Sunday, 28 June 2015

When Interfaith Ramadan Goes Meta - A Christian Reader's Response

We've reached the stage in the proceedings where the Interfaith Ramadan series starts to get a bit 'meta'. This means we not only look outward onto the broader issues of interfaith, but also begin to look inward, examining the responses and effects of the Interfaith Ramadan series itself, sharing comments and reflections written by readers for the benefit of other readers and writers alike. This is one such post. The following blog was posted without fanfare and it was only by chance that I stumbled across these reflections by one of my own distant family members, inevitably attracted as I was by the title 'interfaith journeys'. Growing closer to extended family has been just one of the many unexpected and wonderful outcomes of my interfaith work. I am very grateful to Mavis for allowing me to share her post in full. Here, Mavis reflects on the Bible as a model for interfaith living, the challenging words of Josh Heath, a Heathen who wrote for the series last week, and the absolute necessity of interfaith co-operation in the world today.  - Sarah Ager

Interfaith Journeys

The family were all looking forward to the wedding. Family members on both sides travelled from various places to be there.  We all know of course that there are different ways of getting from point A to point B.  People have different preferences of routes, some preferring the motorways while others opting for the less busy roads, even if it takes a little longer. The groom's mother and brother travelled up from the south by coach while his aunt and cousin travelled from the same place but by car.  Others travelled by various means from equally various places.  It didn't matter how they travelled or which route they took.  The important thing was to get there and enjoy the festivities of the wedding.

In case any reader is unaware, this is the time of year that Muslims fast for Ramadan.  A few months ago there was a movement during the Christian time of Lent when a number of Muslims joined Christians in fasting for Lent.  The group called themselves Muslims4Lent (See: Muslims4Lent Reflections) and now in mutual solidarity there is a group called Christians4Ramadan.  I have been following a blog hosted by a distant relative who converted to Islam a few years ago.  Having come from a Christian background, she has a passion for Interfaith dialogue, not just between Christian and Muslim but also among those of other faiths and none. During Ramadan, she asks guests to post something of their experiences on her blog every day. So far we have had articles written by a Christian vicar married to a Hindu, a Christian married to a Muslim, a Sikh woman, a Buddhist experience in Myanmar (Burma), a Wiccan, a Humanist, and a Heathen.

I have found all of the articles very interesting and eye-opening. I can almost see many Christian hands going up in horror at the thought. Surely I've now clearly lost the plot altogether! Actually reading some of these blog posts has made me realise that the many different faiths are each trying to live good lives, aware of the deep spiritual dimension within themselves. Each one is obviously influenced by their culture and life experiences. But I have been aware that we are all on a similar journey to the same end goal except that we are travelling from different starting points and going different routes and preferring different methods of getting there.

Jesus showed his love for all with interactions with the Phoenician woman (the immigrant), the Samaritan woman at the well (the one who left the true Jewish religion), the centurion whose servant was ill (the enemy, invader, part of an occupying army) and so on.  He didn't tell them to leave their way of life but still had time for them, showing compassion and helping them. The Old Testament also has examples of interfaith living.  We are familiar with the story of Naaman the leper, an important official in the country where the Israelites were taken captive. Moses' father-in-law Jethro was not Hebrew and Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek as a holy man.  Contrary to what many Christians think, God doesn't actually belong to us or our religion. It's the other way around. We as his creation belong to Him - and that includes all of humanity.

What has challenged me this week has been words of the Heathen on the above mentioned blog: A Heathen's Suggestions for Helping Others Explore Faith.  He helps friends find their own faith even if they disagree with him and end up believing something completely different. Would I do that?  So often we make friends with someone of a different faith really in order to convert them to ours, if we're truly honest. We think we are right and we have the only true way and we remain friends only as long as there seems to be some glimmer of hope that they will convert to our way of thinking and come to our place of worship. That's the main problem in the world, that there is upheaval and wars between those of different faiths, fighting it out as if that would prove who is right.

It's not about watering-down our own faith but it is about really accepting that maybe there is more than one way; that we all belong to God; that we are all on our own different journey of faith; that God loves us all. Acceptance, not just tolerance. Very difficult at times but much better than killing each other to try to prove a theological argument. As Richard Rohr says in one of his meditations this week;

'If you really believe in the values you say you believe in, then put them into practice. 
Don't waste any time trying to prove someone else is wrong or evil.  Just live what you believe.'  

Amen! We are all on our own faith path of discovery and I am sure that as God guides and directs me, so he is more than capable of doing the same in the lives of others, whatever faith they seek to follow.

Having listened to the horrors on the news yesterday [Friday 26th June], I am even more certain that interfaith dialogue is a need for our time so that we can have discernment and know the difference between those who truly seek to live out their faith, cultivate that spiritual inner being and seek to help others, and not confuse them with those who twist and misuse the name of a religion and words of Sacred writings in order to inflict terror, killing any who don't see things the way they do.  Such people are not true to the religion they profess. Tit-for-tat killing gets us nowhere except deeper into the horrors of war. So, those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, maybe it's time to put into practice the way he showed us, really follow him in actions as well as words and have a little more interfaith dialogue and understanding.  Love not hate.

You can follow Mavis blog here: Mavis's Musings

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