Wednesday evening, the four of us Higher Ground clergy held a forum hosted by The Temple and First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Our conversation was lively and candid, and we are grateful for the audience’s positive response.
Rabbi Alvin, Imam Plemon, Rev. Dr. Joe, and I talked a lot. Given our natures, and vocations, I guess we just can’t help it. We disagreed about some things and agreed on others, which has been the case since Higher Ground began four years ago. I am not sure any of us said anything particularly world changing, though our moderator, Rabbi Peter Berg from The Temple, made sure we had interesting questions with which to wrestle. To me, the most important thing about the forum was not what any of us said; the really big deal is the simple fact that we are friends.
We go back a long way. Across the decades, we have worked together on all sorts of projects in Atlanta. We stood together with other religious leaders after the Olympic Park bombing, we put together interfaith worship services after 9/11 and we have consistently spoken out against acts of ugliness motivated by prejudice.
We are an obviously diverse group of friends. One of us is Muslim, another is Jewish, and two are Christian. We are three men and one woman. Two are black, and two are white.
What we share is the same:
- A deep love for the city.
- Passionate concern for the common good.
- A belief that religion need not be just a label, but a resource.
- An awareness that our Creator likes diversity; otherwise, we would all be just alike.
- An interest in answering the great question of human existence: What did our Creator make us for?
There is consensus over very little in America today. We are more polarized and dismissive of one another than we have been in a long time. The voices we hear are the most strident.
Expressed disdain for “the other,” whoever “the other” might be, has become acceptable, especially in the realm of politics.
God love the twenty women in the Senate, Republican and Democrat, who gathered for pizza, salad and wine on Tuesday evening. Together, they searched for compromise. I do not think it is too much to say that the positive force of their friendship broke through the deadlock in Washington!
What our nation needs, what our world needs are people who will search together for solutions to the many daunting problems we face today.
I believe the world is changed a little bit for the better every time we engage in real dialogue with one another. I believe we need to take the time to really listen to another person’s story, instead of using all our brain power thinking about what we are going to say next.
The Rev. Dr. Joe shared with us Wednesday night what it felt like to have the “N word” shouted at him when he was a nine-year-old boy. What a piercing reminder to everyone present of how much just one word hurled like a stone in a spirit of meanness can profoundly wound the human soul.
I believe that friendships have the power to bring our fractious world back from the brink.
Joe, Plemon, Alvin and Joanna – we are friends. We stick together in sickness and in health. We laugh. We cry. The years go by. We remain one in mutual respect and affection.
Rev. Joanna M. Adams