I listen to the wind of my soul...

My all-time favorite Muslim - Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) - once sang a little tune at the start of his third album called "The Wind." It is one of the best prayer/songs ever...


I was thinking about it yesterday and today when the local paper and TV station interviewed me about our decision to consciously incorporate readings from the Qur'an and Hebrew Bible during worship on Sunday. As my worship notes make clear, not only will we be offering a clear alternative to the hate and fear-mongering of those who are going to burn Qur'ans on September 11th, but we'll also make clear connections as to how the three Abrahamic faith traditions are spiritual cousins - not enemies.

Trevor Jones' story in the Berkshire Eagle put it like this: PITTSFIELD -- Area Muslims and religious leaders of other faiths are denouncing the Rev. Terry Jones' plan to burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 at a small Florida church on Saturday. "What this guy in Florida [Rev. Terry Jones] is doing is an abomination and does not in any way represent the teachings of his religion, or my religion or any other faith that holds sacred the sacred teachings of other religions," said Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams.

Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center, a Gainesville, Fla.-based church with fewer than 50 members, is garnering international attention for planning to burn the text Muslims consider the word of God. Jones said he will go ahead with his "International Burn-a-Quran Day" on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this Saturday. "It's very upsetting and it's painful for me personally for people to think that [the Quran] is evil and they should burn it," said Irtefa Binte-Farid, a Williams College senior and member of the school's Muslim Student Union. "I would never imagine doing that to any book."

Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said in an e-mail that people of faith must respect the beliefs of others, adding the diocese "would echo the sentiments shared by the Vatican and the vast majority of other faith communities, which reject this action as one of religious intolerance and an act of violence in and of itself." Meanwhile, Dove World Outreach Center's activity on Saturday is coinciding with plans at several local synagogues and churches to embrace similarities with the Islamic faith.

Goldwasser, whose congregation will look at similarities between Judaism and Islam during a study session this Saturday, said the spread of images of burning Qurans will also present a danger to American servicemen and women. He called Jones' plan "an act of incitement intended to provoke a reaction, and he'll probably get one."

The First Congregational Church in Williamstown will work to counter that negative sentiment with a reading of a passage from the Quran during the Sunday service. "We need to overpower it with counter-examples," said Carrie Bail, the church's pastor. "We need to say, ‘Look, world, those may be a handful of people in Florida that have this idea, but there's way more than a handful of the rest of out there doing something different."

The Quran, according to Jones, is "evil" because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims. "It's very easy for people of faith to demonize one another," said James Lumsden, pastor at the First Congregational Church in Pittsfield. "It's a lot more complicated to find common ground."

Lumsden plans to read from Hebrew texts and the Koran at his sermon this weekend, acknowledging the start of the Jewish High Holy Days and the end of the Islamic holiday Ramadan. Lumsden said Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all borne out of the same core principals of embracing "God's love," and it's increasingly important for "people of tolerance to offer healthy and healing alternative to some of the craziness that's going on."

For her part, Binte-Farid said she and others plan to partake in a national day of service on Sept. 11. Recently returned from nine months abroad, Binte-Farid said she is surprised by the growing anger toward Muslims, but hopes the added attention will lead to better understanding of her religion.

"At least some people are getting to hear about Islam," said Binte-Farid. "Hopefully they can learn it's a peaceful religion."
These are ugly - and beautiful - times, yes? Made me think of another favorite prayer/song by Mary Chapin Carpenter (maybe I'll do it during worship, too.) God is all around, Buddha's at the gate, Allah hears your prayers it's not too late...

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