An attitude of gratitude
by David Andrews, chair, Committee on Religious Affairs at the Claremont Colleges
Friday, October 26, marked an important milestone in the history of interfaith relations at the Claremont Colleges.
On that day more than 100 students, faculty and staff from across the Claremont Colleges gathered on the campus of Pitzer College for an interfaith dinner hosted by Pitzer’s president, Melvin L. Oliver.
This was not the first interfaith dinner to be held at our campuses. Nor was it the first to include students from across the five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions that form the Claremont consortium. But it was the first such event to be hosted by one of the presidents of the 7Cs—an important and welcome development.
The atmosphere at the dinner was welcoming and joyous. Old bonds were renewed and new friendships made. A spirit of renewal was evident. This was significant, as the previous year had been trying for many of the student religious organizations represented at the dinner.
In remarks delivered midway through the evening, Mr. Oliver expressed both understanding and empathy. The presidents of the Claremont Colleges, he explained, were aware of the challenges faced by people of faith at their campuses. Some of those trials were inherent in life at secular institutions of higher learning. Trials of this sort, he explained, were at least potentially fruitful. But other challenges were neither necessary nor productive.
In particular, Mr. Oliver emphasized, no one should be made to feel unwelcome or insecure at the Colleges because of their religious beliefs or identity. On this essential point he was emphatic. And to underline the joint commitment of the 7C’s presidents on this point, he announced that president G. Gabrielle Starr of Pomona College would host a second presidential interfaith dinner on the Pomona campus in one year’s time.
As it happened, only a few days later many of the same students who attended the October 27 event did indeed gather on the Pomona campus. But the occasion for this reunion was neither joyous nor welcome. Instead they were present to remember the slain congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and to participate in a Shabbat dinner as an act of solidarity.
These are hard times for our country and for our community. That’s why I am so impressed by the young people, at the Claremont Colleges and elsewhere, who have risen above the mayhem of the moment. These brave souls find solace and meaning in their own religious traditions. But more than this, they are prepared to reach out in love to people of all faiths, as well as people of no faith.
As citizens of the larger community, we have the opportunity to do the same.
One of my family’s favorite traditions is the annual Thanksgiving service sponsored by the Claremont Interfaith Council. I look forward to attending this wonderful event again this year.
On these occasions prayers are spoken, blessings invoked, scriptures shared, and hymns of gratitude sung by all in attendance. Christian and Jew, Muslim and Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i raise voices together in songs of joy. All are welcome and all are received in peace and dignity.
Last year’s service was hosted by Temple Beth Israel. On that occasion Paul Buch, the synagogue’s cantor, shared the following: “We are living in fragile times, and one key way we can feel more grounded is understanding that we share an attitude of gratitude with our neighbors.”
Those words rang true when Cantor Buch first spoke them. And on the present occasion I once again recognize the ring of truth in what he said.
My great fondness for the annual Thanksgiving service derives in part from the genuine respect shown by each of the participants for one another. In so doing, the religious leaders of our community are modeling practices that we would do well to emulate.
One of the favorite hymns of my faith tradition includes the following couplet:
“Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving; teach us tolerance and love.”
Tolerance in this sense does not simply mean to put up with something; it means learning to respect others even (perhaps especially) if they are different from us.
In a society such as ours—one that is characterized by deep religious vitality as well as extensive religious pluralism—such tolerance is essential. It begins with respectful acknowledgement of difference: recognizing that we can accept others, and even love them, without requiring that they adopt our beliefs.
Likewise we can love one another without abandoning belief. This is what I see in Claremont’s annual Thanksgiving service; and this is what I so admire.
This year’s service will be held at the Claremont United Methodist Church (211 W. Foothill Blvd.) on Wednesday, November 21, beginning at 7 p.m.
I look forward to seeing you there.