The joke has been going around a lot in recent days. "A rabbi, a Catholic priest and an imam walked into a bar . . . " In fact, on the morning of September 11th, a rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and an imam boarded a van emblazoned with symbols evoking religious pluralism for a fifteen-day, interstate “Caravan of Reconciliation," sponsored by the D.C.-based non-profit, "Clergy beyond Borders." Each morning before departing for our engagements of the day, Imam Yahya Hendi, Islamic chaplain at Georgetown University and an internationally renowned progressive imam, at the wheel, summons us to prayer. Yesterday morning I began by chanting the words of the Psalmist, "How great are your works, O God, your thoughts are very deep." Our evangelical minister offered a pitch-perfect spontaneous prayer, capturing our collective mood of deep gratitude for our warm relationships and inspired work together. Imam Hendi, known to his many friends as "Brother Yahya," offered a melodious chant of the Islamic invocation, "Bismillah Ar-rachman Ar-rachim," "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful . . . " Our day had begun with heartfelt prayer in the three distinct languages of our respective religious traditions, and we set off to teach our message of reconciliation.
The caravan, now in Atlanta, Georgia, has presented at between two and four events each day at university campuses, synagogues, churches and Islamic centers. We have addressed large community events, houses of worship, and small gatherings of students, clergy and community leaders. We have offered teachings from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions in support of curious, active, respectful engagement with people of other religions. We have spoken of the urgent need to counter rising trends of religious intolerance in contemporary America. We have shared our own personal stories of passionate engagement between and among religious communities and intoned prayers for peace.
There have been moments of deep inspiration and love, hilarious exchanges of self-deprecating religious jokes, strategy sessions about pedagogy, media relations, and electronic gadgetry, hugs, and loving laughter. Traveling hundreds of miles a day in a small, crowded van, we are a microcosm of the world we seek to build, in which people of different religions connect deeply with one another, and join their particular religious commitments to work together for justice and peace.
This morning a Christian theology student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology approached me at the end of our session and spoke in heartfelt tones, “I’m not sure how many of the details of your talks I’ll remember two or three weeks from now. But I will hold in my heart the image of the loving relationships among you. That is the way it should be.” Amen.