Category Archives: Interfaith

Bring All People to Faith in Christ?– Maybe Not

band_3815_logo_6Today’s intrafaith question:
What about the Great Commission?

In Chapter 9 of my book, I wrote:  If we do not reject the truth claims of other traditions, we may have some problems with our own. These dilemmas are not solely academic exercises. They are very practical issues that need to be addressed, for example, in our practices of evangelism and mission. As Asian theologian C. S. Song has written: “The problem of Christian mission is is the problem of Christian theology. Reconstruction of Christian theology must then precede reconstruction of Christian mission.”

So it was with great interest that I read of the resolution passed by the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) at its annual assembly in June. You can read the full resolution here, but the bottom line is this:

Whereas in the light of the growing positive and rich multi-faith engagement of the 21st century, we have come to a new humility about the question of God’s relation to other religions: Be it resolved that the New England Synod memorialize the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to initiate a process to amend the phrase “bring all people to faith in Christ” in C4.02b and its constitutional parallels in order to achieve greater consonance with both our understanding of Christian witness and sensitivity to our interfaith contexts.

I actually learned about this resolution from a blogger who is adamantly opposed to any such change which would “soft-pedal our faith” and move us further “out of historic and traditional Christian heritage and closer toward cultivating a rampant religious universalism.”

As much as I agree with and applaud the resolution and distain the language of demonic apostasy in the blog, I certainly recognize the intrafaith challenge presented here. What do we do with the mandate presented in Matthew’s Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations”? What is Christian mission anyway?

I also applaud the second part of the resolution:
Be it further resolved that the resources of the ELCA enlist and consult its teaching theologians, Bishops, and other leaders in the drafting of such an amendment for consideration at its subsequent CWA.

We need input from theologians who will take seriously our understanding of mission in the midst of our religious diversity. I am sure there are members of our congregations who fall all along the continuum of belief about Christian mission: from the position of the resolution to the orthodox blogger. I’m also sure that many would welcome serious theological guidance from the church in answer to their questions about faith in the 21st century.

How about you? What do you think the Great Commission means today?

 

 

 

Another Take on “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

Bible text - I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFEThis is a re-blog of a sermon from Pastor Dawn Hutchings of Holy Cross Lutheran Church near Toronto. It’s entitled “Letting Go of the Words Attributed to Jesus So that We Can Embrace the WORD – Easter 5A – John 14:1-14”

For me, the best part of the sermon is her story of being paired with a Hindu student for an assignment in a Religious Studies program. They were each asked to bring a piece of sacred scripture from their partner’s faith tradition that they found intriguing. To her chagrin, her Hindu friend brought “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me” to the table. And to her surprise, he then launched into – as she says – “an exegesis of the text that put this particular Christian to shame.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Your INTRAfaith Opportunity: Easter 5

Way-Truth-Lifejy-if6-sIt’s the passage that’s always brought up when Christians get together to talk about interfaith relationships. It is one of THE intrafaith questions. What do we do about “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?

How do you answer that question? I was interviewed by the Rev. Steve Kindle for Pastor2Pew about this text.  You can see that interview here. Let me know what you think.

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0a21aaab-a4d4-4d03-978e-665f0bfe6fdaPLURALISM SUNDAY
May 7, 2017

The teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.

………………….Pluralism isn’t just diversity;
………………….it’s something we create out of this diversity.

Dr. Diana Eck, founder and director of the Pluralism Project

 On May 7th (or other times during the year) – churches dedicate their worship to a celebration of our religiously diverse world.

Progressive Christians give thanks for this diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to others. We recognize that other religions and traditions can be as good for others as ours is for us. We can grow closer to the Divine and deeper in compassion – and we can understand ourselves better – through a more intimate awareness of all the world’s religions and traditions.

Sponsored by ProgressiveChristianity.org, Pluralism Sunday is one way of fulfilling Point 2 of The 8 Points of Progressive Christianity:
By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.

