Monthly Archives: June 2016

Pluralism Summer: Week 4

Sue Englander/John Durham weddingI’m particularly happy to welcome two guest speakers this coming Sunday. Ed Driscoll and Jim Lichti are members of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. When we chose the topic of religion and politics as the theme for this summer’s series, I knew I wanted to include someone from one of the historic peace churches. We’ll have a member of the Society of Friends (Quaker) later in the summer, so we’ve really been blessed.

The great thing about Ed and Jim, though, is that there’s a personal connection with First United, through our music director/administrative assistant, Orion Pitts. Plus, Orion and I both grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, so we’re familiar with Mennonites, particularly their conservative dress and oft-mistaken identification with the Amish.

It will be great to hear from these “west coast” Mennonites and hear their perspectives on faith and politics, especially on this Independence Day weekend.

Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.

Join the INTRAfaith Conversation

Reviews for  The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves About INTERfaith Matters?   

Ishe likes itnevitably, profound questions arise out of respectful encounters with people of religions other than our own. Many who have been involved in cooperative engagements with people of other faith traditions discover that it is often easier to talk with people of a different religion than it is with the person sitting next to you in your own congregation. For others, the struggle is within, as in the case of Elsie L., a parishioner in Buffalo. After a church session in which a Hindu woman active in interfaith activities had spoken to the group, Elsie spoke to Pastor Strouse. “If I accept the Hindu path as equal to Christianity,” she said, “I’m worried that I’m betraying Jesus.”

Years of wrestling with that question and similar ones resulted in Strouse’s new book, The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves about INTERfaith Matters? In it, Dr. Strouse addresses the challenges that the increasingly interfaith realities of today present to Christians, and invites reflection on how Christian theology and identity might be shaped and even strengthened by cooperative interfaith relationships.Blending personal stories, thoughtful reflection on the changing face of America and pastoral concern, The INTRAfaith Conversation invites readers to understand and appreciate just what doing Christian theology means in today’s multi-religious world. The book’s sections reflect the breadth of Strouse’s focus: dealing with the new religious context; what it means to think theologically as a comunity; tolerance, exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism; personal experience; and pastoral and leadership issues for congregations entering the interfaith world.

The book is designed to be used with a discussion group; each section is followed by a series of questions for reflection and discussion along with suggestions for further reading.I personally have been involved in interfaith work in the Bay Area for over 35 years and have never seen a book quite like The INTRAfaith Conversation. It addresses a very real issue with depth, humor, and pastoral sensitivity. I highly recommend it not only to pastors and other leaders in Christian churches, but to lay people who may be asking some of the same questions. Further, although it is specifically aimed at a Christian audience, it offers a model for how similar questions might be raised and wrestled with in non-Christian contexts as well.
Rev. Dr. D. Andrew Kille

This crisp and cogent book by the Rev. Dr. Strouse is published at a time when both interfaith and intrafaith dialogue are critical to the vitality of spiritual life in our nation. As a parish pastor in a small, struggling congregation I have become increasingly aware of the insularity and isolation of many of our parishioners. This seems less the result of inadequate parish education as it is the byproduct of too many people getting their information from biased TV networks, so-called social media or word-of-mouth. We parish pastors need to examine our internal (intra-congregational) conversations about diverse faith traditions and how they bear on congregational mission. I was particularly impressed by the author’s use of footnotes and her extensive bibliography. The book is a “walking-talking workshop” in print with its detailed reflection/discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. Thank you, Pastor Strouse, for such a comprehensive presentation of how to approach constructively this timely and important conversation.
Rev. Richard G. Eddy

Expertly laid out, providing a roadmap for a much needed dialogue.
Russell H. Miller

Available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble,
and at Sagrada Bookstore in Oakland, CA

Pluralism Summer: Week 3

This past spring, peter_erlenweina colleague called me to ask if I knew a place where the author of a new book on interreligious spirituality might present a talk on this topic. Intrigued, I agreed to a virtual introduction and then went on to set up an in-person meeting.

