Archive for September, 2007

Interfaith Dialogue and Culture

September 13, 2007

Conversations with a visiting bishop from Pakistan yesterday highlighted for me once again the great difficulty of interfaith dialogue. While we in the United States, and so many in the West, seek to put the best face on Islam, consider it one of the three great “Abrahamic faiths,” and seek mutual understanding, tolerance, and even cooperation where possible, there are Christians in other parts of the world with a very different perspective.

It reminds me of a moment at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 when there was a session on “interfaith dialogue.” A bishop from one part of the world spoke of the richness of interfaith dialogue and the deepening of relationships and mutual understanding, an African bishop from the same podium exclaimed, “If they would just stop killing us, we would be glad to initiate a dialogue!”

This is not so much due to the fact that there are different “Islams” — there is a certain unity in Islam (even with the Sunni, Shiah, Sufi divisions) that Christianity, and perhaps even Judaism, lacks. It seems to me more a factor of culture and context. Muslims — like the rest of us — are products of their nationalities and upbringing and cultural contexts.

Political frustrations — and the resultant violence too often — are brought about by marginalization, arrested economic development, poverty, demographics and the environment among many other factors. If we are to engage productively in interfaith dialogue, we must first of all understand the essence of the religions themselves. But we must also take very seriously the cultural context in which each of our religions is lived out.

This can be very tricky indeed. But it is absolutely essential in our day. For, as Hans Kung has said,

“No peace among the nations without peace among the religions.

No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions.

No dialogue among the religions without investigation of the foundations of the religions.”

And those foundations include the cultural as well as the theological ones.       

Nine Eleven

September 9, 2007

The preacher today shared some memories of September 11, 2001 and suggested we might want to do the same, during this week, not to cling to them but to acknowledge and remember the past, live fully into the present, and  embrace the future.  Not a bad idea. You might want to do the same thing. I  remember…

*Watching the whole event unfold, with my staff, frozen to the TV in our midtown Manhattan office…

*Worrying about my fiancee who was at a meeting closer to Ground Zero than I was…

*The sound of silence in the city streets, even with so many streaming past our building…

*Volunteering to take some shifts as a chaplain, whatever that might mean…

*Days later,  putting my fiancee on a train in Grand Central, crowds like a train station in a WW II movie…

*Serving food at the Seamens’ Institute, talking with construction workers in St. Paul’s Chapel…

*Presiding and preaching at a requiem for a clergy couples’ son in our Chapel of Christ the Lord…

*Wondering, as I still do, why this nation chose misguided vengeance rather than reconciliation and healing…

We left church this morning with these words, sung to the tune of “Melita,” the great Navy hymn, still ringing in our ears:

“So brief, the joy since each was born/ So long the years in which to mourn/ Give us compassion to sustain/ Each other in this time of pain.

Guard us from bitterness and hate/ And share with us grief’s crushing weight/ Help us to live from day to day/ Until, once more, we find our way.”

Indeed. Help us, O God, as a individuals…and as a nation…”find our way.”

Emergent and Renewal

September 7, 2007

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with Jim Wallis (of Sojourners), Brian McClaren (Emergent Village),  and several young people about a possible “American Green Belt Festival” planned now for the summer of 2009. “Green Belt” has been around in England for decades and is a combination music festival, art show, conference, and revival! It is ecumenical and celebrates renewal in its broadest sense.

The dream here is to find an American expression of that event, bringing together large numbers of young people — musicians, artists, pastors, teachers, seekers — who are involved in the “emergent” church, movement, conversation (whatever) with some of us “mainliners” who are interested in tracking and learning from this movement. The hope is also to cast a wide net by being “catholic friendly,” diverse in race, class, age, and ethnicity. 

The emergent conversation often describes itself as being post-evangelical and post-liberal, seeking to find ways to bring the gospel message of the kingdom of God to the “post modern” world by linking faith and social justice.  I’d be interested to hear from some of you who check in with this blog from time to time what you know or think about “emergent.” 

Is this a new wave of renewal or a “passing fad?”

