-Festival in the Desert-
If I drive east, I can be in Arizona in less than two hours. So, it's been quite troubling to read about what's been going on in my neighboring state, whose legislature recently passed a bill sanctioning discrimination against Gay and Lesbian people on the basis of religious belief.
It's bad enough that any legislature would authorize discrimination of any sort, but it is outrageous that they should cite "religious belief" as the excuse for encouraging people to exercise their prejudices. Furthermore, my guess is that in a State like Arizona for the most part, "Christianity" will likely be the "religious belief" people will cite as a basis for their discrimination - and this makes it even more outrageous and all the more reprehensible.
Purportedly, Christians are "followers of Jesus"- people who model their lives after the life and teaching of Jesus Christ- Jesus, the one who never, ever discriminated against anyone.
In the eyes of Jesus, no one was an outcast. The doors of his life were always wide open to everyone. He welcomed saints and sinners, the healthy and the sick, rich and poor, young and old, stranger and friend - teaching his followers to set a "place of dignity" at the the table of life for every human being.
But now in a state only a few hours from me, "Christian" believers will be granted permission to "refuse service," encouraged to close the doors and keep people out, all on the basis of their supposed religious beliefs. This is so antithetical to the very core and mission of Jesus' teaching as to be mind-boggling to me.
Yesterday my wife and I attended a "Greek Festival" sponsored by a local Greek Orthodox church in one of the neighboring desert communities. The festival was held under an immense open air tent that had no entranceway- open on all sides.
When I first laid eyes on the tent, I was immediately reminded of a story about a "big tent" found in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Abraham (the Patriarch of the 3 major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was a nomad who lived in a tent in the middle of a desert. According to legend, Abraham always kept all four sides of his tent open so that he could see friends or strangers passing by and offer hospitality to them. One day three strangers passed by. He went out and welcomed them to sit under the tent and to feast at his table. It turns out that the strangers were actually angels in disguise- messengers from God.
Yesterday when I saw the big tent without any sides, I thought to myself "this is an icon of the origin of all "religious belief" - a big wide open tent without sides under which every passer by is always welcome to come, sit and enjoy the feast.
Yesterday, people from all over the Coachella Valley came to that Greek festival. There were hundreds of people sitting next to one another at long rows of tables. People sat next to friends and next to strangers - all at a place of equal dignity under a big wide-open tent, feasting on incredibly delicious home-cooked Greek food, lots of laughter, plenty of music, even some dancing going on.
As I looked around the tent, I noticed that a group of Asian people were sitting next to us. At the table behind us were a large group of Gay men who had come to enjoy the feast. At other tables under that big tent there were Latinos and African Americans. We were people of all shapes, all sizes, all ages, all colors, creeds, beliefs, sexual orientations- such a beautiful panoply of the glorious rainbow of life -and all this in the middle of a desert, and on the grounds of a church.
We were in the desert sitting under "Abraham's tent," and everyone was at the feast.
What a magnificent icon of what "religious belief"is really all about.