Sounding Off: Love neighbors as ourselves

Friends, you probably know that Wednesday evening began the celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Thursday marked the end of Ramadan. I spent Wednesday night celebrating Rosh Hashanah with a gathering of rabbis. Together we prayed, sang, ate, laughed and loved as we welcomed in the new year.

Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with a celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which takes place over a number of days. This year one of those days falls on Saturday, which, sadly, also marks the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Terry Jones, an extremist Christian pastor in Florida, has threatened to burn Korans on the 9/11 anniversary and has gotten considerable media coverage. It is lamentable that there is such discord in our nation during these holy days of our sister Abrahamic traditions.

Many of you know of my deep commitment to interfaith work. At our church we have acknowledged that while our Christian path is our chosen path, we recognize that it is not the only path. Such a pluralistic worldview is, sadly, seemingly quite rare these days. I have been outspoken in my support of Muslims in our community and that has caused quite a reaction from community members who do not share this same sense of tolerance and acceptance. I have received numerous phone calls, e-mails, even handwritten letters from people expressing their disagreement with me (a completely appropriate sentiment) as well as personal attacks which question my integrity and identity as a Christian, threats that I should "die in the Near East" and most recently a phone call in which I was explicitly told to "watch your back."

You can imagine that I have felt a sense of fear during this time. Rest assured I have called the police. However, as we all know, people who are inclined to make threats are not necessarily rational. This does cause me to worry. And while I have no intention of ending up on a cross, I do remember that Jesus, our Lord and teacher, our brother and our guide, has told us to pick up our crosses and follow.

After our Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith board meeting on Wednesday, I spoke with one of our Muslim representatives on the board, and she expressed her gratitude for voices such as ours who have spoken in support of Islam, particularly during this time when public discourse regarding Muslims has been so negative.

She wrote me an e-mail late expressing her gratitude. She has moved me to tears. It is ever so clear to me that we must speak out on behalf of our sisters and our brothers. It is our Christian faith that calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We may not think exactly the same, nor believe exactly the same. We may not dress the same, or pray the same. But we are all God's children just the same.

Sitting at the table and breaking bread (challah) Wednesday night with my dear Jewish friends reminded me of just how connected we all truly are. As human beings, children of the one Living God, we are called to "Seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God," while loving our neighbor as ourselves that all of creation might one day be healed. The Jews say "Tikun olam" — that the world be healed.

This Saturday, I will join with my colleagues in Progressive Christians Uniting to read the Koran in Orange. We invite Christians, Muslims, people of all faiths and no faith, to join with us at 4 p.m. as community members in Orange County at the City Hall in Orange on Chapman Ave. While there may be burning in Florida, our hearts will burn together for peace, acceptance and love in Orange County! If you are able, I invite you to join me in this act of solidarity.

THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa. The church is a member of the Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council.

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