Three Amigos to talk in S.F. about interfaith friendship

This past summer, a crowd composed largely of aging baby boomers filled the Interfaith Community Church in Seattle to hear three amigos.

Those would be the “Interfaith Amigos,” as they call themselves: Rabbi Ted Falcon of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle, retired pastor Don Mackenzie and Muslim Sufi minister Sheikh Jamal Rahman. Together they wrote “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi, and a Sheikh.”

“Interfaith Amigos” (from left) Imam Jamal Rahman, Pastor Don Mackenzie and Rabbi Ted Falcon at an event in Los Angeles.

This Seattle-area spiritual — and now literary — trio hopes that if people learn about others’ beliefs, they may feel less threatened by them.

“We will survive only if we learn to treat ourselves, our neighbors, and our planet with greater wisdom, compassion and caring,” they write in the introduction.

The clergy will appear Nov. 20 at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco for a program featuring a Q&A session and a reception.

The event is free, open to the public and sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, San Francisco Interfaith Council and Calvary Presbyterian Church.

In “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith,” the three men prescribe five steps that individuals and communities can take to overcome the distance between religions and cultures.

Each had an epiphany of sorts after a trip they took together to Israel in November 2005 that dramatically altered their worldviews.

Mackenzie had not been back to the region since he lived in Lebanon with his wife in 1966 and ’67, until they were evacuated during the Six-Day War.

As his memories of a people he grew to love came flooding back, he began to develop a more pronounced compassion for Israel and the plight of the Jews.

“Israel aspires to be the safe haven for Jews who have suffered indignities and violence because of the Christian repudiation of Judaism, the conviction that Jews have not seen the true light of Christianity,” Mackenzie wrote.

Mackenzie is hoping Christians will face their role in the Middle East conflict with more honesty.

“I don’t think Christians understand,” he said. “Reconciliation is not possible until you name the truth.”

Rahman, an Islamic Sufi scholar originally from Bangladesh, had a very different experience as the plane approached Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. After all, his friends had warned him that Israel might not be the best vacation destination.

“I was scared, actually,” said Rahman. “To an average Muslim, all of America and all of the entire military might of America is there. These are big perceptions.”

Rahman said he was pulled out of line at the airport and questioned extensively about his business there after he told the young female soldier he was a Muslim. However, she displayed a visible change of heart when he explained the Amigos’ mission.

From the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock, Rahman said he saw many people showing love and devotion through their faith practice.

“The condition in the Holy Land is a reflection of what is in our own hearts,” he said.

Having been to Israel several times before, Falcon saw the Jewish state through different eyes this time as he traveled with his ecumenical partners.

“On this interfaith trip, we visited more Christian sites then I’ve ever seen before,” Falcon told the crowd.

His experience in one of the most famous Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, convinced him that everyone needs to drop their sense of “possession” when it comes to religious places.

He mused that the keys to the church ultimately had to be handed over to a Muslim family.

“They became focused on their own survival and their own expansion,” added Falcon. “The forms we create to support us in meeting the sacred become more important than meeting the sacred.”

Janis Siegel
wrote this piece for JTNews, a Seattle-based Jewish newspaper.

Interfaith Amigos, 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at Calvary Presbyterian Church, 2515 Fillmore St., S.F. Free. Information