A Common Table?

One of my best friends from high school is Jewish. He’s not very religious at all, but being Jewish is an important part of his identity. As we’ve gotten older, our lives have taken us in different directions, but we’ve stayed close, in part (I think) because we share our traditions with one another—he celebrates Christmas with my family and I have celebrated Passover and Hanukkah with his. A few weeks ago, I invited Peter to come to a church service at which I would be preaching. I invited him as a friend—not as part of a missionary enterprise—and I was very touched when he agreed to come.

I meant to warn Peter before the service that there would be Communion. I wanted to tell him that Communion is for Christians who feel prepared in their hearts to receive the body and blood of Christ as holy sacrament. “No pressure,” I wanted to tell him—“you are still welcome here, even if you don’t take Communion.” But I was busy preparing for the service and we weren’t able to connect beforehand and so I never got to relay the message.

When it came time to celebrate the Eucharist I looked over at Peter. I had knots in my stomach. I hope he doesn’t feel uncomfortable; I hope he doesn’t feel pressure; I hope he understands what is going on.  As the thoughts ran through my head, I actually considered running over to him; but before I knew it, I saw that he was in line to receive Communion. And a moment later, he had received and returned to his seat.

Afterward, I asked him how it had felt to receive Communion in a Christian church. “I enjoyed it,” he said. “It felt personal.”

“You know you didn’t have to take it, right?”

“Yeah, I know” he said. “But I wanted to.”

At home that night I thought about what it meant that my Jewish friend had taken Eucharist. Was he a Christian now? No—not even close. He remains strongly rooted in his Jewish heritage and tradition. But I felt that this friend—someone who has known me for over 10 years and has seen significant changes take place in my life—knew me in a different way. I felt that even though we would not continue to worship together, we were more deeply connected. Receiving Communion is very important to me as a Christian; it is a major way that I connect with God and strengthen my faith. Being able to share Communion with Peter—even if it didn’t have any spiritual significance for him—allowed me to convey this very important part of my faith in a way that was deeper than words. I felt honored to have been able to invite Peter into a Christian worship service that welcomed him and included him, despite his differences from other congregants.

Still, I wondered: Was it okay that he received? What if the celebrant had known that he wasn’t Christian—would he have been refused? I know that some churches have very strict rules about who can and cannot receive Communion—these are serious and contentious issues. In fact, disagreements about the Eucharist have led to major disputes and splits throughout Christian history. I myself have been kept from Communion in certain worship settings and I know others who have had to look on because they didn’t fit fellow Christians’ criteria. I don’t hope to build a compelling theological argument for the necessity of inclusive Eucharist in this blog post, but I do want to say that there is something very powerful about extending our tables, even to those who are not prepared to receive Christ into their hearts. After all, the gifts themselves have the power to transform each of us. What would happen if we didn’t require each person to be our ideal of a Christian before sharing in the bread and cup? If we didn’t hold onto these gifts so tightly, would we find both ourselves and others transformed?

The Self Destructive Nature of Bearing False Witness

by Nicholas Price

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on my blog reflecting on a disturbing issue that has arisen since beginning my studies in seminary in July of 2013. It is a problem that has continued to bother me and it relates to how we, as seminarians and faculty, talk about those with whom we disagree.

Let me explain what I mean. At several points over the past two quarters I have heard professors and students set up straw men when trying to highlight what makes us, as Lutherans, theologically superior to other strains of Christianity. More often than not the straw man is the “Evangelical”. I’ve heard evangelicals called anti-intellectual, prone to emotionalism, shallow in their theology, self-centered in their worship practices, and overly focused on works righteousness.

Not only are these criticisms harsh, they are not true!!! And I say this as someone who worked for an evangelical para-church ministry for six years. I say this as someone who has attended evangelical churches, received training at evangelical conferences, and studied at an evangelical seminary. In fact, it was the evangelical commitments to discipleship of the mind, deep theological inquiry, Christ-centered worship, and the insistence on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone that brought me to the Lutheran Church. I have a high regard for my evangelical brothers and sisters and, in many ways, still consider myself a part of that community. So you can understand my personal frustration and distress when I hear members of my own church community insulting and denigrating an entire community of Christians just to score a couple of theology points.

