With that headline, it may be tempting to look for a punchline—but the act of bringing together Christians, Muslims and Jews to find commonalities and unity is no laughing matter these days. At SpiritCon, the attendees were united in their diversity, said Pastor Eric Smith of Park Hill United Methodist Church. “And,” he added, “we have each other’s backs.”
About 20 speakers and 150 attendees came together on Feb. 4 in Park Hill at the site shared by Park Hill U.M.C. and Temple Micah to learn about one another’s spiritual traditions. Bishop Karen Oliveto, former head pastor of the legendary Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, gave the keynote address.
Oliveto expressed concerns about an “empathy deficit in this country,” where empathy is “the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes.” Calling for a spirituality that increases empathy everywhere, she also said “the world God created points to the fact that sameness is not sacred. Diversity is a reflection of God’s creativity,” and thus “difference is something not to be shunned but embraced and celebrated.”
The day was filled with talks such as “Guided Meditation,” “Mystic Traditions of Abrahamic Faiths” and “Spirituality of Social Justice: Malcolm, Martin, and the Contemporary Religious Resistance Movements.” Participants could move freely from one to another, reflecting upon connections among the faith traditions represented, learning about spiritual practices and topics. For example, the Rev. Jasper Peters, who led the social justice workshop, urged listeners to “pray with your feet,” encouraging them to use their spiritual awareness to inform their activism, in the tradition of leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Organizer and sci-fi buff Cheri Harlan was inspired by Comic Con, the iconic annual conference that brings together fans of comics, movies and science fiction, as well as The Faith Club, a book about three women (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), who forge deep bonds through shared exploration of their separate faiths.
Although her planning began over a year ago, it turned out “the event was very timely,” said Harlan, and the audience receptive. “Park Hill has a tradition of being very open to different ethnicities and sexual orientations,” said Harlan. “So it’s not incongruous with the general tenor of our neighborhood.”
In a follow-up conversation with The Front Porch, Pastor Smith, Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali, Dr. Caroll A. Watkins Ali, and Rabbi Adam Morris reflected upon the conference and its significance. The leaders of the different faiths agree they consider themselves non-extremists. “There’s an emotional maturity where you can have a different idea from someone else, call God a different name … but you still are in relationship, in partnership, in friendship,” said Rabbi Morris. He believes modelling that complexity and maturity is what is needed now. “This is what heals the world,” agreed Dr. Ali. Through educating yourself about religions you don’t know, you challenge assumptions about different faiths, said Pastor Smith. “We are diverse within our own religions.”
SpiritCon was the third in a series of interfaith events coordinated among Park Hill UMC, Temple Micah, and the Northeast Denver Islamic Center. It will be held again next year on February 3.