Category Archives: Intrafaith

Why Not an Interfaith Advent?!

In my  book, The INTRAfaith Conversation, I suggest times of the church year when doing something with an interfaith flavor might be appropriate. In this month’s issue of The Interfaith Observer, Vicki Garlock gives us another wonderful option.

LIGHT, BIRTH STORIES, AND FEASTS

Interfaith Options for Christians at Advent

By Vicki Garlock

For Christians, another Advent season will soon be upon us. As one of the quintessential periods in the liturgical calendar, it might seem like the wrong time to be thinking about interfaith efforts. It’s a feeling further heightened by the encroachment of numerous secular obligations. Who has time for “the other” right now? I tend to view things from a slightly different perspective, though, and I think Advent offers a great opportunity to bring a bit of interfaith into your household. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Light to the World

An Advent wreath – Photo: VG

An Advent wreath – Photo: VG

For Christians, Advent is a time of anticipation. Many churches mark that time by lighting candles on an Advent wreath for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas/Jesus’ birth. With all four candles lit by Christmas Eve, the wreath burns brightest just when the nights are at their longest (at least in the Northern hemisphere).

The Advent wreath therefore serves as a visual reminder that Jesus, for many, is a light to the world. This is most clearly stated in the first few verses of the Gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5, NRSV translation]

Interestingly, the Qur’an also refers to the message of Jesus as a light.

And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel. Therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him, a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. [Surah 5 (al-Maida), verse 46, Yusuf Ali translation]

So an easy way to make your Advent more interfaith is simply to use “Light” as your theme. It’s no accident that Christmas falls around the same time as the winter solstice, and many Advent/Christmas practices are derived from the ancient pagan traditions of Northern Europe. Teaching your kids about the winter solstice through books, recipes, and crafts is a good place to begin.

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The Winter Solstice (written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis) and The Shortest Day (written by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Jesse Reisch) are both good book options. And even though Circle Round (by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill) was published in 2000, it’s still a great go-to book for crafts and activities. Because pagan traditions are grounded in our relationship with the earth, focus your activities on plants currently available in your geographical area. Create a small home altar and decorate it with winter fruits and greenery. Bake some pumpkin seeds or flavored nuts. You could even teach older kids how to can/freeze food to last through the winter.

Hanukkah is another one of those light-related holidays that happens at this time of the year. Start with one of the many books available. There are board books, like the Hanukkah “touch and feel” book by Roger Priddy and My First Chanukkah by Tomie dePaola, for toddlers. For slightly older kids, you’ll find pop-up books covering the various Hanukkah traditions, like lighting a menorah or spinning a dreidel. One book, Maccabee! (written by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington), even portrays the legendary brothers who took the temple back from the Seleucids, as super heroes. Hanukkah books are found in most local libraries, and many craft/discount stores now sell Hanukkah-related products. You can also find resources at your local synagogue, which offers a great excuse to visit with your kids!

Advent Stories from the Islamic Perspective
Another way to make your Advent more interfaith is to read Islamic versions of typical Advent stories. For example, many Muslims are familiar with the story of Mary/Maryam being told she is pregnant with Jesus/Isa (sometimes spelled Eesa). In that account, Hannah, Maryam’s mother, promised to dedicate her unborn child to God/Allah. Years later, as a young woman serving in the temple, Maryam was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she would give birth to a son. Some of the story can be found in Surah 19 (called Maryam) of the Qur’an.

He said: I am but a messenger from your Lord that I may bestow on you a pure boy. She said: How shall I have a boy, when no mortal has touched me, nor am I an unchaste woman?” He said: Thus it shall be; your Lord said: It is insignificant for Me; and: We shall assign him as a Sign to humanity, and as a mercy from Us. It was a decreed command. [Surah 19 (Maryam), Verses 19-21, Laleh Bakhtiar translation]

The Qur’an is non-narrative, for the most part, but Muslims do read stories to their kids based on Qur’anic passages. A good, kid-friendly version of Gabriel’s announcement to Maryam, the subsequent birth of Isa, and Isa’s first days can found here. Note how in the Islamic narrative, Isa is able to talk at birth. On the right is a kid-friendly video of the birth story. The video is seven minutes long, but the narrative about Zachariah, Mary, the birth of Jesus, and Jesus’ first words are in the first 5 minutes (before the quiz). For interested adults, a more complete version of the story, with specific excerpts from the Qur’an, can be found here.