But beyond being unfair and ungenerous, this problem matters for one other reason: we are breaking the Eighth Commandment. This commandment states the following:

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

When we set up straw men and use them to make a point, what we are really doing is judging and speaking against a community based on stereotypes. We are claiming that those who belong to this community say, act, and believe things that, in truth, they do not. In so doing, we are bearing false testimony against them. And we are doing this to fellow Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Not only does this damage the unity of the larger body of Christ, but it actually hinders our witness to the world. When I was studying Islam as an undergraduate student, one of the most frequent charges against Christians by my Muslim friends was that they fought all the time about doctrine and would regularly tear each other down over religious disputes. They said that they could not believe in a faith tradition that was marked by such division and infighting.

However, as I have reflected on this further, I’ve come to the realization that this kind of “straw man” approach not only damages those within the Church, but also to those outside of it. How many times have we, as Christians, heard our fellow brothers and sisters tear down Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, and Agnostics based on stereotypes of these religious and philosophical communities? In our attempts to highlight the unique features of our own faith tradition, are we denigrating and painting a false portrait of those from other backgrounds? I would argue that this is no less a violation of the Eighth Ninth Commandment than when we fall prey to infighting, for when we do this we are tearing down our neighbors. Furthermore, it destroys bridges to cooperation.

But the damage doesn’t end there, for these kinds of stereotypes actually do harm to us as well. When we start seeing an entire community of people through the lens of a stereotype we hinder our own ability to build meaningful relationships with people who are different from us. The reason is because our perception becomes our reality.

For example, if we start from the premise that evangelical Christians have weak or inaccurate theology, then we build up the impression in our own minds that we have nothing to learn from them. If we start from the premise that Muslims are violent, then we will never learn of the rich history of social justice and peacemaking work that has been done by pioneers within the Islamic community.
In so doing, we cut ourselves off from the powerful theological insights and social contributions that entire faith communities, within and outside of the global Church, are making. The truth is that often my own faith is strengthened when I learn from the insights of my brothers and sisters from other branches of the Christian church. Likewise, my appreciation of the arts, sciences, social activism, and yes, even theology, have been broadened as I have learned from my non-Christian neighbors.

So, if we must argue against people who have differences in opinion let’s be specific. Rather than saying things like, “Evangelicals believe….” or “Hindus think…”, it would be more helpful to say, “When I was at a theology conference, I had a disagreement with a particular presenter on the following issue…” or “When I read (insert specific title or author) I disagreed with (him/her) on the following point….”. Get specific. Address real-life disagreements that happened between specific individuals. Don’t paint broad strokes and don’t label an entire community.

My hope is that we would learn to disagree honestly and with integrity while still leaving the doors open for fellowship and mutual instruction. The truth is that we, as Christians, have significant theological differences with those inside and outside of our community. However, there is a way to discuss these differences while still communicating respect to others. Generosity must trump polemics and addressing specific concerns goes much further than condemning entire communities. My prayer is that at the seminaries and in the churches around the country, we build academic environments and ecclesial cultures based on respect, honest inquiry, and humble conviction.

Nick is currently enrolled full-time at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in the M.Div program. He is the proud father of two kids and happily married to his wife of five years, Jenny. He writes regularly on his blog, Prodigal Preacher.

Read another Faith Line Protestants reflection on Bearing False Witness here.

The One Where I Wear a Turban

A couple of weeks ago, through a collaborative effort between the University of North Florida’s Interfaith Center (where I work) and the Sikh Society of Northeast Florida, I was given the opportunity to wear a Turban. Wear a Turban Day @ UNF was planned for Wednesday, February 26 and in an effort to promote the event the Tuesday before, a reporter from our local news station came to the Interfaith Center for a turban tying demo. Two gentlemen from the Sikh community came with a bag full of turbans, ready and excited to share an important piece of their identity with the Jacksonville, FL community.

