An Interfaith Thanksgiving Blessing

By Wayne Martin, Chair, Interfaith Task Force, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia

THANKSGIVING, 2015

Nearly every day—somebody—somewhere in America…is honoring some historic day…

Observing a particular occasion or celebrating a noble tradition…whether

The “Fire Ant Festival” in Ashburn, GA, during the last full week in March…

The National “Hollering Day” on the third Saturday in June in Spivey’s Corner, NC…

The “Georgia Peach Festival” on June 6th in Byron, GA…

National holidays like July 4th…Labor Day…or certain days considered ‘Holy’. 

Today—this very day—a group of people…somewhere in our country…

Is celebrating a favorite cause…a cultural tradition…or a sacred moment long passed! 

 

The cause for the ‘celebration’ of a chosen day often becomes as much

About the ‘festivities’ of the gathering as about the ‘reasons’ for the celebration.

What is so special about Ashburn, Georgia?   Visiting the Fire Ant Festival, of course.

What is so attractive about Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina?   To go to a Hollering contest.

Why drive a 100 miles to a small town in central Georgia?  To see a Peach Festival parade.

Is it really July 4th without fireworks?  Can we celebrate Labor Day without a picnic?

How can it be Thanksgiving if we don’t have ‘turkey’ and pumpkin pie for dinner?  

Isn’t something missing in our religious holidays, if the most important things are

The  gifts of Christmas….the ‘latkes’ of Chanukah…or the ‘breaking of the fast’ of Ramadan?

 

As the years go by, we face the growing temptation to make

Patriotic holidays…sacred days of remembrance…traditional cultural gatherings

Times of fun and frolic more than occasions of contemplation and meditation!

 So, whatever our faiths…however different our traditions or diverse our cultures…

In the depths of our hearts, may we feel God’s loving care…

In the resources of our spirits, may we sense the Lord’s tender mercy and

In the corners of our souls, may we feel His guiding presence as we face these times!

 

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving…

We thank Thee—O God—for Thy presence with us in these days of fear…

We are grateful for the friendship we have with our brothers and sisters of other faiths…

Bless us, we pray, with ‘people of peace’…those individuals of different persuasions but…

Who live by the principle of ‘tolerance’…who realize the importance of ‘respect’…

Who know the power of  ‘acceptance’ and who constantly seek ways to work together       

In the building of a greater community and in creating peace among Thy people. 

In Thy great community of faith where each and every one is called to love one another…

May we rejoice in our friendship with those of other traditions and different customs…

In that friendship, may we, O Lord, discover the sacredness of ‘thy community’…

And in that friendship may we learn what it means to be part of the Family of God…Amen”

 

Rev. D. Wayne Martin on behalf of  The Interfaith Task Force of the CBF of Georgia

Rohingya Muslims: Among the most persecuted groups

Source: NPR.  Click on the picture for original link and photo.

Source: NPR. Click on the picture for original link and photo.

By Joe LaGuardia

For all of its bad ratings, the movie Waterworld with Kevin Costner had a creative premise.

Costner plays the Mariner who fights for survival within a (literal) sea of villains and mercenaries.  The story takes place in the near future, when melting polar ice caps result in all of earth’s existing land being covered by water.

What might life be like at sea for that length of time?  Just ask one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.

The Rohingya represents an ethnic minority group who migrated to Myanmar around the eighth century.  Through a history of infighting, war, and eventual persecution, this small group found itself without any place to settle within a nation made up of 90% Buddhists.

The Myanmar government denied them citizenship in the 1990s, and conflicts came to a head in 2012 when ethnic violence erupted between Muslim and Buddhist gangs in the Rakhine province.

Since then, Buddhist nationalists have incited further violence against the Rohingya, forcing the group to live in ghettos or refugee camps.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled the country on makeshift boats, while others sought refuge with human smugglers.

Nearly 25,000 people made it safely to other countries; an undocumented number of people have been kidnapped into human trafficking rings (139 graves containing refugees were found, believed to be the result of smugglers killing people that families could not afford to ransom).

Nearly 1,000 refugees have settled in the United States since 2006, according to NPR.

Recent voyages from Myanmar’s coast have not been so fortunate.  Many countries, including those that are majority Muslim in the region, want nothing to do with the refugees.  A reported 3000 – 6000 people are currently stranded at sea with no place to go.

Some reports claim that United Nations humanitarian aid is on its way; but, like a scene right out of Waterworld, many refugees are running out of food and water.   The U. S. State Department is encouraging Myanmar to grant citizenship and access to food, shelter, and water to remaining Rohingya people groups.

