What’s a Christian to Do with Multi-Faith?

download   Coexist.  If you’re from the West, you will likely have seen this slogan adorning bumper stickers, pamphlets, t-shirts, key chains, and possibly even church sign boards.  If you’re in my generation (under 30s) you probably have also grown up hearing logic like this:

  • All religions are equal, there are many paths to God and our role is simply to respect and learn how to COEXIST with one another.
  • Truth is relative. What works for me, might not work for you, but we can still COEXIST, mutually loving one another even despite our apparent differences.
  • “The truth is one, the wise call it by many names.” (Hindu Expression)…Therefore the wise COEXIST with one another, whereas the unwise bicker and dispute.
  • Or in slightly more sophisticated language (in the words of Professor Ali Assani of Harvard University: “The divine purpose underlying human diversity is to foster knowledge and understanding, to promote harmony and co-operation among peoples. God did not create diversity to become a source of tensions, divisions, and polarizations in society.  Indeed, whether humans recognize it or not, human diversity is a sign of spiritual genius.” (http://www.twf.org/Library/Pluralism.html).  Therefore, COEXISTING is a sign of our increasing intelligence, maturity, and desire to learn with and from one another.  Whereas failure to COEXIST is a sign of close-mindedness, rigidity, and disrespect.

At the surface, this all sounds rather easy in a hippy sort of way.  Sure, let’s just get along, respecting one another, and seeing the value in the various viewpoints people espouse.  But is it really so simply to act out in our day to day living?

In the West, we are fast becoming more and more multicultural, multiethnic, and thus multi-religious.  Due to factors such as immigration, cross-cultural communication, and emigration of our own peoples, we are no longer a mono-religious society, nor will we likely be one ever again.  On any given day, I engage with and walk past people who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, New Ageist, spiritual but not religious, Agnostic, Atheistic, and those who do not yet identify as having a religion.  There are, of course, various levels to which these people practice their faiths from very strict and religious observers, to nominal church goers, to secular Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and to cultural devotees who do not agree with their religion’s core doctrines.  Furthermore, among the various people groups I encounter, there is a wide range of beliefs surrounding interfaith.  Some are more than happy to build friendships with people outside of their tradition whereas others prefer to keep connections only with those similar to themselves.  Some are interested in exploring other religions (possibly going to a temple, church, synagogue, or mosque despite it not being their tradition), and others warn against such “evils.”  Therefore, the possibility of interfaith dialogue is not always an apparent opportunity.

Yet, because of shifts in socio-cultural and religious understanding, it is important for us to become more aware of the differences and similarities other people groups bring to our country and our world.  Below I’d like to suggest a few key points for making interfaith dialogue more readily accessible to all:

  • Being Aware of Our Own Prejudices and Ideas

Let me begin by asking you a few simple questions: What makes someone a Christian?  A Jew?  A Muslim?  A Buddhist?  An Atheist?

Do you think it is more meaningful to belong to a certain religious group or can one also engage in a meaningful life by being spiritual but not religious, not identifying with any specific group, or even being an atheist?

Can someone who is an atheist still have a deeply spiritual life?
Think about your answers.  Where do they come from?  Did you yourself grow up in one particular tradition?  Who were the people you were exposed to from your earliest childhood memories?  How did your parents shape and inform your religious views and identities (or did they)?  Were your parents adamant that you follow one specific tradition, or did they allow for exploration, open-mindedness, and dialogue ultimately letting the decision fall on you?

There are no necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions, but being aware of how we would respond to them helps create a good basis for where our interest in multi-faith relations comes from.

Additionally, we need to be reminded of how our culture and church shapes our views of other religions.  For example, it is an unfortunate reality, but many children today are growing up with a rather Islamophobic understanding of the world because of news reports and media coverage about extremist groups such as ISIS or Hamas.  This attitude sadly even extends into some churches which may become saturated with Zionistic tendencies, even using unfair examples to portray what they believe to be End Time prophecies.  Whereas, someone who grew up in the WWII era in Europe would very likely have been exposed to Anti-Semitism.  Certain Americans (though certainly not all) may be exposed to white supremacy and come to wrongly associate white religious expressions as more valid than those that people of colour follow.

