Everyone has been at a cocktail party, or a in a car headed out on a field trip with some moms from your kid's class, or in church coffee hour, where you have been in a position to make small talk with people you don't really know that well. The conversation might look something like this:
"Hey, how's it going?" says you.
"Fine, and you," responds strange person.
"I'm Joe, nice to meet you."
"Oh, I'm Sam. Good to meet you."
"Do you live around here?" you ask.
"Yeah, right down on such and such a street."
"Oh yeah, I live around the corner on and that other street. You lived there long?"
"Sure, grew up in the neighborhood," says Joe.
"No kidding, me, too!" you respond. "Did you go to President's Name High school?"
"Yes! Played football there. Love the game. You watching the Big College Name Game tongiht?"
You get the picture. But here's what I'm thinking... While it might sound like meaningless garble that these two people are wasting their time with, I don't think so. What they are doing is probing eachother to find some common ground, something by which to relate to one another. In their trivial question and answering, they are finding a starting point for their relationship!
So, what might it sound like of Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha ran into one another at a cocktail party? Hmmm, let's speculate.
After the three prophets greet eachother with names and handshakes, I'd like to think the conversation would go some thing like this...
Jesus: What do you do?
Mohammad: I'm in public relations.
Jesus: Oh, yeah? Me, too! For what company?
Mohammad: Islam, Inc. Been there for oh, about 2700 years. You?
Jesus: Christianity and Co. Let's see, been doing this for about 2000 years or so.
Buddha, softly: It's been about 2600 years for me. But, ahhh, I have a friend... His name is Vishnu... he was kind of my mentor, he's been in it for around 4000 years... He got me interested because he said this work would really touch people's lives. I think it does... [he pauses in though while Jesus turnes his glass of ice water into wine]. I think the most rewarding thing about the job is that you really get to give people the tools to live a peaceful life.
Jesus: I agree. My work really helps people find their way to God.
Buddha: And God is peace, love, enlightenment. God is in everything and everyone.
Mohammad, scratching his beard: I think the toughest part of my job is that you often get a group of radicals who take something way off track. Then everyone thinks the whole company thinks like they do. That's a rough one to try and mop up.
Jesus shakes his head in agreement: I know, the Crusades were a toughy for me.
Mohammad: Mmmm, and all this terror in the name of jihad! Where do they come up with this? Allah didn't intend us to kill one another. That's not bringing anyone closer to Him. It's just not congruent with the mission statement of my company, unless someone has rewritten it without telling me.
All the men nod and look deeply into their cups, taking a moment of silence.
They go their seperate ways, agreeing to meet for coffee some time. They discovered they had a lot in common after all, and thought there might be some networking they could do to make eachother's jobs a little easier.
My point with this story is to illustrate that studying the world's faith traditions is very important to creating peace in this world. Because no matter what faith you are, in making "small talk" with the other religions, you may just find some common ground on which to build a healthy relationship.