The migration to surrounding nations is only the beginning of a threat they fear will worsen:  Government officials in New Dehli surmise that the combination of persecution and poverty make the Rohingya people prime candidates for radical terrorist recruitment.

As Baptist minister without a political science degree, I do not have answers, but I do agree with this assessment.

Earlier this year, Trinity Baptist Church hosted an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim activist, Kemal Korucu, who stated that terrorists, no matter the religion, are not born but bred.  The poor, uneducated, and displaced are susceptible to aggressive recruitment strategies perpetuated by ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terrorist organizations.

The Rohingya fit this caricature.  As people without citizenship, Rohingya children have been denied formal education.

Poverty is an every-day reality that many U. S. citizens cannot comprehend.  And lack of “place”– no more pronounced than ever as some are abandoned at sea — will only lead to people trying to find belonging.

If countries cannot band together to save these people now, I fear that young Rohingya men in particular will find belonging with our nation’s fiercest enemies rather than with friends.

For a people so far removed from this conflict, we cannot do much in turning the political tides of this crisis, but we can pray that governments and agencies will aid these lost people.  Pray that humanitarian relief efforts will meet those in need.

We can also pray for our missionaries who are laying deep roots in changing hearts for Christ, that many will not become susceptible to terrorism but, rather, bear witness to the Gospel that has the power to change all our lives for the better.

St. Patrick, forgiveness, encourages interfaith work

irish church

By Joe LaGuardia

The life and ministry of St. Patrick teaches us about being a hospitable Christian presence in a diverse culture.

The mention of St. Patrick reminds people of green derbies, four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, and Guinness pints.  The real story of St. Patrick is more captivating.

St. Patrick was a young boy when Celtic raiders looted his village and stole him away to Ireland.  They forced him to be a sheep herder until he escaped.

At home, safe and sound, he couldn’t shake loose thoughts of his captors.  He heard God’s call to return to Ireland and preach the gospel to his enemies.

His enemies, the Celts, were a people steeped in mystic, primeval religions.  Theirs was a violent, harsh way of life, though rich in spiritual depth and mythic lore.  St. Patrick was able to use their mythologies to explain the truth of the Gospel.

Over the past ten weeks, Trinity Baptist Church has been hosting a world religions seminar on Wednesday nights.  We’ve learned about most of the major faiths, and had guest speakers from both Judaism and Islam.

One of the things we’ve learned is that we need to be a Christian presence in the midst of a diverse world; more than that, we need to build bridges with people of other faiths to promote peace and understanding.

Only peacemaking and understanding will provide a sustainable battle front against religious, radical fundamentalism, one of the greatest enemies of our time.

We cannot allow fundamentalism win the battle of the hearts and minds of people around the world.

As a part of our seminar, we heard from an advocate and speaker on Islam associated with the Atlantic Institute.  He and I work together on a Baptist-Muslim Dialogue task force of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.

The speaker set the record straight on Islam, the Qu’ran, and the relationship between our faiths.  He also explained how moderate Muslims are working hard and building coalitions to combat the radical fundamentalism we see on the news.

“The use of violence to do harm to others is a sin,” he said.  “The use of nuclear bombs or any bomb is a sin.”

“Jihad says that we may defend ourselves against invaders and that our greatest struggles are within us, but Jihad does not condone the taking of innocent lives.”

The Muslim speaker explained further that every Muslim wants to be a martyr, but martyrs are only those who give their lives for the sake of others.

“A mother who dies during childbirth is a martyr.  A man who dies saving a drowning boy is a martyr.  A young man with bombs strapped to his chest and blows up a bus is not a martyr.”

This conversation brought to my mind the message of St. Patrick and the need to build bridges with people of other faiths.

It brought to mind St. Patrick’s willingness to be a martyr for his own faith as he risked losing his life for the sake of the Gospel: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for another” (John 15:13).

But St. Patrick didn’t retaliate with violence; rather, he started with forgiveness.  Only when he forgave his captors did God use him as a vessel for healing in Ireland.

We also need to forgive and build collaborate relationships for the sake of bridge-building.  We need to forgive others for the harm they’ve done us; we also need to ask for forgiveness for how we have treated others, including people of other faiths.

We need to work across the aisle, across the altar, and across the great divides that separate a secular world.  Then we, too, will chart a new path of peace for people of all faiths.

On Wednesday, March 18, we will feature Dr. Loyd Allen, professor of church history from the McAfee School of Theology, at our final world religions seminar at 6:45 PM.  He will discuss Celtic Christianity in honor of St. Patrick’s day.

We hope you will join us and hear more about St. Patrick’s story and the interfaith work we are doing in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and as a local church.