Freedom Press

Yesterday found us in East London, Whitechapel and Brick Lane areas specifically. So if you are a Jack the Ripper “fan” you know where we were. It was a wonderful tour of the area by a local gentleman who had grown up there. We travelled past the Freedom Press offices, down alley ways and tiny streets. Frying Pan Alley that Jack London wrote about was on the tour as well as the preserved Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor. In our travels we were fortunate enough to run into a gentleman that took care of the oldest remaining synagogue. Scaffoldings were all about it, repairing and reconstructing the building. He told us we couldn’t enter but after conversations and familiarity with the group was gained, he allowed us to come in and “take a peek.” There was as much construction inside as there was outside, in a way reflecting what has been happening on the trip with each of us. The history of the building was given and a few questions asked; the building had been used by several religions over the years, Jewish being the current one.

During the time spent in this sacred place, the same thought occurred to many of us. Can we help? He talked about waiting for grants and funding to finish the refurbishing and it collectively dawned on us. Many, not all, gave a donation to aid in the project. This facility was not scheduled and this gentleman gave of himself, it was the least we could do to give back.

East London

We moved forward to Brick Lane, a place that has seen different immigrant communities come, flourish, and leave. Since the early 1970s Bangladeshi immigrants have called this area home. Our guide explained to us the tension and violence that occurred then: skin heads marching down streets and breaking windows of businesses. The image is a far one from what exists now. Today the area is known as Bangalor City, a thriving area of business known for its curry and the markets that surround it. The conflicts have ended; resolution has been found. The place that was once where Methodists could receive communion is now the mosque. Like the synagogue before, new uses for older buildings are found. The sacredness of the place remains the same even though the people occupying it have changed.

Our afternoon was free and so adventures began. For my friend and I we decided to find the White Hart pub: the oldest licensed pub in London. But we got lost. When we realized this fact, it was too late, we knew we were not in the right spot, or were we? A small sign caught my eye and I wanted to investigate further so I moved a little ahead. Well there it was: a metaphysical shop! That’s right; the gods gave me what I had been asking for – a place where I could get some supplies for Sunday’s ritual at the Glastonbury Tor. I’ll be going back to this shop for a few other things, but most importantly my friend got directions to the pub! So in honor of St. Pat’s day we had Guinness to quench our thirst.

When we got back to the hotel it was time to gather and leave for St. Patrick’s Church in Soho. It was St. Patrick’s Day after all. We have one Catholic in the group and she was looking forward to celebrating her faith. But the evening took a twist. When we arrived at the church it was under construction. Mass was to be held in a small room only able to accommodate 35 people – we had 17. The priest acted as if he didn’t know we were coming and told us we were “welcome but it might get tight”. Tight is an understatement. I ended up in the hallway not able to even hear and I’m truly glad for that. It isn’t that I didn’t want to be there, I find the Catholic mass beautiful. But what the priest said in his sermon was hurtful and cutting. The Pagans were under attack, our Catholic was embarrassed. The mass ended.

Guardian of the Park

When were finally got outside I was told what the priest said, it was hurtful, it didn’t matter, I’m glad I didn’t hear it. But now was the time to take what was done and negotiate the territory of when faiths collide. At some point this was going to happen between groups on the trip, I just didn’t know which groups. We decided to do the day’s reflection right away. And so the discussion began. I have to say that the tension was great, but the ability of our students to work through the histories of persecution/persecutor was amazing. Tears flowed, the feeling of being “less than” and under attack were expressed. A woman in the congregation had been less than understanding when she saw the small Thor’s Hammer on one girl’s necklace. Another could barely express how she felt about the hostility directed towards the group. The realization that not all churches/priests practice in the same manner was a shock to another.

In the end, the sea of emotions that could have divided the group ended up giving birth to new understanding of how we need to negotiate the differences between us. Not only to understand that there are differences, but that we also don’t need to carry the guilt of our tradition’s past. There will be others of our faith that we don’t agree with and that’s okay. It is what we do with our faith, how we present it, and what we do to help others understand that in order for traditions to survive and flourish they need to learn to coexist with one another.

Difference is the reason we continue to exist, not the downfall that we all think it is. Isolationism and blind dogma is the ending of any tradition, it makes no difference what that tradition is. Only through understanding that we don’t all need to be the same can we begin to understand that our faith traditions reflect who we are as humans. Helping others through practice, dialogue and example are all ways that we can bring differences to light in a positive manner and understand we don’t have to look at any one else as inferior or wrong. Remember in my previous post on Day 2 the picture of the Berlin Wall? Only through reconciliation with each other did the wall come down. Let it serve as a reminder to build on relationships rather than hanging on to separation.