It wasn’t a Sunday morning. It was a Thursday evening.
I sat on a wooden pew where, beneath my feet in the 1800’s, slaves had congregated to worship in a hole made of dirt. On April 27th, at that same location, I was inside the Simpson Methodist Church erected in the 1930’s.
I haven’t been a church-goer in a long while. I was not there to worship. Yet, inside, a hymn came to me – “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river.”
In my past, I’ve held workshops on tolerance and celebrating diversity. I taught my early childhood staff how to teach bias-free education to our young children. I paired kindergarteners from east Austin to the kindergarteners from west and gathered the 800 or so children together at Burger Center to enjoy the music of Kinderman.
I’ve done many things to teach tolerance and acceptance of others and each one has made me proud. Yet, each time we step out of our “comfort zone,” we learn something new. This meeting was no exception.
We were not there to worship. Nor were we there to hear a lecture. We were there for the unfolding of a “warm” conversation on diversity and equality.
Reverend Robert Waddle was strong in appearance and gentle in manner. He led the group – around 15 warm souls- in prayer. Then, our local president of the NAACP, Nelson Linder and Dr. Guner Arslan, a Muslim from Turkey and director of the Dialogue Initiative Austin, began the discussion.
Here is a bit of what I learned, re-learned and processed:
We, as human beings, have always strived for identity — both within ourselves and within a group (or tribe). Identity is core to our “humanness.”
But here’s the problem–
When we don’t attempt to understand or appreciate “different” identities, an “us vs. them” scenario is created. So imagine how having 4200 religions around the world could easily contribute to this unfortunate scenario.
As we struggle to understand ourselves, and who and what we identify with, we often reject the identities of others.
Unless we expand our awareness.
Have you been integrated as a person? Who are the folks you struggle with?
Nelson Mandela once said, “Everyone has a seat at the table.”
How round is your table?
“Love is the absence of judgment” – Dali Lama
How much do you love?
What are you fearful of?
Try being comfortable being uncomfortable.
Mr. Linder and Dr. Arslan told us, “Find excuses to bring people of ‘differences’ together to discover commonalities.”
So, the small group at Simpson Methodist Church became our small group. We had metaphorically gathered at the river, “the beautiful, the beautiful, river“.
Folks, this river is wide. And there is plenty of room for everyone. Yes, let’s gather at that river. Or any other place where thoughtful hearts are shared.
I was not there to worship, but I did. There are many ways to worship Great Love for Humanity.
Please join us at this round table for a warm discussion on diversity, acceptance and love. I will bring the water for your parched throats but there will be no need for food. Our hunger will be satiated by the breaking of bread in our open and honest dialogue.
I hope you choose to be part of the discussion. Because, if you do, and as the song says, “Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.“
I would be most grateful if you would leave a response, a personal experience, even a link to similar posts or articles related to this topic.
See you at the table.