Monthly Archives: May 2016

On Being an Interspiritual Christian

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat is an interspiritual Christian? The term “interspirituality” was coined by Brother Wayne Teasdale  (1945 -2004), author of The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. He believed that spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions  (he also called used the terms  “global spirituality” and “interspiritual wisdom”). He maintained that since mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world’s religions, this shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions.

Already I can hear the questions and concerns: have I abandoned Christianity; am I encouraging others to do the same in favor of a single new religion? And as St. Paul would respond, “By no means!”

The heart of interspirituality is the recognition that there are many approaches to the spiritual journey. Proponents don’t advocate for a rejection of the individual traditions or for the creation of a new superspirituality. A favorite saying is the Hindu aphorism: “The paths are many but the goal is the same.” Hence, a faithful Christian is free to explore.

Brother_Here’s how Teasdale described it:
By “interspiritual” is not meant the mixing of the various traditions but the possibility and actuality that we can learn and be nourished from more than our own mystical tradition. The note of interspiritual wisdom suggests that there is an underpinning, universal metaphysics from which all particular religions are derived.

Interspirituality is not a one-way street, but an intermystical intersection where insights cross back and forth, intermingle, and find new habitats.

Or as Episcopal priest, author and retreat leader, Cynthia Bourgault puts it:
Wisdom is an ancient tradition, not limited to one particular religious expression but at the headwaters of all the great sacred paths.

quote-i-think-it-matters-almost-infinitely-that-we-practice-one-of-the-authentic-religions-huston-smith-95-83-71Back in 2001, when I was just beginning this interfaith adventure, I attended a weekend workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. There I was privileged to sit at the feet of Huston Smith, the preeminent authority on world religions. Smith has not only studied and taught, but actually practiced Hindu Vedanta, Zen Buddhism, and Sufi Islam for more than ten years each—all the while remaining a member of the Methodist Church. I was deeply interested in knowing how that worked: how could I (could I?) remain a Christian while exploring and even accepting aspects of other religious traditions?

classesvideobeadstringAt the workshop, after we had been captivated by stories of Smith’s immersion in the world’s religions, someone asked the question that was on my mind: “Why are you still a Christian?” His answer, which I cannot find in any “Famous Quotes” site, was “Christianity is the string on which I hang my beads.”

That declaration has stayed with me over the years and has informed my ministry as a preacher, teacher, and worship leader.

 

Six years ago, First United sponsored an event called “InterSpiritual Wisdom: Sharing the Mystic Heart.” It was a two-day event, on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday schedule included presenters from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam/Sufism and Judaism, who talked about their own spiritual beliefs and practices. The best part was that they each taught a practice to the rest of us. Each segment was followed by a period of silence when we could practice on our own. On Sunday afternoon, there was a panel discussion and Q&A time, followed by an interspiritual zikr[1] led by our two Sufi presenters. The evaluations we received from attendees overwhelmingly indicated that they wanted more of the same.

It seems like interspirituality might be tapping into a need that our churches have been unwittingly neglecting. It’s a perspective that may appeal to those more attracted to mysticism than to a dogmatic faith. It also removes the difficulties of an interfaith theology and reframes the conversation in terms of an interfaith spirituality. It does not address, nor does it claim to address, the issues of differences within the traditions; that’s a conversation for another time.

And so, as we prepare for our fourth annual Pluralism Summer, we’ll be leaning heavily on interspiritual wisdom in our worship planning. But – more about that later.

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[1] Zikr (Arabic for ‘remembrance’) is a form of devotion, in which participants are absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of the Divine name or attributes of the Divine.

Sources:
Bourgeault, Cynthia, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, 4.

Teasdale, Wayne. The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999, 27.

Teasdale, Wayne. “The Interspiritual Age:
Practical Mysticism for the Third Millennium.”
 http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/April2006/TeasdaleEssay.html  

 

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The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity – a sermon for Trinity Sunday — pastordawn

This is a repost of a sermon by my colleague, Pastor Dawn Hutchings in Newmarket, Ontario. It’s good in itself as a commentary for Trinity Sunday. But as a bonus, she has a great illustration of an interfaith encounter with intrafaith implications.

