when we seek connection

why i love inter-faith conversations.

kathyescobar dreams, faith shifts, friendship, healing, incarnational, spiritual formation, synchroblog 11 Comments

when we seek connection

* This month’s Synchroblog is centered on what we appreciate about other religions. You can see the link list of other bloggers writing on this topic at the bottom of this post.

I am grateful that almost 2 years ago a friend of mine from Denver invited me to the interfaith group she had been attending. I have been part of holding space for intra-faith dialogue (i love this little post that not that many people read) in different ways for a while (so hard!) but had longed to meet leaders of completely other faiths to learn, to listen, to grow, to consider, to engage, to discover-what-we-have-in-common, and to uncover-our-unique-differences.

I admit, I was nervous at first. Meeting new people who share a common language, traditions, and core beliefs is awkward enough. Engaging across multiple world religions and different strains within those religions felt even more awkward because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to know.  But I noticed something right away, from the minute I walked into the room filled with leaders representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism, Baha’i, Mormonism–a spirit of openness and humility. A willingness to listen. A desire to take time out of busy days to be together. A passion for justice. A heart for people. Ears for deep listening.

I am only on the very fringes of what I hope to learn. Time prohibits some of what I wish I could do with some of these relationships but it’s opened up my heart and mind and soul and expanded my own Christian faith in so many ways.

I have loved inter-faith conversations.

Here’s why:

1. There’s so much to learn.  Oh, there’s so much I don’t know.  Holidays I have never heard of, spiritual practices I wasn’t aware of, organizations doing great work on behalf of people that I had no idea existed.  Almost every time my eyes are opened to how much I don’t know and I am reminded how much I have to learn!

2. People in the conversation sure know how to listen well.  Following the 5 Habits of the Heart by Parker Palmer (1. an understanding that we are all in this together 2. an appreciation for the value of “otherness” 3. an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways 4. a sense of personal voice and agency 5. a capacity to create community), there’s a sense of truly honoring each other and holding a space for our differences in grace instead of so much polarizing that I’ve experienced in some intra-Christian-faith conversations.

3. It humbles me in a way I need to be humbled.  I am consistently reminded that there are so many people in this world deeply guided by their faith to serve and love others, and that Christians do not have the market cornered on this.  It also reminds me that faith is not something to be taken lightly. Despite all my own faith shifts and the reality of so many others deconstructing once-deeply-held beliefs, faith is a guiding force in the world and worth deep respect. Being part has increased my reverence for God in a way I needed in this season of my spiritual journey.

4. It has brought peace, not fear.  In many of the old circles I used to be part of, there is a deep mistrust of people of other faiths. We see this strongly in the horrible bent against Muslims right now and the fear-mongering going on.  We hear it in the people who proclaim we must hold on to “the truth” and not be deceived by the world or others who lead us away from Christ.  This spirit of fear is so sad to me because it means we are coming from a place of insecurity.  When we come into these conversations with a rooted sense of security and agency, it’s easy to participate. Often people think that inter-faith means watering down our faith but it’s been just the opposite. It’s helped me strengthen my own Christian faith in such a sweet way.

5. All roads lead to friendship. I say it over and over again because it’s so true. When we learn how to be friends, everything changes. And we learn how to be friends when we sit at equal tables, side by side, eye to eye, heart to heart–listening, learning, eating, laughing, wondering. When people talk bad about our friends, not some abstract-thing-we-hear-on-TV, the game changes.

5. It’s our best hope for real change in the world.  We have so much more in common than it often seems. We are care about so many of the same things when it comes to social justice.  So many systemic problems are just too big for any one of us to tackle. We need each other. There are so many opportunities for collaboration. There are so many ways we can represent together a different kind of power than the world’s power. There are so many ways we can advocate for each other so that hate loses its hold. There are so many ways we can participate in shifting things that need shifting. There are so many ways we can band together on behalf of justice and love and peace that people couldn’t ignore or dismiss or ruin or divide.

I’m just a baby in all of this, less than 2 years in with so much to learn, but I know this for sure–inter-faith conversations have expanded my own faith, stirred my heart, and inspired a dream for what justice might really look like in our cities if we all worked together. 

The verse that came to mind as I was writing this was Micah 6:8. When it comes to inter-faith conversations, I hope to keep learning how to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly. 

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other bloggers sharing what they appreciate about other religions:

ps: I also had a post last week I forgot to share up at SheLoves Magazine on being dangerous.  It’s called Tame Won’t Change the World. “I keep learning that living dangerously is also where the action happens. Where healing happens. Where hope is fanned into flame. Where love comes to life. Where justice emerges. Where mercy oozes in. Jesus was and is dangerous. And I think he’s calling us to become more dangerous, too.”