It is also important to note that within each religion there are a multitude of different opinions regarding gender roles, sexual identity, political viewpoints, dietary restrictions, and many other topics.  This is because each religion is internally diverse.  For example, in Christianity we see male headship, but we also see feminism.  We see Christian arguments for vegetarianism, but also arguments against.  We see Christian groups which do not readily seek converts (such as the Amish), and we see evangelical groups who believe in street and door-to-door evangelism.  In each of these cases, the people who make up the group are still Christian, are likely very sincere in their approaches and their faith, but also are extremely different from one another.

  • Understand the Reason For Your Dialogue

People engage in inter-faith dialogue for a variety of reasons and with many different motivations.  For some it is simply a means of seeking out evangelistic opportunities.  They may believe that by attending these groups or making friends with people outside of a different faith that they may be able to help the other person see the need to join their specific group.  This is especially true of many Evangelical Christians. At the very least, even if the person does not convert, they still look forward to at least sharing their own beliefs and stating their own opinions (check this out for more reasons people engage inter-faith: https://western-hindu.org/2012/02/18/importance-of-dialogue-a-hindu-perspective/).  The Bible certainly DOES encourage us to engage with people of other faiths, to go into the world and share and testify to our relationship with Christ, and to disciple one another, but it all depends on our motivation for doing so.  Creating friendships and building bridges with the intent of truly getting to know the other person, forming a loving relationship, and striving for peaceful conversations are all good reasons to do so.  Excessive arguing, shaming, belittling or even attacking the other person’s viewpoints are not a good way to go about it.  Instead, we should be open-minded, trying to find level-ground, and willing to learn from the other person.  If you’d like to read my experience of spending time with a Muslim colleague who has become a very dear friend to me over the years and how we maintain strong ties without letting our religious viewpoints get in the way, please read this article: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/5-things-having-a-muslim-friend-taught-me/.

Furthermore, some people engage in inter-religious dialogue because they are interested in clarifying their own convictions or learning how to articulate them more clearly.  But the ultimate best reason to be part of the inter-faith movement is to break down barriers and grow in multiculturalism. 

  • Be Aware Of Your Religion’s Own Short-Comings

In his book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Rule the World, author Stephen Prothero explores how Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Yoruba Religion, Daoism and Atheism have all succeeded as well as failed at various points in their history.  Prothero also blogged about how it can be easy to display our religion’s best against the backdrop of another religion’s worst, but this is neither fair nor helpful (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/16/hinduisms-caste-problem-out-in-the-open/).  Each religion has at times floundered and been re-routed from their original founder’s viewpoints and ideal.  Each religion has been responsible for great acts of social justice and human dignity, but also for wars, division, and disunity.  It is therefore a gross injustice to make sweeping generalizations like “all Muslims are extremists and terrorists” or “all Christians are welcoming, nice, and friendly.”  It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people do this (consciously or unconsciously).  Even though people might never say these words out loud, they might often think them in their head, which can be just as dangerous and destructive.  Protero also rightly notes how easy it is to justify our own religion’s misdeeds while not offering the same level of forgiveness to other people groups.  For example, we might say, “the Christians involved in the Holocaust were not true Christians.  True Christians love people and always do what is right because they are following Jesus.  The people who did such atrocious acts simply paid lip service to God without a change in their heart or soul.”  We then may turn around and make sweeping generalizations of other groups we deem to be violent or dangerous.  Instead, we should humbly ask forgiveness for the things our religion has done that has harmed others and take responsibility rather than shifting the blame onto another.

Professor Assani once again gives some good advice on this topic “for in the end, a struggle against the flaws of the ‘other’ is worthwhile only if it is coupled with a struggle against the flaws of one’s own tradition.” (http://www.twf.org/Library/Pluralism.html)

Dr. Shaye Cohen (director of Jewish studies at Harvard) gives a similar statement when warning against the proof-texting that so often accompanies these sorts of discussions: “We don’t take the Bible out and put our finger on the page and say, ‘you see, look what it says.’  To which my response is always, ‘yes, but what does it MEAN?’  You have to interpret it and you have to see what the interpreters have said and then we can talk about it.”

