We walked down the dimly lit street in East Village as the glowing hot dog came into view above our heads. Down the steps into Crif Dogs we nonchalantly sought the mysterious phone booth. The wood stained box called almost no attention to itself. Tucked behind one edge of the wall, like all things worth finding, we never would have noticed it if we hadn’t been looking.
Once inside the booth, directions called for us to pick up the vintage red phone and dial. On the other side of the wall a woman answered. Suddenly the wall-turned-door on my left retreated into blackness and revealed a prohibition-era speakeasy from a decade past.
An Asian woman with sleek black hair tied into a bun, nodded for us to enter and led us to our seats in the shotgun room. Taxidermied animals stared down at us from their permanently-plastered positions on the walls and the sounds of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra washed over the glossy black tables.
We ordered hot dogs and in the meantime dove into conversation.
This was our first night out after two days of discussion and training at the Interfaith Leadership Institute and despite the fact we had been talking about interfaith engagement all day, we weren’t about to stop now.
On our walk there that night we passed a group of monks cloaked in red robes, smiling beneath shaved heads. A block away a group of Jewish men worked in a theater, dressed in standard employee uniforms with the singular addition of a yamaka. New York City was proving to be a small slice of a larger pie.
The day before, Eboo Patel, founder of IFYC, spoke to the conference about working with people of differing faiths. One of the things that makes our country great is the diversity, the multiculturalism and the vast difference of perspectives, Patel said. And when we talk about interfaith relations we’re not asking anyone to ignore that.
“There are really deep differences,” Patel admitted and went on to tell this story…
A group of Muslims, companions of the prophet Muhammad, were fleeing religious persecution and came to the palace of the Christian King Negus of Abyssinia. The King heard they were accused of rebelling against the true religion and asked them to explain themselves. The Muslims read from the Quran the story of the virgin Mary. The words brought the king and his advisers to tears and when they finished he picked up a stick and drew a line in the sand before him.
“The difference between your religion and mine is no bigger than this line,” he said. And offered them protection from persecution.
“They were leading with pluralism,” Patel excitedly told us. And that is what he was asking us to do, to lead with the commonalities of our religions. To gather around those things on which we can agree, on the values that matter to us like service, compassion, and hospitality and work up to discussing the others.
The waiter sidled up to the table with our food, pulling us back into the 1920s speakeasy.
“Would you be comfortable saying a prayer?” Amanda asked me after the food was placed.
I nodded. And as a Catholic and Protestant we bowed our heads in the yellow glow of the bar, beneath the beedy eyes of the animals on the wall, surrounded by people from all walks of life, we prayed together. Joined by our commonality.
Interfaith cooperation isn’t easy, if it was everyone would be doing it. Like anything worth finding, you have to first be looking.
Good for you! It takes a very open-minded person to delve into interfaith communities.
It takes some understanding for sure! I was so inspired by the conference this weekend, I really think anyone could get excited about interfaith communities if we all just understood them a little better =) Thanks for your comment.
I love the idea of interfaith communities…how did you get involved in this and can you recommend any particular links to start getting connected? Thanks, nice post.
I’m so glad you asked! I got involved through my Chaplain’s Office at school, but the Better Together campaign has tools that anyone can utilize. I’d suggest reading “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel because it gives you a really clear idea of what interfaith really means and why it’s important at this particular time in our history as a country. From there I would take some time looking through the Interfaith Youth Core website I linked to in the post and specifically look at the “About the Movement” and “Campuses as Models” pages. If you have the time to attend the leadership institute there are two more coming up, one in Atlanta and one in LA, that you can still sign up for. I had a great time at the NYC one and they provided us with all sorts of awesome ideas and tools if you ever have a chance to go to one. Some of the tools and ideas are here for faculty and staff http://www.ifyc.org/teaching-interfaith and kind of give a general idea.
Sorry to write you a novel in response! I’m so glad you’re interested in getting involved =)
Fascinating story, from the setting to the company!
Thanks! I thought it would be a interesting way to tie the two together.
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I am drawn to the idea of people gathering around their shared values of “service, compassion and hospitality”. Leading with pluralism. Beautiful. Great post. Thank you.
You’re more than welcome! Leading with the commonalities is such a great way to start a conversation. I like to hope that everyone could (someday) be drawn to that idea too.
I like this. And the seeking and actively trying to make it work. And I promise you sometimes it can, because in my case, the Catholic and the Protestant got married 😉
Hooray! A victory for interfaith =)
It’s wonderful to find the good in each other’s faith. As a former Catholic who is now a Protestant, I know it’s possible 🙂
That’s always good to hear! We have much more in common than we sometimes think =)
OMG I’ve heard about these kinds of places here in the city but have been too nervous to venture into them. I’m glad to hear you did it so I can have the courage to do it too, haha.
You totally should! A few of them looked a little sketchy but this one wasn’t scary at all. Just a lot of fun 🙂
I love Crif Dogs and PDT. Plenty of other awesome places in that area too.
Yeah! I really liked the area a lot. I’ll have to do some more exploring next time I go. Any suggestions for my next trip there?
Fabulous ending, and a really great story. Good job.
Thank you kindly! It seemed like a natural tie in =)
I wish more people would take time to understand and respect each other, just how you illustrate here. Wonderful post.
Thanks Natalie. I think if more people just heard about what understanding others really entails they’d all be onboard! There are just all sorts of misconceptions that you have to compromise things you believe to get along with others which just isn’t the case. Glad you enjoyed the post =)
Great positive thinking! It might be an old complaint, but I think that the media has something to answer for; highlighting differences is so much more dramatic, and sells more papers. And then it’s almost surprising to find that, actually, we have so much in common with people of all different cultures.
Really enjoyed your post 🙂
I agree. The media definitely contributes to our misconceptions of interfaith relations and just relationships with people who are different in general. Glad to hear you enjoyed the read!
Oh, I want to go to a place you have to enter like it’s a speakeasy…
If you’re ever in NYC you totally should! There are actually quite a few of them!
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