Tag Archives: pluralism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pluralism Sunday 2017

firstsundayheader1On Pentecost Sunday 2007, we had our first Pluralism Sunday at First United. In fact, that was the very first ever Pluralism Sunday. The event was initiated by Rev. Jim Burklo, a pastor in the United Church of Christ and now Associate Dean in the Office of Religious Life at USC. A long-time proponent of progressive Christianity, affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity (now progressivechristianity.org), Burklo got the idea from the second of The Eight Points of  Progressive Christianity:

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

This was the original promotion:
Progressive Christians thank God for the diversity of religions in the world!  We don’t claim that ournov6-1 religion is superior to all others.  We grow closer to God, grow deeper in compassion, and understand our own tradition better by honoring and exploring the world’s religions.  Many if not most people think that in order to be a Christian, it’s necessary to believe that Christianity is the only valid way to salvation, and that other religions are inferior at best and evil at worst. But Pluralism Sunday spreads good news: there is a way to be Christian without making this prideful claim, which has been the cause of so much inter-religious division and misunderstanding.  Pluralism Sunday takes a big step beyond mere “tolerance” of other religions, and affirms that other faiths may be as good for their adherents as our faith is for us.

This week, Jim handed the reins of Pluralism Sunday over to me. Yikes!

Thankfully, the folks at progressivechristianity.org will maintain the website; all I have to do is send them stuff. My immediate goals will be to:

  • update the website with resources, stories, etc.
  • get publicity out for this year’s Pluralism Sunday

The next stage will be actively recruiting new participants. So this is where you can help. If you’d like to receive information about Pluralism Sunday (and I promise there will not be a flood of emails), let me know and I’ll add you to the list.

Pluralism Sunday is May 7 (although you can change that date to suit your congregation’s needs). It’s not too late to plan something for this year. And I’m happy to be of assistance! 10425105_685298248244578_4828843527378246256_n

PS – If you’re concerned about how Pluralism Sunday will be received in your congregation, might I recommend The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves about INTERfaith Matters? It would be a good place to start.

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. 

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“Talking with Strangers in Sacred Space”

There’s a really important article in this month’s issue of The Interfaith Observer. Lynda Trono, program convenor on the board of directors for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), has written a reflection on the first day of this summer’s NAIN Connect in Guadalajara. She begins by expressing the same feelings I had when listening to the opening keynote by Raul Vera López, bishop of the Diocese of Saltillo. And she ends up with an admission of arriving at the first ever NAIN Connect in Mexico with cultural blinders firmly in place.

I resonated completely with her frustration at having to listen to a very long Christian sermon at the start of an interfaith gathering. I also shared her chagrin at coming to learn that the bishop, a staunch defender of human rights, is beloved in Mexico – in fact is called the Oscar Romero of Mexico.

There’s a lesson here for us to learn. As open and accepting we profess to be, we still come into interfaith gatherings with cultural biases and expectations. In Guadalajara I was already aware of (and embarrassed by) my “ugly American” lack of ability to speak Spanish. Now I learn how much deeper my sense of privilege runs. And even as I wonder what might have helped us to bridge the cultural divide earlier than we did, I know that it’s up to me to learn about the culture I’m visiting.

I’m very grateful for Lynda Trono’s honest and reflective article.

 

 

Pluralism Summer Week 10: Mark Carlson, Lutheran Office of Public Policy–CA

martin-luther-1No, our Pluralism Summer speaker this week is not Martin Luther! But as a Lutheran pastor, I would be remiss in neglecting the contribution of Luther to the subject of religion and politics. While his Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms may not seem to be the sexiest topic for a summer interfaith series,  in reality it was – and still – is a controversial subject. How many times have you heard (or said) that the church is no place to discuss politics? Well, Luther did draw a clear line between spiritual and secular authority and said that the two realms should never be confused.

The trouble is that his writings on the subject particularly in Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed have been interpreted in various ways. Critics claim that Luther paved the way,  not only for the secularisation of society but also for what would become the ideology of National Socialism in 20th century Germany.That’s a hard pill for a good Lutheran to swallow. And coupled with Luther’s unfortunate anti-Semitic writings, a double dose of history to be reconciled.

Fortunately, other interpretations have prevailed. David Lose, for example, currently president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, in an article entitled “The Ambidextrous God: Luther on Faith and Politics,” asserts that “Luther expects that we ask, not whether God is at work in the political institutions of our world, but rather, and always, how.” No unmoveable line between the two realms there.

19307_10203771415674714_8834993001436362622_nHaving heard from other traditions on the subject of the intersection of religion and politics, it is certainly appropriate to hear from someone working in both realms. In fact, it is an intrafaith conversation, since we’ve heard from other Christian traditions, such as Mennonites and Quakers. There are differences.

So Mark Carlson, director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy-CA in Sacramento, part of the political advocacy ministry of the ELCA, will be at First United this Sunday to take on the job of telling us how he sees God at work in the political institutions of our world.

Or not – and what we can do about it.


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 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. 

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.”

A few words about our service:
Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the Christian tradition, we believe that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome

Pluralism Summer Week Nine: Elaine Donlin Sensei, Buddhist Church of SF

elaineI’m happy to announce a return visit from Elaine Donlin of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, which is the oldest Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) Buddhist Church in America. Elaine is an ordained priest and a Minister’s Assistant and has been teaching the Essentials of Buddhism since 2008. She serves as Buddhist Community Clergy for several SF Hospitals, as well as, partners with the SF Zen Center to provide Meditation and Buddhism in the SF County Jails. She is also a founding member of the BCSF LGBTQQ group.

Elaine has become a good friend of First United. She and Rev. Ron Kobata were in attendance at our big anniversary celebration back in April. Elaine has also shared with me some resources she’s been using in intrafaith conversations in the Buddhist community.

I’m looking forward to hearing about how her practice informs her politics and her work in the world.
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.

A few words about First United:
Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the Christian tradition, we beleive that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome!

 

Pluralism Summer Week 8: Society of Friends (Quaker)

laura headshotNext up in our summer of “religion and politics” is Laura Magnani from the Quaker tradition. Laura is director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Bay Area Healing Justice Program in California and has worked on criminal justice issues for over 35 years. She wrote “America’s First Penitentiary: A 200 Year Old Failure in 1990” and co-authored the AFSC publication, “Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System” in 2006. She is also a  nationally known expert on solitary confinement. We are honored to have her as a speaker in our summer series.

A few words about First United:effc5190d0f805a4130997d6703a5eef

Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the
Christian tradition, we beleive that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: 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.