Fight, flight or friendly?

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- I've been watching the news and feeling a little helpless lately about increased violence in the world. And also, as a chaplain, upset that religion seems to fuel so many battles. Sometimes when cultures and religions meet, there is arguing and conflict, as we are often seeing in the news. Religion can lead us to fight.

I'm also aware that even in my neighborhood, families who have moved from the Middle East are sometimes regarded with suspicion or confusion. We aren't arguing with our neighbors, but maybe we tend to avoid talking with them. My grandmother's advice sometimes rings in my ears: "In polite company, don't talk about religion." Spiritual beliefs can be something we flee from talking about with others.

As a chaplain, I don't think that religious differences necessarily lead to conflict; neither do I think they need to be ignored. Rather, if we approach someone who is differeent with curiosity and respect, we are better neighbors. I think there are other options than "fight or flight" when we meet someone different.

I have two civilian colleagues who live and work in the Meddle East, in communities in which they are the religious minority. They have both shared in the past several weeks how much they value being engaged in conversation and relationship with Muslims.

They tell stories of when they first moved into a different community and felt very much like outsiders. In time, as their neighbors initiated conversations and invited them to community events, they felt less like outsiders.

One man in particular tells of being invited recently to a neighbor's party to celebrate their son's graduation; he was introduced as a "friend." His neighbors and their extended family were curious and respectful about his religious beliefs; different beliefs did not lead to arguments, nor did they need to be ignored. He now feels more genuinely welcome because he and his neighbors share the values of respect and curiosity, even if they don't share the same religion.

In encourage you, as you have opportunity, to consider other people's differences, even their faith differences, as opportunities to be friendly and welcoming. Spiritual beliefs don't need to be reasons for conflict or something to be ignored. They can also be ways to interact with others and deepen relationships with our neighbors.