By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
People of many faiths busted some myths that stand in the way of peace, during the third annual Interfaith Breakfast in Bowling Green Wednesday morning.
More than 250 people gathered for food, fellowship and to break down walls that have been built between faiths over centuries.
“If ever there were a time for a candle in the darkness, this would be it,” said Rev. Lynn Kerr, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. “The more we learn from one another,” she said, “peace is possible.”
Speakers from Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Native American, Buddhism and Christianity tried to bust myths surrounding their faiths.
Rehana Ahmed, a member of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, was born and raised in Pakistan where she attended a Catholic school. That glimpse of another faith gave her an understanding of others. “That has made me a better human being. At the core, we are all the same. What hurts me, hurts other people.”
In her job at Sky Bank, Ahmed told of a customer asking her to do something she was not legally able to do. She remained quiet as he spewed several four-letter words at her. But when he told her to go back where she came from, Ahmed asked him if he was a Native American.
“You and I can go back on the same boat,” she said to him.
“These are trying times for all of us,” Ahmed said. “Let’s ask questions before we make a judgment.”
Srinivas Melkote, who is a Hindu originally from India, addressed the immigrant stereotype first.
“I’m not a drug dealer,” he said. “I don’t murder people.”
After living in Bowling Green for decades, Melkote still gets questions about how often he gets to go home. Every day after work, he responds.
Though the oldest continuous religion, Hinduism is misunderstood by many. “It’s extremely tolerant,” and is based on reaching higher knowledge, he explained.
Cows are considered sacred, since they give milk like mothers. But other common myths are false, such as Hinduism requiring vegetarianism, subservient women, and the caste system.
Joseph Jacoby, a member of the Temple Shomer Emunim, busted myths about Judaism in rhyme. Not all Jews are doctors, control government, rule Hollywood, or have big noses, he said.
Jews make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population and 1 percent of Ohio’s population. Many came to the U.S. seeking a safe place to live, Jacoby said.
Lynda Dixon, a descendent of those on the Trail of Tears “death march,” spoke on behalf of Native Americans.
“I’m very proud to say I am a member of the Cherokee Nation,” from the Deer Clan, she said. Her people were early Christians in the nation, with many of their beliefs aligning with those who brought Christianity from Europe.
Her Cherokee faith is deeply rooted in nature.
“All nature is sacred for the Cherokee,” Dixon said. “We live in harmony with nature.”
Like other Native Americans, the Cherokees “have been tested.” But she stands by the belief of “let us build one fire.”
Karen Christie, a practitioner of meditation, spoke of Buddhism. She explained that Buddha was a human with no divine powers, but with a strong ability to be “present in the moment.”
Some see Buddhism as a religion, some as a psychology. But the basic tenet is the same – being awake and aware. “We are all inter-connected,” Christie said. “From moment to moment, you are changing.”
Rev. Gary Saunders, of First Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green, was charged with talking about Christianity. To do so, he called all other Christian pastors to stand with him.
“The first myth is that Christians speak with a common voice,” he said.
The Bible is read many different ways by people of the same faith – with social issue interpretations varying widely.
Younger generations, Saunders said, have three basic complaints about Christianity. “And this hurts,” he said, as he listed concerns by many that the faith is “hypocritical, judgmental and anti-homosexual.”
But it is a myth that Christians can be lumped into one stance on issues. “Well, the Christians say,” is usually not valid. “There are incredible differences.”
When Saunders was young, it was unheard of for Protestants to step into a Catholic church. That is no longer the case, and the Pope is the “rock star of peace on the planet right now.”
In his role as co-chairperson of the Not In Our Town organization, which organized the interfaith breakfast, Saunders spoke of the group’s mission to “stand up against discrimination, prejudice and hatred against any people.”
Leaders in the community were asked to share their thoughts.
Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards noted the value of bringing people together for a common purpose. “When you look around the room, you can’t help but feel good,” he said.
Bowling Green State University President Mary Ellen Mazey said Not In Our Town has done much to bring about inclusion in the community. “It is truly a great grassroots effort to fight discrimination. We are really leading the nation in what we can be.”
But she cautioned that the work is far from over.
“No matter what we do, there is more to be done,” she said.
Bowling Green City Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci said the city schools welcome diversity.
“We believe in acceptance,” he said, noting that diversity “walks our halls daily.”
Scruci said he is the son of immigrant parents who came to the U.S. in 1949. They were hard-working, honest people, who taught him to not judge people because they look different, speak another language, or practice a different religion.
Now many in the nation are again in fear of discrimination and deportation – and are angry at national leaders. But Scruci urged the audience to look within themselves.
“Focus on yourself and how we treat others. We become the change,” he said, suggesting that others not be judged on their lifestyles or religion. “Be kind to one another.”
Music for the event was provided by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Bowling Green High School Madrigals. Artwork came from local elementary students who were asked to show what peace looks like. And breakfast was provided by South Side 6.