How do you respond to the death of your son and your father in a hate crime? How do you find meaning in personal loss? How does a personal loss become a transformative power in an entire community? Here is a story of one woman's courage and how it continues to impact an entire community.
Two years ago the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City was attacked by a Jew-hating white supremacist. He intended to kill Jews. He ended up killing three non-Jews. Mindy Corporon lost her son Reat, who was auditioning for a local talent show, and her father, who drove him to the audition. Some higher power in her responded immediately, seeking a higher purpose. That very same night she appeared at a vigil and called for love to conquer hate. That call was then translated, a year later, into a city wide initiative called Seven-days. For seven days the community engages in various activities that seek to deliver a message of love and unity. Activities involve religious leaders and their communities, school children and the public at large, women's groups and artists. A city-wide message is delivered suggesting a response to loss and evil that is a far cry from revenge, anger or sinking into bitterness and resentment.
I learned of the Seven Day initiative thanks to Huffington Post. My blog at Huffington Post drew Mindy's attention. Seeking to bridge faith communities, she reached out to me in order to draw on my interfaith expertise. My initial invitation from the folks at Huffington placed special emphasis on the "what's working" message, seeking to feature positive and transformative initiatives that highlight the good, where other media might highlight the bad. I find it wonderful that I should come to learn of such a "what's working" initiative precisely by means of this blog.
I am just back from Kansas City. I had the privilege of giving the keynote opening address at the second edition of Seven Days. As a new initiative, Seven Days is groping with how to straddle the faith divide. What does interfaith mean and what kind of activities will allow a community to build bridges across faith divides in the long run, after the initial shock of violence and hatred has subsided? The Kansas City Royals have a Muslim player on their team. Does the mere presence of a Muslim, of someone from another faith tradition, amount to an interfaith encounter? I suggested it did not. Interfaith means engaging the faith of the other, not simply living with and sharing life with the other who happens to belong to a different faith community. There are, I suggested, many different kinds of dialogue. To be sure, there is also a dialogue of living, where the many situations of day to day life do allow us to encounter the other and in the process also to learn of his or her faith. But meaningful interfaith engagement must be more intentional. We should seek to engage the faith of the other in a sustained way. Study of the faith of the other is foundational. And, I suggested, study can be undertaken by anyone. Everyone can share some favorite text, a voice from her tradition that can speak across traditions. Scholars have a lot to teach us and are vital. But everyone has a voice, and everyone can share the wisdom of the tradition, as it speaks to him. Sharing a meaningful text, reading and discussing it together, is one practice that can bridge traditions.
Leonard Swidler, an important theoretician of interfaith relations, suggests there are three types of interfaith encounter. There is the dialogue of the head - learning from other religions more fully the meaning of life. Then there is the dialogue of hands - joining with the other to make the world a better place to live. Finally, there is the dialogue of the heart - an awe filled embrace of the inner spirit and aesthetic expressions of the other. I personally appreciate this typology of interfaith relations because it relates to interfaith as something intentional and recognizes the complementarity of different kinds of dialogue.
The Seven Day initiative is moving. It is moving first and foremost because of the personal story that it embodies. It is moving because the hate crime was directed against an entire community and the very fabric of its existence. But it is also moving because of the genuine quest of an entire community to move forward. My message led people to consider how they might move forward. Religious leaders were engaged to consider what long term relations could be built up within the community. The mixture of empathy, solidarity and admiration (for Mindy) combined to galvanize an entire community to advance in their relations, so as to ensure that at the end of the day it is love that has the final word, a love deeply grounded in the faith traditions, so as to ensure that religion shall never rend the community asunder.