On Sunday night, I found myself attending an interfaith Thanksgiving service held at a Protestant church in Central New Jersey.
There were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews. There was music, ranging from songs by an Indonesian Christian choir, to klezmer, to something called the Dalai Lama Mantra. There were readings and prayers, from the Quran (in Arabic and then English), and from the Testaments (old and new).
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, bombs and missiles — fueled and propelled by ethnic hatred and religious intolerance — were destroying lives in Palestine and Israel.
As good as it felt to be in the midst of this Thanksgiving gathering, I found myself wondering if it truly offered reason for hope — or whether it was really cause for despair, an illusion of harmony, a cruel mockery, a comfortable delusion.
My thoughts have settled somewhere in the middle.
Yes, it was a good thing that people could come together at a church in New Jersey in the name of brotherhood and peace, joining in a celebration of their shared belief in love and in joyous celebration of life.
Folksinger and activist Pete Seeger says it will be small groups of people, not big organizations and governments, that will solve the problems of this world. Pete’s banjo is inscribed with these words: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
Well, I agree with the many people who believe Pete deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for all the good he’s done and the difference he’s made in this world, but Pete’s approaching his 95th year on this planet and when he goes to his grave there will still be wars raging and people dying and babies crying as bomb blasts rock their cradles.
My 80-year-old mother, who was a girl during World War II and had two older brothers see combat in Europe and the Pacific, was watching a news account of the recent violence in the Middle East, and said as she shook her head sadly: “Why can’t people just be nice to each other? Why can’t they just help each other?”
I’m afraid it’s the nature of the beast. This has been going on since the world began and will continue until the day a big meteor comes whizzing out from behind the sun and returns mankind to the cosmic dust.
I’m glad that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians are able, sometimes, to come together in peace. But this time of year, a couple of weeks before the anniversary of his murder, I hear John Lennon’s challenge: “Imagine there’s no countries…No need for greed…No hunger…And no religion too.”
But even John Lennon, a man of peace and a man of dreams, could not escape the violence of hatred. Still, I believe his heart was in the right place. So is my mother’s. Why can’t people just be nice to each other? We need to keep trying to imagine, even when reality makes it very hard to do.