With global weather disasters, regional famines, and local terrorist atrocities, we live in an age during which religious cooperation has become more a necessity than a nicety.
One gets the feeling that our age is more heavily laden with bad news and trouble than previous eras. Certainly, this is untrue. But it is true that we have never been so connected, and in this connectedness – through email, Twitter, Facebook, Google, the ease and speed of travel, etc. – the Japanese are able grieve for terror victims in New York, while New Yorkers lament for tsunami victims in Japan. I’m pretty sure this has not happened before our time. The downside? This proliferation of information has turned our blissful ignorance to horrific awareness. It’s allowed us access to the pain of others, whether we want to or not.
Our horrific awareness begs for some spiritual relief. If we were only speaking of a 19th century American frontier settlement tragedy, spiritual relief would be a no-brainer. “Call the pastor!” someone would shout. The clergyman from the local church – situated in the center of town and some flavor of Christian - would preside where presiding was necessary and intercede when the people could no longer pray for themselves in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Today it’s a different story. No longer is spiritual disaster response solved with a single call to the local pastor. After all, there might be Hindus trapped in that building. It’s possible there are Muslims with homes underwater and relatives lost just off-shore. The mayhem of airplane hijackers takes the plane down even with Zen-Buddhists in coach.
The pressing question raised by our interconnectedness is: How do address deep spiritual needs when a diversity of faiths are represented in the fray?
Taking a step back, there is actually a question that logically precedes this one. It is the question ‘why?’ Why figure it out? Why do the hard work when even some of the greatest leaders of our time shun the opportunity?
I can think of several reasons why it is healthy, helpful, and spiritually responsible (from the Christian perspective) to figure out how to pray and worship together with those holding different beliefs, especially in times of trial:
God made everyone. As far as I can tell, we are all descended from Adam. Whether one takes this literally, or as myth (in the truest sense of the term), we are taught that all are persons are created by God. This basic fact lays a foundation for all other reasons.
We are similar. Each person is unique. True. Unique personalities. Unique opinions and points of view. Unique cultural biases and religious practices. Also, true: Everyone is the same. Everyone loves. Everyone hates. Each person has to do something with that sense (or lack of sense) of the spiritual they perceive. Though our conclusions vary, as children of the same Parent, our common humanity should outweigh our disparate preferences. This is why early on, the Spirit expanded the bounds of the Church beyond Jewish believers in Jesus. God’s chosen people would have to share God, whether they liked it or not.
We need each other. Our similarities include our needs. At any moment, we may find ourselves in need. At any moment, there is someone that can meet that need. Whether we are thirsty, hungry, lonely, fearful, saddened, perplexed, in shock, desperate, beaten down, abused, abandoned… relief has been pre-programmed into the scheme of the universe. That relief is called “you.” Sure, God parted the Red Sea, but Moses had to stretch out his hand. Someone (likely not a Christian) needs your hand – and the rest of what’s connected to it. And you just may need that non-Christian hand yourself one day.
Worship is witness. It might seem uncouth to raise evangelism when talking about interfaith cooperation. Must be my Baptist roots coming to the surface. Uncouth or not, my faith tradition says “faith unaccompanied by action is dead.” If I’m to bring my faith to the table with those of other religions, I must do more than quote scripture. I must do more than recite doctrine. I must do. Possible actions include more options than feeding the hungry and quenching the thirsty, though these are quite en vogue. I should also be asking God to act on behalf of others – whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist for that matter. Does anything speak more of my love (and God’s) for another than the prayer sincerely, humbly, and indiscriminately offered – with and in the presence of others? Especially when that prayer is answered, for real.
Can you come up with some more reasons why we ought to worship and pray with those of other faiths?
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