Our family experienced a holiday like no other on Christmas Day 2015.
It was an unusually warm Dec. 25 in metro D.C. We shared the holiday dinner with our Catholic neighbors two doors down from our townhouse.
My mother and my neighbor Caroline’s mother were both with us that year; it was a fun multigenerational experience.
While I by no means see a Baptist family and a Roman Catholic family as interfaith, it is certainly ecumenical.
Later that evening, our family hosted dessert and expanded our guest list to include our beloved Jewish and Muslim neighbors.
Judy and Steve, our Jewish friends, do not have children of their own; they are like an aunt and uncle to our kids. Our dear Muslim friends at the end of the block have a daughter who was one of our daughter’s best friends.
We had three grandmothers with us that evening – one from Florida, one from Pennsylvania and one from Jordan.
This is the beauty of living in a diverse community. This is the beauty of neighbors. Plus, the sweets were yummy.
Neighbors seem to be the most basic relationships to form outside of family and work, and yet in our current neighborhood, it has not always been easy.
Unlike when we lived in a townhouse, the grass between the homes in our current development is not worn to the same degree as the sidewalks between stoops with houses sharing walls.
Today, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last few weeks, I have gotten to know neighbors like never before.
I know the names of the little boys on our street and around the corner as they pass by our house at least once a day. We wave and talk.
I am mindful of how precious this time is as we get to know each other in an entirely new way – from a distance.
Isn’t it a shame it has taken a pandemic for me to know Matthew, Jaime and Tim? Isn’t it a shame that I’ve only just begun to talk with their parents regularly and we live less than two blocks apart?
Funny how the pandemic is bringing about unexpected fruit, isn’t it?
Neighboring is one of the basic tenants of the Abrahamic faiths. Each of our holy texts speak of being good neighbors. The Scriptures insist upon loving our neighbors.
According to Mark 12:30-31, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In my county, my neighbors come from all around the world. There are more Muslims than any one Protestant branch of the Christian family tree, and there are more Jews than there are individual Pentecostals, Lutherans, Episcopalians or Presbyterians in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Granted, there are overall more Christians than Jews or Muslims combined, but there is also a high percentage of people who do not affiliate with a religious tradition (often referred to as “nones”).
My county is probably different from many, particularly in the Deep South, but I suspect everyone has someone non-Christian in their schools and communities.
How do we love our neighbors? How do we live out this great commandment?
I think the best place to start is the elementary school playground where children play with each other because they are friends and they enjoy being together. They openly talk about their differences – not to judge, just to explore!
They are not trying to win each other over, except perhaps in Red Rover or tag. They might ask questions and wonder about holiday and holy encounters, and they might want to try out each other’s experiences.
As we grow up, we often shy away from asking questions, fearing we’ll be seen as judgmental or bullying or not politically correct.
One of my dear friends is a Muslim from Sudan. While we do not always understand how each connects with God, we know it is important for us and we pray for each other.
We ask each other questions, and I know I have grown in my appreciation for her and her faith.
This did not just happen; it developed as we became neighbors for each other and built a trust as we loved our daughters and needed friendship.
Over the last few years, the Rumi Forum and the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have been slowly developing a relationship. This began at the North American Muslim Baptist Dialogue at Green Lake some years ago.
On April 27, we are co-sponsoring a one-hour, online Scriptural Reasoning Gathering where we will look at the three Abrahamic faiths’ holy texts around neighbor. The goal is for us to read and reflect together so we might be better neighbors.
Perhaps we’ll even be able to live out the great commandment more fully.
This article is part of a series focused on interfaith engagement. The previous articles in the series are:
How Interfaith Partnerships Can Enrich Your Own Life | Rabbi Jack Moline
Amid Global Pandemic, Religious Pluralism Flourishes | Amanda Tyler
A Kind Nun’s Compassion Led to Imam’s Interfaith Journey | Imam Imad Enchassi
Trisha Miller Manarin and her family live in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, where she serves at the Executive Coordinator with Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She loves getting to know neighbors from far and near, and exploring various cultures, customs, music and foods.