Birth Stories from Other Faith Traditions

You can also make your Advent more interfaith by focusing on amazing birth stories from other traditions, several of which include the idea of a virgin birth. One of the most popular comes from the Buddhist tradition. According to that narrative, an elephant with a lotus flower was responsible for Queen Maya’s pregnancy of Gautama Buddha. In most versions, the Buddha takes seven steps as a newborn infant. In some versions, angels appear and the baby Buddha speaks (much like Isa does in the Islamic narrative). The Life of the Buddha site has kid-friendly narratives of Queen Maya’s elephant dream and the Buddha’s birth. Finally, the 8-minute video above, in English, tells the story.

Add an Intrafaith Twist
If an interfaith Advent seems too far removed from the spirit of the season, you might want to focus on various Advent practices within the Christian tradition. One of the most notable is the Nativity Fast observed in the Orthodox tradition from mid-November until Christmas Eve. Here the word “fast” does not mean a total absence of food. Instead, Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil, except on certain days of the week. The specifics, if you’re interested, are complex but fascinating and can be found here.

As many Orthodox moms have discovered, the Nativity Fast diet is closely related to a vegan diet, which means many families break out their vegan recipes for the holiday season. One post offering great Orthodox Advent recipes can be found here, but you can also simply search the internet for vegan recipes that you and your kids might enjoy. Just make sure they don’t require any oil if you really want to stick with the rules!

In Short…
It’s easy to assume that Advent offers few or no opportunities to interact with other faith traditions. After all, the entire focus is on preparing for the arrival of Jesus. However, a little creative thinking reveals several possibilities. During this unsettling time of the year – when the pendulum swings wildly between “traditional Christianity” and “rampant commercialism” – consider a move away from both ends of the continuum, and bring a bit of interfaith into your holiday season.

Life Among the Ruins

screen480x480I will admit that the past few days have left me with a mix of emotions from depression to anger and back again. Yesterday, it was anger mixed with just plain grouchiness. Plus I was stressed because I wasn’t getting enough work done due to (see above).

Then a wondrous thing happened. About forty young people arrived at church along with their teacher to learn about Lutherans. The  group was from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution. The class is “What Is Catholicism?” and is a requirement for all students. So it was a pretty mixed bag of Catholics and Protestants (no Lutherans, though). They were visiting various Christian churches and our place on the schedule followed a field trip to an Eastern Orthodox church.

Their teacher had emailed me earlier to confirm and had warned me that his class was feeling pretty upset by the election results, so we might want to deal somehow with that. So my colleague, Anders Peterson from Middle Circle, and I set up a space with a few candles and planned some songs and readings that we could use, depending on the needs of the group.

The students arrived with the kind of energy that only young college students have. Once we got them all settled in, we read a statement and call to action from The Charter for Compassion:

the invitation has arrived
to step into our courage
and our full humanitycharter_brand_transp_orange_medium
from this day forward
the harm can only unfold
and multiply and spread
with our silence
with our consent
with our participation
we will not be silent
we do not consent and
we will not participate
in legitimating violence, lies and division
the love that we are
the love that connects us all
the love that bends history
even in this dark moment 
towards liberation 
We are one 
we are many and
we are one
it is time 
dear friends 
the revolution of love
must be completed 
And it is only possible 
if on this day
we commit our lives 
to walking the hard road 
because there is now only one way forward 
So it was a good time of camaraderie and healing. But then it also became a real example of  how intrafaith conversations can work. I told my Lutheran faith story; Anders told his. Then we asked if the students had any questions. And they did.
For example, they wanted to know:
  • the process used in Christian-Jewish dialogues that led to repudiation of anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther and expressions of sorrow and repentance
  • the differences in Communion practices between Lutherans and other Christian churches – what kind of bread, for example
  • who was allowed to receive Communion
  • our understanding of baptism
  • why we don’t use the Nicene Creed (which is a First United decision, not a pan-Lutheran one)
  • could Lutheran ministers get married

There were many nods of agreement, but there were also a few exchanges of differences, for instance in the use of the Creed.

