Thursday, May 19, 2011

Future of Inter-Faith

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.

• http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/news/index.php/2011/05/do-we-have-to-pray-together/?utm_source=Parliament+Newsletter&utm_campaign=f72d956125-Newsletter_15&utm_medium=email

6 comments:

Prof. Ormsbee said...

You wrote: "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?"

Yes, yes, yes. But I come at this from a slightly different direction. I am someone raised in a very tightly scripted religion (not Jewish) that was suffocating and ultimately destructive. At age 25ish, I cut all ties to the religion of my birth and set out on a long journey of spiritual exploration, through sufism, buddhism, hinduism, paganism, etc. I love it all (and am deeply critical of it all as well). Last year, I realized that there was something missing in my spiritual life, a sort of grounding or "homebase" from which to live and function. For some reason, after nearly 20 years of exploration and having found great joy in the exploring, I realized that I was alone and had no real spiritual practice of my own.

Long story short, I ended up in Judaism. My new chosen home, however, presents some new problems. Namely, that I feel exactly as you described above: that it is all deeply human and all my heritage as a human. So integrating my newfound commitment to judaism with my base love and openness to all human traditions of seeking truth and beauty and peace has become the defining challenge of my spiritual life. I don't know where that will lead.

It seems that for born Jews, it's pretty easy to be Jewish and buddhist. The pagan circle I used to attend was nearly 1/2 jewish folk. etc. But for someone who has chosen judaism, the path to multiplicity and openness seems less clear.

All this to say that your post and the lines I quoted above resonated powerfully with me. Thanks.
Todd
http://boyfromgoy.wordpress.com/

Karen said...

It seems that eventually spirit pushes us to accept that Love and Wisdom can only be found inside ourselves. Not in books, not in religion, not in science. Only inside ourselves. Though written wisdom may point us in the right direction, it is only a guide, not a map.

andrea perez said...

I think the problem is with faith itself. I lack the faith that people can listen to each other long enough to realize that they aren't saying anything that is all that different.
Organized Religion can be nothing more than an excuse to gather like people together who refuse to really question their beliefs. Then, they stand around having a "mine is better than yours contest."
I'm not very competitive and I find the whole thing very childish. Guess that comes with having taught children from ages 4 though 12...Interfaith communication isn't always all that give and take. It's kind of like a bunch of babies sitting around engaging in parallel play.
Is that what is bothering you? Do you long to see us all grow up and try to really hear, feel and communicate? It is kind of lonely when one is trying to play a different game than those around you. Doesn't sound to me like you want to fluff up your feathers and prove that you are right. Just want to hear that all encompassing Oneness we've been told exits since babyhood. I guess that is at the heart of my Jewish belief system: Listen,Wake Up! People there is something that unifies us and there is a Oneness that holds us together....Get over yourselves already and start Listening.

shirley said...

I believe you are reaching the top rung of the ladder in James Fowler's "Stages of Faith"

Sue said...

Those of us born into interfaith families, or choosing to form interfaith families, also dance outside the boxes. It is not as lonely when we form our radically-inclusive communities.

Lou Mindar said...

Rabbi Rami said:

"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."

I love this definition of religion and interfaith work!