Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Bibles and Beer" and Understanding

My New Year’s resolutions tend to be repetitive but one is new. I resolve to think more kindly about my evangelical brothers and sisters and to work harder to understand how their worldview. If God had wanted us to think alike, God would have created us with like minds and like experiences. But God chose to create a diverse humanity so we are all guessing.

The way one interprets scripture, e.g. literally or metaphorically, impacts more than our own personal lives. It is frequently at the crucible of many public policy debates. The climate change debate, for example, is infected with varying views of the Bible’s creation and flood stories as well as the tilt between those who read these stories as myth and those who read them as infallible history.

The same can be said of contentious issues ranging from the longstanding civil wars over abortion, same-sex marriage, income inequality, religious freedom, and so many others.

Providing for a more perfect Union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, depends more than we might like to think on whether people of good faith can reconcile their views of scripture; Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

I want to tell you an uplifting Christmastime story, an important story of religious diversity, tolerance and acceptance. Dr. Paul Bomais is from the African nation of Uganda. In Uganda, 85% of the population is Christian, 12% are Muslims, and 3% are “other.” Bomais is a Christian, his wife a Muslim. He’s a veterinarian with the Uganda Ministry of Agriculture.

Dr. Bomais and five others from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda came to the US to study brucellosis, its diagnoses, epidemiology, and control. The delegation spread out around the western United States. Dr. Bomais was dispatched to Wyoming where he was assigned to work with Dr. Walt Cook, the Brucellosis Coordinator for the College of Agriculture and Natural Respurces at the University of Wyoming.

Walt has been a faithful participant in “Bibles and Beer,” a non-traditional, interfaith Bible study. Bibles and Beer meets every Monday evening at Uncle Charlie’s Pub. Around the table are anywhere from 30-40 people including Muslims, Jews, Christians from both conservative and progressive denominations, an occasional atheist, and several agnostics. Giving careful attention to each verse, participants engage in a lively, enlightening, respectful dialogue about the great stories of the Bible.

Dr. Bomais accompanied Dr. Cook to Bibles and Beer each Monday evening while the Ugandan scientist was in Wyoming.  It was a joy having him participate and bring to the discussion his unique experiences of the Divine and scripture.

When time came for the Africans to go home, they gathered to discuss their varied experiences in America. The facilitator went around the table asking each to talk about what they had learned during their stay in the United States.

One talked about the new approaches he had learned for diagnosing brucellosis. Another discussed the important epidemiological approaches being taken in US universities. Still others talked about the collaboration between scientists and policymakers.

And then it was Dr. Bomais’s turn. It’s important to note the level of religious strife in his home country goes far beyond the “wars of words” generally characterizing American religious debates. Not that long ago Christian rebels of the so-called  Lord's Resistance Army” conducted a civil war in Uganda. They abducted, enslaved, raped and/or killed about 2,000 children a year. Dr. Bomias has personally witnessed how differences over how scripture is interpreted have the potential to leave tragedy in its wake.

When he was asked the most important lesson he had learned while in the US, with no hesitation, the Ugandan announced he had learned it is possible for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others to sit together and have a respectful, inspirational dialogue about the Bible, their religious views, and lessons that arise from both.

As the renowned 20th century theologian and philosopher John Lennon said, “Imagine.”

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