When I met Dr. Peter Erlenwein at the Dolores Park Cafe, I knew we were talking the same language! And I was delighted that he accepted my invitation to be part of our Pluralism Summer series.  I didn’t know much about Dr. Erlenwein at the time of that first meeting, but I have since discovered the depth of his knowledge and experience. And while listening to him talk at that first meeting, I realized how relevant his research is for today’s explorations of what it means to be “spiritual but not religious.”

Peter Erlenwein, Ph.D., is a sociopsychologist and transpersonal therapist from Germany. His integral approach combines Jungian archetypal psychology, meditation and body mind work with dance, ritual and role-playing in the context of sacred text reflections of different religious traditions. His spiritual insight and life has been deeply inspired by his decades long travels to India, Southern Africa and now the US. As a radio journalist, author and intercultural researcher he has been publishing continuously on interreligious subjects. His latest book is titled: Und sah die Himmel offen. Spiritualität diesseits und jenseits von Religion (And saw the heaven open. Spirituality this side and beyond religion).

I’m looking foreward to hearing what Dr. Erlenwein will have to say this Sunday about the intersection of religion and politics!


Pluralism Summer: Week 2

tikkunolam_hpThere’s a conversation in the movie Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, that’s pretty profound for a romantic comedy.
Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called ikkun olam. It says that the world’s been broken into pieces and it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.
Nick: Well maybe we’re the pieces. Maybe we are not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces.

920x920This Sunday, our guest speaker will be Rita Semel, who I often describe as the godmother of the San Francisco interfaith community. Don’t mistake her diminutive size or her age for lack of energy or passion for healing the world. Rita’s raison d’etre, which she received from her Jewish heritage, is tikkun olam (literally “world repair”).

Rita – a co-founder of the United Religions Initiative, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, and the Interfaith Center at the Preisdio – will address the question: how does your tradition inform how you think about politics?

It’s a real honor to have this dsitinguished guest as part of our summer series. In light of recent events, I hope many of you will come to hear what this wise elder has to say as we seek to heal our broken hearts and our broken world.

5:00 pm
First United Lutheran Chiruch
2097 Turk Street (at Lyon)
San Francisco, CA

For more information, contact me.

Pluralism Sunday began some years ago as an initiative of
But at First United we decided that one Sunday wasn’t enough. So now, for the fourth year, we’re embarking on a summer of interfaith exploration. Each week a speaker from a different tradition will address the question of religion and politics within our regular Sunday service.

Our service, while rooted in our Christian tradition, is decidedly interspiritual. For a description of what it means to be an interspiritual Christian, read my blog post here.

Everyone is welcome – those of all faiths and of no faith. Visitors are invited to participate in the service to the extent that you are comfortable.


Who’s to Blame for Intra-Religious Diversity?

Here’s a good assessment of our intrafaith milieu . . .


When people ask questions like “Why do we pick and choose our religious beliefs?” they usually don’t mean “we” but “they.” This is because within such a question, there is often an implied criticism of “religion”—however defined—that has not been swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

In this recent example, the question is being asked about America’s youth, and the answer is —what else?— “Blame social media.” A Baylor study, relying on information from Notre Dame’s National Study of Youth and Religion, finds that people who have been exposed to social media from young ages are more likely to agree that it is “OK for someone of your religion to also practice other religions.”

Without weighing in on the merits of this particular study (which requires login access), and after a couple of decades studying and teaching religion/s, I feel safe in saying that “we” pick and choose among tenets and practices because “we” are human and that is what humans do.

The term cafeteria Christianity is one I grew up with in evangelical circles, usually referring to those Christians who went to church on Sundays but then did whatever they wanted the rest of the week. In recent decades though, the left has gleefully co-opted the term, now applying it to supposed Bible-believers for selective neglect of certain teachings, like those on divorce or economic justice or contraception.

Both uses ignore the fact that human beings are reasoning animals. Some humans embrace the traditions they inherit, more or less as they receive them. This does not mean they are—necessarily—mindless idiots, but rather that these traditions work well for them for a variety of complex reasons. Other humans question, ignore, revise, rebel against, or even convert to different traditions. This does not mean that they are—necessarily—selfish, but rather that their forebears’ traditions do not work well for them, again for a variety of complex reasons. There is no simple way to explain why some of us submit to the whole shebang and others don’t.

