Posted: 12:00 a.m. Friday, Nov. 23, 2012

COVERING YOUR HOMETOWNS

Adherents of different faiths mingle in frank discussion

The Centerville Washington Diversity Council hosted a dialogue.



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Adherents of different faiths mingle in frank discussion photo
John (right) and Nilofer Ali-Rodgers share their experiences as a couple with different religions; he as a Buddhist and she as a Muslim. They were part of a group of people from different religions who participated in an event Nov. 14 on religious differences in Centerville. Contributed photo by Tristan Navera

By Tristan Navera

CENTERVILLE —

From Christians to Muslims, Buddhists and atheists, Centerville is a community with a wide array of spiritual beliefs.

Many of those voices came together last week to share their stories.

The Centerville Washington Diversity Council held a dialogue among residents of different religions in the community Nov. 14at Centerville High School. Though the speakers professed widely varying backgrounds and adherences, they remained united by a profound devotion to each of their faiths.

“They’ve done a wonderful job in reaching across the spectrum and showing the different religions in Centerville,” said Aaron Saari, one of the speakers.

During the event, titled “Voices and Stories: Tales of Diverse Religions,” adherents from a number of religions explained a little about what they believed and how the circumstances in their lives drew them to a system of faith.

Saari shared his story relating the suicide of his brother as a factor in his conversion from a staunch atheist to Christianity.

“I remember feeling the most intense sense of loss and pain and anguish I had ever experienced.” Saari said. And then, suddenly, I felt a presence, and a love; that I wasn’t alone and that Stephen was O.K. For the first time in my life, I experienced the presence of God.”

The speakers elaborated on how their upbringings affected their views on faith, the struggles it brought in daily life as well as the rewards and comfort.

Husband and wife John and Nilofer Ali-Rodgers, a Buddhist and a Muslin respectively, shared the circumstances of their meeting and courtship, and how spirituality plays into them raising their children.

“We try to teach our children to live with universal values,” Nilofer Ali-Rodgers said. “Compassion and a belief that there is life after this one.”

She noted the ease with which she and her husband have built a life of mutual understanding in spite of their different belief systems.

“We have the same goal: We look for peace and enlightenment in this world and in the next,” she said.

Among other stories were that of Shannon Heather, a Pagan whose beliefs caused her friction while enlisting in the United States Air Force, as well as Bob Lewis, a humanist whose personal beliefs clashed with his religious upbringing.

Ray Gambrel noted his attraction to, and alienation from, Christianity early in his life, and how he later returned to church.

“I feel like God has brought me to this church,” he said, “If God takes me somewhere else, that’s where I’ll go, because I want to do God’s will.”

As the speakers continued, several Centerville High School drama students acted out many of the situations, earning an ovation for themselves and director Alan Bomar Jones from the crowd of about 50 to 75.

Jones and the Diversity Council had interviewed community members to find an interesting and diverse range of stories and religious experiences from within the community.

Jackie Curl, chairwoman of the Centerville Washington Diversity Council, said the event is part of an effort to celebrate the wide range of lifestyles present in the area.

“Our mission … is to celebrate and promote an inclusive, diverse and welcoming community for the people who live and work in Centerville and Washington Township,” Curl said.

Saari noted the comfort of the session and its benefits for those who attended, noting the atmosphere allowed frank discussion on spirituality from different viewpoints while people didn’t feel like they had to defend their beliefs.

“It shows that if you want to see people of other cultures, you don’t have to travel all across the globe,” Saari said, “There’s a wide array of cultures right here in our community.”

 
 

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