Monday, December 10, 2012

Honoring the Sikh Community, Celebrating 15 Years of Interfaith Awareness

Honoring the Sikh Community
Celebrating 15 Years of Interfaith Awareness

Delivered by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Orthodox Christian priest, Inroads Ministry director 
15th Interfaith Awareness Week - 11th Capitol Noon Celebration
December 5, 2012 - Madison, Wisconsin
Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock listens to Santwant Dhillon
Capitol Celebration of Interfaith Awareness Week
December 5, 2012 
Today we are honoring the Sikh community for its exemplary response to the temple shootings in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek on August 5th:  7 killed, 3 wounded.  The loving and considerate responses of the Sikh community shown both Milwaukee and Madison, despite tragic losses under a twisted fanaticism, were both a reflection of their faith and spirituality as well as their humanity. It has been an example for us all. 

Their response raised a question: How do we as the larger community, diverse and lethargic, content to be entertained rather than informed and educated, change our society that it can no longer grow, even if in its darkest corners, such a twisted and angry belief at the core of the perpetrator of the traumatic events of that August afternoon?

Well, we have made progress over the past 15 years that Interfaith Awareness Week has been proclaimed in Wisconsin. It is noticeable. The diversity that was already present in Wisconsin and throughout America seems to have a broader acceptance. 

Such tragedies as what happened in Oak Creek, like the social aftermath of 9/11 over a decade ago, have brought greater awareness of our needs to know one another better and care for one another, regardless of religious or cultural backgrounds.  Of course, they were many differences between 9/11’s aftermath and the Oak Creek tragedy.  At the same time, I saw a connection between the two that did not go un-noticed by some media – that the deranged killer saw the peaceful Sikh gathering of pray and meditation as a threat to his beliefs and way of life.  How did he assume that the Sikh belief was a threat? Because, as we found out, he thought they were just like the Muslims.  How did Muslims become a threat to this un-balanced maniac? 9/11. After 9/11, there has been an undertow of conspiracy theorists and end time pessimists that blame the religion of Islam. 

Immediately after 9/11, our societal ignorance was exposed.  Even qualified newscasters fumbled over the basic of Islamic beliefs. I received phone calls to clarify what Islam believed, asking if I could get a “real live” Muslim speak at this service club or that one.  My response: call the mosque, ask them, include them.  It took quite a while for most people to become aware Americans, even some of their neighbors were Muslim.

After the Oak Creek tragedy, there was almost no time taken in that same kind of fumbling ignorance.  Almost immediately, we heard that Sikhs were not Muslims and had their own religion.  The response of Milwaukee’s religious and interfaith community was instantaneous, appropriate, sorrowful and inclusive. Instead of that old willful ignorance, a nurturing wisdom seems to have crept into our culture and found a permanent home.   

I pray that we need no more “wake-up calls,” no more significant tragedies, in order for us to welcome the diversity that is already present in our society.

Strange-ness of other people and their faith-based practices can no longer mean we continue as strangers to one another. 

Allowing the freedom of religion does have a price, however. We need to allow for theological disagreement and even rejection of the very things we hold sacred and holy. I hope and pray that a nurturing wisdom can help our weakness, our faithlessness, and the fragility of our belief - because, it takes strength in our faith and in our beliefs to hold them up in the midst of those who believe differently. 

After 15 years of Interfaith Awareness Week, we still have interfaith awareness needs.  We need to invite one another continually to common ground in our communities. Sometimes, we will need to clear space for that common ground. Are we willing to make room for others?

We need to invite each other to our houses of worship being good hosts and being good guests. This is more than simple etiquette. Are we willing to learn how to be good guests in strange places?  Are we willing to welcome strangers as good hosts when they visit us?

We have a need for regular ongoing education about the variety of local religious and spiritual groups to enable successful dialogue when crisis occurs.  I applaud the work of Dan Halling, a teacher at Sauk Prairie High School, where the seniors can take his elective class on world religion and come here to the capitol on a field trip. It was one of these young people that read the Governor’s proclamation of Interfaith Awareness Week.  Mr. Halling’s class, however, is not a common elective in schools in our area, state, region, or even country. So, we must rely on community based educational opportunities, like this event.

Lastly, we continue to need multifaith service opportunities that keep growing in effectiveness and inclusivity in response to our community needs. 

Only when we move forward will we know if our efforts will bear fruit.

I have been a happy, albeit human and flawed, observer of the interfaith sapling growing in our midst and have seen some of its first flowers. I know its roots run deep and that the tree continues to grow. I know it is God that gives it life. And, I know there is plenty need of nurturing hearts to tend to this tree so that its fruit may be abundant and available to all.  

I will close with words I first read in my youth from Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, written almost a hundred years ago.
  • I love you my brother whoever you are whether you worship in your Church, kneel in your Temple, or pray in your Mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of one Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, eager to receive all.
Capitol Celebration Program Participants, December 5, 2012, including:
Natty Nation, Interfaith Awareness Week Committee, and members of Wisconsin Sikh community.


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