My first visit to the National Cathedral in Washington DC was a high school youth group trip in the '70s while the massive house of stone and light was still under construction. I've returned many times over the years and never fail to be moved by the beauty, power and energy of this place of worship in the center of our nation's capital -- a place which defines itself as a "house of prayer for all people."
Due to the marvels of modern technology, this morning I was able to sit in my living room in Southern California and watch the livestream of the service of Muslim Friday Prayers (Jumu'ah) from that very National Cathedral in a service that emphasized the "all" in "all people."
"We explore in this cathedral together the omnipresent face of God" said preacher Ebrahim Rasool "for the more bridges that are built the less room there is for fear and prejudice between us." The South African ambassador to the United Nations continued: "This is the time for good people to make common cause to end the mischief of violence in our world as we stand together to defeat the extremes." And he went on to condemn terrorism in general and ISIS in specific and condemn all who would hijack the tenets of the Muslim faith in the service of violence against any member of the human family.
Gary Hall, the Dean of the National Cathedral, welcomed the gathered with words that included "We start today with prayer and hospitality as a way to build a new way of being together. For we find ourselves in a new moment in interfaith relations - a moment where we can stand confident in our own tradition as we reach out to each other."
As I listened to their words of hope and encouragement to all who strive to build bridges across differences I remembered these words of Dr. Maher Hathout - the great Muslim leader and interfaith ally of All Saints Church here in Pasadena: "God does not belong to any religion. All religions belong to God." And I felt hopeful. And I felt grateful.
And then I made the mistake of reading the comments on the twitter feed. And on the Facebook page.
And it was quickly clear that the very people who most needed to hear what these faithful Muslims were saying in the sermon and praying in the prayers were too busy pooling their ignorance to learn anything about this faith they fear.
Yes, there are texts in the Koran that condone violence. I'll see you and raise you a boatload of texts in the Bible. (Start with 2 Samuel - but only if you have a really strong stomach.)
Yes, there are Muslims who advocate murder for "infidels," behead journalists and discriminate against minorities - using their religion as an excuse for their violent extremism. There are also Christians who blow up women's health clinics, burn crosses on lawns and lynch their African-American neighbors - using their religion as an excuse for their violent extremism.
The truth is that ISIS is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. It is long past time for those Christians so busy beating up Muslims with their Bibles to go re-read the part where Jesus called us to love - not to demonize - our neighbors. And to remember that this nation was founded by those with the wisdom to understand that in order to protect our freedom of religion we also need protection from religion - and from presuming to prioritize our beliefs over the beliefs ... or lack of belief, for that matter ... of anybody else.
And so I give thanks that today in our National Cathedral we were blessed by the witness of faith leaders standing, speaking and praying from the firm foundation of those traditional American Values. I find hope in being reminded again today -- from both the Christian and the Muslim leaders gathered in our National House of Prayer for ALL People -- that we can make a difference in the world by standing together. And so I pray in these words from the closing prayer in today's Friday Prayers (Jumu'ah)
"We pray for protection from those who would divide us. God bless America and God Bless the world."
And let ALL God's people say "Amen."