Rev. Bill Freeman
Special to Valley News
A Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher and a rabbi are talking about their ministries over their weekly lunch. They say anybody can get people to partake of their religious traditions, but it’d be a real challenge to do that with a bear. They each agree to try. The next week at lunch, the Catholic priest’s head is bandaged.
“I know I look bad, but I managed to share communion with a bear,” he said. The others are amazed.
The Baptist preacher, whose arm is in a sling, said, “I know I look bad, but I managed to coax a bear into a river and baptize him.” The others are amazed.
The rabbi, who’s standing in a full-body cast, said, “I know I look bad, but I managed to circumcise a bear.” The others are speechless.
In addition to being the pastor of my church, I’m a member of Menifee’s Interfaith Council. Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons and people of other faiths get together once a month to talk about our shared ministries. Converting others to our faith is not what our group is about. Rather, it’s about interfaith cooperation, acting compassionately together and working in concert for justice for our fellow human beings.
It’s also about interfaith understanding.
As the late South African leader Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
I respect people of all religions and of none. So, while I pray a Christian prayer in my church, when I pray in public, like being invited to give the invocation at a Menifee City Council meeting as I was recently, I pray an interfaith prayer. I also do it because I believe in the separation of church and state, so I try not to make my prayer too churchy.
I usually say something like, “Let us lift our spirits. Spirit of Love, known by many names: God and Goddess, Yahweh and God, Dios and Divine, Nature and Life. Let us follow the teachings of Jesus, who said, ‘Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger.’ Let us follow the teachings of the Prophet Micah, who said, ’Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.’ Let us follow the teachings of Muhammad, who said, ‘Do you love your creator? Love your fellow-beings first.’ Let us follow the teachings of Gandhi, who said, ‘An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.’ And let us follow the teachings of Buddha, who said, ‘Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love.’ Now and forevermore. Let it be. Blessed be. So be it. And Amen.”
I hope a prayer like that leads to better relations with others. But I would never recite it in the woods to a bear.
Rev. Bill Freeman is the senior minister at Menifee United Church of Christ, which meets Sundays at 11 a.m. at 26701 McCall Blvd., in Menifee.