July 22, 2005 | Ronda Jambe

Faith to Faith? I’m sweating it out

Most of the US is sweltering, my pink and soft Canberra body (and spirit) no longer able to easily deal with the combination of heat and high humidity. It was hot in London, too, when we departed our hotel in Russell Square just a few days before the bombings.
I was late joining my spouse on the plane because I was selected for a bag search and a full pat down. I joked to him that it was because ‘I look scary’. We had a chuckle, not imagining that within a day, some very scary people would indeed slip through the net of urbanity, tolerance and trust that to me were the defining traits of London life.
From our hotel room in Dublin, I cheered when the Olympics were given to London, proud just to have been part of the calm humanity I had observed there. My spirit wilted when it became clear that the Underground had been attacked. How can people hate so much?
After a 35 year gap between visits, London had been an inspiration, a living example of balance and kindness. Of course, I’m a sentimental fool, easily brought to tears by the thousands we saw on a Sunday fun run, streaming past when we exited Embankment station, the music from Chariots of Fire broadcast above them and supporters lining the pavement. The 30% open space was another source of gentility, and the traffic was not as oppressive as much of Sydney. Of course, it took the Brits more than 1000 years to stop hacking each other to pieces, but they got over it. As should the Irish. As should we all.
Now, less than two weeks later, still mourning that atrocity, I’m sweating my way through a lunch meeting in a Turkish restaurant. It is a not very salubrious section of New Jersey that reminds me of the Sopranos. Sure enough, someone says a funeral parlour in the area was used for one of the episodes.
The occasion is a meeting of an interfaith discussion group, and God only knows what I’m doing there. Maybe He told my local Pastor to invite me. My friend, the local Presbyterian Minister, introduces me as an ‘Australian professor’, and it’s too warm to correct him. I wipe my brow, thinking of the manneqin I saw in the shop next door displaying a full chador, floor length with long sleeves and head covering in a lovely sky blue.
Our handsome host is generous, the food is delightful, and the discussion soon matches the weather. A Methodist Minister says he has been waiting for the Muslim faith to issue a fatwa on violence. Another Christian takes the bait, and enquire whether the Christian faith has issued an equivalent edict against torture. A black Minister eventually chimes in, saying how we are always seeking to blame ‘the other’. We can never forget ‘who killed who’ if you appreciate the reference.
Much of the group is surprisingly critical of US. Most are waiting for their own government to act, squirming uncomfortably as lies are obfuscated (as with the CIA agent outing), rights are eroded (as with the recent US Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain) and security is diminished (as Social Security pensions are pushed towards privitisation).
As a blow-in, I mostly observe. I suggest ‘Faith to Faith’ might meet their need for a less formal name.(no lisping allowed) In this protected setting, it feels ok to open up a bit. Some of them are meeting each other for the first time. The talk turns to the way the media shapes information, and how power can become an addiction. We discuss the separation of church and state, and issues for common groud such as parenting, environment.
Fresh in the news is the life sentence for a fundamentalist Christian who murdered someone at an abortion clinic and at the Atlantic Olympics. We talk about how you don’t generally hear the words ‘Christian’ and ‘terrorist’ in the same breath. Someone mentions the Oklahoma bombing as a another example.
The gentleman next to me, retired from his ministry, now restores ecclesiatical stained glass. He listens politely to my mantra about the TV series, The Sopranos: firstly, it is a comedy. Oh yes, it’s a farce he agrees. But it is also an allegory for the US government, as the ultimate Gangster Nation. He doesn’t blink, but tells me about the recent Supreme Court decision that permits councils to take over any land they want, not for clear public benefit, but simply to give to developers if it will generate taxes. Ah, there will be a lot of media guff on that one.
The luncheon finishes, the dialogue will continue. These are good thoughtful people, I am privileged to sit at their table. As I edit this, more horror news breaks in London. Back on the street and watching the news of still more slaughter in Iraq, I cannot feel confident that good intentions will prevail. Or that another 1000 years will see humanity grow up at last.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 1:56 am | Comments Off on Faith to Faith? I’m sweating it out |

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