But it was all done with good will, curiosity, and respect. A real intrafaith encounter! It warmed my heart on an otherwise bleak day. People of differing backgrounds and practices coming together to learn about one another can only contribute to peace in the world.

A revolution of love! Yes!

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Is Religious Diversity Making Us Less Religious?

imagesAccording to a recent article in the Christian Century (Sept. 28, 2016), one reason America has become less religious is our religious diversity.  It goes on to say:
Although religious pluralism is not necessarily the cause of declining religiosity, it does expose people to ideas and prices that challenge their faith. 

All I have to say is, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

The story of Elsie (see blog post from December, 2015) is a perfect illustration of the above quote – and further rationale for engaging in the intrafaith conversation.

This is not simply an interesting add-on to the work of ministry today. It is integral to the message we preach and preach, the mission we promote, and the church we want to become.

A big thanks to all of you who are reading the book in your churches and passing it along to friends.  Keep the movement going!

The Intrafaith Landscape: A New Reformation

semper-reformanda1About every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. –
                                                            Bishop Mark Dyer

Change is happening within American Christianity. New ways of being church are springing up all around. Unlike the “worship wars” of previous decades, which pitted traditional and contemporary proponents against one another, the movement today is not so easy to classify. Terms such as “emergent,” “post-denominational,” “post-modern” and “progressive” attempt to describe the Christian scene and the movements going on within it. Each of these categorizations contains within itself a wide variety of interpretations of what it really means.

All of these are taking part in a “giant rummage sale,” as Bishop Dyer so brilliantly describes it. However, it’s clear that we’re not all in agreement about what we should keep and what we should give away. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we’re in the process of getting ready for the sale. If you’ve ever held a yard, garage or rummage sale, you know the work that goes into putting it together. The first thing you have to do is look over all of your stuff with a critical eye. As you look at each cherished possession, you ask: Do I want to keep this? Is it still useful? Does it still fit? Does it still work? If the answer is ‘yes,’ the decision is easy; it’s a keeper. And if ‘no,’ to the sale it goes.

It gets a bit more complicated when you have an item that is tarnished, worn or outdated but you think there just might be some life left in it. You have to ask yourself if maybe, if it were cleaned up, restored or reworked, it could still be of value to you. A dusty old heirloom might just turn out to be a new treasure.

So it is in present-day Christianity. We’re looking with critical eyes at social issues, liturgical forms, biblical interpretations, theological teachings and the use of language. However not all churches necessarily deal with all of these, nor would they all agree. For example, a few years ago I attended, along with some members of my current congregation, a conference on the emerging church. First United considers itself to be a progressive congregation, committed to the use of inclusive language for humanity and expansive language for God. At First United’s rummage sale, we had examined patriarchal language and decided that it had to go. So we were quite surprised by the lack of inclusive language used at the conference. We realized that we are all making different value judgment about our treasures. This is the reformation that is happening all around us. Old ideas are being reexamined, transformed or rejected; new ones are emerging.

Why is all this change happening now? Taking her cue from Bishop Dyer, the late Phyllis Tickle posited that we are in this current “giant rummage sale” simply because it’s time for one. In The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, she outlined the upheaval that has occurred every five hundred years since the time of Jesus.

The Protestant Reformation began in the 16th century. The 11th century saw the Great Schism, which split the Eastern and Western Churches. In the 6th century, the Roman Empire collapsed and Europe entered the Dark Ages. All of these upheavals included  both societal shifts and theological issues, just like we are experiencing now in the 21st century.

What I find most helpful about Tickle’s theory is that what we’re going through is normal. That means we can go about being creative and hopeful, rather than hidebound and anxious. This is good news because the church has been anxiety-driven for quite a while. Our outreach efforts have been fueled by the decline in membership in Christian congregations. Pundits have been writing ad nauseam about the reasons for this. The latest trend is expounding on the characteristics of the Millennial generation and how the church can reach out and reel them in. Some of these same “experts” also tell us how to appeal to those who are “spiritually independent” (a more positive way of saying “spiritual but not religious” or “none”) all around us.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m all in favor of doing outreach to those searching for a way to explore their spirituality and to those with no church home. However, as a veteran of the church growth movement of the 1990s, I know the pitfalls of easy characterizations and easy solutions. The experts told us then that we had to adapt to the needs of Gen X and  if we’d just follow their instructions to the letter, our churches would grow. We actually bought a program like this in my former congregation.

