(Interview) The Interfaith Amigos - Comedy to overshadow tragedy

Arriving to address a large audience in the Interfaith Church in Seattle, the three men begin by fumbling around with pieces of card and awkwardly arranging themselves on stage.  Eventually they get it together and each is seated with holy texts in hand. Pastor Don McKenzie begins the introduction: "We are Three Stooges fans.  In fact, we are the incarnation of their famous phrase, - "we tried to think but nothing happened."

They begin to read their wisdom in unison, look around at each other then begin again. Once more they continue to read above each other to the laughter of the audience. They tell the audience this was the struggle for three years.  Establishing a mutually respectful interfaith dialogue was never going to be easy.

Rabbi falcon reads a passage from the prophet Micah, they tell the audience that for today it is he who knows the right way. 

Imam Jamal Rahman, Pastor Don McKenzie and Rabbi Ted Falcon, collectively and affectionately known as The Interfaith Amigos have been working together since the events of 9/11.  Together they have written two books and have made many live appearances. 

Their collective ability to approach serious subject matter and apply lightness and comedy effects is extremely potent.  It recognises the basic truth that while in this elevated frame of mind the odds of finding a resolution are much greater.

Their combined message is to recognise when we are stuck in patterns of behaviour and warn against the arrogant and ignorant belief that your way is the only way.  This arrogance has destructive and tragic effects. In their address to the audience they promote the belief that universal truths are far greater than those of any individual faith. Oneness, unconditional love and compassion is the universal language of all religions, if we all could embrace this it would bring an end to this global crisis.

Sheikh Jamal explains that in all religions major problems arise in areas inconsistent with core teachings, he explains the nature of dogma: "God sometimes comes and tells us basic truths – and then the devil comes along and says, let me organise this for you – and that is sometimes called religion."

Asked what the hardest issue they have faced, the Sheikh and the Rabbi simultaneously said, "Israel."  "Yeah, the Rabbi said "Cause these guys still don’t understand."  Their comic demeanour does not attempt to avoid or gloss over the conflicts; going where angels fear to tread is their unified path.  They admit that even they have had their disagreements about Arab-Israeli conflict:

 "Imam Jamal and Rabbi Ted have had vigorous disagreements concerning Israel and Palestine, and sometimes Pastor Don has served as moderator, but we have learned something very important. It is crucial to listen carefully for the experience of being the other—how does it feel to be Ted, and how does it feel to be Jamal—how do our faith identities contribute to the way we experience our world?". 

Creating a more authentic face of Islam has also been central to the work of the trio, adding that although correct information and theological discussion has been helpful what has truly had the most impact is the friendship and collaboration between the three men:

"What truly resonates with audiences is the sight of three religious clerics on stage. The audience can sense that our friendship is authentic and they realize the consequences and possibilities of personal connections: theological differences do not loom as a threat, stereotypes break down and collaboration becomes truly possible".

The need to establish this kind of dialogue has never been greater, not only to achieve humankind's dream of peace from conflict, but also in solving many of the inequalities and injustices apparent in the world today. There is unlimited power and potential in a global society unified for a common goal. Imam Jamal explains the importance of 'inner-work" in achieving this end: 

"Gandhi’s words 'Be the change', means that if we want to transform the world we must first transform our self. Unless we change our inner selves we cannot expect outer changes to flourish. We can parrot beautiful verses from our holy book about love, justice and forgiveness but what does it matter if we do not possess the capacity or higher consciousness to live and practice those divine prescriptions.  This inner work requires continuous effort and dedication. It is the work of a lifetime. That is why it is called "the inconvenient work.”

"An untamed and dominant ego sees religious differences as unworthy and a threat. A collaborative ego honors the dignity of differences and celebrates diversity. Without cultivating an inner spaciousness, it is difficult to be inclusive and welcoming".  In the absence of spiritual wisdom there can be no peace, no collaboration and no unity.

Imam Jamal describes the owner of the collaborative ego as being tolerant of others beliefs even if they are dramatically opposed to his own, and does not attempt to 'convert' his brother to his own way of thinking. This attracts the question from the audience of what to do if someone is fiercely attached to their beliefs, and feels he needs to defend them aggressively.  Rabbi Ted replies with the short answer, "duct tape".

You have to love these guys; who else do you know who, (coming from seemingly diametrically opposed viewpoints) can find commonality, have an interfaith audience laughing at religious taboos and offer simple and permanent resolution?  The Interfaith Amigos are emerging as one of our great moral hopes.

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