Tag Archives: interreligious

Pluralism Summer Week 7: Archbishop Franzo King

st_john_coltrane_fmivnlThe Church of St. John Coltrane was in the news a while back because of the loss of their worship space on Fillmore Street. No one was sure where they would go or if this unique expression of spirituality and worship would be lost. Thankfully, in April, they took up residence along with us at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. They join, not only 10155866_10153102768389325_6707118149508077725_nFirst United and St. Cyprian’s, but also Sophia in Trinity (the Roman Catholic Womanpriest congregation) and Middle Circle (First United’s outreach to the spiritually independent).

The corner of Turk & Lyon has become quite the  eclectic center!125

This Sunday, we are delighted to have as our guest speaker Archbishop Franzo W. King, co-founder of The Church of St. John Coltrane and presently Archbishop of the African Orthodox Church-Jurisdiction West. He is also a founding Member of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

This will undoubtedly be a highlight in our summer series!
And, as always, regardless of what you believe or don’t believe, all are welcome.


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

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

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


The Intrafaith Conversation in Mexico

NAINConnect16Well, it’s over. The 28th annual gathering of the North American Interfaith Network at the Convento Esclavas de Cristo Rey in Guadalajara was the first (and hopefully not the last) NAIN Connect in Mexico.

The theme was “Sacred Space” and much attention was rightly given to the indigenous people of Mexico. But there were other expressions of sacred space – both internal and external. I myself was privileged to lead a workshop on creating safe and sacred space in which intrafaith conversations can happen.

My wshe likes itorkshop was on Tuesday, but on Monday I got some great publicity. During the discussion at a workshop on interfaith hospitality, someone spoke up and said, “What we really need to have is an intrafaith dialogue.” I almost jumped out of my seat as I raised my  hand to jump in and tell everyone about the opportunity to do just that – and buy the book as well!

Going in, I had no idea how many religions might be represented. This was my first venture with a potentially interfaith group. It turned out that the group was largely Christian, with a smattering of Buddhists, Religious Science adherents, a Jewish/Buddhist, and a “none.”

I started off with a personal intrafaith story. Then I shared a resource I had  just learned at the hospitality workshop: The Differences Between Dialogue and Debate. This was part of the presentation about how to create a safe space for difficult dialogue to happen – and we all agreed that these can be very difficult conversations for us to be part of. Too often our buttons get pushed and our “non-anxious presence” (I prefer “non-reactive presence”) goes out the window.

IMG_4605Then we broke into small groups and everyone got a chance to share their own stories and struggles with members of their own tradition. Finally, we  began to strategize about how to create an intrafaith conversation when we got back home.

IMG_4606I don’t know if anyone will do that. But I believe that, at the very least, the issue was put out onto the table, and participants went away with some resources and hopefully lots to think about.

And that’s a start.

Check out my web site at https://intrafaithconversation.com 
Follow my blog at https://intrafaithconversation.com/blog-2/
Buy my  book at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Sagrada Sacred Arts in Oakland, CA
Kindle edition is also available on Amazon

Pluralism Summer: Weeks 5 & 6

165763_489522519437_2022599_nI first met Dolores White back in 2002 when I had just arrived in Berkeley. I’d met Paul Chaffee from the Interfaith Center at the Presidio and was invited to a board meeting. Somehow I found my way from the East Bay to the far side of San Francisco (the Presidio is not easy to get to on public transportation and my car was still back in Buffalo).  I’ve gotten much more savvy about navigating the streets of San Francisco, but back then I wasn’t sure how I’d ever find my way back home.

Dolores, a member of the Baha’i faith, was one of the board members who welcomed me that day and the first to offer me a ride to the nearest BART station. I was so grateful. Since then I’ve learned that that’s just Dolores: graciousness personified.

She was one of our speakers two summers ago, when our theme was the environment, and I’m so glad she agreed to come back for Week 5 to address the question of how her Baha’i faith informs how she thinks about politics.

Unfortunately, however, I won’t be there. I’ll be attending NAINConnect 2106 in Guadalajara. NAIN is the North American Interfaith Network, founded in 1990 as a way to build communication and mutual understanding among interfaith organizations and diverse religious groups throughout North America.

d4ba2c0967b317439c004019f5e18b66This will be the first gathering in Mexico and there will be an emphasis on Indigenous Peoples and their relationship to the land/struggle for land and water rights.  The theme of the conference this year is Sacred Space. According to the planners, we’ll be looking at sacred space in the widest sense possible – our inner sacred space, the space we create together in relationship, our worship spaces, holy places, the land and the earth and the universe as sacred. Also, my workshop proposal was accepted, so I’ll be leading my first interfaith intrafaith conversation!

