About 125 Nashville residents gathered last night on the 27th floor of the First Tennessee Bank building to explore creating a more peaceful community. Members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities sat at mixed tables of eight to socialize, eat a meal and discuss making Middle Tennessee less like the Middle East. Rabbi Kliel Rose of the West End Synagogue, Imam Mohamed Ahmed of the Nashville Islamic Center and Dr. Lee Camp of the Lipscomb University theology faculty called their respective faith communities to dialog. In addition, 10 Humphrey’s Fellows from Vanderbilt University attended representing countries including Kenya, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bahrain, India and the Philippines.
It was a remarkable event in many ways. Most remarkable was the overwhelming desire for more respectful communities. The conversations were rich and wonderful. Although dialog was an important focus of the evening, the primary purpose was to create an action plan for building more respectful interfaith relationships and mobilizing the community in opposition to hate and violent rhetoric.
The religious leaders were passionate and articulate in their appeals for respectful dialog. Imam Mohamed spoke of the irony that the building of a mosque could generate fear in a city where churches can occupy all four corners of a single intersection. Rabbi Rose spoke of his desire to create a community where his four children need not question their value or acceptance. Dr. Camp spoke of his hope that the truths Jesus articulated can be realized in the behavior of his followers. Truths such as “love your enemy”, “turn the other cheek” and if asked for your shirt, “give them your coat also”.
Of course, this was not a newsworthy event. Media were invited, but apparently determined more important news items needed coverage. Muggings, car wrecks, celebrity hyjinks and political hyperbole make for better news than citizens mobilizing for peace.
Ideas were generated for improving interfaith relations. Ideas as simple as “take the Imam to lunch” and “invite each of your neighbors into your home” were easy steps toward understanding. Others required greater commitment and resources. All were the result of thoughtful dialog.
Conflict managers know one thing for certain. When people with differing views on any topic sit down face to face and seek to listen, the physiology of thought changes. The path to peace is less focused on treaties than on talk. Self-promoting monologues are not conversation. Learning to listen is the power of dismantling stereotypical thinking.
Last night’s event was not an end, but only a beginning. As most in attendance made specific commitments to engage in action, the journey begins. If one person left with a better understanding of people unlike herself, the destination is closer. If one person left more willing to accept that extremism on the part of any faith is not the norm but the exception, the path is more clear.
To all who came, thank you. The stars shine brighter because you chose to listen.