We received a big binder of step-by-step instructions – and a church growth consultant! We envisioned our little congregation in a Northeast rustbelt city grow1381770_10201458045106340_670873635_ning by 200-400%. Looking back, the idea was ludicrous. We were a mainline church in a city itself in decline. But even more ludicrous was the advice of our “expert” consultant. He took one look at our building, sitting on the corner in the middle of two lovely lawns with large shade trees, and declared that we needed to rip out the trees and the laws and put in parking lots. Rule #1 of church growth: you have to have a parking lot. Needless to say, we did not tear up the lawns. They provided play space for our preschool and summer program. They were places of hospitality for neighborhood gatherings, such as the annual National Night Out. The trees provided shade and beauty, as well as nesting places for birds. We were a green space in a city neighborhood. Should we really have “paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.?”

I’m happy to report that the congregation is still there, some twenty years after our venture into church growth. The congregation is still small, but they’ve partnered with a congregation in the suburbs and are doing vibrant, creative ministry together. When I returned for their 90th anniversary celebration last year, one of the things I enjoyed most was the cookout held out on the back lawn under that big beautiful tree. Despite my obvious feelings about the experience, I learned an important lesson: there are no one-size-fits-all answers to the questions of doing ministry in different settings.

Issues may change. Culture may change. The task of the church is to live out “ecclesia semper reformanda est” (“the church is always to be reformed”). In reaching out to Millenials, spiritual independents, the “church alumni society*,” we must take up the challenge in our own time. The inclusion of interfaith and intrafaith is an essential part of living out this challenge.

Imagine my delight in arriving at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley to work on my doctorate in this area and discovering a course called “Martin Luther and Buddhism”! In the class I became immersed in a fascinating convergence of Lutheran and Buddhist teaching. I was mainly interested in learning about a tradition other than mine. After all, I knew about Lutheranism. But to my surprise, the primary benefit of the course for me was an invigorating renewal of Luther’s theology of the cross. Through study of the Buddhist concept of dukka (suffering), I was able to reimagine the central symbol of Christianity that I had not been sure I could espouse any longer. My rummage sale item could still be a keeper.

• What is an aspect of the Church that you would like to give away?

• What do you definitely want to keep?

• What are some components that you think might be redeemable with some work?

 

*Phrase coined by Bishop John Shelby Spong to describe those who have left the church

 

(excerpted from The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves About INTERfaith Matters?_

 

 

New Review of “The INTRAfaith Conversation”

she likes it“As a Christian who has been engaged in the interfaith movement for over 25 years, I found myself intrigued by The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves About INTERfaith Matters? (2016). Susan Strouse’s book explores the importance of intrafaith conversations as a path to deeper and more meaningful interfaith conversations. Strouse writes from her personal experience as a Lutheran pastor introducing interfaith to her own congregation, sharing the stories she has collected along the way, supplemented with a depth and breadth of remarkable research.”

Read the rest of the review in the October edition of The Interfaith Observer here.

Kay Lindahl, founder of The Listening Center, is a skilled presenter and workshop leader1472002254936 who teaches that listening is a sacred art and a spiritual practice. She is the author of the award winning book, The Sacred Art of Listening. Kay is also a dedicated spokesperson for the interfaith movement and is on the Board of Directors for Women of Spirit and Faith, an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a past trustee of the Global Council for the United Religions Initiative, and is Past Chair of the North American Interfaith Network. Lindahl has presented her work in diverse settings – local, regional, national and international. Locally she has created programs, board retreats, training for spiritual directors, in-service training for non-profit organizations and lectures on college campuses. She is the founding president of the The Interfaith Observer (TIO) Board of Directors.

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The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity – Then Lost Her Job: An INTRAfaith Case Study

The New York Times Magazine ran an article in its October 13, 2016 edition entitled “The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity – Then Lost Her Job”. It’s the story of Larycia Hawkins, the first female African-American tenured professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college. Dr. Hawkins lost her job after a controversy that began with her intention to wear a hijab during the Advent season, in solidarity with Muslims.