I arrived at my office that Tuesday morning groggy as usual when I was informed by my boss, “The Sikhs are going to tie a turban on your head for TV!” Having not yet caffeinated myself for the morning, I was too comatose to protest. Thankfully, the two Sikh men brightened the room with their brightly colored turbans and beard-clad smiles; their enthusiasm contagious enough for me to even feel excited to be the model for a turban tying demo. They picked a lovely salmon color for me to wear, and once the camera was rolling – got to work.

turban guys

I listened to them talk about the significance of the turban to Sikhs as they wrapped the 18 foot cloth around my head. While the colors and patterns of turbans are usually chosen based on fashion preference, the turban itself serves as an identifier for Sikhs. It is a way to set themselves apart and to remember that they are always representing Sikhism and the truths and ideals it promotes – peace, justice, mercy. “I know when I am in a public place that I stand out, I’m hard to miss because of my turban. So I must do my best to promote justice, and do good, wherever I go. The turban keeps me accountable to my values,” one of the Sikh men said.

I couldn’t help but feel a little convicted upon hearing this.

For years I have refused to put a Jesus fish on my car. Within Christianity, there aren’t a lot of visible makers of our faith. Some Catholics wear rosary beads, some Christians wear cross necklaces, some priests wear a white color, etc. It seems to me, in American Christian culture, the closest thing we have to a visible sign of our Christian faith is the Jesus fish. Some wear it on jewelry, some put them on their cars, and some even tattoo it permanently on their bodies. I’ve contemplated putting a Jesus fish on my car from time to time (when I was a young college student I even considered a Jesus fish tattoo), but I could never quite bring myself to get one. I was always afraid that I would misrepresent Christianity, or worse, Jesus himself. What if I stuck a Jesus fish on my car then rudely cut someone off on the intestate? What if I “let the bird fly’ when some irritating motorcycle sped by at 100 miles per hour (not that I would ever do such a thing)? I haven’t worn a cross necklace in years – I’ve been afraid that I would not live up to the standards of the truths that the cross represents for me.

What these Sikh men were telling me is that they feel just the opposite. Clad with a symbol of their faith, they are held accountable. If they fall short, it’s on them, and they understand they aren’t perfect. If they don’t act in love, or peace, or justice, they have to answer for their actions not only to themselves, or to God, but to all people. More than boldness, wearing the turban seems to take deep devotion and commitment to one’s faith.

As Christians we are called to live holy lives. To be holy means to be set apart. We are to set ourselves apart through our faith, and through our faith put into action. It seems Sikhs similarly feel called. As I wore the turban the rest of the day I wondered what I do on other days to set myself apart as a Christian. Of course wearing a cross around my neck, or sticking a Jesus fish on my car would serve as a visible sign to others that I am indeed a Christian – but I want to know how my actions, my words, my life serve as signs of my faith. Would I be able to don the physical visible signs of my faith (a cross, a fish, etc) in humility – as a way of humbly setting myself apart? Would I be able to wear these markers and live into the ideals they promise?

I suppose the question isn’t if I’m able, because perhaps I am not – maybe no one is – but perhaps the question is, am I willing to try?

I think that’s what I most admired about these Sikh men who were so excited for me to experience turban wearing – they seemed to understand what a great responsibility it was for them to tie their turbans every morning. They seemed to understand that they won’t always live up to the ideals the turban symbolizes – but they were so humbly proud to try. It seems to me that every day, as the tie their turban, they’re making a choice to, at least for one more day, to be a Sikh.

This reminds me that every morning it is up to me to make a choice when I wake up in the morning to spend another day serving God, and serving others.

Then he said to them all, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

me in turban

 

 

No Benadryl Allowed

The Gospel reading for this week was a portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we all know: “you have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

Do not resist an evildoer? This verse about turning the other cheek is probably one of the most quoted New Testament passages—just after love your neighbor as yourself and John 3:16. But it’s troubling. Don’t even resist?

