The Power of Peace! by Joshua Toepper

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1, NRSV)!”

These words quoted by Rabbi Steven Morgan could not have been more appropriate a sentiment at such a historic gathering. Last Tuesday, October 18th, religious leaders, educators, community activists and politicians from all over the city of Houston met to break ground on the The Institute of Interfaith Dialog’s “Interfaith Peace Garden.”

The project will consist of three houses of worship that will be used to educate those of other faiths, create space for worship, and facilitate dialogue. The three proposed buildings are replicas of a 20th century synagogue, a 6th century Cappadocian church, and a 7th century Antiochian Mosque. Each building will be facing inward toward a peace garden which will remind each faith of needed unity and commonality; ultimately the garden will serve as a visible and prophetic reminder to these three major world religions that differences should never rise above peaceful coexistence.

The event opened with the Dr. Alp Aslandogan, the president of The Institute of Interfaith Dialog, welcoming all present and setting forth a vision of peace for the city of Houston as well as hoping the project may serve as a model for other communities. Following Aslandogan, Bishops from the Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Episcopal, and Lutheran faith traditions prayed a blessing over the groundbreaking as well as Imam Mustafa Yigit and Rabbi Morgan. The event was blessed with a sea of distinct religious voices that echoed in harmony with each other: “become inspired by peace.”

Following the religious leaders, words from several prominent community members as well as political officials demonstrated that this project was not solely about religion, but it was also about reminding the community that religion should influence daily life. After these voices, the festivities began to wind down and the community members present were encouraged to allow this center to “help develop a sense of appreciation for one’s own faith as well as one’s neighbor.” With a final gesture of unity, the religious leaders present were asked to be the first to “break ground” for the garden and demonstrate a peaceful coexistence. With that gesture, the event was over. For me, I hope that this event could act as a catalyst for greater dialogue and serve as a beacon to remind all that we should make peace and conversation our starting place.

After the event, Bishop Janice Huie of Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church commented that the events that had transpired were “a good thing” and that the Institute of Interfaith Dialog “was a special project.” Most in attendance would be hard pressed to disagree with her and I felt hopeful for the city of Houston and its distinct faith traditions. As the crowd began to disperse its separate ways, the MC reminded all that we were invited to participate in a conversation around immigration reform and to put our stand for unity and peace to action. The real work had begun. As I drove away on my motorcycle, the words that Rabbi Morgan had prayed echoed in my head; “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The event truly was good and pleasant to my ears. You can find more details about the project and the institute at http://www.interfaithdialog.org/.

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