It may have been the article I posted back on Day 61 of our KOH2RVA (Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia) initiative about bowling alleys that inspired me.
Whatever it was, when my interfaith group started talking about how we could move beyond dialogue to friendship, I suggested that we go bowling together.
At first they thought I was joking. I sometimes do. But the more we talked about it, the more it seemed that almost everybody was willing to throw a few gutter balls for the sake of friendship.
And so we picked a time and place and agreed to show up at Sunset Lanes on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks later.
When I got there, Bill Sachs from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was waiting, his bowling shoes already laced up.
I paid my money and got my shoes and a ball and was feeling pretty good until Ben and Karen Romer from Congregation Or Ami showed up, with their own custom-drilled balls and non-tacky bowling shoes.
I should have known right then.
Imad Damaj and his son, Bilal, from the Islamic Center of Virginia showed up a little later.
Several in our group had to cancel, and so we ended up with just the six of us – two Christians, two Jews and two Muslims.
We bowled three games, and talked and laughed and cheered each other on, but when we added up the totals at the end it was clear: The Jews killed us.
I know that doesn’t sound very “politically correct,” but it’s true. Karen Romer, the rabbi’s wife, is a personal trainer and a regular bowler, and she was bowling strikes or spares in almost every frame.
She had a high game of 188, which was so much higher than my own high game I won’t embarrass myself by telling you the number.
But apart from all that friendly competition, interfaith bowling “worked” in the sense that it brought us closer together.
It helped us see each other as human at a different level than when we’re all dressed professionally, sitting in a conference room, talking about our work and how important it is.
It’s hard to be pretentious when you’re wearing bowling shoes.
Why is interfaith friendship so important? Because religious pluralism is a fact of life in America these days. We can no longer pretend that we are a “Christian nation.”
It leaves us with a choice: When we learn that our new neighbors are Muslim, we can either hunker down and hide behind our neatly trimmed hedges or go over and invite them to tea.
If the Kingdom of Heaven is ever going to come to Richmond, Va., it’s going to come by extending an open hand, not by raising a clenched fist.
And that applies to everybody.
Watch Jim Somerville discuss his church’s “Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia Initiative” below.
Jim Somerville is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.