I don’t remember the first time I ever saw him. I was barely 17 months old when my brother Alan arrived. Despite the fact that he ruined my gig as an only child, Alan and I grew close over the years. We moved around a lot so we became one another’s best friends. But we went our […]

via The Athanasian Creed and an Unholy Trinity – a sermon for Trinity Sunday — pastordawn

Are the Days of Doing Evangelism Over?

I read an interesting blog post the other day called Why Progressive Christians Can’t Evangelize, which critiques the accompaniment model adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In Global Mission for the 21st Century, the ELCA defines accompaniment as:
walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. The basis for this accompaniment, or what the New Testament calls koinonia, is found in the God-human relationship in which God accompanies us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The blog author, however questions whether most of us have seriously reflected on the who, what, why, and whether of Christian mission. In other words: why do we think it’s a good thing to share the gospel in the first place? And while he doesn’t disagree with the need to be sensitive to our history of colonialism, he does warn that “our fear of colonialism is performed daily in our tepid to non-existent faith-sharing.”

It was an interesting post. But what followed made it even more so. In the “Comments,” a reader confessed to his or her own struggle with the issue:
 I firmly base my life on the death and resurrection of Jesus (or try to), and believe that through my baptism into Christ’s death, I will share in a resurrection like his. HOWEVER, I am not convinced that everyone needs to be a Christian . . . if I meet, say, a Buddhist, who has found meaning, and a spiritual path, and is exhibiting “good fruits,” why should I attempt to “evangelize” her?

And that is the INTRAfaith question!

As Asian theologian C. S. Song has written: “The 

problem of Christian mission is the problem of Christian theology. Reconstruction of 

Christian theology must then precede reconstruction of Christian mission.”

Documents such as “Global Mission for the 21st Century” and “Accompaniment” that are available from my denomination (and I am sure from others) are important teaching tools. But I don’t know how many of our congregations are using them.

The conversation needs to happen at the grass roots. And a fine place to start is with the experiences that most of us have had with people of other religions and cultures. The question is no longer “if I meet a Buddhist (or a Jew or a Muslim, etc.),” but when I do . . . then how am I to think about evangelism?

When you go out with your evangelism team to knock on doors on your neighborhood and a man in a turban answers – or a woman in a hijab – or a man in a yarmulke – or a monk in saffron robe, what are you going to say?

There are, of course, several theological options. And you’ll probably find a variety in your own church. It’s not only an interesting question for pastors to ponder, it’s a necessary one for the whole church as we ponder together the place of Christianity in a multi-religious world.

Taking The Conversation To Other Religions

nain_lg1Several months ago, the newsletter of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) put out a call for workshop proposals for this summer’s annual conference. I have attended only one NAIN gathering, in 2008 when it was held here in San Francisco.
I was on the planning team that year, and attended as a participant, not a presenter. NAINConnect-2016-3-1024x626

But this year, it just so happens that I have a new book that deals with matters both interfaith and intrafaith. And the conference will be in  Guadalajara! So I thought, “Why not?”

Well, my proposal was accepted – and now my challenge has begun.

When I first started working on my doctoral project – “What does it mean to be a Christian in an interfaith world?” – many in the interfaith community suggested that I broaden my scope to include all religions. And indeed, I agreed that there are intrafaith issues within all traditions (even atheists don’t always agree with one another!) But I’m a Christian, and I felt that I could speak only to the issues that arise within my own tradition when we engage in interfaith relationships. I still feel that way, even though I’ve talked with friends from other religions about their particular challenges.

But now, since I made the proposal (what was I thinking?!), it’s time to broaden the scope in a way that has integrity both for me in my own tradition and for those of other traditions who will attend my workshop. The really great thing is that the session will be an hour and 45 minutes and the expectation is that workshops will be activity focused and participatory. In other words, it can be a real workshop, not the usual quick presentation with no time for interaction.

So, while I don’t have the workshop fleshed out yet, I know that it will be flexible enough  so that no matter what the makeup is of the group that shows up, we’ll work together on finding commonalities, differences, and shared wisdom.

And – I am more than happy to hear from those who want to let me know about the intrafaith issues they’ve observed or experienced. In other words: HELP!!!

Join the INTERfaith INTRAfaith Conversation!she likes it copy she likes it copy.jpg