Category Archives: Faith Line Protestants

Mission Trip Potential

This summer, I went on two mission trips with my church youth group through Sierra Service Project.  SSP was founded in 1975 by a group of United Methodists (now it is more ecumenical) who wanted to provide young people with the opportunity to serve with others in rural and urban communities.  Last week, we slept on a gym floor in Chiloquin, Oregon, where we served members of the Klamath Tribes (a few weeks ago, we were in Susanville, CA serving the Susanville Indian Rancheria).  All of the youth are split up from the church groups they came with and put into work teams.  My team helped stack firewood and painted a shed for an elderly woman with painful arthritis.  The work teams labored from 9am to 4pm everyday, shared a simple PB&J lunch at the worksite alongside a midday devotional, came back to shower, and then participated in evening programs, which included cultural programming from a representative of the Klamath Tribes.  Oh, and lest I forget that the youth have their cell phones taken away on Day 1.

We had a wonderful time learning from our homeowners, about God, and more about each other, but there was one thing that really amazed me about the SSP experience: the youth bonded very quickly.  There was something magical about a gym floor being the great equalizer.  On the first night, the staff encouraged everyone to take off their “cool jackets” and put on their “social sweaters” instead.  There was programming that talked about dismantling stereotypes.  The theme of the week was “Just Love, Just Serve,” which connoted the idea of a simple (of course, we know its not that simple!) love of our neighbors and also love and service that enacts justice for all in our world.  The youth participants really took this to heart and a very welcoming environment was developed quickly.  After six days, there were tears in many youth and adult eyes, knowing that this glimpse of God’s love in human community was over until next summer.

Since SSP is a Christian organization, many of the themes had a scriptural basis.  Each workgroup developed a covenant based on 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind…”).  We had discussion and an art project based on Micah 6:8.  On a spiritual walk, we interpreted the Lord’s Prayer and discerned what God might be trying to tell us directly.  The last night ended with a Love Feast, an old Methodist ritual (we are known for our potlucks, after all!), where we served each other in community a sweet treat (vanilla wafers and peanut butter, in this case) to show how sweet God’s grace is in our lives.  Overall, it was a well-blended mix of faith, love, and service with enough take-aways to continue similar work in our local church settings.

For myself, I know that United Methodist camping ministry has been a huge part of my faith formation.  It is where I was affirmed most and where an inkling of my own call to ministry began.  There is just something about getting away from one’s quotidian life and taking an adventure with little expectations and seeing what you can discover about God and yourself.  For teenagers and young adults, these experiences are priceless.

Being an interfaith leader and a contributor for this blog, my SSP experience got my intellectual and dreaming wheels turning.  What would be the benefit of weeklong (or longer) camping/service trips with an interfaith focus?  Would there be a benefit?  I think there would be immense benefit, but such a program would have to be very tactful and intentional.  Much like faith formation in any tradition, forming a young person for leadership in a religiously diverse world is not to be done halfheartedly.  Needless to say, I think organizations like Sierra Service Project have a really good model from which an interfaith focus could begin.

Are there any thoughts from other interfaith leaders out there?

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Interfaith Work is Child’s Play

I have heard Jesus’ famous statement in Matthew 18 about becoming like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven many times, but this verse has taken on special meaning for me over the last few months. Unlike many other seminary students who use their long summer break to take extra classes, work for a local parish, or even complete their Clinical Pastoral Education–I decided to take another route.  I have spent the entire summer babysitting.

I work for a few families each week and, with some other odd jobs here and there, have managed to make it a more than full-time gig. To be honest, babysitting has been more challenging than any other job I’ve held. Of course it is fun and enriching in many ways, but it can also be draining, frustrating, and confusing. When Jesus instructed us to become like little children did he mean that we should throw temper tantrums when our caretakers refuse to buy us ice cream (after we already had an ice cream earlier in the day!)? Did Jesus mean that we should refuse to go to bed until someone has read us every single book we own, sung us all of our favorite songs, and made several trips to the kitchen to get us water and snacks even after we’ve brushed our teeth? Did Jesus mean we should refuse to share our toys with other kids at the park, or say mean things to our siblings? Okay, enough complaining. I know that Jesus meant he wanted us to become trusting, open-hearted, and earnest in that way that is difficult for even the most thoughtful adults, but seems to come to kids so naturally. Jesus wanted us to have the kind of awe for God’s creation that is part of each child’s journey through the world. But maybe Jesus also knew that children don’t always fit the angelic trope that many readers of Matthew 18 would like them to.  Children fight, lie, cheat, and do mean things, just like the rest of us.

Matthew 18:4 continues: “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus actually instructs us to become “humble” or “lowly” like children, to become small. Despite their eccentricities, children are undeniably humble. They ask tons of questions and they aren’t afraid to say so when they don’t understand. They let their curiosity and their imaginations lead them into new relationships and new experiences, regardless of difference. One of the girls I babysit makes friends everywhere we go by approaching a child and asking: “How old are you?” After the child answers, she says: “Oh, I’m four. Not four and a half, just four. Do you want to play with me?” She is bold and confident, but so completely childlike in her direct approach to friendship.

I think we Christians can learn from children as we explore interfaith cooperation. As we strive to become like children, let us learn to take a couple steps back. Let’s ask questions, let’s seek out new friendships without letting our judgments and intellects get in the way; let’s figure out how to play and work together.

 

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A different kind of conversation

You may be familiar with a narrative in which Christians don’t play nice with other people. Evangelicals in particular can be an aggressive bunch, always seeking the last word or the loudest voice, and it often hasn’t reflected well on those who identify as followers of Jesus. But as one of those followers of Jesus, I have hope that the narrative can change.

My friend Cameron Nations and I founded Faith Line Protestants in a coffee shop on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign nearly three years ago. It was the result of mutual experiences with interfaith cooperation and a shared sense that the Christian tradition does not always get it right. We fail to have an awareness regarding how to approach people who believe something different than what we believe. We fail to consider the experiences of others, and we fail to respect what others consider sacred.

This lack of awareness has often resulted in a choice to employ communication methods that convey criticism, judgment, and self-righteousness. It seems the younger generation of Jesus followers, myself included, are fed up with awkward encounters and the blow-hard rhetoric which has often taken place from a seat of privilege in our country. We’re a generation that’s asking ourselves if the Jesus we follow would have chosen the same words or even the same message that many Christian leaders are contributing via an ever-increasing number of media outlets. Furthermore, when we look honestly at the Christian scriptures depicting the life of Jesus, we catch a glimpse of a different kind of conversation: something relationship-oriented, kind, and loving.

And we have been asking what would happen if we approached our friends who are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Sikhs and Buddhists with the same humility that Jesus modeled. What if there was a way to talk about faith in which we could communicate respectfully and authentically? What if we found ourselves in a situation where we not only talked about compassion, but we also practiced it by serving alongside those we’ve been taught to try to convert, asking questions, and sharing stories?

Would it water-down our message? Or would it strengthen it?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve realized that there is a toolset available which seems to fit the description of a relationship-oriented approach to communicating the gospel, and it’s called interfaith cooperation. At first it seems counterintuitive for many of us raised in evangelical traditions: I have trained to be a “Contagious Christian”, dabbled in apologetics, and practiced conversion conversations, yet never once did I practice having genuine dialogue.

This week we are re-launching Faith Line Protestants as we seek to reignite enthusiasm for a conversation which encourages evangelical Christians toward relationships with people of other worldviews and faith traditions by engaging in social action based on shared values reflected in Jesus’ example of compassionate love.

And whether you’re skeptical of the concept or you find it refreshing, I hope that you’ll join us in this conversation. We’ve only waded into the shallow waters of a deeper discussion that is already overdue. It’s a discussion that deals with privilege and the common good, equality and bigotry, respect and meaning-making. And for me it all comes back to the realization that the One after whom I strive to model my life was a storyteller, relationship-oriented, and a servant.

I hope you’ll join us as we re-launch this conversation about following Jesus in a religiously diverse world.

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What My Southern Baptist Past Says About My Episcopal Present

cameron_cropI’ll confess: If I listed my relationship with Evangelicalism on my Facebook page, it would probably read “It’s Complicated.”

I grew up a Southern Baptist just outside Nashville, TN—the de facto headquarters for evangelical culture. In addition to being the home of country music, Nashville also lays claim to the Christian music industry, as well as other forms of Christian media such as Christian publishing houses Thomas Nelson, Abingdon Press, and LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Both the Southern Baptist Convention and most of the administrative offices of the United Methodist Church call Nashville home, as do the National Association of Free Will Baptists. The Gideons International—those guys who put Bibles in every hotel room—is also headquartered there. All this has earned it the nicknames “the Protestant Vatican” and the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”

It’s not surprising, then, that I grew up enmeshed in the evangelical Christian subculture. I played in a band, and we toured around various churches leading “worship nights,” interspersing our own material in between the Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United covers. I’ve even worked at the Dove Awards—the contemporary Christian music version of the Grammys— multiple times and have met a good many artists in the Christian music industry.