I looked up the Greek word here for resist, anthistemilike the word that we use for allergy medications—antihistamine. It means to set against, withstand, oppose. We use antihistamines to fight the chemicals in our bodies that are causing an allergic reaction and making us weak, tired, stuffy. If you’ve ever suffered from allergies, you are thankful for good medication that can resist these reactions. But, Jesus, it seems, would have told us to stock up on tissues and tea—no Benadryl allowed!

What’s hard for me about this verse is that resistance actually seems to be a major theme in Jesus’ teachings. Doesn’t the Gospel invite us to resist greed, to resist Empire, to resist the forces of evil in the world…Didn’t Jesus resist the men who wanted to stone the adulterous woman? Didn’t he resist the forces of death when he raised Lazarus to new life? Didn’t he resist Satan’s temptations of power and wealth while he was in the wilderness? Wasn’t Jesus, in his ministry, a resistor?

And it didn’t end there. Isn’t the Resurrection the ultimate act of resistance? In his resurrection, doesn’t Jesus say no to death, no to violence, no to sin, no to injustice?

So, what is going on in this passage? Should we resist as Jesus has modeled for us, or shouldn’t we, as he instructs us?

A few weeks ago, I was at a conference of Interfaith Youth Core Alumni in Atlanta, Georgia, and there was a young Muslim woman who was speaking on a panel about the work she is doing to build peace in the Middle East. Someone from the audience asked her which stories from her faith tradition have inspired her work and this is what she said:

It has been written that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), though he was beloved by many in his time, was not beloved by all. In fact, he had a neighbor who did not like him one bit. And this neighbor, because she didnt like him, would get up very early every morning and bring all of her garbage and rotten food, even the waste from her animalsand she would leave them in a pile on the doorstep of the Prophet. And every morning Muhammad would wake up, see the trash, quietly sweep it away and then go about his daily chores and activities.

One morning, Muhammad woke up and he opened his front door expecting to see the pile of trash as usual, but on this day, there was nothing there. No trash. Without hesitating the Prophet went to the pantry, collected some fruits and herbs and rushed next door to his neighbors home.  Sure enough, she was very sickso sick that she had not had enough strength to collect the garbage to leave at Muhammads front door. Muhammad offered her some food and stayed with her and prayed for her recovery.

This seems to me to be the kind of thing Jesus is talking about when he says: do not resist an evildoer.

Jesus is asking us to change the way we think about justice and injustice–to envision a larger picture. The Prophet Muhammad did not let the garbage pile up on his doorstep, but neither did he grow to hate the woman who seemed to hate him so much. He saw the woman for who she was—a human, broken, like the rest of us, who might fall sick one day and need to rely on the compassion of others.

Perhaps Jesus is saying, don’t set yourself in opposition to those who do evil to you, to those who do evil in the world; instead, imagine them as part of the larger picture of God’s salvation. Don’t build fences, build pathways. Don’t stand your ground, expand your ground. We are not called to be antihistamines that fight against the evils of the world: we are called to see those evils and envelop them. We are called to imagine that even those who seem to do the most harm, might also have a share in God’s kingdom.

We don’t need to tolerate injustice. We don’t need to let evildoers free.  We don’t need to sit idly while people step all over us; we do need to do the work we can to clean up the messes that people leave on the doorsteps of the world. We know that from Jesus’ own example. And we need to keep the resurrection in view.