  • Learn All You Can About Other Religions

I recently completed a 6 month certificate course through Harvard University Online (HarvardX) called “World Religions Through Their Scriptures.”  This course has been an invaluable tool for me and has opened up my mind to all sorts of new possibilities.  Previously, I hardly knew anything about Hinduism or Buddhism, but now I am beginning to see how to have a much more fruitful dialogue with people in these faiths.  The certificate included courses on: Religious Literacy – Traditions and Scriptures, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism and was taught by a superb teaching staff including professors who practiced the religion themselves.  When I first started, I was nervous.  I actually thought I might struggle in my own faith because Harvard is a rather liberal and secular school, so I asked some of my Scottish friends to pray for me about it.  Instead of decreasing my faith, though, it actually had quite the opposite effect.  I constantly was making new discoveries into what I personally believed, was seeing more and more of a need for these types of dialogues to happen across religious boundaries and barriers, and oftentimes came to many spiritual encounters which only confirmed and strengthened my own faith.  I think this is the key to beginning these types of dialogues – we need to be willing to learn and grapple with as much of a different religion as we can.  We also need to be humble and ask people what they believe and think, we should not solely rely on our own experience, education, or opinions to guide us.  Even if we believe we are experts in a certain religion, we still need to realize that everyone will follow their beliefs and practice their faith in a slightly different way because each person’s experience is unique.  If you would like to learn more about this course, you can access all of the materials for free indefinitely at: https://www.edx.org/xseries/world-religions-through-scriptures#courses   (You may also want to check out this site for more information: http://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/how-think-about-religion).

So…what’s a Christian to do with Interfaith? It ends up a whole lot.  Our responsibility as believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not to flee from challenge or to deny our rapidly changing and expanding world, but rather it is to engage and engage in love. In our quest to do Kingdom work, we are to find ways to share our faith with others, but also let them share their faith with us.  We are to dialogue rather than debate, to actively seek peace rather than to create hostility.  We are to promote unity within diversity rather than ignore the wars and strife that religions can sometimes create.  When we put forth this effort, when we share in a cross-cultural meal joining hearts and hands with those much different than ourselves, and when we truly believe that global harmony is possible – we are bringing about God’s Kingdom.  I’m not saying to lay aside evangelism completely, not at all.  I’m not saying to hide your faith, but I’m actually saying the opposite.  I’m saying: be bold in your declaration of the Gospel of Christ, share it freely, but do it in love.  Do it in service.  Do it with sensitivity and compassion.  Do it in the spirit of inter-faith. 

If you are interested in having a meaningful inter-faith dialogue here’s a great website that might aid you in your discussions: http://www.scoutinterfaithworship.org/ten_suggested_rules_for_interfai.htm

 

These pictures represent just a small fraction of the books I have in my personal library on multi-faith.  It is fascinating to see the role religion plays in our daily lives: from children’s Bibles to Bible trivia to joke books.  It is also interesting to see how we can truly co-exist with one another.  Just like the books are each their own unique entity, but they live on the same book-shelf, we can do the same in our relationships with people of other faiths.  

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Going Dark – My Experience of Being Off Facebook

stepsToTake_unplug  Those of you who read my first blog post: “God Rejoices Over You with Singing” (https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/god-rejoices-over-you-with-singing-finding-self-worth-and-self-esteem-solely-in-christ/) will already have some idea of what I am going to be sharing in this post.

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to peruse it, I will explain a bit here.  Basically, I deleted my Facebook for a short time because I needed to re-focus on my relationship with Christ with minimal distractions.  I realized that as amazing as Facebook can be, as helpful, as convenient, as fast, and efficient – it was causing me to stumble.  Or at least I thought it was.  I truly believed that limiting my exposure to so-called “triggering” events was somehow going to shape my internal image and remind me of my worth in Christ…but ultimately I learned that unless I was willing to put forth an effort in my spiritual life, it was a rather pointless exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good has come out of taking myself off Facebook.  For one, I was able to get quite a bit of writing done.  If you read my blogs, you will know that I published 9 blogs while offline and have several more scheduled for the near future.  I’m sure this has made my fellow MennoNerds very happy!  Not only have I had a the chance to increase my blogging presence, but I also had quite a few moments of quiet reflection and journaling on my own.  It also boosted my self-esteem somewhat to know that people missed my status updates and it was touching that my friends sent me text messages and emails to make sure everything was alright (thanks, guys!).  It also showed me how although it’s usually easiest to reach someone by Facebook, your real friends will find all sorts of ways to keep in touch.  Nevertheless, it also taught me a few other important lessons:

  • Like I mentioned in my previous blog, henceforth called “GROYWS” taking myself off Facebook didn’t necessarily give me any more free moments in my day, instead, my time-wasting efforts were just shifted into other tasks. CF: the fact that I added about 10 game apps to my phone when previously I had none.  However, I can at least justify this somewhat by saying that some of those apps have actually started developing some good habits in me (for example: I have a work-out game app and I am starting to learn Polish and Hungarian, and I have also been working on improving my French and have been surprised at how much I still remember from high school).  Nevertheless, I have to admit that playing Candy Crush and Panda Pop probably are not really all that much better than mindlessly scrolling Facebook in the end of the day.
  • In a moment of vulnerability, just like I mentioned in GROYWS, deleting my Facebook did not take away that gnawing sense of anxiety or that stifling fear of insecurity. I talked to a few of my really good friends during this whole process.  It wasn’t so much like “rehab therapy” because to be honest, I didn’t find I missed Facebook as much as I thought I would.  But it was more about getting to the core issue – the real reason Facebook was affecting me so much.  I mentioned to them, and I will share openly now, that getting rid of Facebook was really just like treating the symptoms without getting to the root cause.  But thankfully, it allowed me to at least start thinking about what the root cause was.  In this case, I realized that my insecurity didn’t just come from scrolling feeds, but it came from my inability to see myself the way Christ sees me.  It came from my lack of discipline in reading the Scriptures and in spending time in prayer asking God to form me and show me a healthier way of viewing myself.  To combat this problem, I’ve made a few changes in my life, which I can also recommend to you here:

* The only way you will ever get over your sense of insecurity or people-pleasing and stop worrying about how others view you is if you make the conscious decision to care more about Christ’s opinions than the world’s. And the only way you can learn what Christ actually thinks is if you spend time with Him and ask Him.  So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.  When I finally was able to tear myself away from any kind of screen, it gave me the ability to go out and actually spend some time praying in nature which is what I love best.  It was then that I learned how great God’s love for me (and for all of us) really is and that He really and truly does REJOICE OVER US WITH SINGING!  More practically, I’ve added a few apps to my phone which might also help you.  Once again, realizing that adding apps DOES admittedly cause me more “screen-time,” but also knowing that without my daily notifications and the fact that it’s on my phone anyways, I wouldn’t be doing it as much as I have.

I have one app called “Daughters of the King.”  Ladies, if you are struggling with the same types of issues I mentioned above: with low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, identity disorientation, or constant and chronic comparison syndrome, this is just the app for you.   Every day, I get to read a new short devotional that is especially geared at women.  It’s super encouraging and relevant, but it doesn’t read like one of those self-help books or like a motivational speech.  Instead, it’s deeply rooted in Biblical truths – it’s about adjusting our perception of ourselves.  Additionally, there’s another add-on to this app called “Who You Are in Christ” it’s 7 minutes of pure awesomeness!  I usually put it on and let it play right before bed letting these words of truth and wisdom seep over my soul to destroy the lies of the Evil One.  Once again, it is incredibly Biblically rooted, and in fact, is not so much of a sermon, but literally repeating verse and verse of words that God speaks directly into our situation.  Here’s a little excerpt from Who You Are in Christ that I find particularly helpful and that sums up my experience with this little app: “It is important that you know who you are in Christ.  If you are going to accomplish anything in the earth for God’s glory, it will first begin with you knowing who you are.  Be blessed as you listen to Scriptures from God’s Word that will give you clear understanding into your identity.”  If you’d like some more information on this app, you can check it out here: http://www.dot-k.com/. ***SEE BOTTOM OF POST***

I have also added the Bible to my phone.  This is something that the majority of my friends have done, but that admittedly I never thought of doing until just now.  You can add any Bible version of your choice, but I chose to add Eugene Peterson’s The Message to mine.  I know that The Message has long been fraught with controversy and to be honest, I am eventually planning to do a theological study on it (so that blog will be up in about a year or so), but The Message is not all bad.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I studied theology, so when I read most versions I all of a sudden go into some sort of “hyper-nerd” function.  With The Message I actually get the liberty of sitting back and letting the Gospel story unfold as a narrative.  I don’t have that same urge to contextualize everything or to go into some lengthy discussion about historical criticism.  Previously, I was really struggling with my Bible reading (a terrible, terrible admission to make as a pastor – I know!!) but reading a whole new version has really been helping me out in that regard.  So it definitely hasn’t all been bad.

