The theme chosen for this year’s annual Ashland Interfaith Thanksgiving celebration is “Across the Divide,” a simple phrase whose meaning can be missed by no one in the wake of a contentious presidential election campaign that went on for more than a year.
This 33rd such service brings together many faiths for a bit of music and dance and several nano-sermons delivered by ministers, pastors, rabbis or parishioners, all seeming to happily get along, in contrast to the national political landscape.
The Rev. Ruth Kirby of the Center for Spiritual Living, organizer of the popular event, said she and her team have asked presenters not to wander off into the emotionally charged political events of this season, but instead to share what their spiritual tradition teaches about how to reach out to and communicate with people whose beliefs may be “wildly different” from ours.
She asked presenters to address three questions, the last of which is: What can we learn from your tradition to help create a bridge across what divides us to that which unites us?
Steve Radcliffe of South Mountain Friends Meeting (or Quakers) will address that question, he says, by “talking about that divide, about political discourse in our country and in Quaker tradition, where our consensus process is differentiated from the current political discourse. I will talk about what parts of our (Quaker) process might be used effectively by people of good will, regardless of faith.”
Taoist Gene Burnett will address the challenging question by understanding that Taoism is more personal than global.
“To avoid an internal ‘civil war,’ the different parts of me must be listened to, accepted and embraced," he said. "They don’t have to agree, but they do have to learn to work together. The next step is to cross the divide, using the same tools, with the people I meet in my life. Personally, I have my hands full with those two steps.”
Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash said the divide in our nation is great than ever and his message would be based on the request from Chief Arvol Looking Horse to “center everything we do in prayer. I will sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ as a tribute to this notion that even if things go wrong, to stand before our Lord of song with nothing on our lips but 'Hallelujah.'”
Zaslow acknowledged that such a stance implies a lot of faith in what’s going to happen, but cited the words of a rabbi when the temple was overrun by Romans in the second century that “this too shall be for good.” He adds, “It doesn’t mean it IS good, but even when we grieve over a divided nation, even though it’s not visible yet, good will come of it.”
The poster from Kirby notes, “This election year, more than most, has been stressful and intense. And coming together after the election, regardless of what the outcomes are, may be challenging for many. In times such as these, we turn to our spiritual traditions for peace and guidance. What does your tradition teach about co-existing with people who have different values, beliefs, opinions and needs? What does your religion offer that helps you bridge the differences that are inherent in the diverse collection of cultures on this planet? … We invite you to reach out and invite a neighbor or a friend to come with you.”
The event runs from 10 to 11:15 a.m. Thursday at United Methodist Church, on Laurel at North Main street. It is free and open to the public and is a non-food event. It’s usually standing room only.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.