I think that Jesus is inviting us to rethink our own stories. In what ways do we let ourselves get bogged down in the small battles of our daily lives? What “evils” do we resist that Jesus might actually nudge us to welcome as part of the larger vision of salvation? Do we resist difficult conversations with people whose political, social, or religious beliefs differ from ours? Do we resist wisdom from other faith traditions—like the story I just told you about the Prophet Muhammad—because we think that by appreciating what others have to offer we will somehow become less whole ourselves? Jesus says, don’t resist—embrace the coming of a new world and have faith that all of us will have a role to play in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith Line Protestants: Moving Forward

by Rachael K McNeal

Faith Line Protestants is in the process of doing some restructuring. It seems in the middle of our attending seminary, getting medical degrees, parenting children, working full-time jobs, pastoring churches, volunteering in our respective faith communities, living married life, preparing for married life (congrats to Greg who is now engaged),dealing with pregnancy, and so on – well it seems we’re all kind of busy. Unfortunately, all of these life things seem to keep us from consistently keeping original and relevant content up on the blog on a weekly basis. We’ve been testing the waters trying to figure out how to keep the blog going and we appreciate you bearing with us as we smooth out the wrinkles in this adventure we call “FLP.” Despite the challenges, one thing is for sure – we all think that what we’re writing about at FLP is important.

Please understand, I don’t tell you about all of our other commitments and the challenges we’re currently facing when it comes to running the blog in order to complain, or to make excuses for falling short of excellence when it comes to maintaining our content. No, I tell you all of this so that you understand – despite all of these other very important commitments we hold, we are committed to making Faith Line Protestants work. We are committed to continuing this conversation. It is worth adding a little extra chaos to our lives to make sure someone is discussing the issues related to being a Christian in a religiously diverse world.

The thing is, between having babies, getting medical degrees, attending seminary, working full-time, etc., we want to be sure that someone is engaging the question of how to engage a religiously diverse world as a Christian in a way that’s nuanced, personal, inquisitive, open and above all loving. How can we live as witnesses to Christ in this overwhelmingly diverse world in a way that’s honest? In a way that’s true to the Gospel? In a way that progresses God’s Kingdom? These are all questions we ask here and these are questions we want to keep asking. What is this beast called “interfaith”? How do we work together with people who believe different things than us to better our communities and world? We’re particularly interested in how we can hold an Evangelical Christian identity while engaging in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Does “interfaith” conflict with the theologies of an Evangelical identity?

We want to have these conversations, and we want to have them here at Faith Line Protestants. So we are committed to making it work and we hope that you will help us.

Please join our conversation. We want to hear from you! Comment on our posts – let us know if you agree with us, or disagree with us. Share our posts – like us on Facebook (www.facebok.com/faithlineprotestants), follow us on Twitter (@FLProtestants), tell your friends about Faith Line Protestants. Let us know if we’ve struck a chord with you. We want to know how you’re engaging with this religiously diverse world as a Christian. Or, if you’re not a Christian – we still want to know your thoughts. Maybe you’re even interested in writing a guest post – email us and let us take a look. The more voices we add to the conversation the better.

Recently a few of us Faith Line Protestants folks were at the Interfaith Youth Core’s Alumni Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. We were encouraged and energized by the support Faith Line Protestants received from colleagues in the Interfaith Movement – from Christians and non-Christians alike. This made us very excited and enthusiastic about the future of Faith Line Protestants, and we are very much looking forward to the new voices that will be added to the conversation.

“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body and we all belong to each other (Romans 12:4-5).” Faith Line Protestants has a special function. At least I think it does (and perhaps I’m biased). When Greg and Cameron (co-founders of Faith Line Protestants) asked me last February if I’d be interested in contributing to Faith Line Protestants (after I wrote this piece for Interfaith Youth Core) I jumped at the chance. I work full-time in Interfaith Work and as an Evangelical Christian that can be quite isolating. Isolating from my faith community because many within my various Christian circles don’t understand interfaith work or how it fits into my walk as a Christian; and isolating from others within the interfaith movement because sometimes it seems the Interfaith Movement is quite short on evangelicals. Faith Line Protestants provided me with a cohort of fellow evangelicals who are interested in achieving a religiously pluralistic society as a person who follows Christ. FLP has also given me a place to further explore and articulate my understanding of the world, my identity as a Christian, and how to engage with people of different religious and non-religious identities.