On PLURALISM SUNDAY, churches celebrate other traditions in a variety of ways: sermons, litanies, and music; speakers and singers from other traditions, for example. Some congregations have exchanges with other faith communities, going to each other’s houses of worship. It’s entirely up to you!

SIGN UP NOW to be listed as a participating congregation for 2017 by emailing Rev. Susan Strouse, Pluralism Sunday Coordinator.  (You can celebrate the event on other dates and still be listed as participants – indicate your plans for the event to Susan so these details can be listed on our site.)

Can We Talk About Good Friday?

good-friWhen I was a teenager, I used to go to the community Good Friday service every year. Back then, all the stores downtown were closed from noon until 3:00 and during that time crowds of people would attend this service to hear local pastors preach on the “seven last words of Christ.”

I liked these services. But even though I was a pretty orthodox Christian, I did have questions. The reason for the crucifixion of Jesus – as explained by the church at that time – just didn’t make sense to me. Why would God – who was supposed to be almighty and good – need to send his son (it was all male language back then) to be tortured and killed? It just didn’t seem to be a good use of omnipotent power. But that was the church’s story and it wasn’t prudent to ask questions.

Much later, after years of ministry, the questions came back with a vengeance. When I came to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t the only way of thinking/believing about the Divine, I couldn’t continue to buy (or preach) the party line. If non-Christians weren’t going be rejected by God, then why in heaven’s name did Jesus have to die ? I mean, if I were Jesus, I’d be really pissed.

Thankfully, about the same time I discovered religious pluralism, I also discovered Progressive Christianity. But the way forward was not without bumps in the road. A
common experience of many who begin to explore this way of thinking is to deconstruct the belief system we were taught. And this did happen to me. Rejecting theologies of atonement that explained the crucifixion was liberating, but it left allergic-1me with a vacuum. Now what do I do with Good Friday? This was such a confrontational issue for me that, in the last year at my previous congregation, I broke out in a serious case of hives during Holy Week. The doctor in the ER kept asking what foods I’d eaten recently. When I said I’d had shrimp salad for lunch, his “ah ha!” look said that was the answer. But I knew better. I told him, “I’m not allergic to shellfish; I’m allergic to the church.” I now know I should have said, “I’m allergic to atonement theology.”

Thankfully, along with the deconstruction of Christianity comes the possibility of reconstruction. It doesn’t work that way for everyone; some people stop with deconstruction and abandon Christianity altogether. Others, like me, find ways to stay – rejecting some of the outdated theology, while “redeeming” ideas that still have merit.

So what about Good Friday? Or in other words, what about the cross? If it’s not a reminder that “Jesus died for my sins” or “Jesus paid the price for our redemption with his life” or “God demanded a sacrifice for the sin of Adam” then what is it?

Cosmic-Child-Abuse-BLOG-image-1030x1030-1The first thing I would say is that God did not send Jesus to die; there was no “divine plan” for our salvation. Jesus was killed by the Roman empire because he was a threat to their imperial authority. The Temple authorities – who served as functionaries of the empire – were also threatened. So it was not “the Jews” who killed Jesus, but a collusion of these powers-that-be.

The second thing is that Jesus was not operating out of a mandate from God to be the sacrificial lamb. Rather he willingly pursued his course of teaching and actions, knowing the risk involved. If you’ve seen the movie “Selma,” you might remember the scene in which Martin Luther King wrestles with the decision to go on the march. He and his family had received numerous death threats. Continuing to speak and act on behalf of dignity and liberation for African-Americans under the boot heel of Jim Crow carried a very high risk of death. King was not naive; he knew the risks. But he chose to go the distance for the cause. Just as Jesus had done before him. One does not have to be divine to make the supreme sacrifice.

Third thing is that it’s not all about sin or about the afterlife. Jesus didn’t die to cancel out “the bad marks in God’s little black book (that my mother warned me about) so we could get into heaven. Jesus’ life – his example and his teachings – show us how to live in the kin-dom of God now. His willingness to become empty of ego, completely selfless, fully connected with Divine Presence gives us incentive to strive to do the sashutterstock_88601464me.

