The church where I am music director, Faith Presbyterian, recently hosted the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry's Thanksgiving Eve Service, and I was fortunate enough to lead a “super choir” from three different congregations, including our own. Every year the Thanksgiving Eve Service comes around, I start a conversation with someone about doing more interfaith events. This year was no different, and the need feels more pressing than ever.
Our world needs peace. Do you feel it? There is too much fighting, and I don't just mean the wars going on in Africa and the Middle East or the terrorist actions happening globally (even in our corner of the world). There is too much fighting amongst ourselves, in the ways we deal with each other, in shaping our communities and our society. Why does every statement of personal belief have to elicit defensiveness and arguing? Moreover, why are facts and opinions so readily confused? This “I'm right and your wrong” mentality fuels the crises in the world just as much as any ideological or political differences.
My grandfather Rev. Harold W. Story was a Presbyterian minister for many years. He preached at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1960s, which coincided with the race riots there. He doesn't like to talk about that time, but he has written some about it. “I was trying,” he writes, “to work for an inclusive (integrated) church and society while racial tensions increased in that city and across America.” To that end, he did everything he could to bridge that gap, including accepting an invitation to march to Montgomery, Alabama, with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. (He recalls the newspapers calling the group “Communists.” He writes, “In fact, I was with Navy at Inchon during the Korean War—fighting against the Communists!”)
One incident in his account that sticks out to me, given the current climate, involves the Newark riots. He writes, “National Guards were called in to Newark to patrol the streets. On South Orange Avenue there was a black Moslem Mosque which was shot up because it was claimed there were arms and ammunition—which there were not. I had eaten at a restaurant owned and run by Moslems—and was treated with courtesy, given the anti-white attitudes that prevailed.”
We need to be neighbors. We need to eat in each other's restaurants and treat each other with courtesy, despite whatever else may be going on in the world. We are not all going to believe the same things, wear the same clothes, or eat the same food, but we are all still going to be living together in this city, in this place, on this planet.
Members of First Christian Church and Temple Beth Hillel, who sang in our Thanksgiving super choir, sparked yet another fire: that fire of working together to make the world a better place. Music is a great place to start. And so we are working together to put a concert together featuring singers and musicians from all faiths, all backgrounds—including our Muslim brothers and sisters. Perhaps it will be a small gesture made in a small corner of our great city, but it's a gesture whose effects will ripple outward.
This holiday season, reflect on that phrase “Peace on earth; goodwill to all mankind.” As my grandfather ended his Newark remembrance, “What character will you portray in this play of life?”