Stephen A. Fuqua (SAF) is a Bahá'í, programmer, and conservation and interfaith advocate in the DFW area of Texas.

April 9, 2011

An Interfaith Seder

Last Sunday I attend my first interfaith passover seder, at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul. There were around 150 people present, from many different religions (though almost entirely white), commemorating together the Jewish liberation from Egyptian slavery. In addition to a traditional Haggadah "liturgy", representatives from six other faith communities were given an opportunity to speak about liberation or an exodus from their religious perspectives, and at the tables we had an opportunity to speak from our own perspectives, particularly with the "questions" aspect of the seder.

The interfaith commenters started with a woman who is a Buddhist priest, speaking about feeling liberation with each breath we take. She also commented about watching a recent film, with a Rabbi, about Jewish/Palestinian relationships. I couldn't help but think this was a way of sneaking the question of Palestinian freedom into this Jewish event. Following her, a Catholic priest spoke about overcoming religious intolerance by bringing people of faith together, citing Pope John Paul II's two big gatherings in Assissi as examples.

A Native American elder from the Mohican tribe spoke about the "Indian schools" that his recent ancestors were forced, effectively kidnapped, into attending. Stripped of their heritage, they lost their language. He said that he would feel liberation when he could learn to pray in his native tongue. I have friends who were effected by this practice, even after it formally ended in the '20's, but his eloquent expression and the context drove the point home in a new way.

This was followed by a Hindu scholar who spoke of the liberation of self from desire, and then another hard-hitting topic: an African-American Muslim speaking about the "modern slavery" of the incarceration of so many African American men. How would you, he challenged us, work for their liberation? (from the social ills that lead to imprisonments, just and unjust).

And now, I simply cannot think of who the 6th speaker was. Perhaps it was a Jewish speaker and I can't separate that individual from the rest of the services. Speaking of those services… as an "outsider" I do not want to attempt to describe the small slice of this sacred ritual I witnessed. Coming from a religion that has removed ritual to the extent possible, it was fascinating to witness and learn about such a ritual. I can better understand, now, how ritual could have its time and place. [From a Bahá'í perspective, ritual tends to re-inforce power structures rather than liberate: "Even the successive Revelations of the Divine, whose objective was the liberation of the human spirit, were, in time, taken captive by 'the insistent self', were frozen into man-made dogma, ritual, clerical privilege and sectarian quarrels, and reached their end with their ultimate purpose frustrated." (Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p110)].