You can read the article here. It’s an important story on many levels, not the least being race and gender. But my point in posting  it here is that it’s a perfect example of the necessity of intrafaith discussions among Christians of differing theological perspectives.

Dr. Hawkins identifies as a Christian. Her Christianity allows her to make the statement she made by wearing the hijab. The administration and many alumni of Wheaton College have a different interpretation  of Christianity. Many students and faculty members were understandably upset with Dr. Hawkins’ “mutual place of resolution and reconciliation”  departure.

Rather than dismissing this popular, well-qualified educator, would it not have been wiser to use the controversy as an opportunity for an intrafaith conversation?

Help Me Create a Christian Float for an INTRAfaith Parade

macy_s_thanksgiving_marching_band_-_vertOur 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 in63c6ac4ee1a4cedb05b14099ed8a44fcclude, 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.

rmt16773So 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 s2492729_origaying “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.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

INTRAfaith Relationship: It’s Complicated

 

its-complicatedOne of the options on Facebook for announcing your relationship status is “it’s complicated.” And for some people, entering into interfaith relationships can be complicated, if not downright threatening. Then add in the need for intrafaith conversation  and things can get really challenging. For this reason, I love this poem/prayer by C.S. Song.unknown-2

Choan-Seng Song is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology and Asian Cultures at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. I had the privilege of being part of a theological discussion group during my doctoral studies there. Professor Song opened my eyes to other ways of looking at Christianity, specifically through an Asian lens. Once I realized how thoroughly western my theology and Christology was, a new way into interfaith thology opened up before me.

51matoyngwl-_sx331_bo1204203200_But Dr. Song is not just an academic. He’s also a pastor. And, in my opinion, nothing expresses this more than this poem/prayer, which was published in the PSR newsletter. I’ve used it innumerable times in workshops as a way to reassure people just entering into interfaith and intrafaith relationships that discomfort is to be expected, in fact it’s perfectly normal.

A PRAYER: It Is Difficult, O God

It is difficult, O God
it was much easier before
we lived in our own world
we took that world for the entire world
we believed we were your chosen people
with special privileges and advantages
we thought we had nothing to learn
from people who were different from us
in what they believed and how they lived
but suddenly all these people are all over the place
they come to live in our midst
they speak all sorts of languages
they practice different faiths
they even dress differently.

It is complicated, O God
it was much simpler in the past
we lived among like-minded people
we used to understand each other
we ate the same food
we shared the common thoughts
we even acquired the same habits
we seldom ventured out of our compound
we were contented with what we knew
but all of a sudden the walls that separated us from other people crumbled
we have lost control of our life
we are afraid we are no longer master of our own destiny.

But it has never been easy for you, O God
it has never been simple for You
You have always dealt with a world of wonderful plurality
with many people and many nations
with many cultures and religions
with women as well as men
with children as well as men and women.

But instead of complaining, You enjoy it
instead of becoming upset, You delight in it.
Though it is still difficult for us
help us, O God, to enjoy it with all its multiplicity
though it is still too complicated for us
enable us, O God, to cope with it
with the spirit of gratitude and wonder
and inspire us to know ever more deeply
the mystery that is Yours
the truth You alone can disclose to us.

 

The Reviews Are in!

she likes it

I am happy to report that, so far, The INTRAfaith Conversation has a 5-star rating on Amazon. Below are the five reviews (in reverse chronological order) that have been submitted. And yes, I would love more! If you’ve read the book, please let me know what you think. After all, it’s supposed to be a conversation.


5.0 out of 5 stars
 
Giving Peace a Chance
By June on September 16, 2016

This is an important book for our times. It will be essential reading for all people of faith and those in our country who experience spirituality outside the faiths. Strouse explores what it means for Christians to dialogue together with the beliefs of other world religions, with other denominations and within one’s church. This book ushers us step by step into a process towards unity of love and respect that enables us to discover how to live the love in which we believe as well as to evolve from a rote worshipper to a discerning believer. She shows how Christians can accept and respect beliefs of others, find common ground and evolve in our own faith expression to prevent exclusionary or irrelevant evangelism.  It reads fluidly, is serious yet entertaining, logical in light of the history presented, compassionate, educational and inspiring. Strouse has addressed something so timely, necessary (in light of world terrorism), and helpful in understanding what is happening in our declining mainline churches. For the future of the Gospel and the survival of the world, this should be read in our churches for breathing life into our faith, in homes for raising generations of tolerant and inclusive people, and in seminaries as required reading to prepare pastors for encounters / interactions of cultures they will face in their neighborhoods as well as to assist them in utilizing the processes presented.  Whereas missionary work historically meant traveling to convert indigenous peoples, in America today we live amongst a multitude of spiritual / religious faiths which is now our fertile field for outreach, not necessarily for conversion but for establishing and nurturing peace. If this is a time in our world for the church to evolve, let us start with ourselves, those in our faith and others of all faiths to develop and share understandings. The world awaits a revolution of joy and open hearts.