So – back to Good Friday. I will remember Jesus’ death on the cross. It was a terrible thing, suffered by many thousands of people in the Roman empire. But I will not glory in his suffering. I will mourn the arrogance of imperial power, the complicity of those who should have known better, and the ignorance of fearful people who went along with the crowd. I’ll mourn the same thing as it’s happening today.

And I will hold out the same hope symbolized by the cross – that there is nothing an imperial power can do that will defeat the power of life, love, and liberation. We can look at the cross, Good Friday, and Christianity itself in a new way. And find hope – even in the midst of our own imperial empire.

 

 

April: A Month of Holy Days

BackCollageAs I was looking at the interfaith calendar to see what’s coming up in April, I saw an unusually long list. Of course, Christianity takes up a lot of space with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter – all major holy days for most Christians.

300px-Lord_Rama-imageBut there are big days coming up for other religions as well. On April 5, Hindus will celebrate Rama Navami, the day when Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was incarnated in human form.

April 10 is Mahavir Jayanti, the most important festival in the Jain religion, celebrating the birth of Saint Mahavir the founder of Jainism. It is a peaceful religion that cherishes simplicity. Their core values are such that they do not believe in killing even an insect.

shutterstock_268047593April 11-18 is Passover, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. Jews will also observe Yom HaShoah beginning at sundown on April 23. Known also as Holocaust and Heroism Day, it is observed as a day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period.

slide_221583_887735_freeThe twelve day Festival of Ridván beginning on April 21 is considered the holiest for members of the Bahá’í Faith. During those dates in 1863, Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, left Baghdad and entered gardens now known as the Garden of Ridván, which means paradise in Arabic.

the_night_journey_kecil-03-03_1xFor Muslims, April 24 is Lailat al Miraj (Night Journey),the day that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the ‘Farthest Mosque’ in Jerusalem where he ascended to heaven, was purified, and given the instruction for Muslims to pray five times daily.

All of these are significant holy days. It would be a wonderful time to reach out to neighbors of any of these traditions and acknowledge their sacred time. If you’re in a congregation with a synagogue, mosque, or temple nearby, it could be the perfect opportunity to plan a get-together to learn about one another’s holy day beliefs, customs, foods, etc. We could share our favorite Easter recipes!

Actually, it would be great to expand to May 1 and include the Celtic/Pagan festival of Beltane, which celebrates the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.

Wow! Interfaith opportunities abound! And then – the intrafaith conversations!

 

Contradicting the Contradict Movement

Banner A LentI’m feeling extremely honored to have been invited to be interviewed for a website called Pastor2Pew. See that line in the banner to the left that says “video interviews with prominent pastors/theologians?
Honored indeed – also terrified!

Steve Kindle, founder and interviewer, emailed to say he’d seen my book and blog posts about the INTRAfaith Conversation and thought his viewers would be interested in what I had to say. Then he left it up to me to figure out what text in the lectionary would lend itself best to my field of interest.

So off to the lectionary I went and discovered that the gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-14) includes the well-known verse 6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The perfect text for my interview!

This is the verse that fuels much of resistance to interfaith engagement. Take, for instance, the argument of the Contradict Movement. In opposition to the image of

coexistthey’ve created . . .

cropped-contradict01. . . it proclaims “They can’t all be true.”

Here we have the crux of the Christian dilemma. What do we do with verses like this?images

I actually have a collection of ways that various theologians and biblical scholars have answered the John 14:6 dilemma. And I address it in my book, giving an example of an encounter between two people – one from each of the above camps. The book was written to help members of congregations wrestle in the space in-between.

Evangelical Christian Andy Wrasman has also written a book: Contradict – They Can’t All be True. It’s actually a pretty good book. I agree with his argument that we need to be informed about other religions and how each is different from our own before we make blanket statements about all of them being the same. Wrasman ends up at a different place than I do, but he lays out his rationale for his Christology and I respect him for that.

I was all prepared to criticize the book and the movement. But in reality I respect its openness to conversation. I can’t go as far as appreciating the next steps of evangelizing and convincing others that Christianity is the only “true” religion. But it works well as an example of a thoughtful exclusivism that respects other religious traditions.

