I live in Bettendorf

Pastoral Messages | July 30, 2019

Our summer learning series, Godspan, was created as a kind of hybrid. One of the hot topics in the Quad Cities of late has been “the bridge” – the new I-74 span over the Mississippi. And one of the interesting pieces of my professional biography as I came to town has been the work I’ve done in interfaith relations. So the idea to learn about God’s reaching across religious traditions to engage people in different ways with varied spiritual emphases became Godspan. The notion that God might be at work in ways that are contrary to our expectation is not only thinkable in the Lutheran tradition – it’s foundational.

One key element of the series has been the road trips. On the weekend following each Monday study session, we have been privileged to enjoy the hospitality of a local community embodying the religious tradition we had studied. The Lamrim Kadampa Buddhist Center, the Quad Cities Hindu Temple, the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities, and Temple Emanuel have generously opened their doors and hearts (and sometimes their dining tables) to us. Somehow “world religions” look less alien when the people who live them work at John Deere and St. Ambrose and the doctor’s office and MidAmerican Energy and the school district. And yet….

And yet it can still come as a surprise. When the dress and the accented English and the smattering of foreign phrases and the surrounds of another religious site are unfamiliar, we can still end up a bit disoriented. That may be why one exchange at the Hindu Temple made a refreshing and powerful impact. It brought home what we were learning.

We were being led by a small group of men. One of them, the oldest, is a native of India who was visiting his son here. The younger men often deferred to him out of respect for his age. Yet they were the ones who were more formally our hosts.

One of our group raised a hand. Her question went to the group up front without any specific direction. “Where is your home?” I’m sure she was asking the visitor for his hometown in India, but his son took the question. Without missing a beat and with not a drop of irony, he replied, in his clipped, precise Indian English, “I live in Bettendorf.”

We all laughed. But he had made a key point. “I live in Bettendorf” – or Rock Island, or Davenport, or Moline. I live in the Quad Cities, and it is “home.” I am a Quad Citizen with you, and we stand side by side in our commitment to this community, building it and shaping it and worrying about it and praying for it. Our religions may be quite different in many ways from each other, and God may well be at work among us in both communities. Our cultural patterns may include elements and reflect places from far away, and we have chosen to bring those home to this region along with skills and energy and humility.

Godspan began as a kind of hybrid. I have learned that there was more truth in that than I knew. We are all hybrids of one kind or another. Some are more freshly arrived in this community (I am among the most recently arrived, after all!), so our hybrid identity may be more evident. Others have marinated in this community for long years and witnessed its many changes. In the intermingling of what we bring and what we encounter, in that hybrid process of becoming that is the stuff of life, God is at work within and among us.

We are all hybrid, too, in being neither thoroughly perfect nor utterly despicable. As a Lutheran might say, we are at once a saint and a sinner, praying each day that the former outruns the latter on our way out into the world. It helps me understand why our Hindu friends greeted us and sent us on our way as they did: namaste – “the divine in me greets the divine in you.”

-Peter A. Pettit

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