WEEK 6 of Pluralism Summer will be completely different. Middle Circle will be taking over the entire time slot. Middle Circle is the “spiritual but not religious” community sponsored by First United. The theme’s question had to be a little different for this group: “How does your religious/ spiritual/ philosophical tradition inform how you think about politics?” Not only will Middle Circle give us their insights, they’ll also help those of us in the “traditional” church expand our ideas of what the interfaith community includes.

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

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

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


Pluralism Summer: Week 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the INTRAfaith Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pluralism Summer: Week 3

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

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

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

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


Pluralism Summer: Week 2

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, contact me.

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

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

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


Who’s to Blame for Intra-Religious Diversity?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The INTRAfaith Conversation at Synod Assembly


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

At least for an hour.

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

Some recurring themes:

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

Great questions!

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

she likes it




On Being an Interspiritual Christian

interfaithps_interspirituality_1What is an interspiritual Christian? 
The term ‘interspirituality’ was coined by Brother Wayne Teasdale  (1945 -2004), author of The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. He believed that spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions  (he also called used the terms  “global spirituality” and ‘interspiritual wisdom’). He maintained that since mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world’s religions, this shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond differences in our theological beliefs and traditions.

Already I can hear the questions and concerns: have I abandoned Christianity; am I encouraging others to do the same in favor of a single new religion? And as St. Paul would respond, “By no means!”


The heart of interspirituality is the recognition that there are many approaches to the spiritual journey. Proponents don’t advocate for a rejection of the individual traditions or for the creation of a new super-spirituality. A favorite saying is the Hindu aphorism: “The paths are many but the goal is the same.” Hence, a faithful Christian is free to explore.

Here’s how Teasdale described it:Unknown
By ‘interspiritual’ is not meant the mixing of the various traditions but the possibility and  actuality that we can learn and be nourished from more than our own mystical tradition. The note of interspiritual wisdom suggests that there is an underpinning, universal metaphysics from which all particular religions are derived.

Interspirituality is not a one-way street, but an intermystical intersection where insights cross back and forth, intermingle, and find new habitats.

Or as Episcopal priest, author and retreat leader, Cynthia Bourgault puts it:
Wisdom is an ancient tradition, not limited to one particular religious expression but at the headwaters of all the great sacred paths.

The String on Which I Hang My Beads
Back in 2001, when I was just beginning my interfaith adventure, I attended a weekend workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. There I was privileged to sit at the feet of Huston Smith (1919-2016), the preeminent authority on world religions. Smith not only studied and taught, but actually practiced Hindu Vedanta, Zen Buddhism, and Sufi Islam for more than ten years each—all the while remaining a member of his local Methodist Church. I was deeply interested in knowing how that worked: how could I (could I?) remain a Christian while exploring and even accepting aspects of other religious traditions?

maxresdefaultAt the workshop, after we had been captivated by stories of Smith’s immersion in the world’s religions, someone asked the question that was on my mind: “Why are you still a Christian?” His answer, which I cannot find in any “Famous Quotes” site, was “Christianity is the string on which I hang my beads.”

That declaration has stayed with me over the years and has informed my ministry as a preacher, teacher, and worship leader.

Bringing It to the Congregation
Back in 2010, my congregation sponsored an event called “InterSpiritual Wisdom: effc5190d0f805a4130997d6703a5eefSharing the Mystic Heart.” It was a two-day event, on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday schedule included presenters from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam/Sufism and Judaism, who talked about their own spiritual beliefs and practices. The best part was that they each taught a practice to the rest of us. Each segment was followed by a period of silence when we could practice on our own. On Sunday afternoon, there was a panel discussion and Q&A time, followed by an interspiritual zikr[1] led by our two Sufi presenters. The evaluations we received from attendees overwhelmingly indicated that they wanted more of the same.

It seems like interspirituality might be tapping into a need that our churches have been unwittingly neglecting. It’s a perspective that may appeal to those more attracted to mysticism than to a dogmatic faith. It also removes the difficulties of an interfaith theology and reframes the conversation in terms of an interfaith spirituality. It does not address, nor does it claim to address, the issues of differences within the traditions. That’s a conversation for another time.

For Reflection:

  • How have you or how could you incorporate interspiritual wisdom in your own spiritual practice?
  • How have you or how could you incorporate interspiritual wisdom in the worship life of your congregation?




[1] Zikr (Arabic for ‘remembrance’) is a form of devotion, in which participants are absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of the Divine name or attributes of the Divine.

Bourgeault, Cynthia, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, 4.

Teasdale, Wayne. The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999, 27.

Teasdale, Wayne. “The Interspiritual Age:
Practical Mysticism for the Third Millennium.”