Wednesday 21 December 2016

Meeting Didik (and other stories of hope and love)

A terrible old photo of Didik and I in the Bali Rock Cafe
My first real encounter with someone from a different faith to mine, apart from our guest speakers in Faith and Values at high school, was in a pub in Bali. Didik was a Javanese Muslim musician who was making a living playing Credence Clearwater Revival songs around Bali. He was a regular in the pub that we spent many of our evenings dancing in June of 1995. His music was great, but sometimes his lyrics were far from correct. I helped him to edit some of the English lyrics that he had guessed and then we got to talking about faith - as you do. He had never really spoken with a Christian about their faith and I had never spoken with a Muslim about theirs. I recall a large part of our discussion was about where we found God. I remember more his gentleness and humility. I walked away from that encounter struck by how much we had in common, rather than our differences.

My most recent encounter with people from another faith was a few weeks ago. I received a phone call at the church office. A young Muslim man was in town with his friends. They had made a day trip from Perth. He told me that he had found our number and was looking for a mosque in which to pray. After explaining to them that unfortunately there was not a mosque nearby, I invited them to come and use our space if that was suitable. Ten minutes later four young men were washing in our church, preparing for prayer. It was a brief encounter, but I was struck by their immense gratitude for the simple act of hospitality. I wondered what hostility these young men had met living in a society that is gripped by fear of the other. I also felt proud to be part of a wider church that, when not finding a mosque, we were the next place to call to find a place of prayer. 

In between these two encounters are many other stories of grace, open discussion, hospitality and understanding. I have been deeply saddened in recent times reading articles and social media posts that spread fear and damaging generalisations about other faiths. It is true that all faiths have those on the fringe who twist and contort the teachings to suit their own needs. It is true that all faiths have factions that have caused damage and hurt. On almost a weekly basis, I hear stories of people who have been hurt by the Christian church and now turn to other faith traditions or alternative spiritualities. Thank goodness the world listens to more than just these accounts of Christian faith. 

I have been criticised in the past for being more interested in working with people of other faiths rather than ecumenically within the Christian church. These accusations are not completely true, as I have made considerable efforts to work with people of other denominations and continue to work closely with our local Anglican priests. I do believe, however, that working with people of other faiths is vital in our time. The extremists in our faiths are hoping for division, hatred, fear and violence towards the other. This is where their power lies. We need to be building bridges and multiplying love wherever possible. And so, I would like to encourage people to share stories of hope, love, grace and compassion, particularly of those from other faiths, as frequently as possible. The stories are out there and they need to be heard as loud, if not louder, than those of hatred and fear.

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