A couple weeks ago, I was delighted to be invited to attend a “Diversity and Peace Day” at Bob Edwards Junior High School in the Marlborough area of Calgary. The school itself has a very diverse population of students, religiously, culturally, ethnically, … . In 2002, the school set up a students’ Diversity Council, and since that time has been holding events to highlight awareness and promote understanding across many lines of difference. The theme speaker for this year’s day was Alvin Law who was born without arms due to the drug, thalidomide.
The day involved a plenary with Mr. Law followed by a wide variety of workshops. I was invited to help with the workshop on religions, representing my faith, Christianity. There was a panel, presided over by a very accomplished and poised grade 9 student; she posed questions for a 6-person panel, asking us to give our definitions of “religion”, the difference between “religious beliefs” and “spiritual beliefs”, who is our religion’s founder, why we personally chose our particular faith, how many subgroupings are there in each of our faiths, how are women treated in each faith, and so on. A video on the Charter for Compassion was shown. Finally, the students were encouraged to roam around the room where various faith displays were set up; they could ask any questions they had and engage in discussions as they wished.
One girl, not a Christian, told me that she had always been horrified by the Christian symbol of a person (Jesus) on a cross: why is that used as our symbol? it seems so cruel, such an infliction of pain — why would people do that to someone? … It was good for me to see the crucified Christ through her eyes, and see it fresh. Of course, she is right about the cruelty, … and that is the point of the symbol: we do this to others; we never should do this to others; God speaks to us about God’s love and our hardness of heart.
I had some lists of “do’s and dont’s” for interfaith dialogue; people picked them up and wondered how to get involved in the process. I told them they just needed to talk to each other: the diversity was all around them; they were gifted with a marvellous opportunity to talk, meet, build bridges. The first rule of interfaith is to dialogue, and that requires only that we engage with someone of another faith.
There is much more to question, and worthy discussions to have. My congratulations to Mona Lufty, the teacher who leads this Diversity programme, and to the Diversity Council of Bob Edwards Jr. High. It is an excellent initiative, extremely well done by students and staff. I am grateful for being invited and being able to see the “Diversity and Peace” Day unfold — something to emulate elsewhere for sure.