I’d bet there are members of our mainline congregations who would agree with Wrasman’s exclusivism. And others who’d agree with my pluralism. And a whole bunch in a continuum between the two.

All the more proof, in my mind, of the need for the intrafaith conversation.

Now – how to distill my interpretation of John 14:6 into to a half-hour interview? Thus comes the terrified part!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving toward Pluralism Sunday 2.0

firstsundayheader1
Since I’ve taken over as coordinator for Pluralism Sunday, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Former coordinator Jim Burklo sent me his files with participating congregations, names of clergy, and email addresses going back to the beginning in 2007. I figured the first thing to do was update the list. So out went an email to 1) introduce myself and 2) ask if they wanted to remain on the distribution list. As you’d expect, a flood of mailer-daemons immediately filled my in-box. There were also a few messages from former participants who were now retired from ministry and didn’t want to continue.

But the surprise was in the messages from former participating clergy who asked to be removed because their congregations emphasize pluralism on a regular basis anyway. I brought this to our worship planning team and found that they agreed. They wondered why we would have one Sunday a year to celebrate religious diversity when we did that all year round.

Well now, I thought, this is an interesting development. I’ve just taken over as coordinator of Pluralism Sunday and my own congregation wants to opt out. Even though for the past four years, we’ve had not just Pluralism Sunday but Pluralism Summer – 12 weeks of guests from a wide variety of traditions (I guess if you put it all together, we’ve actually had 48 Pluralism Sundays in those 4 years alone!).

And we’re not really opting out. Our liturgy has continued to transform into a more interspiritual – although still rooted in Christianity – format. For this year, we’ve decided to have something during the year around the holy days of other religions, inviting some of our interfaith friends back to share their traditions.

Then it occurred to me that something is happening here. It’s clear that some clergy and congregations still need to be encouraged to dip their toes into interfaith waters, especially in the context of Sunday worship. But it’s also becoming clear that many have moved beyond the toe-dipping stage and are swimming in the deep water. And I think these clergy and congregations have something to contribute: resources, experiences, collective wisdom, etc.

So I’m wondering if we need to be thinking about Pluralism Sunday 2.0. I know that I’d appreciate discussion on being a Christian church seeking to embrace pluralism. Issues around liturgy, biblical interpretation, hymnody come to mind. Also addressing questions and concerns in the congregation thoughtfully and pastorally.

So the next stage is to revise the website. And not only update information about this year’s Pluralism Sunday, but add a 2.0 page as well. I hope those congregations who’ve opted out will opt back in and participate. I hope that others will join in, too.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and ideas.

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Announcing Pluralism Sunday 2017

interfaith-calendar11th ANNUAL
PLURALISM SUNDAY 
MAY 7, 2017 
(or another day of your choosing)

A little history . . .

Pluralism Sunday began in 2007. The idea came out of the 8 Points of Progressive Christianity, especially points 1 and 2:

By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…

1.  Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life.

2.  Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.

Coordinator of the project, Rev. Jim Burklo, explained that there are three general ways in which religions relate to each other:

(i) Exclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is correct, and all other religions are wrong, at best, and evil, the worst…

(ii) Inclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is the only true one, but yours is interesting. So we should tolerate each other’s religions and find ways to cooperate and communicate…

(ii) Pluralism, the idea that my religion is good for me and your religion may turn out to be as good for you as mine is for me.

“Pluralism is the concept that there are multiple loci of truth and salvation among the religions. [It] does not imply that all religions are the same or that all religions are equal; but it does recognize the possibility that my way is not the only way and that my religion is not necessarily superior to your” (J. Burklo, Pluralism Sunday, 2007).

You can observe Pluralism Sunday in any way you like. Click here for more information or to see what other congregations have done in the past. There will soon be an overhaul of our website page, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, I am always happy to share my experiences and resources and would love to hear yours!

Send me an email to let me know you’ll be participating!

