It is hard to imagine any commodity in shorter supply today than tolerance and respect for others’ religious beliefs. We hear a constant drumbeat that there is a war of civilizations that we cannot afford to lose. When the 9/11 attacks occurred, I knew only a handful of Muslims from work and almost no one from any faith tradition other than Christianity and Judaism. After the attacks, however, I decided that I needed to gain a better understanding of what was going on in the Islamic and other religions. Actively seeking out opportunities to meet people from other faiths, I eventually began serving on the board of Interfaith Ministries of Houston. This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Turkey on an interfaith dialogue trip.
What I have discovered in these experiences is that once you get past the cosmetic differences of appearance and accents, I had a great deal more in common with people of different faiths than I expected. For the most part, I learned that they were worried about their children having a better life, paying their mortgage, why traffic is so bad – in short, all the same things that worry most of us. Perhaps more surprising is that I can now count among some of my closest friends, individuals from a variety of faiths whom I would have otherwise never met in my normal daily life.
Interfaith Ministries and the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice University have joined forces to make this type of personal experience available to all Houstonians. Last January, these two groups organized dinners in 25 homes, and provided an opportunity for individuals of different faiths to meet and discuss their faiths. Without exception, everyone who participated came away deeply moved by the experience. Many new friendships were formed. The dinners were dubbed the Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, after Roy Spence’s book, The Amazing Faiths of Texas.
On November 15, 2007, IM and Boniuk are sponsoring the second annual Amazing Faiths Dinners, and already anticipate over 100 Houston homes participating as dinner hosts. Interfaith groups in Austin and San Antonio are in the process of organizing dinner events on the same night in their cities as well. I would like to personally encourage you to participate in one of these dinners. You can do so by merely attending as a participant, or hosting a dinner in your home. If you decide to host a dinner, the Amazing Faith Project staff will provide a facilitator to help guide discussions and will advise you on the practicalities, such as dietary restrictions. Additional information is available at http://www.amazingfaithsproject.org/
. You can sign up on-line.
This is one experience that I can promise will change the way you feel about your community and the world. Please take the time today to consider being a part of a remarkable evening.