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FINDING COMMON GROUND

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This year, 2021, the religious holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan all occur within the month of April. These three major religions all trace their origin to a common ancestor, Abraham. They all worship the One True G-d of Abraham, known by many names. They all recognize the person Jesus of Nazareth as a prophet, teacher and healer. This common ground is not insignificant.

There is also a significance in the temporal intersection of these holy observances which are the crux of each religion’s foundation. The Jewish and Muslim calendars are based on a lunar calculation, while the Christian calendar has a solar timetable. Thus, our planet earth and its sun and moon must be in a type of agreement or alignment for all three holidays to occur within the same month.

The observances have something else in common. Each marks a revelation. For Jews, the revelation of the power of the One True G-d in saving G-d’s people from slavery in Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land. For Christians, the One True G-d is again revealed as a redeemer. And Ramadan marks the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

What do these revelations and this common ground mean to us today?

The United States is slowly emerging from a type of Dark Ages marked by a health pandemic, hatred and violence directed at those who are “different” from the so-called majority, economic distress, increased unemployment, increased housing and food instability and increased wealth in the hands of a few. The nation that claims to be founded on “Christian” principles has disregarded the mandate of the author of those principles.

The command to love G-d and neighbor are numerous throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Throughout the Quran runs a similar mandate. One of the most well-known passages comes from the prophet Micah:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Despite what some may teach, we have more in common than what separates us. It is not enough, however, to acknowledge this common ground. We must actively work to make the foundation of our commonality secure and firm. To paraphrase Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, it is not enough to say that one is not racist. One must actively work against racist policies. That is, one must be anti-racist. One must not give lip service to loving refugees. One must actively work for solutions to the causes of migration and to welcome and support those who seek safety and refuge in this country.

When one looks at recent state legislation, one can still see efforts to divide our population: restrictions on voting rights (Georgia makes it a crime to provide water to voters standing in line);  criminalizing the delivery of medical services to transgender people (Alabama); increasing the sales tax which falls disproportionately on those of low income (West Virginia); easing restrictions on carrying firearms in public places (Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa and Texas). All these measures have an adverse effect on the most vulnerable of our population: immigrants, people of color, children, transgender persons, and the poor.

In this month of April, when circumstances combine to bring together three world religions, may we in the United States also come together and honor the teachings of those religions to protect the vulnerable. May we actively work to root out the causes of hatred which result in harm to vulnerable populations and to establish avenues that lead to justice, equality and equity for all.

AN EPIPHANY FOR OUR COUNTRY

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There are dates that become part of the memory and psyche of America: July 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; June 6, 1944; September 11, 2001.

And now, January 6, 2021. The holy day of Epiphany, in the Christian calendar, which marks the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity to gentiles. 

On this holy date, our nation’s capitol was attacked by a violent mob, which manifested the division, polarization and disregard for the sacredness of human life that has become more rampant in our country in recent years. 

As a faith-based organization, WVIRM denounces the rhetoric and behavior of persons who would disrupt or overthrow by violence our democratic form of government. We denounce actions by white-supremacists, anti-Semites and anti-Muslim extremists who want to promote their religion of hatred.

We ask persons of faith – and, indeed, all persons in this country – to join us in manifesting the ethical values we proclaim to hold: the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

DARKNESS and LIGHT

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The Winter Solstice is upon us, December 21, 2020, the shortest day of the year. The day of the most darkness. From ancient times, the Winter Solstice has been marked by rituals focused on waking the sun from its long nap. Fire and light are symbols of this season. 

Many of the world’s religions and cultures recognize this time of year with their own celebrations of light: Jews, Hanukkah; Christians, Christmas; African-Americans, Kwanzaa. Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains celebrated Diwali a month prior to the Winter Solstice. 

Where do migrants find light during this time?

Responding to the needs of the 79.5 million displaced persons in the world requires superhuman effort. The heart of West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry is its interfaith, ecumenical basis. Taking care of the universe and its occupants is a responsibility the Creator has given to all the earth’s people, regardless of faith affiliation. We have all been commanded to love God and love neighbor. (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:30-31). 

Loving our neighbors is an outward act. We show our love for God and neighbor by concrete actions. These outward acts of love inspire others to follow our examples, not for our self-aggrandizement, but for the glory of God.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

Matthew 5:14-16

Where do migrants find light? 

Through you and me. Through our donations of time and money. Through our words proclaiming that all people are valuable and deserve basic human rights, such as safety, shelter, nourishment, education, meaning and purpose. 

In this season of darkness, shine a light on Love by donating to one of the many organizations working to better the lives of migrants everywhere. A list of religious and other organizations is posted in our Resources section. 

Reasons for Joy

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Yes, even in a pandemic, one of the craziest years in the past century, we at West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry have reasons for joy.

The two families we serve are thriving. All four adults are employed full time. The six children are involved in school and church activities.

We received a COVID 19 grant from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, which was greatly needed when family members were laid off due to the pandemic.

WVIRM celebrated its first Welcoming Week in which we highlighted immigrant-owned businesses. An ecumenical panel discussion featuring both clergy and lay persons exposed the harms done by racist and xenophobic actions and rhetoric.

Anticipated changes in federal immigration policies should enable WVIRM to do the most we can for those who have the least.

And we are joyful at the continued offerings of time and money from our many supporters. Thank you, and may you be blessed during this holy season.

To read a copy of our annual appeal and report, click the Download button below.