My thoughts before the visit… It’s Wednesday and I’m pretty tired from work and its politics and processes. A chance email alerted me to the opportunity to visit the Multi-faith centre at the local University to watch ‘In the footsteps of Francis and the Sultan‘ a story from the crusade war about a Christian Monk and a Muslim Sultan accepting each other’s faith.
My current routine doesn’t have many links to religion, I don’t practice a particular faith but I was curious about what the story was and how it would be presented. I like random, serendipitous events but I think you have to accept the nudge when it happens to experience them. This week has been a hard one, the past months have been difficult in the world. Faith in politics is feeling thin to a lot of people right now. I’m watching from my new spot in the blog world and seeing other bloggers upset and confused about where to go now with Trump as president. He’s not my president, it’s not my country but I feel an echo of their horror and helplessness. The world feels overwhelming and terribly small at the same time, with these massive changes taking place and yet my life continues with its usual routine.
It was on a whim that I decided to go to a film that looked at harmony between different viewpoints instead of the fight between them.
So, I get changed and eat a quick dinner before heading out to the Centre. I hope to meet interesting, insightful people, be uplifted by the film and find something to share relating to this current world situation. A way through the confusion or at least some happier thoughts. Selfishly, I also want to find a story from this event that I could create into a comic strip to practice my skills. Finding inspiration from real life events causes the stories and feelings to be richer and more relatable than something I try to concoct just in my head.
The dark grey of winter is already pressing in and I hurry through the cold night, feeling excited to break my routine a little.
After the event…
So, you know when you make a decision and it just rings true? You feel super happy, you make connections with people that are the same as you, there’s just a great positive vibe around everything involved..?
So I turn up at the centre and there’s a sign on the door saying there’s a Board meeting taking place. Bit intimidating but there’s a reception and leaflets and anyone’s allowed to go and look at leaflets right? So I wander over and get my bearings and a friendly voice asks me if I’m ok and my standard response of “Yes, thankyou, I’m fine.” just jumps automatically out of my mouth. I’m clearly feeling awkward as I’m staring at some leaflets, late at night, in a multi-faith centre…damn automatic politeness!
Anyway, I manage to walk my body into the room and there’s bookcases (instantly puts me at ease), 2 tables full of cake and a big water kettle for tea. Friendly faces welcome me in and I find a seat with them. It’s not as busy as I expected and we’re watching it on a pull up screen and projector but I like it. It’s not intimidating and I happily chat with the people there as we take tea and cake. I later learn that one of the cakes is made by someone’s 4 year old granddaughter. It all feels very human.
We watch the film with a break in the middle for a refresher of more tea and cake (priorities). I don’t watch many religious documentaries, as I can’t get away from the feeling of propaganda with them, but it was interesting to learn about the different history. How over the generations the stories have changed and how images have warped peoples view of it, depending upon their historical context. The core of the story was that each man saw the complete faith the other had in their own religion and understood they could not change to follow their own. Instead they looked for the similarities the religions had with each other and built on these, taking the good ideas they saw and bringing them into their own faith.
I watched it and kinda thought “well d’uh, that’s how problem solving work to get progress”. I get the feeling that with feelings of faith and religion, people don’t like progress. Change means becoming something different and what most people want is for others to be more like them, without them changing to be more like the other. Once you’ve changed by adding something new to your faith, you’re no longer part of the community that hasn’t moved along with you. You become an outsider from your own faith and that is a scary place to find yourself. Apparently Francis didn’t care though, which is why he still has a strong following going through the world and is considered a friendly badass (well, the film certainly showed him as such anyway.)
After the film we had an interesting discussion about the history of the crusades (there were 5 wars apparently…I really suck at history…) from a religious historian and about the difficulties communities are facing in the current climate of change and peoples response to it. This discussion was interesting as we had a range of faith backgrounds and levels of knowledge (from the University Chaplain to mindfulness workshop leader to a random illustrator). It would have been nicer to have had the opportunity for more Muslim input but we were a group of 8 and the majority were Christians.
One of the key ideas from the discussion that I thought summed it nicely, was that people are valuable as they are. The idea that people’s own faith and experience is valuable and needs to be respected by others. That it doesn’t need to be changed and treated like something sub-human and so not worthy of human rights if it’s not the same at your own. Fear of change is a powerful motivator to destroy anything that looks to rock your life’s status quo; but progress is only really achieved when people step outside their rational thoughts that have been formed by their current ideas and accept a few new ones. It’s rational to be scared of the new and the unknown, especially when the news outlets are making it appear like there’s no other choice. It’s irrational to welcome with open arms something that everyone has labelled as different and scary, when you don’t know what to expect from it.
I just googled the definition of ‘irrational’ to ensure this was the correct word to use here (I had Inigo Montoya’s voice in my head whispering ” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) and the definition I got was the following “without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment.” Sounds about right to me. If you base your judgement on Facebook news or scaremongering tactics of the tabloids though, it’s not a sound judgement.
The best way to make a rational judgement is to go out and explore the new for yourself and make up your own mind from the experiences you have. You may not like it, it may confirm everything you were scared of, but you are making the judgement. Not the press. And that is so important when you are figuring out somethings value and how you want to act.