Earlier this month, the annual Montgomery County Multi-Faith Coalition conference was held. It was a sold-out event with people from the faith community, social services sector and local government all coming together to collaborate for the common good. Among those leading the event were Aziz Nathoo, who serves as a coalition chair, and myself, the Director of Intersect, the program which oversees the Coalition. While there was a great deal of helpful content offered that day, perhaps the shear fact that Aziz and I collaborated on the event was itself a take away worth considering.
Aziz is known as a Muslim Interfaith preacher, civil dialogue promoter, social justice warrior and college chaplain. I am a Christian pastor, social worker, suicide intervention trainer and mental health chaplain. As a religious minority in America, Aziz emphasizes the importance of interfaith dialogue that seeks to “converse, not convert”. As a Christian in the evangelical tradition, I desire to share the good news of Jesus and emphasize that “conversion” isn’t a dirty word but simply describes the value of changing one’s mind when it discovers something true, good, and beautiful. Therefore, I’m more comfortable with our coalition’s emphasis that one can “share without imposing” rather than the language of “converse without converting”. Despite these differences, though, Aziz and I both spent the last week telling others what we appreciate about each other. I wrote a letter of recommendation for him that highlighted his integrity. He shared at the conference that I’ve changed his mental picture of an evangelical Christian.
Why am I sharing all this? Because when working for the common good of your community, we’re bound to interact with people different than us in a variety of ways. Different worldviews, different backgrounds and different experiences will abound. For some, this brings fear and a decision to altogether avoid collaborative spaces like the intersection of faith and mental health. However, if we bravely enter this space, we may find, as Aziz and I have, that we can bring our whole selves to the conversation, experience win-win collaboration and maybe even find a friend.