Last weekend, my Living World Religions class took a trip to Chicago — yeah, the one that everyone talks about — to visit several houses of worship for other religions. Just for your information, we went to a Baha’i temple, a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, a Sikh temple, a Jewish synagogue and a Buddhist temple. I’m a pretty laid-back guy and, if we are being honest, I signed up for this class because it interested my wife and I figured it would be nice to have a class with her. And hey, Chicago.
We had a packed day on Friday visiting four out of the six sites of the weekend. Each location was relatively the same routine. We would walk in together, maybe cover our heads with a wrap or take off our shoes out of respect — I also got to wear a yarmulke — then we would file into the place of worship and watch the ceremony.
All of the sites we saw were amazing and eye-opening. The buildings were ornate, and most were extremely old. There was so much history behind why these people believe what they believe — just like us, as Christians. In a way, I was heartbroken, because what I believe is the way to salvation isn’t what they believed. For some, salvation wasn’t even on their radar. They will just continue to be reincarnated until, well, forever. However, this isn’t the point of my column.
The buildings were great, the history was neat, the ideology cool — whatever. What made the trip were the people we met at every location struck me. At the mosque, we arrived just in time for the afternoon prayer. They had us take off our shoes and seated us in the back to watch. Our guide excused himself from us and took his spot in line with the others. As the prayer began, there were only a few in line, but as the prayer went on, a few young men hurried through the door and got in line, followed a few minutes later by three young boys who did the same. A couple more minutes passed and a man in a suit came in, removed his hat and took his place.
I laughed and thought of all of the times I’d been late for church, class and other important meetings. For some reason, I had always figured that other religions were rigid and, in a way, eerily regimented. However, here were kids running in late for prayer, just as I had run in late for the early service on Sundays.
After the mosque, we visited a Sikh temple where we were served a langar, or an evening meal, that anyone — and I mean anyone— can attend. Sikhs as a whole aim for equality. From the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, anyone can get a meal with them. These people served us as honored guests that evening. After our meal, we were led to a different part of the building where we simply listened to our Sikh guide tell stories.
He talked to us about having an arranged marriage and what it was like. He made us laugh too many times to count. He made jokes about his daughters marrying out of his family and taking last names like “Silverstein.” It became apparent to me that although our religious backgrounds are different, there is absolutely nothing different about our human natures. Our ability to connect transcends our differences in a very big way. I hope one day many of those we met think about this whole Christianity thing, and remember that time they were with us. For now, I will remember them, pray for them and do my very best to spread the word about these kind, selfless human beings.