On Wednesday, October 18th, the Abrahamic Reunion and Lake Worth Interfaith Network led an evening of sacred text sharing and discussion called “Sacred Discussion Circle: Welcoming in the Stranger.” The event took place at First Congregational Church of Lake Worth, hosted by Pastor Jason Fairbanks. Almost 40 people of different religious backgrounds came together to share and learn from one another.
Carol Garrett led everyone in the opening song “Circle of Friends.” Then Rev. Chris Miller introduced the Abrahamic Reunion and spoke about its work to unite Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Druze in the Holy Land, follwed by the showing of a brief video about the AR’s peacebuilding work in the Holy Land and around the world.
After the video, representatives from different faiths shared texts about the stranger from their own traditions. First, Maya Malay spoke about Buddhism, saying “When we aren’t in touch with that divine essence, which is our own true self, then we too are strangers to ourselves, to that which is in all beings, and also to each other.” She then read a poem by Derek Walcott called “Love After Love.”
Next, Steven Nalls presented a Jewish perspective with a few verses from the Torah and Hebrew Bible. He quoted Numbers 15:15, which says “The community is to have the same rules for you (the Hebrew) and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord.” Nalls emphasized the words “lasting ordinance” saying, “There’s no expiration day. Somebody can’t say ‘Times were different… it’s not like that anymore.’ It doesn’t expire. It doesn’t end. And you can’t amend it.”
Pastor Jason Fairbanks shared a parable from the Gospel of Matthew, which teaches that how you treat others reflects how you treat God, saying “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” He also shared a contemporary quote from Henri Nouwen, saying “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy… It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Imam Dr. Zaher Badaraany shared from the Qur’an and pointed out that it refers to God as “the lord of all the worlds.” Imam Zaher said, “He didn’t say ‘lord of the Muslims,’ or ‘the believer.’ He said ‘Praise be known to God, the lord of all the worlds.’ So I believe that God, in the Qur’an, teaches us, as Muslims, how we should live with each other. And we live with each other under the humanity umbrella.”
Sheikh Ghassan Manasra also shared his perspective, saying “We need to love one another. If we love one another, we will not find more enemies. There will be no enemies. Come to love one another as a human being.”
Finally, Ted Brownstein shared a passage from the Baha’i writings that says “See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness.” Brownstein explained that “The Baha’i faith is a world religion, whose primary teaching is the unity of mankind.”
With the words of the religions ringing in their ears, the group broke into small discussion groups of about five people each. Sheikh Ghassan went around to each table and helped facilitate conversation. At the end, he brought everyone together again to share what their group had discussed. Each group had taken their discussions in different directions and had unique insights to share.
The evening closed with Carol Garrett leading everyone in singing “Haskivenu – Let There Be Love” by Noah Aronson. It was a truly special event, filled with love and a desire to connect and learn from each other.
The texts that were shared, as well as the lyrics to the songs, can be found here: