Friday, November 6, 2009

What can interfaith really look like? What should it look like?

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one, a ...Image via Wikipedia

There is an episode of South Park you may have seen in which in order to not offend anyone, the Christmas program at the elementary school becomes a totally generic, bland and meaningless performance. Some (notice the hedge) Unitarian Universalist congregations have this technique down pat, except that it's often OK to be a bit more explicit about non-Abrahamic elements. In the urge to focus on the symbols -- the words, the icons, the images, etc -- as a potential source of conflict or antagonism, interfaith efforts are especially prone to blanitizing (sanitizing something so much any value it might have had is completely scrubbed away leaving it bland) its efforts. Jim Wallis recently shared a story about a community worker who regularly says a prayer to a group of volunteers of varied and no faith, adding this insight:

For some, interfaith work and worship means the minimization of differences until all of our religious traditions become barely indistinguishable from one another — a kind of common denominator inter-religious politeness with little appeal for anyone. Prayer at an interfaith service is pared down to saying only those things upon which every one in the room can agree. It often makes for a service that’s boring instead of exciting, and for words more mushy than inspiring.

Mary Glover prayed week after week at our community center in the presence of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and those who held no faith at all. Never once did I see anyone hesitate or feel insulted by this prayer with its unapologetic appeal to Jesus as her Lord. It was able to bridge gaps between those of different faiths not because it obscured differences, but because it clarified a compelling vision. It reached out because of the depth of its sincerity, not because of a carefully worded attempt to be doctrinally non-offensive.

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