Sharing a Space in Between
“There is bad religion that incites anger, violence and hatred, and good religion that incites the gifts of the Spirit — charity, peace, patience, kindness and joy,” insists Mercy Sister Maryanne Stevens, who chairs the board of Omaha’s nonprofit Tri-Faith Initiative. “All the major religions can turn bad and have at certain times in history.” Since the majority of people in the world are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, she believes that “in large part, peace is dependent on the understandings fostered among and between them.”
A recent article in the National Catholic Reporter describes the genesis of the Tri-Faith Center in Omaha. It will include a synagogue, a church, and a mosque. “It’s not just important to build the buildings for each faith community to remain in their buildings, secluded almost like a fortress,” according to Aryeh Azriel, senior rabbi at Omaha’s Temple Israel. “The idea is to create a space in between that will engage all of the faith communities into work, social justice projects, celebrations and holidays.”
This creative American solution reminded me of another hopeful sign in Berlin. According to Tom Lawson, writing for Yes! Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, “plans are under way to build a new house of worship that will host three religions: ‘We want to show that faith doesn’t divide Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but instead reconciles them,’” proposes Markus Dröge, a Protestant bishop in Berlin. The new House of One will be built on the site of a 12th-century church that was destroyed in World War Two. You can watch a 51-second video about the vision here.
These Abrahamic efforts at reconciliation remind me of the late theologian Ewert Cousins, who believed that the task of the world’s religions today is to direct believers’ energies away from the exclusivist divergences that established our identities and toward a sense of convergence and common ground. This approach reduces hostility and increases collaboration and dialogue while preserving and advancing each community’s unique, graced integrity. As rabbi Marc Gopin claims, it is time for Abrahamic believers to trust that Our Father’s heart is big enough to love more than one child equally. May God bless the children’s effort to build bridges and extend the love we enjoy within our families to neighboring families.
I hope efforts in Berlin and Omaha can advance this healing.