Iman Abdul Karim Ali, Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association
BY CINDY CARTER, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – There are more than 4,000 different religions in the world. Some beliefs are shared across the board; others divide countries, states and communities. For the fourth year, Interfaith Tampa Bay has sponsored the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Memorial Service, where they proposed to bring all local faiths together to spread one message.
Hundreds of people attended the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, located at 5815 5th Ave. N., to get a reminder of the importance of spreading the word when it comes to civil justice and the importance of creating a future together with people who are dedicated to what is right and good in society, and throughout the entire world.
Rev. Joran Oppelt, president of Interfaith Tampa Bay
Interfaith Tampa Bay President Rev. Joran Oppelt believes spiritual leaders have inherited an important piece of Dr. King’s legacy.
“His dream, his vision, it lives on in our hearts like a torch that’s been passed,” he said. “It’s not only the responsibility of those leaders in our faith communities but it’s the responsibility of all of us to make sure that dream, that vision becomes reality.”
Oppelt said as a society, we have “cut the ribbon” a few times such as getting the right to vote or electing the first black president, but the truth is most people don’t feel the uplifting moments that mark a society that is positively evolving.
“I ask all of you in this room to take a moment and consider where you are on the spectrum of pain and suffering or oppression—cultural or systemic oppression—to the status quo, to the privileged.”
He’s asking for everyone to break down the barriers and get the “suffering talking to oppression, to get oppression talking to the status quo, to get the status quo talking to the privileged and to get privileged speaking to the power.”
Oppelt wants the community and ultimately the world to speak differently, forgive one another for past transgressions, to find courage and to find a way to love.
Mayor Rick Kriseman quoted Dr. King in saying, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Although this applies to residents geographically, it also applies to religion and spirituality.
“No matter our faith we are all in this together and we are all working to make our community, the world, a better place,” Kriseman said.
Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin relayed the struggles and uncertainty society is feeling now to Dr. King’s guiding words in difficult times. He stressed in his speeches that no matter how frustrating a situation is no one is alone.
“It’s at these times that he reminds us to hold on,” she said, emphasizing that although at times Dr. King’s holiday falls when society may be experiencing great moments, such as the historic inauguration of President Obama, other years it may come at a time full of frustrations and insecurity.
Keynote Speaker Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer is the executive director of Florida Council of Churches and pastor of the New Parish of Tampa / St. Paul and Faith Lutheran Churches. He works with multi-faiths, accenting the value of humanity. He pushes for a better world, concentrating his efforts on global issues like healthcare, climate change and justice reform.
He spoke about moments. About taking the opportunity to stop and get involved every time a moment to make a difference presents itself. He encouraged those in attendance to take advantage of the active religious spirit in the community. Many have worked to nurture it and to see it flourish, but without constant vigilance, all the hard work put into creating change will go to waste.
“Violence cannot kill the dream, but inaction can defer it,” said Meyer, who is making the call for personal and eclectic action for racial equity.
The great leaders of the past all saw the world as one. In Meyer’s eye, they understood that by uniting the world and finding peace, they needed to have compassion for all.
“Compassion is a matter of course in the circle of our closest relationships and it’s easily forgettable when we walk out our front door,” he averred. He wants to remind the world that for compassion to be realized locally, every resident must walk together. “Our destinies line up together, they are intertwined.”
Meyer believes if the world doesn’t unite, it will lead to destruction. If racism and economic exploitation continue, it will continue to gnaw at the little bit of progress that has been made in the past. High incarceration rates are also linked to generational poverty, with half of their offspring ending up behind bars themselves.
He knows the only way to make a true difference is to participate in making peace an outward reality, not just an inward spiritual value.
“Compassion means to suffer together and to do it together we need to listen to the voices that suffer and hear it over and over again until we can tell it with our own words.”
Meyer’s said, what passes for compassion for many is basically just a guilt offering. Individuals see a problem that needs resources and they begin to throw solutions at it, making a dent in the condition of suffering, but leaving the suffering itself unhealed.
By picking up Dr. King’s mantle and continuing to move forward by pursuing inclusive equity for all, Meyer’s feels the destiny God intends for everyone will be realized.