Today I attended half of the Global Faith Forum at Northwood Church.  I say “half” because I had to leave around 2:30pm to get home and take the kids so that my wife could go back to work for the second half of her split shift.

I was able to attend the first two sessions, have a great lunch, and a third session (out of four sessions).  Bob Roberts Jr. called this the “preacher track.”

Please understand, I’m not giving a report as much as saying what I came away with from the experience that I had.

Ok, so the “preacher track,” was great. Basically, I heard Bob say; “These are my friends.  Don’t be disrespectful to them.”  Again, this is a paraphrase, but it was the message that came across to me.

The high points for me were the interviews!  Bob’s first session was an introduction to “how” the conference came about.  He told stories of how the church got into collaborating with people of other faiths in community building/service.  Ok, he said more than that. I’m glossing over the moment.

However, after that first session he started to interview some of his “friends.”  One was Mark Braverman.  He identified himself as a Palestinian Jew.  I must admit that I’m not very up to date on the goings on in Israel.  He gave an impassioned plea for us to be involved, to become educated on the situation, and understand that the “Zionist” movement wasn’t the only movement out there.  There are horrible things going on over there, and it is hurting everyone.  I’m not going to pretend to understand it all.  Suffice to say, I’m ignorant.  However, I am interested in finding out more.

Bob also interviewed his friend Suhail Khan.  This was the first authentic Muslim speaker I’ve ever heard.  Full disclosure, he’s also a Republican, so I found a kindred heart. 🙂  There was a little bit of joking and ribbing going on between them.  You could tell that they were true friends.  It was amazing to see people with very different theologies, very real disagreements over immensely important things, be able to love each other and get along.

I want that kind of relationship with someone that is different than I.

The third speaker I was able to see interviewed was Najeeba Syeed-Miller.  She was S.H.A.R.P!  She was humorous, and totally nailed Bob on a couple of things.  For instance, he spoke about how Muslims are portrayed in the Media.  Some first generation immigrant, who can’t speak English “good.”  She immediately, without missing a beat, nonchalantly said, “well.”  The whole crowd started laughing and clapping.  (For those grammatically challenged, the correct word to use was “well,” not “good” in that sentence.)  It was hilarious.  Again, I got a deep sense of love, friendship, and respect resonating between them, even though they differed upon some very important things, things of an eternal nature.

Ok, so what did I come away with from the parts I was able to attend?

I’m beginning to understand “how” to engage in a multi-faith conversation.  I’m starting to get how to take part in the conversation, as a Disciple of Jesus, unafraid to be who I am…and, willing to accept people where they are (even if they are radically different than me) with love and respect.

Sure, I could say that I already would have done that.  In actuality, I would have been nice to people different than me.  I would have been respectful.  But, I wouldn’t  have had any idea where to begin in the conversation.  I was convicted of my own fear of the “other” in my midst.

Please understand, I know the taste of my own fear.  I was fearful when I began to interact with a young Imam from Plano.  I was fearful when I had the chance to speak with Suhail Khan at lunch (I sat at his table).  I was fearful when Suhail offered to get me into contact with a local Imam, because I told him I wanted to be a part of a multi-faith small group.  I am fearful, because I have an opportunity to speak to a “Conservative Jewish Rabbi” in the weeks to come.

One thing Jesus tells me, you, us: “Be not afraid…Fear not…Love casts out fear.”

I live in a highly connected world.  My children will grow up never knowing what it is like to not have the internet.  They will grow up with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, etc. They will learn how to interact with people of other faiths by watching me do it.  I have to get this right.

We need a conversation that isn’t poisoned by political correctness.  We need a conversation that honors the differences between us.  We need a conversation that is built upon respect, and ending in service to our community.  We don’t need to have our multitude of tribal conversations, like only amongst the Reformed, Baptists, Evangelicals, etc.  We think we’re only talking to each other, but we aren’t.  Our conversations are happening upon a world stage now through our Books, FaceBook, Twitter, Blogs, and Bulletin Boards.  It will be nice to get down to one conversation, where we are speaking to each other, not at each other, with true honesty, where we choose to not be offended, and we especially choose to not be overtly offensive.  This is what I’m learning about.  This is what I hope to put into practice.

I believe this is needed.  I need this to be able to fulfill the Great Commandment.  I won’t even be able to participate in it if I’m afraid to be amongst the Nations.  I can’t love that which I fear.  I need to understand so that I might be able to love fully.  It can not be done from my office.  It can not be done from my Christianized ghetto.

Lord, help me to move beyond myself, beyond my own tribe.  Help me to lead others to do so.  Let us not sin against you by refusing to participate in your Kingdom Mission by self-imposed isolation.