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MAKING IT BETTER: There Is Room For Us All, Live And Let Live

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Friday, June 24th, 2016
Be warned! I’m having a bit of a rant, but I believe I have earned it.
It never ceases to amaze and shock me in equal measure the level of fear people who purport to be of faith, exhibit when asked to simply consider other forms of worship. I just don’t understand why they are so fearful and the fear is demonstrated by aggression, hostility, and in worse case scenarios even violence. Intellectually I can just about work out and even understand how fear is aroused in people over things and ways that they are ignorant, unaware about and how there might be resistance to the unknown; which is where discrimination, xenophobia and the like find a home. However when people who claim to be religious, people who are quick to condemn anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their brand of religion, exhibit behaviour which is the complete antithesis to what they preach, then I am truly baffled and frankly incensed. I cannot reconcile how these very same people who claim to have the only authentic route to the divine and by that very assertion and definition should be held to higher standards and would be expected to show a certain level of humanity and generosity to their fellow human beings, are the very people who inflict the most pain.
I was recently visited by a Nigerian friend who is a Pastor and while we were chatting, I had a telephone call from a sister friend who is a Muslim. On answering the call, I greeted her by saying Assalamu Alaikum. I noticed from my peripheral vision that my friend had a scowl on her face. I just chalked it down to her maybe suffering from indigestion. At the end of my phone conversation I signed off by saying to my friend ‘God bless’ and that I would see her in a few weeks, ‘Insha Allah’. I hung up the phone and I noticed my pastor friend shaking her head in total disapproval. I immediately thought, ahhh…here we go, here comes the preaching and rhetoric.
First of all she told me God would not be happy with me for engaging in such language. Then she went on to challenge me outright for the two expressions she clearly found offensive. She actually called them ‘Islamic terminology’. She said I wasn’t a Muslim so why did i see the need to speak like that. Even though I did not consider what said was a joke, i actually naively thought she really was just teasing me and she would burst out laughing. Boy was I wrong, she was completely serious!.
I thought for a minute and decided there were a few ways I could go with what was in front of me. The first was not to engage with it all and just change the subject, the other was to engage in a full blown argument as to how hypocritical she was being calling herself a person of God and being intolerant and all that comes along with that fight, or I could see if I could try to reason with her and bring some light to the discussion…after all would’nt that be the best outcome because if I succeeded it could mean her opening her heart and taking away something more accepting and loving that she .could potentially share with others who thought like her. While i was daydreaming and thinking all things ‘Kumbaya’, can’t we just all get along happy feeling, I was brought back to earth with her jarring voice. ‘Gloria! she exclaimed, you are playing with fire, there are so many forces out there and you are leaving yourself exposed to them. You can’t intellectualise about faith. You re freshly ordained, you must know what the scriptures say on these matters’ My first thought was ‘Give me strength Lord’. My second thought was ‘Really, where can i go with this?’!
I asked my friend if she actually knew the meaning of the two words that were giving her such concern? She said she knew Assalamu Alaikum was how Muslims greeted one another but she had no idea what Insha Allah meant. I then asked her how she would feel if she met a Moslem and the first thing they said to her was ‘Peace be with you’ and at the end of their conversation the person said,’Hope to see you soon God willing’.My friend responded that both options would be very nice and appropriate. To which I said that was exactly what I had said to my friend in Arabic, and it was no less authentic than when said in English. It was also an expression of acknowledgement and respect for my friends beliefs. It did not minimise me or have any impact on my beliefs as a christian. I asked my friend what was it about my interaction with my Moslem friend that created so much fear in her?. What did she think was going to happen? She asked, rightfully that did I think my friend would feel the same way about my faith as I did about hers? To which I responded Yes! that’s why we are friends. We have mutual respect for one another and are comfortable in our difference but we are also very aware that there is more that brings us together than keeps us apart. Also we are prepared to open our hearts and bring some understanding and clarity to those areas we are unsure about.
What baffles me even more is that all the ancient Holy books, The Bible, The Koran, The Torah, Buddhism, all emphatically speak with one voice of love, kindness ,helping those less fortunate, relationship with your environment. All very simple, uncomplicated teachings which we somehow have chosen to ignore and/or distort, making our own convoluted distortions with disastrous results!
Since I became an Ordained Minister(Revd), I am constantly asked by Nigerian friends, family, other pastors what church I attend and where will I be preaching. I am vehemently  challenged for referring to myself as a spiritual counselor. I have always said I think of myself as spiritual rather than religious because it makes more sense to me. I am not interested in religious dogma but I am respectful of those who have the beliefs they do in that domain, I just respectfully ask they are equally respectful of others. There is room for us all. More importantly, at the end of the day it matters not so much how you address yourself or what  titles we choose to bear, but rather what is more important and relevant is what positive difference are you making in the world and in the lives or your fellow human beings. Are you bringing light or adding more darkness in the world.
I have noticed that the word spiritual tends to have a negative connotation for most Africans, which is a shame. Being spiritual to me is simply being able to see and feel God all around me,. Its a way of life. God resides in each and everyone of us(if we are open to God), God is in nature, you just have to observe the beauty and wonder in our environment. God, The divine is spacious and not complicated. You can read a powerful poem, book, article, listen to music and feel the presence of God. You look in the eyes of a child and you see God. If you are in the right frame of mind and are a genuine seeker The divine is available to us all and can appear in formats we are not necessarily familiar with. I believe there are many paths to the Divine(a concept many religious people consider to be blasphemous).
Any religious belief that endorses me treating my fellow human beings cruelly, to cause them any physical or psychological pain, to damage them in anyway does not reflect my idea or understanding of the Divine or God..Just as God can be seen or found everywhere, it is also very clear where and when God is absent, which sadly is more evident in the world we live in today.
What I find most problematic with religious dogma is how it gives people permission to relinquish personal responsibility for their actions. Its hard to engage in any intelligent or reasonable discourse once a person says God will decide all things. I happen to believe that ultimately is in control, however we still have a part to play in that decision. As a holistic counselor I prefer to encourage people to hold on steadfastly to their faith, but to also develop a strong sense of consciousness and self awareness. To think about what they bring to situations they find themselves in, to think about how they impact on those around them. in their lives, on a daily basis. I encourage them to think about how they can make a real difference in the lives of loved ones as well as perfect strangers, and not be so quick in absolving themselves and making God responsible for all the ills around us. Let God do God, and we own our own responsibilities.
I love being a Minister in addition to the other roles i play. I am very comfortable,confident and humbled in the knowledge that I am truly blessed in those roles. It is my prayer that I continue to grow and learn in my ministry, to bring love and light to those i meet along the way and to help make things better…Inshaallah

Gloria Ogunbadejo is a columnist with Punch Newspapers, she writes on mental health issues. She is a Life coach, Psychotherapist, Holistic Counselor and Ordained Minister. 


One Response

  1. I really like this piece. Wish more people would appreciate the need to respect each other’s faith and live together in peace. Well done sister!

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