The first time that I gave my wife a flower, it didn’t work out so well. We were on our first date when I bought the flower from what I thought was a street vendor raising money for world peace. Hey, I don’t know. It was the 1970s.
“Did you know that you just gave money to a cult?” my date asked in scolding tone.
Not really, I thought. The closest thing that resembled a cult in my hometown of Atascadero, Calif., was the Future Farmers of America (a rivalry joke between my ROTC cadets and them).
With love for my future bride, I said nothing, primarily because I knew nothing about the Hare Krishna. With respect to Becky, she only knew what she’d been told.
Sometimes ignorance is endearingly funny, but it wasn’t funny last week when Wade Michael Page, 40, went on a killing rampage in the Wisconsin Sikh temple.
His ignorance leads me to this confession: Readers tell me that I’ve done a fair job of inspiring them, tickling them, and sometimes even inciting them, but I’ve been remiss in educating readers on the religions of our day.
I can’t help but wonder if a little education somewhere along the way might have stopped Wade. So, in that spirit I hope you’ll allow me a few moments to offer three areas in which me might better understand Sikh culture.
History: They’ve become the world’s fifth-largest religion and have gained nearly 25 million adherents since they were founded in India by Guru Nanak in the 15th century. Estimates put the U.S. Sikh population considerably short of a million.
Sikhs aren’t even remotely Muslims. They come from a Muslim/Hindu culture, but calling them Muslim is about as far-fetched as calling a Scientologist a Lutheran because Scientology’s founder was born in Nebraska.
Worship: Men and women sit apart for worship in a temple called the Gurdwara. Their temples often are seen as compounds by the uninformed. That’s because they incorporate clinics, schools, guest quarters and community centers as a way of giving back to the community.
American congregations largely worship on Sunday with hymns and teachings (much like my church does, but without the five-piece band.) They welcome everyone and pray daily for the betterment of all humanity and for the well being of the world. When worship is concluded, they offer home-cooked meals to anyone who wants one. It’s my kind of place.
Beliefs: The main tenet of their monotheistic faith is equality, a teaching that rejects India’s traditional class system. They preach that all religions are good and they honor all sacred texts. In fact their scripture commands them not to condemn other religions.
Of course, what causes them the most grief in the U.S. is their commandment that men must conceal their uncut hair under a turban — much like Jesus of the Nazarenes, minus the headgear. While Sikh women dress in contemporary fashion, they will often don the traditional Indian long shirt and loose-fitting pants.
Additionally, Sikhs learn two other important things: Work hard, never beg.
So, today I beg you on their behalf to learn a little bit about people who are different from you. Ask them what they believe, what’s important to them and how they share kindness. Do this, and you will learn far more than the simpleton lesson I’ve offered today.
We were still teenagers when I gave that flower to my wife, which by the way, she promptly threw out. A little interfaith education has brought us a long way since then, so I pray it will do the same for you.