I know, I know. It sounds like the beginning of a joke.
It was the beginning of a Facebook post by Angel that got over 100 likes. That's something.
It was also our team name that won the "best name" trophy at last week's trivia night raising money for youth programs in Waltham.
At our trivia night, Angel, David, Tom and I (the priest, rabbi, and two pastors) put forth a noble effort. Over the course of the evening, we did okay for ourselves. We cheered after capturing the correct answers to the top five sitcom finales of all time. With other questions, we fell woefully short even with our best guesses. Who knew that Katy Perry ousted Beyonce and Taylor Swift as the top grossing artist in 2015?!
In general, the evening was pure fun. In addition to having the best name (which we officially won :) ), we got many comments about our clergy outfits (unfortunately, there was no prize for that). One man, coming over to our table, commented on Rabbi David's prayer shawl.
"Coming here together across religious traditions is a form of prayer for me," Pastor Tom responded.
We all nodded in agreement.
We live in a culture where autonomy and independence are often given greater credence than connection and interdependence. Persons young and old increasingly feel alone and isolated. Each of us clergy seek to counter that trend through creating and nurturing supportive spiritual communities in our own faith traditions. But why had we come together as clergy of various faiths- to play a game of trivia no less?
I can't answer this question for Tom, David, or Angel, though for me our trivia night together was a practice of prayer. To me, prayer is relationship and connection- with others, and with what I often call God. In the Christian scriptures, Jesus says "The Kingdom of God is within you." I believe the spark of the divine is in everyone. Prayer is an affirmation of God's presence in ALL people- no matter their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
What concerns me so much about this election year is the pervasive political rhetoric that makes some people seem "other" or less than. My Christian faith affirms that every human is a beautiful child of God. To me, any expression of faith that demonizes, stereotypes, or makes another feel inferior because of their religion, race, nationality, gender, or sexuality isn't faith at all, but fear.
The Christian scriptures say that "perfect love casts out fear". I mourn every time I hear someone in the name of God, Jesus, or religion attack, condemn, or otherwise act out of fear or prejudice. Fundamentalists in every religion get the most press. But small-city clergy like Tom, Angel, David, and I won't be on the nightly news. Although, we did get a trophy for our team name, and that was pretty cool.
The act of coming together across faith differences is no small feat. Inter-faith conflict and violence often dominates the headlines, and intra-faith relationships can be just as tense. In a panel I spoke at this past semester on "The State of Religion at Brandeis University" (as Brandeis' Protestant Chaplain), students from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions all chuckled at the comment of how difficult it is to have harmonious relationships within one's own faith tradition. Sometimes, the disagreements between differing strands within a religion are so stark that unity, compassion, and understanding seem like distant goals.
Given that reality, I don't think our gathering last week was just a silly trivia night. Two sayings of Jesus come to mind:
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one."
For me, love and unity don't exist outside of relationships. In some small way, I think that's what Tom, Angel, David, and I were up to last week. We didn't have an agenda besides playing together. We weren't trying to convert anybody. When we and others gather regularly for our Waltham Ministerial Alliance meetings, there is collegiality and openness to learning from each other. All our religious paths are different. None of us would contest that. But I think we would all affirm that unity is most powerful in the face of diversity; that love is most powerful when manifested amongst differences often used to divide.
That is what Waltham's Center for Community Engagement was up to several weeks ago when it helped organize the "Meet our Muslim Neighbors" event at the Waltham Islamic Society. It's what Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries is up to this summer when they will host the 10th annual Interfaith Youth Initiative program on the campus of Brandeis, facilitating a powerful experience of interfaith engagement, service, leadership, and fun. In the midst of crippling Islamaphobia, immigrant-phobia, and trans-phobia in our society, the best thing our religious traditions can do is to foster and cultivate safe spaces where we build beloved community together.
Tom, Angel, David and I didn't go home with any accolades or prizes (except for that cool trophy!). But, we will take with us something far more precious: real, embodied relationships; friendships across tradition and difference; unity in the midst of diversity.
Agape (the name of the spiritual community I serve in Waltham) is a Greek word that points to the unconditional love of the divine. In the midst of religion that too frequently manifests prejudice, violence, and fear, I celebrate any expression of religion that seeks to live and embody this form of love. Thanks Tom, Angel, and David. To me, our laughter, friendship, and witness was indeed a form of prayer.