Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interfaith Roundup

Yesterday's conference of Clergy Beyond Borders made for an interesting day. It's always a bit difficult for me, as a near-pathological introvert, to assimilate myself into a gathering in which I know absolutely no-one. Yet conversation and relational connection was the point, so I leavened my desire to wander and contemplate and just plopped myself into things. And new experiences aplenty were there to be had.

It was a bit unusual, for example, to hear the director of an organization of Muslim women lawyers describing her love of Korean soap operas. The need for prolonged emo melodrama is one of those universal human desires, I suppose.

It was intriguing to talk with an evangelical and a Muslim who were both struggling with the challenge of making inroads in secular Europe. As much of Europe is hostile to Islam, and either indifferent to or hostile towards Christianity, faith communities really have a very difficult struggle there. I have a tendency to think the standard toolset of the American evangelical movement tends to be the wrong one. The reflexive resistance to the modern era and enlightenment principles that has come to define much of American Christianity fails miserably in Europe. The Prosperity Gospel also fails miserably, as preaching endlessly about Health-And-Wealth serves no purpose in cultures where they aren't required to fret so much about those things. Honestly, I think the only Christianity that has any hope of gaining a small foothold in Europe is the real thing. You know, focused on the core teachings of Jesus, and content with being a community of intimate faith and service that bears no resemblance to Christendom.

It was heartening to hear that the little cluster of rabbis who gathered in the early evening to light the Hannukah candles were joined by imams and pastors. Wish I'd been there and hadn't been out walking. That's two nights in a row I've missed the menorah. Fiddle. But I needed to move my legs and be out in creation for a bit. There's only so much sitting on my tushie I can take.

It was awkward sitting across from an Indian Muslim imam at lunch, endeavoring repeatedly to connect on a human level, but finding that he seemed to have no interest whatsoever in doing anything other than telling me his name and giving me his card. The card announced his leadership of HALF-A-MILLION-MUSLIM-IMAMS, a fact that he managed to slip in when we went around the room to share our names, and that appears in nearly every google return of his name. Eye contact? Pleasant sharing about family and background? Nothing. I seemed little more than an inconvenient inanimate object that impeded his view of the people he'd rather be talking with. Ah well. So it goes.

On the flip side, it was delightful seeing the light of warmth and friendship that shone between many of the participants, connections that existed before and were being renewed. It was a genuinely hopeful event, filled with grace and promise and mutual understanding. Seeing the rabbi and the imam who organized the event beaming as they described the deep warmth and connection that they and their families shared was an impressive and joyful thing. Another thousand such relationships would change the face of Israel and Palestine.

Also joyful, although not surprising, was the face presented by the Christian evangelicals who were attending the event. Unlike my oldline brethren, who often hem and haw and fret about the awkwardness of non-inclusive semiotics when in mixed company, these folks were unapologetically Christ-centered, each and every one of them. They were as Jesus-focused as the imams were Qu'ran focused, and the rabbis were Torah focused. What my brethren were not, however, was rigid, judgmental, and dogmatic. Instead, they were leading with grace, and following with grace. The Jesus they professed as Lord and Savior...and they did say that...was described in terms that were so suffused with love and kindness towards all that it was impossible to hear him described and not know you were hearing something fundamentally good. As one panelist talked about the heart of Christ's teachings about love for the other, both the rabbi and the imam next to him seemed genuinely impressed. It was a real and significant witness.