It seems everywhere you look these days, the news causes anxiety, fear and a sense of hopelessness. Whether it is the ISIL militants committing atrocities in Syria and Iraq, the latest conflict between Palestine and Israel, the ongoing crisis involving Russia and Ukraine or the devastating effects of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa triggering exaggerated fears in the U.S. and Maine, our discouragement is real.

The news from the home front is not that positive, either: Real wages have, for the last three decades, remained stagnant for the vast number of families, and young people are burdened with incredible student debt. Is there hope for the future of the global community, both our own future and that of the next generation?

FEAR, DISTRUST LEAD TO INJUSTICE

The darkness of our time can overwhelm and swallow what’s left of hope and our love for fellow human beings. Regardless of one’s color of skin or faith tradition, it is common to us all to retreat to what is safe and reassuring in the midst of unsettled times.

At times like these we may, in our hearts and heads, turn in fear toward those who are different from us. Our fear may make us careless with what we say about the “Other,” how we see our neighbors and how we behave toward those we know little about. Fear can extinguish not only hope, but also the capacity for love, imagination and human decency.

We have only to look to our own history of our treatment of African-Americans and Native Americans, to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, to know that as human beings, we are capable of injustice when we allow fear and distrust to overtake the values that we hold dear as a nation.

Today we see it on social media: the bullying, the name calling, the disparaging comments that, for example, equate all Muslims with terrorists or all immigrants with welfare recipients. We see language that casually denigrates others because of their race or whom they choose to love and marry, or for affiliation with a given political party.

It is not only the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – that ask us to be kind to the strangers amongst us and help those in need. The Golden Rule, applicable to all religions, also demands human decency and love for others.

The story of the Good Samaritan offers a good example. Although it’s often read as a conventional morality tale, what Jesus asks at the end of the tale is not who the neighbor is, but who has acted as the neighbor.

The focus of the ancient tale shifts from the wounded man to the helper to make it clear that the one who acts compassionately toward us is our neighbor.

As neighbors, we are joined in reciprocal relationships based on mutual need and mutual compassion. We may choose to fear those in our midst who are different from us, or we may watch out for them and act like a neighbor.

The choice is ours alone. The sin of rejecting the stranger distorts the Golden Rule and the basic tenets of the Abrahamic faiths that all people, notwithstanding their differences, are children of the same God. In the Quran, we read, “O people! Behold, we have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another.” (Quran 49:13)

WELCOME THE STRANGER

As children of God, whether representing the Episcopal Church in Maine, all 60 congregations across the state, or the few thousand Muslims who call Maine home, we believe that the urgent task is to stand together to cast aside fear – even though we, too, may feel vulnerable – and to work together to help our neighbors find solutions to problems they face.

Ultimately, the fear that creeps around us can be defeated only by demonstrating love for your neighbor: Welcome the stranger, visit the sick, feed and shelter the hungry and the displaced.

Here in Maine, a better future can be ours when more of us, from different faith traditions and across class and political divisions, join hands and make friends. Acting as neighbors to one another creates the light necessary to battle such darkness.

— Special to the Telegram