When people start talking about what matters to them, they don't want to stop. This was certainly the situation for 80 people gathered at Mercer Elementary School on April 30 during a program called "Getting to Know Your Neighbor: Celebrating Religious Diversity in Our Community."
The program, presented by Greater Anderson Promotes Peace (GAPP), offered a "Religion 101" introduction to 13 religions practiced by residents of the Greater Anderson area. Following brief presentations by each religion's representative, participants visited learning stations to explore materials and talk with the representative.
The joy and enthusiasm were palpable. While religion is often difficult to talk about, it wasn't this time. Given "permission" to discuss religion, and an environment of respect and openness, people were eager to learn more. Judy Baker, the representative of the Baha'i faith, said, "I loved the diversity and the love that everyone I encountered showed to each other."
Because interreligious discussion can be very difficult, Margaret Fox, executive director of Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC) offered insightful tools to help engage in dialogue rather than debate, argument of recruitment. Drawing from her personal experience of moving from defensiveness to openness, she explained the importance of "standing in the other person's shoes" to understand his or her experience, of suspending judgment, of curiosity and willingness to learn, and speaking and listening with a sincere heart.