Wednesday, July 11, 2012

pondering wild goose: interfaith relationships

*if you're following my Wild Goose series, as of this post I'm only to 4:00 Friday afternoon (the festival lasted till late Sunday night) and I have 27 pages of pencil-scribbled notes left.  
the point is, stay tuned - I'm nowhere near done. 

Tim Challies said, "He hates God. Period." Let Us Reason Ministires said, "He has no qualms about using fabrication, exaggeration, disinformation, misrepresentation, vilification, prevarication and even falsification to achieve a complete brainwash in his followers".  Way of Life Literature said, "A good test is to ask Christian leaders what they think of this man...if they refuse to come right out and mark him as a dangerous heretic, they are heretics themselves."  And Apprising Ministiries has a post on their site titled (literally): "BRIAN MCLAREN: SPEAKING FOR SATAN" (capitalization emphasis not mine).  

I don't remember when I first heard of Brian, or from whom.  But I do remember reading A New Kind of Christian covertly, tucked inside a Beth Moore book jacket, after tiring of others' "concern".  I liked that book very much, but I didn't become a 'Brian McLaren junky' by any stretch - the hype surrounding him (both positive and negative) turned me off.  I'm not a band-wagoner.  Now, though, at least in my "circles", the hype is fading - and so, suddenly I find him interesting again. Which obviously says a lot more about me than it does about him.   

 I've already shared about how much I enjoyed Brian leading us daily in morning prayer.  On Friday afternoon I made my way to the Exodus tent after enjoying Open Mic with the kids.  Not only was Brian set to lead a discussion on Interfaith Relationships that I very  much wanted to be a part of, but more importantly,  Steve Knight had arranged for us to publicly wish our friend Bill a happy birthday.  If you know Bill, you also know there was no better time or place to sing him "happy birthday" than under a tent at the Wild Goose Festival, just before a Brian McLaren talk. But I'll write more about Bill and my other dear, goose-y friends later.  For now, interfaith relationships.

Raw notes:
what keeps us apart isn't religious differences but similarities - all share a need for "other" to establish our identity

we do 2 things well: a strong religious identity that is hostile to others OR a weak religious identity that is tolerant of others (doesn't matter which identity)

check out book Who Speaks for Islam (what a billion muslims really think)author thanked him for courage to speak up for peace and for the flack he's taken as a result, said to him, "you are a true Christian"

our greatest enemy is not the other, its one of our own upset at us because we are not hostile enough

why millions migrate out of religion into "spirituality" because looking for group where don't have to hate anybody

third alternative - Christian identity both strong AND benevolent to the other

is that truly in sync or would it be a betrayal of our faith?

why hasn't this manifested?

1. historical challenge
reality: Jesus never killed anybody. said no when disciples wanted to, told them "you do not know what spirit you are of". Peter pulled out sword, Jesus said put it away. got in trouble for including "them". voice from heaven said "listen to HIM".
what happened? history hijacked.
conversion of Constantine - cross with spear in sky, "conquer"
Americas (north & south) - religious genocide
all Muslims and Jews and Native American peoples know our violent history, we need honest reflection

2. doctrinal challenge
we become polite and suppress our beliefs and end up saying nothing. only emphasize similarities. weak.  instead could we rediscover our doctrines in way that promotes benevolence? 

Diane Butler Bass - doctrine from same word as doctor, healing teacher

3. liturgical challenge
when we exclude others from the table (closed communion) it's us vs. them
hymns often use language of "foe"

4. missional challenge
facing problems no one else will face

I'll be honest - I got lax in my note taking once a storm rolled in, because I was worried about Aaron and Sarah.  At the first crack of thunder/bolt of lightening/gust of wind, my attention was diverted to wondering where exactly they were.  At the second, I excused myself in order to find out the answer to that question.  So I missed most of point 3 due to lack of attention, and point 4 to an early exit.

