Some of you already know that I describe myself as a spiritual person that does not subscribe to any one faith tradition. Growing up, I was exposed to numerous forms of organized religion. I attended a Presbyterian nursery school and frequented that same church when I was in junior high. My father is a baptized Southern Baptist, and my maternal grandparents practiced Buddhism. During my teenage years, I had my flirtations with a few different forms of Christian churches –none of which took a particular hold on my life. During college and graduate school, I learned about the Muslim and Jewish faith traditions through readings and exposure to the faith practices of friends. Of course, the greatest religious influence in my life was Catholicism. I attended to Catholic School for 9 years (St. Gabriel School in San Francisco) and my bonus family –The Purcells were practicing Irish Catholics –which meant that from the age of 6 until I left home at 18, Catholicism was a regular presence in my life. Today, I am a professor at a Catholic University. My reasons for not getting baptized into any one faith tradition are deeply personal and political, so much so that I won’t share them here. However, the knowledge that I’ve gained form learning and experiencing diverse forms of religious faith traditions is that the common ground that links all of them together is love –love of community, the world around us, and the environment. Each religion, in my mind, asks us to practice that love in different ways –all with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place.I was reminded of the love ethic that should inform our lives earlier this week, when I attended the annual opening mass for the Residential Life team. This small intimate ceremony is held in the courtyard adjacent to my apartment building and serves as a time for the staff to come together and reflect on the journey ahead of us during the academic year. Father Mike, our amazing University Chaplain, reminded us of this in his homily. He said, “God’s will. What is God’s will? So often we hear people say ‘God’s will’ as a rationale for any number of things –for violence, conducting war, or as a rationale for why one group is better than another. Is this really God’s will?” He reminded those assembled that today, on the day of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, that she was a woman of faith, belief, and hope. Faith is difficult because we must continue to believe even when the outcome is unknown. Father Mike challenged us to think of God’s will as the qualities that connect us, that rather than using those words as a rationale for violence or war, that instead we should see God’s will as a call to community and a reason to connect with others around us. He reminded us that as we move forward this academic year, that we should guide our action with a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood –and a faith and belief that we can be a stronger community by working to make the world a better and more just place.
After listening to the political pundits and various ‘activists’ talk about their opposition to a mosque being built at ground zero (which is factually incorrect, the location is two blocks away) I find myself both mystified and offended by the racialized forms of religious intolerance. If religion at its core, is about loving thy neighbor –the real question is, “Where is the Love?” The reality is that every religious order (Christianity included) has its form of fundamentalism that strays greatly from the teachings and tenets of the majority of faith practitioners. There is an estimated 2 billion Christians in the world, of which violent Christian fundamentalists make up an infinitesimal percentage. By extension to believe that ALL 1.3 billion practitioners of Islam are violent terrorist is simply ludicrous. The women and men who died in the World Trade towers on 9/11 were of all nationalities and faiths. The center itself was built on the graves of former African Slaves –some of which practiced Islam (http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/08/ground-zero-was-built-graves-slaves). Ground Zero and the entirety of lower Manhattan is sacred ground. The irony is that we choose to acknowledge some histories, while ignoring others in an effort to promote forms of intolerance. Freedom of religion is a RIGHT in the United States. It’s time that we look beyond our prejudices and fears and practice acceptance and love regardless of our faith traditions. It seems to me that by educating ourselves on the diversity of faiths present here in the United States and globally, that we can find the common ground that connects us as opposed to focusing on what divides and separates us.