Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bring your best to interfaith pot-luck

I'm a big proponent of talking across our religious fences, even when the discussion is difficult. It's like a community pot-luck supper; you might not like every dish, but everyone can appreciate the abundance and variety of food -- and of course the fellowship.

But there are two temptations at these interfaith pot-lucks, and I don't mean the dessert table.

The first is the temptation to get so caught up in arguing the rightness of your beliefs that you forget to listen. It's like insisting that everyone get a big scoop of your casserole but refusing to sample any other dishes. When we single-mindedly push our own view, we miss the insights of others. And we can't begin to heal the wounds between faiths unless we're willing to hear about the pain that we've inflicted.

The other temptation is to bring nothing to the table at all. To be so afraid of offending anyone that we speak in generalities and hide what is best in our own tradition.

That's what came to mind when reading this excerpt from J. Philip Newell's newest book, "Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation":

"A number of years ago, as the little spirituality centre of Casa del Sol in New Mexico was being conceived, I spoke with a native leader about the types of conversations we might have in a community of listening and dialogue. I asked, 'What is it I am to bring to the table of humanity? What am I to bring to our relationship in this place?' He answered very simply, and very challengingly: 'Philip, bring your treasure, bring Christ.' He then said, 'Would you expect me, as a native leader, to bring something less than my greatest treasure? Would you be satisfied with something less? So I tell you, bring your treasure. Bring Christ.'

"I understand why those of us of liberal sensitivity in the Christian household have hesitated from bringing Christ to the table. In the past, he has been used to beat others over the head and to tell them they need to become 'like us.' So I understand the hesitation. I know why many of us have simply gone silent. But if we are to establish true relationships in the journey of the world today, as distinct cultures and religions and nations, we need to find ways of bringing our treasure to one another.

"... this is my desire, to bring the treasure of our Christian household to the yearnings of the world today. And I am seeing that we can do it in new ways, in ways that listen reverently to the hunger of the human heart and in ways that will bring us closer to one another, as individuals and as distinct traditions, instead of into further separation and brokenness. This is a desire that issues up from deep in the soul. It is not a Christian desire or a Jewish or a Muslim desire. It is a holy human desire, and it will cost us much. But it is for the healing of creation."

What can you or your tradition bring to the table?


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jane, for reminding me that part of the pleasure of community is learning about and appreciating others. I'll try to listen better to those I disagree with.

Anonymous said...

From Christ and the Bible I bring tolerance, defined as opposing forced conversions, i.e. the kind of tolerance that made the liberal west possible.

I also bring ears to hear those moral values Christians share with other religions and a desire to work together to advance those values via free speech where its allowed and a hope that others would join us in seeking changes in those nations where it is not.

Anonymous said...

pornstudent (and anonymous, et al - see also Hitchens, Maher, et al), the fact that you care enough to debate is a source of joy for me.

Iztok said...

Jane, gamecock, dj and others here are positive examples. However I don't think they understand under what pressure and persecution non-religious people are in this country. Even those serving in armed forces.

New York Times has an article called Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats.

I hope you now understand why some of us are vocal.