I've just returned from Austria and Germany where I had a delightful time reconnecting with friends and engaging in lively discussion with colleagues (^ that's me, third from the left)! For the past two years, I have been a part of the United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training initiative where I have learned about dialoguing with those who think, believe, and act differently than I do. As I’ve entered into community with other Methodist young adults, clergy and laity alike, I’ve learned invaluable lessons about loving my neighbor. Historically, the UMC has prioritized ecumenical (inter-denominational) conversation and cooperation. Churches like the one I serve have created opportunities to serve with, worship with, and build friendships with other denominations as we recognize the importance of the unity among the many member of the body of Christ. However, we have much work ahead as we brave the frontier of interreligious relationships. In an increasingly divided world, this kind of conversation and understanding of one another is more important than ever. Here are a few of my own reflections on how to connect with non-Christian brothers and sisters who live among us.
- They are not as different as we think they are. Very easily we look at somebody who appears different than whatever we consider the norm and think of them as other. That woman wearing a scarf (hijab) or that man wearing a round hat (yamaka) on their head represents the abnormal, the strange, the weird, the different, or the threatening. Fear of the unknown goes a long way in dividing us and keeping us from loving our neighbors. Why not sit down and have a conversation with someone who looks different than we do and find out just how much we have in common? I have often discovered that my Jewish and Muslim friends have much more in common with me than I ever expected. We share interest in social issues and passion for the other, we have similar taste in movies/music, and we seek to live in peace with others. It is important to be able to acknowledge how we differ while affirming the things we share. When we are able to seek out that which we share, we begin to see “the other” as “us.”
- Listening goes a long way. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of opinions. Sometimes I share them and sometimes I don’t. Though I do not claim to be perfect in this area, I do strive to be discerning about when I should open my mouth and when I should use restraint. When I don’t share my thoughts or opinions it is not because I don’t have them or they’re not valid. It’s not because I’m avoiding conflict, though that happens from time to time. Most often, when I exercise restraint, it’s because I am genuinely trying to understand another person’s perspective that differs from mine. Period. I don’t try to understand so that I can refute, I don’t try to understand so that I can argue my perspective. I seek to understand so that I might be able to respect and appreciate the other person for the image of God in which they are made (just like I am). A Greek philosopher once said, we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Perhaps we could benefit from doing just that.
- Jesus himself had something to say about interreligious work. He spoke of an interaction between two people of different faiths. Perhaps you know the story of the good Samaritan that Jesus uses to answer the question, "who is my neighbor?" The Samaritan-Israelites and Jewish-Israelites did not get along — they were of different religions. Jesus spoke to a group of Jewish-Israelites about a Samaritan-Israelite man who had mercy on another human being who was hurt on the side of the road. The man on the road likely did not share similar beliefs with him, but he chose to take pity on him in spite of their differences. This Samaritan-Israelite man wasn’t of the majority religion of the region but he did what a good Jewish-Israelite should have done in that situation — he “showed [the hurt man] mercy.” Perhaps we can learn from this unlikely hero. It seems that judgment has no place in our love of neighbor. Why don’t we try being people of mercy?
As always, I have a long way to go in my practice of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, but I’m excited about the journey. Until next time — auf wiedersehen!