It was happening in our house, right downstairs. I could hear the voices of our parish priest and the Lutheran minister – sitting with members of their respective congregations, studying the Bible together. In the days of emerging ecumenism, this was thought to be a “good thing”.
Fast forward seventeen years. I was heading to Boston to attend Boston University School of Theology. This Catholic boy, going to a Protestant seminary, headed not for the priesthood, but to be a “minister”. For that same generation who championed the rise of Christian ecumenism, it was a different story when their children began to live into their more inclusive vision. At least in my case, it was not immediately thought to be a “good thing”.
And fast forward again – to 2014. Christians are in the midst of another transition – from “ecumenical” to “interfaith”. Several years ago a friend who had attended our church on a regular basis informed us – rather suddenly – that he was leaving. He had met someone on line. Could she be the love of his life? His leave-taking was not only geographic; it was religious. He would become a Muslim. He wanted my blessing.
It is a rocky road, even for those of us who “lived into” the earlier vision of ecumenism.
It can be challenging enough to love people who are like us – in skin color, economic and educational background, in religious and spiritual history and tradition. Increasingly, we are called upon to love the “other” – those whose skin comes in hues different from our own; “others” who don’t speak our language and were not brought up eating our food; “others” who refer to the divine with names different from what we are accustomed to.
It gets more complicated. What of the “others” who DO speak our language – perhaps with a slight accent, or with no accent at all? They were born and brought up here, educated here, and have “The American Experience” under their belt. We are conflicted as a country with how to treat “others” – the immigrant, the stranger, and increasingly, the neighbor who comes at life with accents different from our own. How are we to look at each other through our respective spiritual lens? Do our religious traditions generate spiritual experiences which are mutually exclusive?
“Ecumenism” was all about cooperation – Christians making a conscious effort to get along with “others” who share their story. Without downplaying the challenges, cooperating with those with whom we have a lot in common is doable.
“Interfaith” is about complementation – truth expressed such that exclusive claims compliment rather than compete against each other. Writing fifty years ago, Raimundo Panikar said: “The meeting of religions is today one of the most profound human problems.” This, from a man who says of himself: “I left Europe as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian.”
Jesus said: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” (John 10:16.) Who are the “others” we are being called to learn about and love today?
A blessed Tuesday.
Raimundo Panikar Obit in the NY Times.
A Michael W. Smith Song – see the lyrics and give it a listen. “Tell me there’s a place for these.”