Our diverse religious environment can be disconcerting for many people. Author Kenneth J. Gergen once described the disorienting effects of pluralism as that of a “relentless parade.”
But another author, Theodore Brelsford turns the negative-sounding observation into an opportunity for imagination and creativity:
It occurs to me that one way to respond to a parade which seems relentless is to build a float and join in.
So OK, let’s do it! Let’s say we’re building our float. In the festive context of the celebration of diversity, what should our Christian float look like? What symbolic images might we include, and what is it that those symbols symbolize?”
I tried this out at my workshop at the Parliament of the World’s Religions last October. After an hour of telling stories and surfacing issues and questions, we began putting symbols for our float up on newsprint. It was a lively, fun exercise. Not everyone agreed on each symbol – not even a cross. Someone wondered if we might have to have more than one float. Unfortunately, time ran out. These conversations do take time. But I discovered that Brelsford’s metaphorical float idea is a good one.
So what’s your symbol? Let me know what image conveys to you the heart of the Christian message. Maybe it’s a traditional church-y one. Or maybe it’s something no one would ever expect to see in a stained glass window.
Attach a picture if you have one – and a little explanation of why this symbol is meaningful to you. If I get enough, maybe I can create an intrafaith parade right here on this blog!
To get us started, here’s one of my favorites. One of the gospel of John’s “I am” sayings, has Jesus saying “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Of course, in these “I am” passages, John wants to connect Jesus to the great “I AM” of Exodus.
I don’t want to get into christological matters right now (happy to at other times, though!); I don’t have to believe in the formulations of the Nicene Creed in order to appreciate the metaphor. What I see in the vine imagery is that we are all connected to the Source of Life – and we are all interconnected with one another. So a vine goes onto the float.
Now – what say you?
Gergen, Kenneth J., The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (NY: Basic Books, 1991), quoted in Theodore Brelsford, “Christological Tensions in a Pluralistic Environment: Managing the Challenges of Fostering and Sustaining Both Identity and Openness,” Religious Education, (Spring 1995): 176.
Brelsford, Theodor, “Christological Tensions in a Pluralistic Environment: Managing the Challenges of Fostering and Sustaining Both Identity and Openness.” Religious Education, 90, no2 (Spring 1995): 174-189, 188.