Category Archives: Interfaith

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving toward Pluralism Sunday 2.0

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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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Enneagram Types and the INTRAfaith Conversation

1483423938742Do congregations have Enneagram types? My friend who leads workshops on the Enneagram, thinks so and has helped two of the congregations I’ve served to determine their number. Lately I’ve been wondering whether different religions also have different Enneagram types. What got me thinking was a friend who is a Religious Scientist (not a Christian Scientist or a Scientologist) and a Seven on the Enneagram. Listening to her one day, I realized how compatible her theology was with her personality. Then I had the stunning revelation that the same could be said about me as a Lutheran One.

So I went looking to see if anyone had done any work in this area. The best I could find  (at least in a pretty quick search) was an article about a book called Travels In Consciousness by David Hey. It confirmed my thoughts about me as a Reformer One and my friend as a Positive-Thinking Seven. I have to do more thinking about some of the others.

Then I also started to wonder about how these insights might be useful to us in our interfaith relationships. If Islam mirrors the Type Four (Idealist or Romantic) personality and Judaism is akin to Type Six  the Questioner or Skeptic) and Karma Yoga from the Hindu tradition reflects Type Three (the Doer, Achiever or Performer) and Buddhism reflects Type Five (the Sage or Observer), how do these personalities interact?

I also wonder how this relates to our intrafaith relationships. What do the diverse Enneagram types in our congregations bring to the conversation? How might a One and a Seven view such things as grace, salvation, social justice, etc. differently?

Of course where one is on the continuum of integration and disintegration is a factor. When I’m at my perfectionistic, sarcastic worst is not the same as when I’m in my healthy range. And the same is true for all of us.

It’s an interesting rabbit hole to dive into today – gets me away from politics for a little while. Although I do believe that we as a country are dealing with an unhealthy Eight (but that’s a subject for another day).

 

 

 

Pluralism and Election Politics

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How different might this election cycle have been had more voters been willing to be curious about, understand, accept, or even embrace a pluralist nation, rather than panic in the face of “the other? – Kate Blanchard

Kate Blanchard, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Alma College, asks a very important question. If we think that engaging in interfaith activities and education is just a nice “add-on” to the more important work of ministry in our churches, we are sadly mistaken.

And if part of our hesitancy of doing  it is that people within our congregations might disagree on some of the issues that will be raised, we need to buckle up and prepare for the ride.

It would be strange if there were not differences of opinions and beliefs within a group of people – even in our credal, doctrinal churches. Trust me; if you allow people to express themselves and ask questions without fear of being branded heretics, you’ll discover a wealth of theological perspectives. Maybe that’s why so many leaders don’t want to ask!

But the truth is that people do have minds of their own, they do think about spiritual and theological matters, and they do form opinions about other belief (and non-belief) systems.

A wise leader would be willing to enter into the experience of interfaith and intrafaith discussions, not in order to tell people what to think and believe, but to facilitate the process of discovery.

As Professor Blanchard’s question articulates so well, this isn’t an abstract matter. There are concrete consequences to our avoidance of the challenges of pluralism. 

 

Christmas, Hanukkha, and the Qur’an

479113_gallery_5644449997087_jpg_fa_rszdIf you’re looking for an excellent time to introduce something interfaith-y in your church, that time is NOW!

On Christmas Eve, Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus. And while Christmas isn’t a holy day in Islam, the birth of Jesus is a very big deal. Surah 3:45 in the Qur’an tells the story of the Annunciation this way: [And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – disting180px-virgin_mary_and_jesus_old_persian_miniatureuished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah].

There are some 71 verses in the Quran that refer to Jesus. And Mary (Maryam‎) is revered as one of he most righteous and greatest women in Islam. She’s actually mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Here’s an interesting video of the Nativity story. You’ll definitely see some differences from our versions. But what a great topic for discussion! Especially if you invite some Muslim friends to join in.

Also on December 24th is the first night of Hanukkah, the eight-day “festival of lights.” As Christians celebrate the Light that has come into the world, Jews will light the first candle on the llmc9237606menorah. Again, differences between our religions – but similarities too.

If these differences raise questions among the people in your church, hallelujah! Now it’s time to enter the intrafaith conversation.

You can check out my website for more information on how to go about doing that. Or simply buy the book and get a group together to explore what it means to be a faithful Christian and to be in respectful relationship with those of other religious traditions.

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How Can We Talk to ‘Others’ When We Can’t Even Talk Among Ourselves?

There’s a lot of talk these days about how we need to be able to listen and converse with those who hold differing political opinions from ourselves. I don’t disagree with this. But I do know that it’s easier said than done. We’ve lost the ability to go outside our silos and behave respectfully.

It’s the same in the religious realm. Progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. enjoy one another’s company and often comment that these relationships are much easier than the ones within their respective religions. I know that some evangelical Christians have lamented that, despite their willingness to talk, progressives aren’t interested.At every interfaith gathering I attend, someone inevitably says, “What we really need to have is an intrafaith dialogue.” But we know that this is just as hard to do as the political one.

