A Celebration of “the Other”

We celebrated things we admire in other faiths and cultures on Apr. 28 at the home of our co-founder Betsy Wiggins. It was an informal spring celebration and Women Transcending Boundaries’ last meeting until September.

The skies were dreary as women arrived at the lovely home of co-founder Betsy Wiggins bringing colorful flowers, tempting foods, hugs and smiles. We brought a rich history of experiences to share—both in terms of our cultures and faiths and our experiences with WTB. It was lovely to see new faces and welcome back some who were part of WTB’s inception.

Bright flowers already dotted Betsy’s home heralding spring. We placed our flowers for the exchange in the kitchen nook and our edible contributions on the lace-draped table in the dining room. Several of us made a large circle of chairs and couches before the fireplace.

President Sue Savion opened the meeting welcoming all warmly. Joy read our Mission Statement; Sue read some guidelines for speaking and listening as well as our WTB Safe Place Declaration. She also shared a thank you letter from Karen of the Eastern Farm Workers Association thanking those of us who had donated baby supplies to one of their members. Sue explained we would enjoy food and sharing stories. WTBs theme this year has been “Understanding the Other”; later, we would be invited to share something that we admire from a culture/religion different from our own.

We filled our plates with savory and sweet treats of all descriptions— homemade black bean soup, bright vegetables, fresh fruits, and tempting baked goods—and reassembled in the living room circle to share our thoughts. Each person in the circle was invited to share something she most admired about a religion/culture not her own. 

It was interesting that as women answered the question, many candidly shared their personal faith journeys. Among us were Roman Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Methodist, various denominations of Protestants, Conservative and Reformed Jews, Muslim, agnostic, and those identifying as simply children of God. Many of us were raised in one tradition but had traveled through others in route to a conversion later in life. Some blend aspects of more than one faith in their spiritual lives.

It was also interesting to hear the things we admired in other faiths. I found myself silently agreeing as others gave voice to values that resonate deeply.  A sampling:

  • Jewish: sense of family, unity, and devotion to community
  • Islam: opening Iftar celebrations to the whole community, inviting those of different faiths to celebrate with them
  • Native American traditions: God has no gender, every day is treated as Thanksgiving, and adults tell stories to help children learn/grow
  • Islam: deep sense of hospitality, devotion of praying 5 times a day, and “big, loving hearts”
  • Unitarian Universalism: inclusiveness which affirms principles rather than demand adherence to any specific religious doctrine
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: commitment to service in the community and emphasis on action in the world as a way of showing the light of Christ
  • Islam: hospitality and welcoming the stranger as evidenced by the five families who founded and support Rahma, a free health clinic on the Syracuse’s south side open to all regardless of ability of pay
  • Pagan/Wiccan: their motto “Do No Harm,” honoring the cycles of the Earth, and practicing the Golden Rule
  • Zen Buddhism: commitment to non-violence and the peace it brings its practitioners.

Several women spoke about the recent rise in hate crimes and the cycle of ignorance begetting violence leading to fear and hate. Several pleaded for opportunities to reach out and learn more about other faiths/cultures and hoped education would change attitudes in the next generation. Some personal stories illustrated how difficult it can be to take a stand against discrimination and hate, and the risks assumed by those who do stand up for what is just.

Betty Lamb thanked Sue Savion for her dedication and leadership over her two -year tenure as President of WTB. Enthusiastic and appreciative applause followed!

As the meeting adjourned, Sue reminded us to select a plant from the flower exchange.