Tag Archives: dialogue

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Principled Pluralism: The Challenge of Religious Diversity in 21st Century America

Eboo Patel, Jim Wallis and Meryl Chertoff discuss last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival and the challenge of religious diversity on HuffPost Religion.

Religious differences can be a potent source of social tension, as evidenced by bloody conflicts from Belfast to the Balkans to Baghdad. However, as with race and gender, religious diversity is a source of strength and richness when properly engaged.

Read it here.

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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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Living the Gospel through Interfaith Cooperation

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I work in the Interfaith Center at University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL. Several months back my boss and I met with a leader in the local LGBT community looking for ways to collaborate on student programming. In the meeting this leader was trying to better understand the purpose and vision of the Interfaith Center. In the process she asked how I identify myself religiously. I hesitated a moment before answering, then responded, “I identify as an Evangelical Christian.”
Why hesitate? Well, I wasn’t quite “out” at work as an Evangelical. Certainly my boss was mostly aware, but many of my students weren’t. For the most part my Evangelicalism wasn’t something I went around advertising – I don’t have a Jesus fish on my car nor do I wear cross necklace and I don’t (usually) blast Chris Tomlin from my office.

The LGBT community leader then stunned me with her follow up question: “What do you mean when you say you’re an ‘evangelical?'”

Why stunned? Well, I had never been asked this question before. Certainly I’d thought about it in my frantic attempt at articulating identity in seminary, but had certainly never been asked. So I hesitated, again, then said,

“When I say I’m an Evangelical, I mean that I believe there’s good news in Jesus for everyone.”

I admit that I was nervous about how this would be received as it was not my intention to proselytize in any way. But because I believe there’s good news in Jesus for everyone, if I’m being really honest with myself and others, I also want everyone to know Jesus.

We can get into questions about the meaning of salvation and eternity, the cross and the resurrection, grace, covenant, and all of that another time, but when I whittle it down to the lowest common denominator, everything (well okay, I’m a sinner so not everything) I do comes from my love for Jesus and my desire for others to know Christ.

Evangelical comes from the Greek evangelion which means “good news,” or gospel, so to be Evangelical is to be “of the good news” in word, deed and being.

What is the Good News?

The Good News, for me, is that God loves us.

We can make it more complicated than that, but for me the greatest news of all is that I am loved unconditionally by the creator of the universe simply for being; thus in being of that good news it is my responsibility to reflect the love of God to the best of my limited ability in all I do.

It is easy to generalize about any group of people and I am aware that Evangelicals have a reputation of being close-minded, hateful, ignorant, condescending and self-righteous. Assuming an individual person fits the generalized understanding about a group is much easier than building relationships and getting to know someone for who he or she truly is, but in my meeting with the LGBT community leader I was given the opportunity to speak for myself.

I felt loved and cared for when I was asked, “What do you mean when you say you’re an Evangelical?” I was put at ease and made more comfortable to enter into a conversation – and even friendship – with another person simply by being asked a question about my own self-understanding. It would have been quite easy to assume many things about me as and Evangelical as well as my views, beliefs, and understandings – but instead of holding onto potential presumptions, I was invited to speak for myself.

Jesus invites us into relationship with him because his love, his gospel, is relational. As a follower of Christ, I aim to do the same with others. Interfaith engagement provides me with ample opportunity to enter into relationships with people who are different from me, and to love others while existing in that difference.

Knowing that I feel loved when I’m given the space and opportunity to be known for who I am and who I understand myself to be, rather than be known by another’s presumption, motivates me to do the same for others.

That’s why I have joined the FLP ranks. I want to be part of a wider conversation that empowers Evangelicals to actively engage with this religiously diverse world in an authentic and open way, and invites all people – Christian and otherwise – to an honest conversation about religious and secular identity, and interfaith engagement. Thank you for reading FLP and I am excited to hear more about you!

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Recognizing ‘Christian Privilege’

Rabbi Seth Goren writes on how the “dominance of Christianity affects interfaith relations.”

Talking about Christian privilege is challenging, but essential. For our conversations to be authentic, honest, and justice-based, we must be aware of how each of us perceives and is perceived. It’s difficult to prevent the marginalization that Christians sometimes feel without considering how inter- and intrafaith dynamics play out more broadly for members of other faiths.

Read the full article online at Sojourners Magazine.
Thoughts?

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Speak For Yourself

photo by StillSearc (http://www.sxc.hu/profile/StillSearc)

Let’s be honest: Evangelicals get a bad rap. Sometimes rightfully so. One of the truths in life is that sometimes the most divisive voices are the loudest. It seems, these days, this is especially true of Evangelicals.

Here is another truth I’ve learned: the loudest voices aren’t always the truest. Nor are they the most representative.