Which is why I like hearing about people and groups working in this area. Back when I was working on my book about Christian intrafaith dialogue, I identified Jesus as  our “elephant in the living room.” I wrote The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves about INTERfaith Matters? as a guide to help work through differing ideas and beliefs about Jesus.

But I also wanted to know about other traditions. When I asked a Jewish friend what issue divided Jews, she immediately replied, “Israel.” So I was delighted this week to learn about a program called iEngage, which brings together differing sides among Jews on the subject of Israel.  Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a curriculum that can be used by groups who want to gain “greater understanding for the ideals that shape their own political views and a  greater respect and empathy for those who hold different views.”

That is the quintessental mission of the intrafaith conversation!

Every tradition has its internal issues. How can we expect to be in honest dialogue with “the other” when we aren’t able to do it among ourselves? Now more than ever, we need to relearn our conversational skills, get outside our solos, and create peace among ourselves and throughout the world.

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News Flash: War on Christmas Is Over

waronchristmas2It’s safe to say “Merry Christmas” again. So says Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manage for the president-elect, declaring victory on the War on Christmas. “It’s OK to say, it’s not a pejorative word anymore.” One of the main contributing factors in this so-called war, according to Lewandowski, et al has been President Obama’s refusal to say it. Despite evidence to the contrary (see a video compilation of President Obama saying “Merry Christmas” over and over again), many people still think that Christmas has been under attack.

I suggest that what is really going on here is the belief of many that it’s Christianity itself that is under attack. The fourth chapter of my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation is entitled “A Question of Identity” because our increasingly diverse world is challenging our assumptions about who we are. This makes us anxious.

Not that this anxiety is unique to Christianity. In her book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, Sylvia Boorstein  reflects on the popularity of Buddhism: “I think the alarm people express about Buddhism has more to do with instinctive fears about tribal survival than philosophical error. I think it’s the natural, self-protective, genetic response of tribes.” images-1

Amidst all this religious diversity, our Christian tribe is anxious. And when we’re anxious and afraid, we’re not readily able to process facts and rational arguments. So one response is to retreat into an exclusivist, triumphalism that claims that we’re right and every one else is wrong. At the other extreme is the unexamined assertion that “we’re all worshipping the same God anyway.”

In the middle is where intrafaith conversations can help. Respectful sharing, listening, and  relationship-building can bridge the divide between those for whom “Merry Christmas” is a sacred cow and those who are able to encompass a multitude of traditions within their “Happy Holidays.”

Maybe when we take the need for this kind of conversation seriously, we’ll finally get to the place where it’s not a matter of saying either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” but “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.”

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Can We Cross INTRAfaith Boundaries?

divisionsI happened to see a question submitted to answers.yahoo.com: “What is the difference between interfaith and intrafaith boundaries?”

Someone replied: “There is no such thing as intrafaith boundary.”

I was relieved to see that of the six responses to that reply, all were thumbs-down.

If we didn’t know that Christianity has intrafaith boundaries, we certainly know it now that election polling results are in.

According to The Washington Post, 80% of white evangelical Christians voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN), even though a group of 100 evangelical leaders posted a declaration before the election stating that they would “not tolerate the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that (HWSNBN) has consistently and deliberately fueled . . .” Divisions within evangelical Christianity continue to widen, as Jim Wallis, evangelical author and founder of  Sojourners, said he felt Christians who voted for Trump “ought to be embarrassed.”

Progressive Christianity, of course, is used to being out of the mainstream. But now, many are declaring a new area in American Christianity. In What Progressive Christians Need To Do To Take Back Their Faith, Pastor Jacqueline Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan declares, “Maybe what’s happening is progressive people of faith are finding ways to connect around our shared beliefs that all people are children of God. All of those people are joining together right now, we’re crying together, plotting and planning how to resist together. That to me is the new religion, the new Christianity.”

Emerging Church leader Benjamin Corey suggests that progressive Christians should start evangelizing  among other Christians: “We need to continue converting Christians to following Jesus. We need to create disciples, and reach evangelical Christian Americans with the gospel of Jesus.”

piocs_-00_without-background_christian-cross-special-design-pin-with-usa-flagSome are even calling for a new “confessing church” like that in Germany, when pastors and churches banded together to resist the Nazi regime. For example, Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent in the Wesleyan Church, said “I wonder if we may be heading toward a confessing church as opposed to a nationalistic church.”

The question is: will Christians of differing stripes be able to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another?

sg_dividedMany are advising that we must reach out across the boundaries and listen to those with whom we disagree. I can’t argue with this; it’s what I advocate in my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation. But most of what I’ve been hearing is “not yet.” The shock and anger are too raw.

What shape will Christianity take in this new era? Will we be able to cross our intrafaith boundaries? It was difficult before the election; it’s even more so now.

Time will tell.