  • Lastly, being off Facebook has caused me to re-think a lot of what I post online. Sure, I know that for the most part I try to post uplifting and helpful comments.  I try to stay away from all that vulgar rubbish – you know, sexual jokes, mean sayings, and crass language, but being off Facebook has made me think about many other “more innocent” things I have posted in recently weeks which quite frankly have basically been a waste of time.  It’s also made me think about what I subject my mind to.  Yes, I have many friends who post WONDERFUL things on their walls that are very helpful to me.  I enjoy reading Bible verses, testimonies, even (okay fine… I’ll be honest…ESPECIALLY) theological rants.  I enjoy seeing pictures of weddings, babies, and baptisms.  BUT I was also subjecting myself (consciously or unconsciously) to a number of other things that get posted up.  Stuff that my parents would probably cringe at or things I know my church (and God) wouldn’t approve of.  It’s not because I was intentionally going to seek that stuff out…it’s just that…well, it was on my newsfeed, I was scrolling down, and it hit me like a bombshell.  Things I thought I was long over, temptations I thought I was long past, were welling up in my soul.  I take full ownership and responsibility for that.  As a mature Christian, I shouldn’t have been at that juvenile stage in my faith walk, but at the same time, I realize what a blazing inferno such things can create.  Now that I’m back on, I realize that perhaps what I needed to do was hide some of those statuses all along.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is an absolutely wonderful innovation and I am so glad to be back on!  It’s going to be super helpful in connecting with my friends, getting caught up with family, and talking to people a world over.  It’s also a much more effective way of promoting my writing and blogs (but hey, if you missed any of them while I was away, feel free to scroll through Z&P, everything’s still here!).  But ultimately, it was good for me to take a break.  Submitting to the Lordship of Christ means being willing to make these kinds of sacrifices because in the end of the day, it’s going to make you a way better and stronger person.  I hope you all continue to enjoy Facebook for what it can be – that brilliant people-connector, community-builder, and spiritual initiator, but always keep this in the back of your mind: if Facebook causes you to stumble, disable it.  Get right with God, and what you post on your feed will reflect that new found desire to follow Him.

***P.S.. Speaking of affirmations, here is one of the devotionals I read from Daughters of the King on August 21st that really spoke truth into my life.  It’s important for us to speak and declare words of truth over our lives and over our situation understanding how Christ sees us despite worldly pressures to believe otherwise.  I created a list of affirmations about a year ago that I read daily.  I also encourage you to create your own individual personalized affirmations rooted in Scripture because it is always more meaningful and speaks more deeply when we come to those realizations ourselves rather than just someone stating them for us.  However, if you are having a difficult time knowing where to start or if you’re not much of a writer, here is a great springboard to give you some ideas because it basically has all of the key elements for what you would include in such a list:

Know Who You Are

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

You are not your past. You are not your failures. You are not your state. You are a daughter of the King. You already know who God is, now be reminded today of who you are in Him. Declare this today:

I am smart. I am important. I am a world changer. I am brave and courageous. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am beautiful. I am called by God to do great things. I am strong. I melt in His presence, yet stand strong in the face of adversity. I can’t stop running because Jesus didn’t stop for me. I am a finisher. I am the right woman for the job. I am a winner. I am so loved. I am richly blessed. I am rooted and grounded. I am abundantly graced. I am my brother and sister’s keeper. I am empowered to lead. I am an overcomer. I am more than a conqueror through Jesus. Greater is He that is in me than he that’s in the world. I am a daughter of the King no matter how I feel. No matter how it looks I will see His promises manifested in my life. I am patient and kind. I am truthful. I am hidden in Christ. I am an end time soldier in His army. I was born for such a time as this. I have what it takes. I am resourceful. I am wise. I wear God’s grace beautifully. I am who God says I am and I will do what He says I will do.

Prayer: Father, help me stay reminded of who I am in You. Help me not to let my problems define me. You define me, Lord. You are my God and I belong to You. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Post taken from: http://www.dot-k.com/know-who-you-are-4/  Author unknown