As an Evangelical, I believe in living my life as a constant witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ (or at least trying to). Jesus tells us that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor as ourselves. What, then, does it mean to love our neighbor?

For me, loving my neighbor means getting to know others for who they are – religious, philosophical, ideological identity and all. So much of who I am is informed by my Christian identity, so I enjoy bringing people to Church and sharing with them my understandings about Christianity and Jesus. People get to understand who I am better by knowing those aspects of me. Surely it’s the same for others and for that reason I enjoy hearing about how one’s understanding of Muhammad, Baha’u’llah, the Bhagavad Gita, Nietzsche, or Huston Smith informs their own self-understanding, way of life, and perception of the world.

One aspect of interfaith cooperation as defined by IFYC is “respect for people’s diverse religious and non-religious identities.” That means whether you’re an Evangelical Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, or simply spiritual, you have a place at the table of interfaith cooperation. That place not only empowers you to voice your own identity, but also requires you to respect the identity of others.

In the same way that I hope others will respect my Evangelical Christian identity, I try to respect the identities of others.

I had an opportunity to practice this at IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute in Atlanta, thanks to the Alumni Leadership Development Fund. I’m excited not only by the relationships across different religious and non-religious boundaries that I formed there, but also about meeting other Evangelicals who are excited about interfaith cooperation.

I would challenge my fellow Evangelicals to consider interfaith cooperation as an opportunity to live into Christ’s command to love others by building relationships across lines of difference and to listen before presuming anything about another’s religious or non-religious identity.

Likewise, I would also challenge my fellow allies in interfaith cooperation to be open to the presence of Evangelicals in interfaith work. Be careful not to talk about Evangelicals in sweeping statements about “their narrow-mindedness” or “ignorant proselytism.” Be mindful to allow each Evangelical to speak for his or herself, as you would want the same done for you

If we can listen to each other and allow people to speak for themselves, we take one step closer toward building common ground and working together for the common good.

This blog post was originally published on Interfaith Youth Core’s Blog on February 15, 2013

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Creating a Culture of Unity Through Interfaith Cooperation

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/925147

There’s no question — our country is divided. Tension hangs in the air over every conversation about the budget, gay marriage, immigration, and gun control. Of course, difference of opinion is nothing new in the U.S. This is a democracy after all. With the celebrated First Amendment as the cornerstone to our rights as Americans, we can freely shout our differing views from the rooftops — though in this day in age, shouting exists rarely on rooftops, but on the 24-hour news cycle, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and Twitter. It seems to me that this pervasive exposure to differing opinions, partnered with increasingly more polarized party politics, has created a culture of division in our country.

Many Americans, particularly the younger generations, are disturbed by this culture of division and desire a more united, less polarized, America. The question becomes: how do we deconstruct our culture of division and build a culture of unity? Jim Wallis, in his piece, “On God’s Side: For the Common Good,” claims that much of the division felt in this country is because so many people audaciously claim that they are on God’s side with their politics, actions, and words, and that those who don’t think, act, and vote like them, are disobeying divine order. In an effort to move the country forward to unity, Rev. Wallis suggests that instead of making claims about being on God’s side, we should start asking “are we on God’s side?”

What would it mean to be on God’s side? Rev. Wallis’s answer is to focus on the common good:

Not just in politics, but in all the decisions we make in our personal, family, vocational, financial, communal, and public lives. That old but always new ethic simply says we must care for more than ourselves or our own group. We must care for our neighbor as well, and for the health of the life we share with one another. It echoes a very basic tenet of Christianity and other faiths — love your neighbor as yourself — still the most transformational ethic in history.

I agree with Rev. Wallis — focusing on the common good is a good step toward answering the question of how to be on God’s side, and solving many of our nation’s greatest points of division. In a country as diverse as ours, however, it can be challenging to know what the common good actually is. As individual participants in society, we all come to the table with different ideological structures for framing our understanding of what is commonly good. Those structures are often built around religion, philosophy, and our beliefs and understandings about existence, mortality, and the cosmos. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we live in, arguably, the most religiously diverse nation of all time.
Yes, Jesus has called me to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that really mean when my neighbor is Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, secular humanist, or Hindu?

Religion is often blamed for the world’s greatest conflicts, and rightfully so. One doesn’t have to look far to see conflict or violence that is linked to religious motivations or sentiments in some way (think the tragedy at the Boston Marathon or the Sikh man that was murdered shortly after 9/11 because he was wearing a turban). In a country that becomes more religiously diverse every day, it is easy to allow conflict to arise between different religious and non-religious groups. It is true, difference in religious and philosophical ideology can be a cause of great division. But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be that way?

I believe that amidst all of our nation’s diversity, we must be able to find, or create, common ground among us in order to focus on the common good. This is exactly what the American interfaith movement aims to do. According to the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a non-profit organization whose mission is to make interfaith cooperation a social norm, the interfaith movement seeks to build religious pluralism in the U.S. IFYC understands religious pluralism to be respect for others’ religious and non-religious identities, mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds, and common action for the common good.

