The questions below were asked during an interview on interfaith cooperation held on Tuesday, February 21, 2006. I thought you might enjoy reading some of what came out of it.
DOES IT TAKE COURAGE TO ENTER INTO INTERFAITH DIALOGUE?
I can't say I feel very courageous when doing this kind of work. I don't allow history to color the reality of the moment. I don't feel threatened by Christianity, Islam or any faith. Each religion is a lens through which to view the infinite reality of the Divine. The more lenses I can look through the more I understand of God.
WHAT CONSTITUTES COURAGE FROM YOUR FAITH PERSPECTIVE?
Spiritual courage is articulated in God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12:1. God challenges Abram to free himself from the conditioning of tribe, culture, faith, and parental influence, and to follow God alone. To live without conditioning-- that takes courage.
IS COMPROMISE A NECESSARY PART OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE?
I hope not. There is no authenticity to the dialogue if participants are afraid to be themselves. I don’t want someone to compromise her faith. I want her to share it openly; with civility and compassion, but without compromise. I have been told many times in such dialogue that I am going to hell for what I believe, and I would be insulted if the speaker said otherwise. If the person tried to send me to hell or forcibly save me from it, then we are no longer in dialogue. Then it is a struggle of will. The struggle in authentic dialogue is internal. I struggle with my conditioning, seeking to free myself from it so that I might hear what is really being spoken rather than to hear an echo of my own prejudice.
SO IF IT ISN’T ABOUT COURAGE OR COMPROMISE, WHAT IS IT ABOUT? WHAT ARE THE INGREDIENTS FOR AUTHENTIC DIALOGUE?
I think there are three: curiosity, compassion for self and other, and humility. Curiosity in the sense that I genuinely want to know what the other believes, what his experiences are, and what faith is for her and how it informs her life. Compassion for the other in the sense that I recognize the other as the image and likeness of God; seeing in her or him something divine and worthy of love and respect. Compassion for self in that you do not have to fear your own doubts, questions, and uncertainty. Humility in the sense that I hold my beliefs lightly, knowing that I do not and cannot know the Absolute. Humility allows one to know that God is greater than any creed, dogma, doctrine, or religion. This allows us to listen to others with having to defend ourselves. For me at this stage of my walk with God faith is not about knowing but not-knowing. I do not trust what I know to be true, just comfortable. And while I find the presence of God to be comforting, I do not experience God as comfortable. God is unsettling (that is why the Jews wander so!), disconcerting— the whirlwind of Job that only becomes the Fragile Voice of Stillness after you have let the storm strip you of all your masks and hiding places.
DOES IT TAKE MORE COURAGE TO COMPROMISE OR TO BE UNYIELDING?
Again, I am having a problem with both ideas. Why would I want to compromise what I believe? I want to be clear and strong in my belief, and yet know that it is only my belief. Humility, not-knowing is the key here. If I know I do not know, compromise is unnecessary. I don't want to bend my beliefs to fit with another's, I want to drop my beliefs and see if we glimpse what is true.
ARE THERE ADDITIONAL KEYS TO GOOD INTERFAITH DIALOGUE?
Here are two more: A deep grounding in one's own faith. A dialogue partner has to be so rooted in her faith that she does not become threatened by the faith of others or have to resort to violence to avoid having to open to another faith. And second: a willingness to be transformed by the dialogue. There is no true meeting between people if there is no possibility of transformation. If I cannot be changed by what you say, there is no need for me to hear you say it. Dialogue, if it is true dialogue and not simply serial monologues, requires a great deal of vulnerability on the part of the dialogue partners. If I am not willing to take the other seriously, then there is no dialogue. If I do take the other seriously, seeing them as the image and likeness of God, and hearing in their words pointers toward that Truth that transcends words, then I must be ready to be transformed, moved, changed. This takes create courage!