Bahai News - INTERFAITH GATHERING, Amen to Diversity

INTERFAITH GATHERING, Amen to Diversity

Monday, November 19, 2001

PHOTO
Calvary Baptist Church's choir sings at Sunday's 12th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. (Danny La/The Salt Lake Tribune)

BY PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

About a week after the Sept. 11 attacks, Shahab Saeed was sitting at lunch with his co-workers, exchanging stories about the various memorial services they had attended. One friend announced that he had avoided all of them.
Religion, he said, was at the root of the terrorists' actions in the first place.
To Saeed, a Utah member of the Baha'i faith, that was an example of false reasoning.
"It is a great injustice to blame the teacher for misbehavior of some students," Saeed told a packed crowd Sunday night at the 12th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the just-completed Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City.
He placed a stack of scriptures from many faiths on the podium before him.
"There is but one book of God, which is love," Saeed said. "These are just different chapters."
Earlier Sunday, Calvary -- Utah's oldest and largest African-American congregation -- dedicated its new $2.5 million building at 1090 S. State. The new building is twice as large as the church's former home at 532 E. 700 South, seating about 900. At the interfaith service, nearly every one of those seats was filled.
More than 500 people from about a dozen religious groups filled the burgundy-covered pews of the sanctuary. They swayed with Calvary's pur- ple-robed choir and called out "Amen" and "Praise the Lord" as speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of unity amid diversity. That is, after all, the purpose of the National Conference for Community and Justice, which sponsors this annual service.
A half-dozen speakers read passages from their faith's scriptures, several of them rendering the verses in English and another language, everything from Hebrew to Arabic to Spanish.
Rabbi Frederick Wenger of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City read Psalm 107 from the Bible. Raza Patel of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake read from the Quran.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints read from The Book of Mormon, and the Rev. Langes Silva and Maria Cruz Gray of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City read from the New Testament.
The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City talked of responding gracefully to tragedy. Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah read from Abraham Lincoln's 1863 address, establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
T.E. Morgan-Begay and John Begay Jr. spoke about the idea of prayer in the Native American Church.
"Gratitude is our ability to appreciate goodness," said Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. "Thanksgiving is not about ignoring the bad that has happened, but about reminding ourselves of the goodness around us."
The keynote speaker, Catholic Bishop George Niederauer of Salt Lake City, also took up the theme of gratitude, made so relevant by recent events.
After Sept. 11, "we and our neighbors are sorting through our values carefully," Niederauer said, to a chorus of "amen, brother."
"We are beginning to break out of the cycle of self-gratification," he said. People are increasingly grateful for the "gift of each other," even those whose "eccentricities and orneriness we would miss if they were suddenly snatched away."
It is fine to be grateful, Niederauer said, but "God doesn't want our thank-you notes. He wants us to be as generous with others as he is with us."
Niederauer urged his listeners to resist the choice between seeking justice for the crimes or working for peace, supporting America or embracing some other country, celebrating one's own faith or reaching out to other traditions.
"We must not be silent before such nonsense," he said. "We need both/and thinking rather than either/or."
As an example, Niederauer pointed to all the last-minute calls made to loved ones from the burning Trade Centers or crashing airplanes.
"Every one one of those calls was about love," he said. "None of them demanded vengeance."


©Copyright 2001, Salt Lake Tribune

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