Religious pluralism, in its most ideal form, not only paves the way to common ground but also creates action for the common good through personal relationships. Pluralism is necessarily relational: it only manifests itself in the give and take of relationships between people of different religious and non-religious identities.

Interfaith cooperation is the path to religious pluralism and a path toward ending the hostile ideological environment in which our country finds itself. It can be scary or intimidating for people of different religions to meet each other half way and to have a conversation. IFYC suggests creating interfaith service projects where Atheists, Christians, and Muslims can work alongside each other in the context of a service project that benefits their mutual communities (a soup kitchen, for example). The service becomes the common ground on which personal relationships across difference are built. In the safety of their common ground, they can then begin to have dialogue and discover each other’s true selves; thus paving the way to developing mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds and respect for others’ religious and non-religious identities, backgrounds, and beliefs.

Don’t be fooled. You don’t have to leave your own unique religious (or non-religious) identity at the door to engage in interfaith cooperation. In fact, it requires you to be authentically yourself, religious identity and all. You can fully and genuinely respect another’s identity while simultaneously holding your own differing religious identity. I, an evangelical Christian, can appreciate, and even be inspired, by the dedication of my Muslim neighbor to pray five times a day, while at the same time wanting them to know Jesus. What interfaith cooperation does require is to listen openly, check presumption at the door, and suspend pointing fingers and placing blame on your interfaith cohorts for the ills of the world.

Interfaith cooperation is evolving all the time. With the daily growth of religious diversity in the country, and the growing awareness around the interfaith movement, new voices are being added every day to the conversation about religious pluralism, interfaith cooperation, and their roles in creating common action for the common good. In light of this evolution, what remains consistent and clear is that having personal relationships across religious difference creates religious literacy and interpersonal understanding; such understanding fosters compassion while cultivating a more peaceful and united society. These relationships become our common ground.

I challenge you to help create common ground by building relationships across religious and ideological difference, and to help lay the foundation on which we can build our understanding of the common good and begin to build a stronger more united America.

“This blog post is part of The Huffington Post’s ‘Common Good’ series and Sojourners’ Common Good Forum, inspired by Jim Wallis’ latest book, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good.” Click here to read the rest of the blog posts in the series.”

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Feeding the Trolls, or Feeding Ourselves?: Thoughts on Disagreement.

The trolls. (Har-har.)

While the internet is a wonderful thing, I’ve realized that it often brings me much more grief than it does pleasant experiences. Much of the grief comes from the absolute cacophony that such an open forum as the internet invites. Sometimes, even seemingly innocuous things provoke endless comment streams that run on and on and quickly devolve into topics that don’t have anything to do with the original post (which could be anything from a news story to a Facebook status lauding one’s favorite sports team).

It all feels like lots of yelling and talking past one another.

This kind of interaction has given rise to an entirely new ignoble class of person: the troll. And sometimes, we can become unintentional trolls, simply because, I think, we aren’t all that skilled at disagreeing with one another, but we are taught from an early age how to criticize.

Moreover, disagreement has the interesting ability to imply aggression, which can lead to barbed responses. Example: “I’m a vegetarian” does not have to imply that “I judge you for eating meat and want to make sure you never eat meat again.” It simply stands on its own. Yet so often I think we tend to see disagreement as carrying with it some sort of nefarious intention to undermine our own stance, when this isn’t always the case.

Thus whenever engaging in any debate or discussion, online or otherwise, I try to remember these three things about those with whom I may disagree:

  1. Be generous. Always give others the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have the best intentions in mind, and remember that they are a fellow human being with real convictions, emotions, and ideas.
  2. Be gracious. Don’t immediately dismiss another’s claims as unreasonable; assume they have reason for believing what they do (even if it is misguided). Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from. This allows one to be kind and understanding, and, hopefully, to come away from the conversation having learned something new. Forgive others if they accidentally step on your toes.
  3. Be humble. Surprisingly, you might not know everything. Always keep this in mind when talking with someone else. Remain aware of your own potential faults and whether or not you may be letting a perceived aggression sour your ability to engage with the other person.

Sometimes disagreements are had where none initially exist, and all because either party was not willing to slow down and engage with the other side with empathy and patience. Don’t get me wrong– it is certainly permissible (and even right) to disagree at times. But if we (myself included) don’t keep these three things in mind, then we won’t be disagreeing about the right issues.

My experiences in formal (and informal) interfaith discussions have helped show me not only that adopting these three precepts can benefit both sides, but that they also simply work. Have any other things to add to this list? I’d love to hear them. Want to expound on one of the three points already listed? Take issue with one (or more)? I’d love to hear that, too!

Weigh in below!

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