If anyone was (by appearances, at least) a thoroughgoing evangelical, I was. Yet from a young age I wasn’t sure I completely owned the identity I had spent so much time embodying.

Just as college came knocking, I felt a call to ordained ministry. Naturally I assumed that this call included a trip to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousiville, KY before heading into a life as an aspiring megachurch pastor—a prospect I did not find altogether inspiring. Disenchanted with the Southern Baptist church and the evangelical subculture itself, I stepped back from a possible vocation as a minister and instead focused my energies on my writing and my studies.

I then began to wander. I devoured as much as I could about other denominations and even other religious traditions. At the University of Illinois I floated from church to church, but nowhere really felt like home. I became involved in interfaith work and encountered for the first time a cross-section of the world’s diverse religious traditions.

It was in the midst of this tumultuous time in my life that I fell in love with the liturgy (and I’ll admit even some of the theology) of the Roman Catholic Church. But this was during the thick of the sex abuse scandals, and in addition to some other misgivings regarding Roman Catholic belief I could not so easily jettison my Protestant convictions.

The Episcopal Church filled this void for me, providing the richness of the liturgy with theology of the Reformation. It seemed like a “big tent” where evangelicals (such as the newly-consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby) could exist alongside progressives and where “high church” worship styles could intermingle with guitars and pianos. Though still informed and influenced by my evangelical roots, my faith has also been strengthened and enriched by the incorporation of Anglo-Catholic theology and practice propagated by the 19th century Oxford Movement.

This interesting combination is a part of my story—my own journey and perspective—that I hope to bring to the pages of FLP.

Perhaps because of my own meandering journey I possess a passion for building bridges of understanding between different communities, and jumped at the chance to found FLP with Greg back in 2010 to encourage the evangelical community to participate in interfaith engagement. How we share the gospel with others, how we live out the gospel in our lives—these are central to part of the Christian faith, whatever your stripe. I’m excited about FLP’s re-launch and the new conversations we hope to foster!

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Re-Launching Faith Line Protestants

We are excited today to announce the re-launch of Faith Line Protestants. After falling victim to busy schedules and demanding academic curricula, the conversation which formally began two and a half years ago is restarting with renewed enthusiasm.

While Cameron Nations and Greg Damhorst will continue to contribute, they will be joined by three new regulars offering perspectives and opinions on living Christian in a religiously diverse world, engaging people of other faith traditions, and understanding the role that evangelism plays in following Jesus in 21st century America.

Our new contributors are:

  • Amber Hacker, Alumni Relations Coordinator at Interfaith Youth Core
  • Ann Marie Roderick, Masters in Divinity candidate at Union Theological Seminary in New York City
  • Rachael McNeil, Interfaith Coordinator at the University of North Florida

We hope you will be enriched by the diversity of experience and perspective, yet common vision of the contributors.

As always, we welcome your active participation in this discussion. All posts will be open for comments and we offer a standing invitation to guests wishing to contribute and article for this site (simply contact us at mail ‘at’ faithlineprotestants.org).

So, without further ado, enjoy the discussion!

– The Faith Line Protestants Team

 

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Call for Contributions

Faith Line Protestants is growing, and we want to hear from you!

Are you interested in the intersection of Christianity and the interfaith movement? Are you an evangelical Christian with insight on communicating your faith to others with gentleness and respect in a religiously diverse world? Do you have something to share about an experience with an evangelical – positive or negative – that influenced your perspective on Christianity? Then we want to hear from you!

Submission categories

Inspiration. Perhaps you identify as a Christian and an interfaith activist. Tell us what motivates you to be involved in interfaith work. Dig in to the scriptures, your past experiences, or your personal outlook on life and tell us what inspires you to be a part of interfaith cooperation!

Stories. Perhaps you identify as a Christian and you’ve had a positive experience working alongside people of other faith traditions. Tell us your story! What did you learn? How did the opportunity help you to communicate your faith in a gentle and respectful way? Tell us about your current work in your community/college campus or tell us a story from your past.

