UPCOMING: The Interfaith Amigos will speak on “Interfaith Dialogue for Challenging Times” at 2 p.m. March 11 at Bremerton United Methodist Church in Bremerton. A free will offering will be accepted. The presentation will be followed by a book signing.
PORT ANGELES — An imam, a pastor and a rabbi walked into a church.
That’s no joke. But the three do use humor to get their message across: People of faith have more in common than not, and those faiths call for inclusivity over exclusivity.
“We Jews are the chosen people,” Rabbi Ted Falcon of Seattle told 332 listeners Feb. 11 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles.
“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to God but by me,’ ” Pastor Dave Brown of Tacoma retorted.
“Here is the real truth,” Sufi Imam Jamal Rahman of Seattle responded. “The Koran said whoever chooses a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and he will be one of the losers in the hereafter.”
Falcon, Brown and Rahman collectively embrace their differences in a traveling, heartfelt lecture as the Pacific Northwest Interfaith Amigos. In their seamless, sometimes scripted repartee, they draw humorous who-has-the-best-religion lines to teach a larger lesson about the importance of inclusivity over exclusivity.
The original Amigos — Rahman, Falcon and Pastor Don Mackenzie — wrote “Finding Peace Through Spiritual Practice: The Interfaith Amigos’ Guide to Personal, Social and Environmental Healing,” a book that sparked reading groups all over the Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Barb Laski said 15 organizations sponsored study groups in East Jefferson County; Marilyn Eash of the Interfaith Community of Clallam County reported 19 study groups formed in Clallam County.
After Mackenzie moved to Minneapolis, Brown — of Tacoma’s Immanuel Presbyterian Church — stepped in for him.
The Amigos give a connected, holistic and historical context to faith as presented in the scriptures of three of the world’s major religions.
“Jews were chosen for the way of the Torah,” Falcon explained. “More than that, each and every one of us is chosen. We are chosen to be the ones we are. All authentic paths are chosen for the integrity of their paths.”
Brown said Jesus was not saying he is “the way” in an egotistical sense. At a time of political and religious upheaval, Jesus was saying his way is nonviolence and unconditional love. “He was not speaking about himself. He was speaking about the wisdom that goes beyond ego,” Brown said.
Rahman said that at Islam’s core is surrendering to God in peace, and a respect for Abraham and Moses.
It does not matter, in the Koran, if you do not practice Islam, he said. “We make no distinction among the prophets,” he said. In surrendering to God in peace, Rahman said, “The critical question is, what am I surrendering? The Koran says [it’s] your attachment to your ego.”
The Interfaith Amigos formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Their lesson: the links that can grow between people of different faiths when they lead spiritual lives — drawing from the best of their faiths rather than a path of exclusivity that, as Falcon said, can lead to violence.
The bond grows when people eschew ego and embrace compassion, as taught by Islam, Rahman said.
It blossoms when people show unconditional love to others, as taught by Christianity, Brown said.
“After doing presentation after presentation, I understand my own journey as a Christian in a new way because of being open to my brothers,” Brown added.
They spoke of the current political discord in the U.S. “I can think of no time as important as this time” to have an interfaith dialogue, Brown said.
Rahman noted that after 9/11, most of those who objected to a mosque being built at Ground Zero did not personally know a Muslim, in contrast to the majority of those who did know Muslims and favored building a mosque.
Falcon said those of different faiths and politics need to meet each other as human beings without shouting, name-calling and demonizing. He said people of all three faiths go astray from their core teachings when they support exclusivity, violence in the name of that exclusivity, inequality of men and women, homophobia, economic and racial injustice, policies that keep large segments of populations in poverty, and degradation of the environment.
“If we talk about where we stray from our core teachings, it gives us a chance to grow and to deepen our faith, our self-understanding and our mutual understanding,” Brown said.
During a brief question-and-answer session, a woman told Rahman that friends of hers were very concerned and scared about Sharia law. He urged her to read the writings of Noah Feldman, a Harvard University law professor and Bloomberg View columnist.
There is no “fiqh,” or body of Islamic law, that can be introduced into the U.S. that can go against the Constitution, Rahman said. For Muslims, “Sharia” means “the way to the spring.”
“To them, Sharia is the overall guidance and justice and love,” he said.
He noted how every holy book contains what he called “particular” verses that have a historical context, and “universal” verses “that are timeless and filled with wisdom.”
“The problem is when you take a particular verse and advocate it as a universal verse,” Rahman said.
For example, the Koran contains a verse imploring Muslims to not be friends with Jews and Christians. That was from a time when Muslims were being attacked on all sides. Some Christian and Jewish tribes had reneged on treaties, hence the distrust, Rahman said.
Eighteen verses down from the warning, the Koran says that having faith in God is what matters beyond a particular religion, and “in particular doing righteous deeds,” Rahman said. “This is repeated again and again and again and again.”
The Amigos ended their presentation with a message of the interconnectedness of all human beings and their spirituality.
“It’s all one, and I am as I am,” Falcon, Rahman and Brown sang, linking arms.
— Paul Gottlieb is senior staff writer for the Peninsula Daily News. Contact him at at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or firstname.lastname@example.org.