Labor Day and Immigration

September 3, 2007

Labor Day and immigration. Are there connections? Well, pretty obviously, since a huge portion of our labor force in the United States is made up of recent immigrants — documented and undocumented.

Yesterday, in the parish my wife and I attend, that connection was made pretty clearly. First, by the sermon based largely on this text from the Sunday lectionary:

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” (Hebrews 13:2a)

The sermon made appropriate connections between this text, the long biblical history of Israel being commanded to treat the alien well, since they themselves had  been aliens in a foreign land, and our responsibilties to “the stranger” in our land today.
And secondly, by an adult forum led by a Roman Catholic priest active in the “new sanctuary movement” whereby congregations and individuals can show solidarity to immigrant families (and in more ways than providing classic “sanctuary” in churches).

This might entail housing them, accompanying them to immigration hearings, deportation proceedings, etc. and assuring that they are provided due process under the law. It may also entail advocacy to try and change some of our immigration laws so that they might actually approach being “just” and heeding biblical ethics on showing “hospitality to strangers.”

It was a good Sunday. And it gave us plenty to reflect on as we enjoy this “last day of summer,” ever conscious of our privilege and of God’s call to love mercy and act kindly, yes — but also to do justice.  I cannot get these words out of my head and heart today, reverberating to the great hymn tune “Finlandia” to which we sang them  yesterday:

This is my song, O God of all the nations/ a song of peace for lands afar and mine/ This is my home, the country where my heart is/ here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine/ but other hearts in other lands are beating/with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean/ and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine/ but other lands have sunlight too, and clover/ and skies are everywhere as blue as mine/ O hear my song, thou God of all the nations/ a song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms/ Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done/ Let God be lifted up till all shall serve him/ and hearts united learn to live as one/ O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations/ myself I give thee; let thy will be done!

Our Own Little Missouri Synod?

September 1, 2007

Now that Kenya has consecrated two more American priests as bishops to be missionaries to the West here in North America and there are threats of boycotting the Lambeth Conference from certain Provinces in Africa and bishops from the US and even the Church of England, I wonder if the time has come to at least consider what some kind of “orderly reconfiguration” of the Anglican Communion might look like.

What if we simply acknowledged two separate expressions of Anglicanism here, and perhaps elsewhere around the globe? Would that be the end of the world? Since many of the so-called “continuing churches” seem to prefer the word “Anglican” anyway perhaps we should just concede them that formal designation.

Many Episcopalians do not consider themselves Anglican first and foremost anyway, but rather Episcopalians who are members of the Anglican Communion. If Canterbury were to recognize two expressions of that Communion would it be any worse than the Lutheran World Federation which acknowldedges Missouri Synod Lutherans as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America both as members?

Missouri Synod Lutherans are a more conservative expression and the ELCA a more progressive experession of Lutheranism on these shores and beyond. The two groups disagree mightily on some things and there is a certain amount of tension between them. Yet, they do cooperate in such things as Lutheran Social Services, certain missionary endeavors, and in the Lutheran World Federation itself. Everyone knows they are all Lutherans.

I know the critique here: the LWF is a “federation” of churches while the Anglican Communion seeks to be just  that — a “communion” of churches. However, when you have whole Provinces declaring themselves “out of communion” with others and bishops refusing to receive the sacrament from other bishops, it is perhaps time honestly  to concede that we look a whole lot more like a federation. Indeed, up until the middle of the 20th century that’s pretty much how we understood ourselves as Anglicans anyway.

As one whose entire life and ministry is dedicated to working toward the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer “that we all may be one” this gives me no pleasure. I hope a way can be found for the Communion to remain intact. But, if such a way cannot be discerned, would it not be better to preserve some sense of civility and some level of cooperation rather than watching endless division and fragmentation in this church?

Would we not be a better witness to the world if we found a way for an “amicable” separation showing mutual respect and tolerance? Would some “friendly competition” between “Anglicans” and “Episcopalians” on the local level be all that bad? (Provided we were both seen as full members of the Anglican family of churches?)  

Could we not find a way to live alongside our own little Missouri Synod?