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Beginning the InterPolitical Conversation

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person. – Dinah Craik dscn0223

“Safe Space” is one of the thousand plus words added to the Merriam Webster dictionary this week. MW defines a safe space as “a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”

I must take exception to that last bit, although I understand its purpose. No one should be physically or verbally threatened or attacked. However it is likely in conversations about highly charged issues that one’s assumptions, worldviews, and belief systems will be challenged – if not threatened. In that sense, it’s not a safe space.
I address this issue in my book as it applies to interfaith and intrafaith conversations.

For some people, entering into an interfaith experience can be confrontational. For some, engaging in intrafaith conversation can be equally or more challenging. For this reason, I usually begin a new group with the poem, “It Is Difficult, O God” by C.S. Song. I do this to let them know that discomfort is to be expected, in fact it is perfectly normal. Having said that, it is essential to create an environment of respect and safety. By safety, I do not mean that one’s belief system may not be shaken. It is entirely possible that it might be. What I mean by a safe environment is one in which viewpoints are respected and in which the leader is capable of managing the group process under all circumstances. There will inevitably be challenging ideas and differences of opinion. There will often be conversations that will cause some participants to become distressed or upset. The idea is not to avoid conflict, disagreements or upset, but to manage them in appropriate and safe ways.

I am coming more and more to the belief that this is the same kind of basis we now need in order to enter into interpolitical conversations. Many of us are recognizing that people on opposite sides in our polarized nation need to talk to one another. But what I also hear again and again is that we don’t know how to do that. From both sides I hear the expectation of not being heard and/or verbally attacked.Thankfully, help is becoming available. I’ve recently discovered a resource called Reaching Across the Red-Blue Divide, a free download from the Essential Partners website.

Their pitch:screenshot-2016-11-23-08-37-31
Most of us have at least one important relationship that has either been strained by painful conversations about political differences or silenced due to fear that it could get ugly. Bring it up and fight about it or avoid the conversation – and sometimes the person – altogether. Both options limit who we can be together as friends or family and limit what we can accomplish in our communities. What alternatives are there? You can let media pundits and campaign strategists tell you that polarization is inevitable and hopeless. Or you can consider reaching out and taking a journey with someone who is important to you. With some tools to support your best intentions, you can actually learn about what motivates other people and understand how they’ve come to believe the way they do. Connecting across our differences is both possible and necessary.

The introduction promises to:
help prepare you to speak about what is most important to you in ways that can be heard, and to hear others’ concerns and passions with new empathy and understanding even if — especially if — you continue to disagree.The guide offers a step-by-step approach to inviting another person — someone whose perspectives differ from your own — into a conversation in which:

  • You agree to set aside the desire to persuade the other and instead focus on developing a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the hopes, fears, and values that underlie them;
  • You agree to be curious and to avoid the pattern of attack and defend;
  • You choose to ask questions and move beyond stereotypes and assumptions.

A lot of the process they outline is very similar to what I advocate in The INTRAfaith Conversation. But there is material specifically geared to the interpolitical, such as how to be at our best on social media.

So – now there’s no excuse. The plan is pretty simple. We – I – just have to do it. As I read my words describing interfaith and intrafaith conversations, I wonder if I can substitute political and be able to say the same thing. I think it’s worth a try.

I learned that entering into an exploration of other peoples’ religious faith and practice is a wonder-filled experience. For me, hearing another’s story is an intimate look inside that person’s heart, and that is not something to be taken lightly. In both my interfaith and intrafaith encounters, I have heard stories of joy, as well as stories of pain and hurt. In many of the encounters, each participant brought his or her whole self into the process. Entering into an examination of religious beliefs took us even more deeply into one another’s lives. It was crucial that an atmosphere of safety and trust had been created because, as I came to realize, the ground of this kind of encounter is a place of extreme intimacy and vulnerability. It is sacred ground. I often found myself in awe at the willingness of many of the participants to give of themselves, not only in terms of time, but more importantly in terms of openness — to me, to others, to their own growth process.   It is a privilege to be in the company of such people.

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