Out of the Comfort Zone
I participated in a lovely event last night – the first ILA Tea Time for Peace. About sixty people sat around tables in the social hall at First Presbyterian and ate soup and sipped tea and talked. We were Muslim and Jewish and Christian and UU and Buddhist and secular. We left feeling buoyed by the knowledge that there are likeminded liberal folks in many different faiths. It was lovely. Tea Time for Peace is a project of the Interfaith Leadership Alliance. The next one will be at Temple Beth Shalom on April 19th. There will be a third one in June, and I am hoping we can host the fourth one in August at UU Santa Fe.
As lovely as the evening was, though, with all those folks from different faiths sitting around the table, I still felt like I was talking to myself. We were all self-selected. We were all the kind of folks who are interested in interfaith conversations and comfortable within the walls of a church. For all of our differences, and in spite of our desire for diversity, we were more alike than not. And maybe that was the point – we are all more alike than we are different.
At the same time though, I left feeling a little dissatisfied. I know that there are many people who see the world differently than I do and I didn’t encounter them at this first Tea Time for Peace. Then again, when we open our doors and say “All are Welcome” we shouldn’t be surprised that most of the folks who feel safe enough to choose to show up will be sympathetic to our ways of thinking.
So while I think it’s important for us to make the effort to reach out and welcome people we think are going to be different from us into our communities – I believe it’s just as important for us to venture out of our familiar spaces and risk participating in events hosted by people whose world views may depart from ours in significant ways. These invitations are harder to come by. But I got one a couple of weeks ago and it was really interesting to show up as part of a large interfaith group and listen to the midday service at the Masjid a couple of Friday’s ago. I think I might even be brave enough to go back again on an ordinary Friday without the support of the crowd.
When we step out of our echo chambers and show up in places we are not usually expected to be and by our actions and demeanor demonstrate that “people like us” are safe and civilized and interested in other perspectives, when we take the risk and take the first step toward someone who seems different from us – we make it safer for them to step out of their comfort zone as well.