Still, I wanted to write about this issue of interfaith relationships; it's not only a central theme of the Wild Goose movement, it's also one I continue to be brought back to in my own life.  It's not an easy conversation to have, though.  Doctrinally, theologically - things get downright messy and uncomfortable.  Or maybe it just seems that way because we've been conditioned to expect things to be so damned neat and clean.  What if they just aren't, and were never meant to be?

I don't know. 

What I do know is that I will continue to ponder this.  I'll continue to explore books like Miroslav Volf's Allah: A Christian Response, and Richard Beck's The Authenticity of Faith (where he explores, among other things, the work of Ernst Becker who noted "...the great tragedy of human existence [is that the]...very things that give our lives meaning--our worldviews--are the very sources of human evil").  I'll read McLaren's Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  when it comes out in September.   I'll continue to have conversations with my atheist friends and my new Buddhist friend and my "secular Jewish" friends and any others willing to engage.  I have much to learn from them, and who knows - maybe they have some things to learn from me, as well?

Most of all, I won't be scared off when critics critique and worriers forewarn.  I can't.  It's like my finger is on a thread they can't see. I have to find out where it leads. 

In closing, I'll share a comment I wrote late last night in response to this question from a self-identifying atheist I got to know when we stood as allies against Amendment One

"For my theist buddies out there:  Isn't your religion tied to your geological location/cultural influences? Each religion with their own God(s), each adamantly devout that what they believe is the one true religion of the world?"

A younger me would have had pat answers for this... and who knows what the older me will have to say about it.  But last night, in the moment, I said this:   

I read Ghandi's autobiography and closed it, then thought to myself, "Wow - this man was raised Hindu because of where he lived. If I'd lived when/where he did, I'm sure I'd have been a wonderful Hindu. And he remained a faithful Hindu, though he went beyond that ... he spoke of "God's grace", same language I use as a Christian. I'm convinced the same Spirit that leads me, led him - to a life of nonviolence, justice, love, patience, and all the beautiful things that I seek as well. And so I thought to myself, maybe this is what Mother Teresa meant when she said, "“We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied." Of course she is criticized for making such a statement and I am criticized for quoting her on it, just as Ghandi was criticized ... and Jesus, for that matter ... all criticized by those easily threatened. I don't know all the theological ramifications of what I'm saying, I just know that I'm more convinced than ever of a simple truth: "God is Love".

I won't lie - it feels uncomfortable, leaving those words just hanging out there like that.  Incomplete, imperfect, open to a variety of interpretations and misinterpretations.  But I'll let them hang ...because, I'm thinking, that's what it means to really write.  

Finally, on a lighter note - and because some of you are dying to know - Brian does NOT have horns or a tail, and I never once saw him with a pitchfork, but we were on a farm so one never knows.  In all seriousness, I found him to be disarmingly unassuming, surprisingly musical, unsurprisingly smart, consistently considerate, handsome (I have a thing for bald guys with nice heads) and (sorry, Brian) not especially funny. I enjoyed him very much, and I look forward to sharing, later, what I learned from the time he spent with us in the youth tent Saturday afternoon.

*next up: a storm, and Justin Lee rescues the gospel :)

1 comment:

Cherie said...

I remember reading and appreciating Brian McLaren's "A Generous Orthodoxy" many years ago and then reading all the negative online comments about him. Years later an evangelical friend caught sight of one of his other books in our house and appeared shocked, as if Brian "had horns and a tail." I recently gave a friend a copy of Rob Bell's "Love Wins" and told her to hide it, much like you hid Brian behind Beth Moore.

It is so sad that we cannot have open dialog about faith and doubt, culture and context. I'm part of an women's interfaith group and I find that group to be my true "church." The best part of the group is that we come together, not to persuade one another (or clobber one another), but to understand one another, to love one another, and to do good together. For me, it all boils down to theology being human opinion on something that we can never really "know" - nothing more.