In the spirit of gross oversimplification, I blame not social media but Constantinian Catholicism—not for intra-religious diversity, but for the idea that life should be any other way. Before 325 CE there existed a vast network of small clusters of pagan and Jewish Christians around the Mediterranean, mostly meeting in people’s homes, sharing a collection of related but not uniform sacraments and stories about Jesus.

But when Constantine became the Roman Caesar he decided he needed to build a more uniform religion for his empire. The religious power elite saw their chance and spent the next decades fighting over which version of Christianity would prevail, developing a biblical canon, determining official formulae for Jesus and the Trinity, and approving only certain ways of doing baptism and communion. By the end of the century, Theodosius I would outlaw all “wrong” forms of Christian belief and practice and punish them severely.

The emergence of an “official” or “orthodox” or “pure” Christianity in the fourth century, however, does not mean Christians haven’t continued to choose their religious beliefs and practices. In the eighth century, for example, the orthodox St. Boniface “had to” cut down an oak tree for Thor that remained sacred to Germanic Christians; the break-up between Eastern and Western churches in 1054 was largely a matter of Roman intolerance of Eastern variety; and medieval inquisitions existed for the purpose of cracking down on unlawful Christian variations. This is to say nothing of the picking and choosing unleashed in the 16th century by Luther and his ilk. (What could be more ironic than any Protestant pointing fingers at anyone about picking and choosing?)

Christian history, in other words, could be uniquely summed up as the millennia-long battle to define “true” Christianity. It didn’t have to be this way. In China, for example, most folks have no problem mixing and matching three or more religious traditions, and the idea of a unified Hinduism was more or less invented in the modern era. But most traditions have at least some who take a my-way-or-the-highway approach and have particular shibboleths upon which no compromise is possible. (What would mainstream religion coverage look like without them?)

Nevertheless, despite the best efforts of those who would make their traditions an all-or-nothing proposition, human beings have gone on picking and choosing, if perhaps never quite as unabashedly as young Americans in the 21st century.

I cannot say it any better than the ancient sage, Qoheleth, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). For that matter, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Eccl. 7:9).

Religious purity—indeed any kind of pure cultural tradition—has always only ever been a dream for control freaks. It’s high time we gave that dream up, not only in the spirit of neighborly love, but also for the sake of asking more interesting questions.

Kate Blanchard is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Alma College in central Michigan. She is the author of The Protestant Ethic or The Spirit of Capitalism: Christians, Freedom, and Free Markets(Cascade 2010) and co-editor of Lady Parts: Biblical Women and The Vagina Monologues (Wipf & Stock 2012).

Cafeteria Christianity in the Age of Social Media: What’s Old Is New Again

The INTRAfaith Conversation at Synod Assembly


Last week The INTRAfaith Conversation went to the annual assembly of the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

At least for an hour.

My presentation was one among a group of offerings  during the Saturday afternoon workshop time. It was a decidedly truncated version of my workshop at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, but it was just as stimulating – and affirming of my assertion that this is a wanted and needed conversation in the church today.

Some recurring themes:

  • How can we talk non-judgementally/non-dogmatically to young people about their faith/God questions?
  • How can we understand baptism in a non-exclusionary way?
  • If other religions are valid, why did Jesus have to die?
  • What is the goal of evangelism? Is Christian mission about conversion?
  • How can we express our Christian identity, unapologetically but not offensively?
  • What do we do about language in our scriptures, liturgies, hymnody, etc. that imply Christian superiority?

Great questions!

And as I always say: there are no cookie-cutter answers to these questions. However the answer to the question of methodology is conversation. If you want to know how to get a conversation  started, check out The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves about INTERfaith Matters? It’s a congregation-friendly way of getting started.
And if you have questions, comments, stories to share, please feel free to contact me. I’d love to hear from you!

she likes it