This is my motivation as I continue to help grow FLP, its readership and content. As the now editor of FLP, I am excited to see where we go from here. I’m looking forward to gaining more partnerships, reading more from current FLP contributors and authors, gaining more FLP contributors and authors, sharing some compelling guest blogs and hearing your thoughts. I hope you will look forward with me.

FLP in Atlanta: Reflections on the First Ever IFYC Alumni Gathering

By Cameron Nations

Maybe it was the impromptu interfaith dialogue with the belly dancer who surprised us at our table at the Turkish restaurant on the first night of the conference. Or maybe it was the overwhelming optimism and energy surrounding the largest Interfaith Leadership Institute in IFYC history. Whatever it was, something made the first ever gathering of IFYC alumni in Atlanta more than a mere memorable experience.

For over two days about 30 of us sat in a meeting room in the Sheraton in downtown Atlanta to discuss the ways in which we are using our interfaith training in our post-undergrad lives.

For some, this extension of their interfaith work came rather easily as part of their current job or occupation. For others, working interfaith engagement into their daily lives did not come as naturally. Yet both perspectives offered a glimpse of what the future of the interfaith movement could (and will) look like over the next couple of years as IFYC’s alumni base explodes from around 550 to over 2,000 young adults.

Apart from the joys of the connections—both old and new—strengthened and forged over the course of the weekend, the sessions also focused on broader questions such as ways of leveraging social capital for the common good and judicious use of social media in our professional lives. The IFYC Alumni gathering proved an enriching time of building new relationships and new strategies to address our growing interfaith reality.

For part of our time we broke into smaller sector-based groups that focused on those working in “Religious and Intentionally Secular Communities,” “Media,” “Non-profit,” and “Higher Ed.”

Not surprisingly, I found myself (along with other seminarians and ministers) in the “Religious Communities” group with fellow Faith Line Protestants contributor Anne-Marie Roderick. Amber Hacker, who also writes for FLP in addition to her duties with IFYC, led the group. Along with us sat sometime FLP writer Nick Price, and together with our group we discussed the need for the development of theologies of interfaith cooperation in our respective traditions and ways in which we might see this development through to fruition.

The discussions throughout the alumni gathering helped us to refine FLP’s vision and mission to offer a place for constructive dialogue around the areas of interfaith cooperation and evangelism. Faith Line Protestants might also be a place for fostering conversations that move toward these theologies of interfaith cooperation mentioned in our sector group sessions.

Even outside our sector group quite a few people expressed interest in FLP’s mission, vision, and possible importance to the interfaith discussion. Case in point:
photo(2)

This word cloud shows the post-gathering aspirations of the alumni. (Notice how our size compares to a certain other acronym. Heh-heh.) This word cloud expressed why the alumni gathering was more than just a memorable experience: it stood as evidence of the transformation that IFYC has had on the lives of all those who have had the privilege to go through their programs, and the support that they give to the leaders they foster. The gathering was, in short, the ways in which interfaith cooperation is being made a cultural norm. And it was humbling to behold.

As FLP moves forward over the coming months, we will continue to define our roles behind the scenes to better bring you regular, thought-provoking content. Join us! Be a part of the conversation.

Interfaith Relationships

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which also happens to be my birthday!  Gifts in comment, reposting, or tweet-form are not only acceptable but preferred), here is an article about interfaith relationships.

Have you ever dated/married outside of your own faith tradition?  What are some of the joys?  Challenges?

Peace and love,

Anthony

Interfaith Youth Core Features Rachael McNeal in podcast

In the third episode of Interfaith Youth Core’s podcast Common Knowledge, Cassie Meyer and Carr Harkrader interview Faith Line Protestants Contributor Rachael McNeal. Rachael talks about how she was inspired to be a better Christian by a Reform Rabbi and about common stereotypes about Evangelicals. Take a listen at one of the following links:
www.ifyc.org/podcast
or on iTunes

(listen for the Faith Line Protestants shout-out at the end)