BridgesI’m really excited about something that is going to be happening in my local church and local community next week.  I’m excited about it because it has the potential to help build bridges and lasting relationships in the local area.  I’m excited about it because I don’t see enough people, Christian or not, reaching out like this.  In my experience, what we do and what we say either tends to build bridges or build walls.  I’m really excited that this is going to build bridges.

Next Friday night, April 24, our church is hosting a guest speaker.  This isn’t a big deal in and of itself, we rather routinely host different speakers that are involved in one way or another with community outreach.

Our special guest speaker will be Dr. Salman Masud, President of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake.  Our pastor and Dr. Masud have been working on this for awhile, and last week he met with a group of people from our church to help flesh it out.  Dr. Masud will be addressing several topics that night, including:

The Islamic Faith and the Need for Religion
Islam’s Place in World Religions
Faith and Politics
Religious Extremism

I think that this will be a great chance for people in our church and our community to learn about Islam from an actual Muslim, not from what other Christians or the media tell us about it.  I have an interest in world religions and comparative religions, so I do a lot of reading for pleasure on the subject, but it seems like many people in the United States don’t actively seek to learn about other cultures.  Not only that, many of us tend to wear that fact like a badge of honor. “We don’t learn about or care about what you believe, it’s our way or the highway.”  Needless to say, that’s not constructive behavior.

In particular, I think that our fear of Islam has been shot into the stratosphere since 9/11.  Now every time there is another kind of incident or ISIS does something, some folks in the media ratchet up the dial to full tilt and social media goes crazy.  I’ve seen some of my friends, people who normally like to consider themselves to be understanding and tolerant, buy into this in times of stress as well.

Fear is a powerful thing, and once it gets on roll, it’s hard to stop.

This behavior, in turn, makes our Muslim brothers and sisters are afraid of us.  Yeah, that’s right, brothers and sisters.  They may believe different things than some of us, but they still share the same DNA, the same red blood in their veins, and they are also created in the image of the Creator.

And yes, they have reason to be afraid.  The incident where a self-professed “atheist” murdered three Muslims in North Carolina was only one incident.  People are being threatened.  Mosques and other buildings belonging to Muslims are being vandalized and damaged, and this sometimes spikes with media coverage.  We have a couple of Muslim families that come into my store and shop quite often, and the women wear the hijab. I hear people, both customers and fellow coworkers, whisper behind their backs.  I hear jokes after they leave about how we better go check the store for bombs.  It’s disgusting.

So there is fear on both sides, but how do we get rid of it?  Well I believe that it’s through opportunities like this.  Not only will Dr. Masud be talking, but they’re hoping to get a portion of the Muslim community in Ogden to attend as well.  That way we can meet people, make friends, and hopefully get a chance to start building relationships in the community.

I really hope this pans out.  Not only for me, though I confess a deep fascination and respect for the differing beliefs of my sisters and brothers, but for everyone.  Just maybe friends can be made and the seeds to change the attitudes of our culture today can be planted.

If you’re in the Ogden area, and you might like to attend, drop me an email at brandonlbc@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to get you the information.  For others, people of both faiths, I would humbly ask that you pray for this gathering and those involved, that it can be a great starting point for getting rid of the fear and building bridges in our community.