Saturday, 27 July 2013

From Dialogue to Activism | Wes Magruder

One of the most invaluable sources of inspiration for me this Ramadan has been the daily reflections of Wes Magruder, a United Methodist pastor from Texas. I have benefited greatly from sincere reflections on faith and insightful commentary on both the Qur'an and Bible. His articles Ramadan: The Un-SacramentIf Only You Knew and What's An Atom's Worth have been particularly thought-provoking for me. 

I admire Wes for his deep commitment to interfaith activism and the way in which he lives out his faith in a practical way. In fact, last year Wes fasted for the month of Ramadan as an act of solidarity with Muslim brothers and sisters. He shared his thoughts each day in his previous blog The New MethoFesto and describes the experience in his wonderful talk: Why Would A Methodist Fast During Ramadan? This year he is taking on Ramadan again and you can find his daily articles in his blog For The Common Great

Given our shared passion for increased co-operation between people of different faiths, it seemed only natural to join forces and contribute to each other's projects. 

In today's guest post, Wes explains why he chose to fast for a second year in a row and the importance of faith-based activism. Meanwhile, over at
For The Common Great, I discuss how fasting has impacted my spiritual life in Mindful and Thankful

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The first time I observed Ramadan, last summer, I was motivated by two things.

First,  I truly was interested in learning the art of fasting. I knew that it was a powerful spiritual discipline, one which the ancient forefathers and mothers of my own tradition practiced diligently. In recent times, however, Christian fasting has dwindled in importance and significance, to the point that, in my own Protestant denomination, fasting has come to mean simply abstaining from something like chocolate or caffeine during the 40 days of Lent. I wanted to experience hard-core fasting, the type that drives you to your knees regularly.

And yes, my first Ramadan did that to me.

The second reason I fasted was to stand in solidarity with the Muslims in my community, especially those who worshipped at the Islamic Center of North Texas, where my friend Imam Yaseen Sheikh worked. It was a particularly bad Ramadan for hate crimes against Muslims and mosques that year, so I was glad to be doing something proactive and positive.

As Ramadan approached this year, I had to decide whether I would fast again. I knew I didn't have anything to prove; it would have been far more convenient to skip it and say that last year was an exception. Except I didn't feel that way.

In fact, last year's fast didn't quite feel complete; I felt there were some loose ends.

Since that time, I have often been referred to as someone who is leading the way in "interfaith dialogue." The problem is that I do not like that phrase. I'm not all that interested in "interfaith dialogue."

For me, those words conjure up images of clerics sitting in ivory towers and stuffy conference rooms debating the fine details of theology. I imagine a priest turning to the imam and saying, "Here's our position on the afterlife; what's yours?"

Ho hum.

That's not to say that dialogue is not important; it is vital for relationships to grow. And we need interfaith relationships.

But I have a feeling that we could do with far less talking about our distinctive differences and a lot more action around our common goals and vision of the future.

In other words, Christians and Muslims may disagree about the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the inspiration of the Qu'ran, but we agree that God's mercy and compassion is offered to all creation, that humans have a responsibility to God and each other, that faith and works go hand in hand, that the Golden Rule is, well, golden, and that the future is in God's hands.

That's a lot to agree on, isn't it?

And so when we look at the world around us, and we see injustice, poverty, oppression, crime, hate and war, we can also agree that God did not intend these things; when these things occur, they go against God's will. Whether we are Christians or Muslims, we know that these things are wrong, and must be opposed.

We have common ground for action. I would much rather be known for "faith-based activism" than "interfaith dialogue."

I would like to propose that those of us who are motivated to act against injustice by our faith convictions ought rally around a vision for the common good. The common good is a political term which refers to a societal arrangement in which everyone benefits, and nobody suffers from systemic disadvantage. People of faith do not believe this is a pipe dream; our traditions hold out the hope that the common good is an achievable dream.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, one word encapsulates this hope: shalom. Usually translated "peace" in English versions, the word has a broader sense. Shalom is wholeness, perfection, the state of everything being in its right place. In a world of shalom, everything is in right relationship, including individuals, families, neighbors, cities, and nations. The Arabic word, salaam, contains the same meaning. 

For all of us, shalom describes the future state of the world, toward which history is hurtling. For Jews and Christians, this future state is called "the kingdom of God," and is pictured in Isaiah as a place where lions and lambs sit down together, and other predatory and non-predatory animals coexist in harmony. For Muslims, this place of perfection is a beautiful garden called "Paradise."

Most of us believe that shalom will happen eventually, but in the distant future, and in the afterlife. We don't really believe true justice will happen on earth; we have stopped hoping that relationships can be restored in the here and now. As a result, we have shortchanged God's intentions for the world by postponing our hope to a time after we die.

Frankly, however, I think God really wants us to start living and practicing shalom right now, right where we live. Justice is supposed to happen now. Those who are currently caught in the tyranny of cruelty and pain are crying out for relief now -- not in the sweet bye-and-bye. 

Shalom can begin now. The common good is a political goal that we can aim for in the present. However, I think we can do even better than that. 

Shalom also means "flourishing." A world of shalom isn't simply adequate, it's extraordinary. People don't just have enough to eat; they have more than enough, and it's all gourmet eating! People don't just get along; they are the best of friends and enjoy each other's company! 

In the beginning, this world was a Paradise. And it can be again when we are faithful to the very best of our traditions, and when we walk in harmony with our God, and when we work for the common good ... wait, make that the common GREAT!

Who wants to be a shalom activist with me?

Wes is a United Methodist pastor who has served appointments in suburban London and Dallas, and rural Texas. He also served as a missionary for four years in Cameroon, West Africa. He loves writing, speaking, watching Texas Rangers baseball, and spending time with his wife and three daughters. Currently, he is starting a non-profit refugee empowerment ministry for recently resettled refugees to the Dallas area.

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Don't forgot to hop over to For The Common Great to read my contribution!

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