Rain was falling steadily outside while Coyote Marie Hunter-Ripper began telling a gathering crowd about the insights her Cherokee ancestors passed down about humanity's relationship with water.
Waters from various places around the planet -- the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the sacred healing pools in the Peruvian Andes -- shimmered in a bowl near where she spoke in Ashland's First United Methodist Church.
“We all are trying to figure out how to have peace, how to take care of each other, how we’re going to keep our water clear and clean,” Hunter-Ripper said Sunday. “And I gotta tell you, if we don't take care of each other, globally and locally, if we don't find ways to do that, how are we going to take care of our environment? How are we going to take care of our family and our home?
“That’s a question that may go unanswered,” she said. “And I’m going to be closing with that — how are we going to do that?”
For the community members who organized and attended Sunday’s Interfaith Celebration, the gathering assembled was one possible answer to the question “how?”
Throughout the two hours spent in the warm light of the sanctuary, attendees raised their hands during Hebrew songs, listened appreciatively to a rendition of “Ave Maria” and said “Amen” at the end of a recitation of the first seven verses in the Koran.
“This embrace of the stranger is not only what our various traditions ask of us as believers,” said Jennifer Schloming, music director at the Methodist Church, during her welcome speech. “It is who we aspire to be as a nation of generosity.”
Demonstrating for peace
Schloming’s experience with confronting ideological and political division is more than theoretical, however. As recently as a week prior, she, Hunter-Ripper and Bonnie McLean, another organizer, were literally walking the walk — as one of more than 300 people who marched at the U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, declaring, “Love Knows No Borders.”
The demonstrators, who also represented various religions from across the country, marched just over two miles to Friendship Park, where separated families have often gathered to speak to their loved ones through the metal and mesh border fence. There, the demonstrators prayed for solutions, sang and called for specific action, including defunding Immigrations and Custom Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
Schloming said efforts to build bridges between faith traditions is about remembering how much all human beings have in common.
“And also holding that to our better natures about who we are as a nation, as well,” she said. “It is a crossover where the call to moral justice is religious as well as political.”
Far from being saturated with politics, however, Sunday’s celebration was, implicitly, a worship event. Though the name of the higher power whom congregants praised shifted from God, Allah, Elohim — even what Schloming once referred to as “the unknowable” — the common thread among the songs and texts was a call to acknowledge the equal dignity of every human in the room, and beyond.
“In short, we need one another,” Schloming said.
“For interfaith dialogue to be more meaningful and productive, we have to start with a better understanding of the similarities and differences among us, and to avoid cliches and negative stereotypes that unfortunately filter airwaves today,” said Tahir Yahya, who read the first chapter of the Koran as a member of Southern Oregon’s only Muslim prayer center, Masjid al-Tawheed.
Attendees were invited to engage with local and national injustice issues through two opportunities: donations for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank or to the American Friends Service Committee. The AFSC organized the march from the previous weekend and is continuing to administer aid to migrants at the U.S. border, many of whom are fleeing violence and instability in their homelands.
The celebration ended with a circle song to the rhythm of drums before congregants broke for food and fellowship together.