From The Rev. Barbara Peronteau, M.Div.
Interfaith Chaplain Resident   August 28, 2016

5.0 out of 5 starsas Christians can better understand our own faith
This book was written so that in this pluralistic world in which we now live, we, as Christians can better understand our own faith, and the issues involved with interfaith dialogue, so that we might be more comfortable being in conversation with our neighbors who are not Christian. While this book was written to the larger interfaith dialogue within the broader culture, I find the insights in this book to be very applicable in the clinical pastoral care setting in which I minister. I hope the saying is true that we are judged by the company we keep so by keeping company with this book I might be somewhat smarter than before I read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The INTRAfaith Conversation”. Susan’s writing style is engaging, easy, and conversational, yet theologically intelligent.

5.0 out of 5 starsFive Stars bRussell H. Miller  June 22, 2016
Expertly laid out providing a roadmap for a much needed dialogue.

5.0 out of 5 starsCrisp and cogent treatment . . . bRichard G. Eddy  June 29, 2016
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.

Inevitably, 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.

9/11 and the INTRAfaith Conversation

img_1470I returned to the Jersey shore this summer. I hadn’t been there since 2001. In fact, I was in Ocean City on 9/11/2001. As I watched the towers fall on TV, I could see fighter planes and helicopters flying up the coast. It’s not something you forget. Of course, others have more horrific and tragic stories to tell. But for those of us who were old enough to be aware of what was happening at the time, we’ll always remember where we were on that day. And we should remember: those who died, their families, the first responders, the ongoing after-effects of trauma.alg-flag-jpg

But we should also remember other stories. In Ocean City – and I’m sure in many other
places as well – there was a run on American flags. A friend who was staying with me that week was determined to get a flag to hang off our balcony. I was conflicted about it. I didn’t want to hang a flag off my balcony; I’m not a big fan of flags in the first place. So I was quietly thrilled that every store was sold out.

I also remember overhearing conversations that included words like “rag-heads” and “towel-heads” and references to the Qur’an that were either completely false or taken out of context. The first hate crime reported as a result of 9/11 didn’t happen until the 15th, but the seeds were being sown.

I was due back in the pulpit on September 16. Obviously, I’d have to talk about 9/11. I decided to try to make the service a combination of remembrance, lamentation, and confession. The remembrance and lamentation parts were fairly easy to do, and there were lots of resources being sent out for use that Sunday.

But I was determined not to let us off the hook for our part in the rise of global terrorism. Simplistic answers to “Why do they hate us?” make my blood boil. “Because they hate our freedoms” isn’t an informed answer. We Americans are famous for our ignorance about history, geography, and geopolitical affairs. It takes only a scratch of the surface to find reasons for resentment of American arrogance throughout the world. Even our remembrances of 9/11 will usually neglect to mention the acts of violence and terrorism experienced by people of other countries each and every day.

Do I condone terrorism? Absolutely not. Do I understand it. Definitely yes.

So on that Sunday I tried to gently insert some reminders of our own American culpability. I don’t know how well I pulled it off. I do know that at the end of the service, one member asked if we could sing “God Bless America.” I didn’t handle it well. Following Nancy Reagan’s advice I “just said no.” Looking back, it would have been an opportunity to suggest singing “Finlandia” (“This Is My Song”). Here it is, sung by Joan Baez.

This is my song, O God of all the nations, joan_baez
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

So what will we do this Sunday? Will we have only remembrances and memorials? Or will we acknowledge the ongoing interfaith and intrafaith work we still have to do in knowing and understanding ourselves and our neighbors?