Much is made in the media of the breakdown of civility, of lack of security and all the threats that cause us fear, especially from “other” people. Terrorism, by its nature senseless with random capacity to target any of us at any time, lays a cloud of fear and apprehension in our hearts and minds. Stereotypes of “others” compounds the alienation among our society. Fear breeds fear, and sometimes it evolves to hatred and violence.

Over fifty leaders of a wide range of religious traditions in Minnesota met this week for a three and a half hour session to counter such forces. It was a simple but carefully facilitated evening of getting acquainted and having purposeful conversations together in an effort to build relationships across lines of differences—differences of religion, tradition, ethnicity, and culture. The leaders shared hopes, concerns and ideas as well as deeply held values, texts and resources from their own traditions which speak to the value of knowing one another.

The social fabric of our community and state was strengthened that evening with new expressions of respect, and the value of knowing each other, as these religious leaders listened, shared and built new connections with one another. Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, American Indian, Bahai, Muslim, Jew, Christian, and various sub-divisions of some of these, were present and participating. In fact, the group saw value in those differences informing and enriching us, even helping us deepen our understanding and conviction in our own traditions. 

The participants did converge on the need to get positive symbols, images and messages into the media about standing together without giving up our differences. The “old media” wasn’t present--not invited to this fresh opening of new relationships. It was not about the press. Yet there is hope that the new media will carry many testimonials—like this one—of the new mutual respect. Who knows what ripple or what multiplier effect will emanate from this occasion. 

Look for these leaders to be standing together at 9-11-11 and other times as well, for the good of all people of Minnesota. All agreed there is no place for the hate that breeds terrorism and we must stand together against such hate. 

In a democracy, religious freedom must prevail and respect for such freedom must grow. May we all share in the blessings of standing together in new and enriching relationships with “other” people.

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