Perspectives. Perhaps you identify with a non-Christian faith tradition but have something to say about the intersection of evangelicals and interfaith work. Tell us about a positive experience you’ve had with an evangelical OR tell us about a negative experience and tell us how it affected you.

OR

Submit an idea for anything you feel might fall within the purview of FLP’s mission and interests. We’d love to hear your suggestions!

Guidelines

  • A blog approximately 400-600 words, submit as a word document or in an e-mail to mail@faithlineprotestants.org.
  • Provide a fitting title for your piece.
  • Any relevant links in square brackets (ex: “[www.faithlineprotestants.org]”) following the text which you would like hyperlinked in your post.
  • A 1-3 sentence bio describing who you are, what you do, or what you’re passionate about.
  • Recommended: a photograph that illustrates or accompanies your post, minimum horizontal resolution 640 px, minimum vertical resolution 250 px.
  • Optional: your headshot.

Faith Line Protestants reserves the right to make final decisions on whether any material is posted to our site. Content deemed inconsistent with the FLP mission may be denied. Content deemed inspiring, insightful or respectfully challenging will be given priority!

Download a PDF of this information

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Reflecting on Faith Line Protestants

Over a year ago now, Greg Damhorst and I met in a coffee shop on campus to talk about how few Christians (esp. evangelical Christians) seemed interested in interfaith cooperation. What came out of that conversation was Faith Line Protestants, and the hope that we could use it to grow a platform. We set our goals high, and with a post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith,” we launched just after New Year’s Day, 2011. Since then, we’ve written hundreds of posts, been involved in our first (and only) blog spat to date, and led a few discussions on college campuses about interfaith cooperation from a Christian perspective.

We’ve both been– and continue to be– rather busy. (Read Greg’s “State of FLP” address from last month here.)

I must admit my relationship with the interfaith movement has shifted over time, and I am not the same person I was when I first started writing posts for FLP. The sheen of idealism has faded a bit as I continue to shape my own theological persuasion and carve my own niche in the denomination which I recently aligned (the Episcopal Church). And as I step further and further along the path toward ordination, I begin to conceptualize interfaith cooperation in different ways through the lens of a minister. This process has changed in some ways the dynamics of the movement for me.

I still believe in the movement, and still believe it is important that the Christian community learn how to live alongside other religious groups without adopting the all-too-common “shore up our defenses and fight” mentality that has cropped up at various points throughout history. Yet I’ve also found that one has to be quite careful, or discussions of “shared values” can quickly degenerate into “shared theologies.” Or, on the opposite end, I’ve found many persons with sensibilities that find sharing your faith– in any capacity, no matter how gracefully or non-confrontational– as invasive and effrontery behavior, even at the interfaith table. I’ve found non-religious persons interested in the movement that still regard religion as ridiculous, marring many of the efforts with a mud of insincerity as they wink to their comrades in online circles, while treating faith with deference in public.

And most distressingly of all, I’ve found fellow self-proclaimed Christians who seem interested in fostering peace because, to them, the gospels present us with nothing more than good stories worth emulating, but not a real Christ worth following. Unfortunately, I think Greg and I get associated with this last camp, and it ends up hindering our efforts to reach more mainstream Christians.

Additionally, we’ve seen an explosion of discourse surrounding faith and its place in public life over the past year. Whether it be the cadre of GOP candidates winnowing down as we get closer to the 2012 election, or high-profile sports figures who wear their faith publicly with their success like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, it’s clear that interfaith discussions will continue to be important and that we still haven’t worked all the kinks out yet.

Despite these frustrations, however, we’ve seen some encouraging signs. More people than ever seem interested in interfaith cooperation and what it has to offer society. Even some members of Christian groups on campus– previously difficult for Greg and I to reach– have gotten involved of their own volition. We’re starting to see evangelical groups on campus expressing a genuine interest in and desire for interfaith cooperation, collaboration, and education.

As Greg and I look toward this next year, some big things lie ahead of us. There’s the ICIC (if you want to know what that means, click here), which will bring Eboo Patel, Jim Wallis, and our friend Chris Steadman to campus, and will provide an excellent opportunity for Greg and I to get campus Christian organizations even more interested in interfaith service and cooperation.

This year promises to be a good one.

We hope to refine our vision, to edit our pages, to expand our contributors, and provide more content more often. Join us as we look forward to another year!

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