listen to the spirit; that we need community; what we do to others we do to ourselves; and that we are more than just this human experience.
I'm certain there are many people who would love to fight me about why certain religions are wrong. I have friends who have been persecuted by radical Islam and had to flee their homes. I'm from the Boston Dioceses and know people harmed by Catholic priests. Every religion is made up of humans and at times humans can be faulty.
But when it comes down to it, people turn to religion in search of more love and peace in their lives. Maybe if we could understand this we could stop persecuting others for different beliefs and accept that people need love, acceptance, peace, and most of all a feeling of belonging in this large world.
Photos by James Tennery