Respect is Key

The following is an article posted by a seminary friend, Tiffany Buchanan at  http://www.stateofformation.org/2011/12/interfaith-dialog-respect-is-key/ .  I thought it was a very responsible and well written call to go beyond tolerance and have a genuine respect for other faith traditions.  It will leave you wanting to worship in new and exciting ways while finding God inside yourself.  The following is copied by her permission. Enjoy!

This semester I had the honor and pleasure to work as the educational assistant for a course, “Religious Pluralism” at McCormick Theological Seminary under the leadership of Dr. Robert Cathey and Janaan Hashim, Esq.

The core of this class exposed seminary students to five different faith traditions. Each week students read a chapter and supplemental materials on the differing faith traditions and then the following week as a class we took field trips to the differing temples of worship that corresponded with the previous week’s readings.

“Religious Pluralism” is a religious and cultural immersion experience for McCormick seminary students. As a sociologist and mother, I think that immersion and exposure is one of the best teaching methods for students and children to truly learn, thus I promote it in the classroom, as well as my own personal life.

For as long as I can remember, I have personally had an interest in learning about other faith traditions, even though this is often shunned within some Christian faith traditions as idolatrous. In addition to the Bible, I have read the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, attended Native American worship services, and studied under traditional Priests in Ghana, West Africa over the last fifteen years of my own faith journey as a Christian. In each of these personal experiences, I found that the affirmations and challenges to my own faith helped me to better understand what I believe and why, while inversely teaching me how to respect other peoples traditions as something sacred to them.

I have continually held a longstanding desire for unity among Christians, but after completing this semester and assisting with “Religious Pluralism,” I realize that my desire for unity extends beyond Christian unity. I realize that unity among Christians is only a portion of what I long to see happen on a global scale with people of faith. Deep in my soul, I hope to see people of all walks of life, all faith traditions working together for the common good of humanity, especially and including Christians.

As Christians we are disjointed, often pitting our denominational branches over each other and against each other. But, we not only stand over and against each other as Christians, we also often take this same position with people of differing faiths. Yet our greatest commandment as Christians is to love.

Love is respect.

We need to respect our denominational differences as Christians and we need to respect other people’s faith traditions. I am forever impacted by how Christianity has historically showed itself globally. On my visits to Ghana, West Africa as I stood in the slave dungeon smelling the stench of death of my ancestors that still lingers in the air; there in the middle of the dungeon was a “church.” It is forever etched into my consciousness how my faith has been used to oppress and justify oppression and I refuse to be silent and allow the liberating life and message of Jesus Christ to be misrepresented to a world I care to see well.

Gandhi says and I believe many would agree, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

As I visited the Synagogue, the Mosque, the Sikh temple, the Buddhist temple and finally the Hindu temple I learned more completely how not to judge other peoples faith and worship as lower than my own. I do not feel challenged about my own faith by being respectful of other people’s faith traditions. I do not feel compelled to “make” other people believe my religion is better or more right. The Bible teaches in Matthew 7:1-2;

1Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves.
2For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you. (Amplified)

What I did find during this interfaith immersion experience was that other people’s faith traditions have great similarity to my own and this experience helped to illuminate places where we as Christians can take lessons that are affirmed in our own faith tradition.

At the synagogue, the Jewish temple of worship, the Holy Scripture is revered with such respect and adoration that it was so comforting to see a people singing and dancing in the aisle as their holiest of books was passed among the community, people kissing the pages as it passed by. This experience reminded me of how holy I hold the Bible personally. It allowed me to see that just because I am supposed to dissect every detail in scripture in seminary and often may hear a disregard for the holiness of the Bible as theological argument, I can still hold onto my reverence, as I dance down the aisle of my heart kissing the pages of my own holy book. I was encouraged and empowered in my own faith and beliefs by visiting the synagogue.

At the mosque, the Muslim temple of worship, it was encouraging to see that worship and going to the temple does not have to be a fashion show and that prayer should be central to any faith tradition. I often want to go into my own place of worship and bow with my face to the ground during prayer as this is often how I pray at home, yet in many churches this would be deemed inappropriate or out of line. But in the mosque, women and men freely pray, sometimes in isolation and other times as a community. Being able to witness this and to be among Muslims as they practiced their faith also encouraged me as did visiting the synagogue. I realized that just because some churches do not make prayer a central part of their worship services or choose to recite “churchy” catch phrases as a method to “do” prayer does not minimize my passion for talking with and communicating with the divine and bowing humbly in reverent prayer. Humble prayer is something all faiths can learn from.

At the gurdwara, the Sikh temple of worship, I learned about songs of scripture and hospitality. During the Sikh worship service, the musicians are singing their scripture as a poem as they play instruments. Though I could not understand the language, I heard the sweet melody and tender love that flowed from the voices of the musicians. In their music I heard adoration and reverence, it was not a music concert, it was not lead by those who were deemed the best singers, but it was the singing of their faith.

