by Jim Brulé

Story Summary

A Baptist, a Muslim, and a Jew visit a church three years in a row to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding. The transformation of one angry congregant through the image of a gumball machine provides an enduring lesson for everyone.

Discussion Questions

  1. Brainstorm a list of things that first seemed strange to you, but then turned out to be beautiful.
  2. If someone was angry at you and it didn’t seem to be your fault, what are different strategies you could use to respond?
  3. If everyone was all the same, what would have to be different about who you are? What would you have to give up?

Resources

  • Finding Peace through Spiritual Practice: The Interfaith Amigos' Guide to Personal, Social and Environmental Healing by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman
  • For discussions about political terminology and euphemisms addressing detention of Japanese Americans during World War II, please refer to: Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and Densho Project.

Themes

  • European American/Whites
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish American/Jews
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript
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Hi, my name is Jim Brulé and I have a story for you today.

It sounds like it’s a bad joke. Actually, it’s about a Baptist, a Muslim and a Jew. Except it is about a Baptist, a Muslim and a Jew. The Baptist is a Baptist preacher, his name is Jim. The Muslim is a Muslim scholar, his name is Mohammed. And I’m the Jew. And the three of us have gotten to know each other over many years – so well in fact that we call ourselves, The Brothers Three.

We study together. We get to know each other, but most importantly we do dialogue with churches and communities and schools. All kinds of organizations that may be fractured by race or by belief.

The three of us are very different people. Jim, the Baptist preacher, is your kinda stereotypic Baptist preacher. He loves to praise Jesus and tell the story as it is. And he gets very excited and energetic and his voice raises up and down and there’s no question that he’s a Baptist preacher when he’s talking.

Mohammed is a scholar. He has a PhD in Islamic studies. He’s a small Egyptian man and he talks with a very precise accent and he loves to tell you exactly what it is that you need to know.

And me, well if you haven’t figured, I’m a storyteller so I talk in a lot of stories with a lot of heart and I try and draw people in.

So, what we do is we go to organizations and we share our stories and then we invite them to react to the stories and ask us questions and basically build dialogue across boundaries that they might not have realized were there. Normally, Jim will start out and he will start by telling a story of how he, as a Baptist preacher, came to really understand how much Jesus meant to him and how Jesus is so important to him by studying in the Quran.

He found Jesus in the Quran. And when he tells that to our typical audience which is either Christian or secular, they get a little uncomfortable. Then, I usually get up and I tell a story from the Jewish tradition and that story ends with a person who’s just furious with God for making the world so full of pain and why doesn’t God do his job and take care of people.

Of course, in the story the fellow has helped someone tremendously, but he’s still mad at God. And the audience as uncomfortable as they’ve been are now a little more uncomfortable.

And, then, Mohammed will get up and he’ll tell people in a more refined way that they have the wrong ideas about Sharia or jihad. And he tries to educate them about how the extremists have really added poison to those very beautiful terms. So, we’ll go to various places and do this and then invite fine dialogue.

Well, one year we went to a Lutheran church. It’s a suburban Lutheran Church. It’s, you know, got nice modern architecture, thin lines, big classrooms even. Even the sanctuary is built as a circle rather than a long rectangle.

And they’ll have a service and then a break and a second service. And we come in the middle and we speak to both services. This one year we went there and shortly after we had finished our presentations a man stood up and he said to Mohammed, “You know, I know what you Muslims are. You’re just out there. You want to convert the world and if you won’t get converted, we’re going to kill you. I just I hate what you’re doing!”

Muhammad who’s heard this before, stands up to try and respond, but the man was furious. Says, “Don’t even say anything. You’re just a liar!”

And he stormed out of the room. Well, the pastor rose up and tried to apologize for this fellow and Muhammad said, “Look, these are hard questions and the questions that people need the answers to. I’m just sorry he couldn’t wait around.”

 

Well, the day went on and the year went by and they asked us back a second time. So, here we are in the same church and people are ready to listen to us. And there’s the man. This time he’s standing at the back of the room. His arms are crossed. His legs are spread, and you know he’s ready for battle. But he doesn’t say a single thing. He stands there for the whole 90 minutes and leaves. And we thought, well, a little bit of progress.

And they invited us back for a third year and this is when the magic happened. Here we are – we do our, stories. We invite the dialogue. He’s still standing there but, perhaps, he’s not quite so angry. And, after a couple of questions are asked, he steps forward politely and he looks at me. And he said, “Ya know, I think what we all need is just a big melting pot.”

Now, I’ve heard that term a million times and what it really means is that you want to erase differences, not celebrate them. And, ironically, it seems to be asked most by white men who – I don’t know why – think that if we melt everybody together, we’ll end up white men, not brown.

But, anyway, I didn’t say that to him. Instead, I’m kind of on inspiration. I said, “You know when I was a kid, we used to have these big bubblegum machines. And I would kneel down and put my quarter in and turn the crank and I’d hear the clink of the gumball hitting. And I always hoped it was a blue one because blue was my favorite. And there would be just 100 different colors it seemed in those gumball machines. And, you know, if that was a melting pot, it would just be one gray icky mess and it probably would taste pretty terrible.”

And he thought for a minute and then he said, “You know I think what we really need is to have softer shells.”

I said, “Thank you. I never thought of that. It’s beautiful. Yes, we need to have softer shells.”

So, what changed this guy from being an angry, angry man to someone who said, “We need to have softer shells?”

I think it’s three things: We need to have patience. We need to let time do its job. We need to be persistent. Because if all we do is wait, nothing’s going to change. And we need to have an open heart. And, when you put those three together, that’s when change really happens.