A very articulate essay* by Rabbi Michael Balinsky, a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, raises what is for me a troubling issue.
An Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Balinsky isn’t comfortable praying with people of other faiths. He was relieved to discover that the Parliament, out of respect for the different religions of which it is comprised, doesn’t do group prayer. From what I can tell, each religion is encouraged to stay in its own box, collaborating with the others only on those issues of common concern: climate, poverty, etc.
While I respect this, for me it just isn’t enough. When I sit with people of different faiths I don’t want to talk about what we have in common, I want to talk about where we differ. I want to learn another’s way of seeing the world, and learn it so deeply that it may transform the way I see the world as well.
Religions are lens through which their respective followers view reality. Each lens has its distortion that makes its view of reality unique and less than accurate. For me, inter-faith work is about discovering our distortions and seeking to correct them. One way to do this is to share lenses, and in so doing realize that all lenses distort, and that no lens is right, and in this way cultivate a deep humility that allows us to honor differing lenses without the illusion that any one of them reveals the truth.
It is this humility that allows me to pray in any religious tradition. To me the point isn’t the words or the world-view, but the experience of slipping into the greater whole of which I am a part.
I suspect I am leaving religion behind. I cannot stay within my box. I am finding myself less and less comfortable in the Jewish world and the inter-faith world. I love religion the way I love literature and music, but I refuse to be limited to one author, composer or genre. Humans create religion, art, literature, music, science, etc. I am human—it is all my heritage. Why is it so lonely in a place that should be so welcoming?
The first weekend of February 2012 I am hosting SAStalks at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville. (SAS stands for Spirit, Art, and Science.) We are inviting 18 speakers to speak for 18 minutes each on the topic of “The Future of Inter-faith.” I hope to hear ideas that show me the way, because right now I am despairing there is one.