We should all sing a melody of our faith that even if people can not understand what we are saying, they still understand the love and reverence that shines as a radiant light of faith. After the worship service of song, we were fed a vegetarian meal. We were served and did not get up to get anything, we were fed until we could not eat another bite, it was food that was healthy and nourishing for our bodies and it tasted wonderful. As we were packing up to leave after dinner the host asked if we would like tea, most of my peers said no, yet I spoke up with bright eyes and a smile and said I would love some and they went and made some for us all to take on the drive home. I realized from this faith community how to sing my song of faith for the world to understand even when our languages are different. As well, I learned what hospitality and being accepted kindly as an outsider within a completely different faith feels like. I was respected, treated as an honored guest and treated as an insider through action, this all faith traditions should offer.

At the Buddhist Meditation Center, I was reminded that the ego, pride, and self-centeredness are tasks to be tackled daily by faith. I was reminded that in order to get into a place of prayer that it is important to clear out the clutter of the mind and all the daily hustle and bustle that keeps us from focusing solely on the God we profess to love. I was reminded that retreat from the worldly materialism all around us is a necessity to reconnect with the divine within us and all around us. It was also affirmed to me that times of solitude are necessary, dealing with self and our own inner issues allow us to then truly be in a place to serve those in need all around us from a healthier place. I also learned that most outsiders misinterpret the symbolic nature of other people’s faith traditions, where one would assume statues present in the temple were to be worshipped, really they are symbols to speak of the ineffable lessons of their own faith.

Judgmentalism is often taught as a faith practice, rather than asking those of differing faith traditions what they actually believe and what their symbols means. This is one of the most present examples of ego and pride being at the center of too many people’s faith practices. From the Buddhist faith, I learned that inner peace and health is what creates outer peace and health. Our societies are chaotic and sick because we’re individually and collectively in inner turmoil and dis-ease, thus we have little power to improve the state of society because we refuse to stop long enough to deal with self. Instead we medicate with materialism and judgment of others. From this we can all learn how to be better stewards of our faith.

Finally, from the Hindu faith tradition, I found the connection between the cosmic, the scientific, and faith. The Hindu faith places significance on understanding our connection to the stars, solar system, consciousness, energy, matter, and the masculine and feminine found in all creation. Often those who profess to be Christian want to debate science, while those who profess science as their faith often attack Christians and from the Hindu faith it was reaffirmed that rightness is both/and not either/or. In the Hindu faith tradition, when someone bows with hands in a prayer position and says, “Namaste” this translates as, “I am bowing to the divine in you in peace.”

Humility and honoring the divine in every person is a faith practice we could all learn from, rather than being jealous, competitive, and judgmental of each other as though the only place to exist is as a superior individual in relationship to each other. We all should bow to the uniqueness of God in every human being regardless of race, gender, class, or sexual orientation differences and want them to have peace.

Certainly, as a Christian I can find clear differences in what I believe from all of these faith traditions when considered in the broadest and more specific terms, however what I came away from this interfaith immersion experience with is again a richer understanding of what I do believe and why. I also came away from this experience being able to apply different lessons from all these faith traditions to practices that my own Bible teaches me. I found a deeper respect for what other people believe. I found that I am even more staunchly against tearing down other people’s faith practices to justify rightness as a Christian. If I can not draw others to Jesus Christ and wanting to know the God I serve through reverence of my scripture, humble prayer, singing psalms of praise, offering unending hospitality, dealing with my own ego so that I can better serve, and honoring the divine in each person I come into contact with, then I suppose I have no understanding of how to love as Jesus loved and fall short at honoring my own faith tradition.

Love is respect.

Herein lies the key for me in how we have authentic, empowering interfaith dialog. Respect is setting aside our notions of superiority, rightness and pride to listen to others. Listening is an art. It requires our undivided humble attention. It requires us to acknowledge our own social location, opinions, values, self-righteous arguments and being able to set those aside so that we can really hear with our hearts. If differing faith traditions stopped needing to “prove” they have all the answers and do everything the correct way, perhaps we could all find the commonality in our faith traditions and make the world a more peaceful, healthy, equitable place to co-exist.

We all mourn, know joy, bleed, and the one thing all human beings need no matter what faith we follow is love. Let us love each other by offering each other respect. Then let us all be disciples of our own faith traditions by living as examples to this crumbling world as lights of how our faith empowers us to be better people and reveals the divine in and through us.

Faith is a lived reality. Faith is exemplified in how we treat ourselves, our neighbors and our planet. If I were to orbit into space and use my sociological lens to view the planet with a critical macro lens, I could hypothesize there are very few of faith based on our relationships and treatment of each other and the whole creation. Interfaith dialog is an opportunity for us to come together inspite of our differences for the common good of all, love never fails and respect is the key.

– Posted 12/17/11 on State of Formation at http://www.stateofformation.org/2011/12/interfaith-dialog-respect-is-key/ by Tiffany Buchanan.

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