Three Faiths, Three Friends
"When we first started, the three of us were like three circles touching," Falcon says. "But over time, our circles have become more interlocked. We are still distinct circles, but we share more and more together."
In Seattle, the work of the Three Amigos has spawned the Northwest Interfaith Community Outreach, led by business executive John Hale. This organization helps to sponsor interfaith events and encourages what it calls interspiritual communication. Hale has a salesperson's easy smile and ready handshake -- he seems like a man who would be comfortable in a corporate boardroom. So it was a little surprising and even unsettling to hear him speak the language of contemporary spirituality. Raised as a Presbyterian, Hale says that his upbringing "lacked nourishment," a nourishment he didn't find until he converted to Catholicism and discovered interfaith work.
For Hale, interfaith work involves both a conversation and a way of life. "It is heart work," he says, "not head work." The image that Hale likes -- adapted from Meister Eckhart -- is that each faith is a house with a basement. Deep in the basement is a trap door. If you go deep enough, you fall through the trap door into the shared river that flows beneath all faiths, the source of them all.
Hale's assertion of oneness would likely make Lohre at the Pluralism Project cringe. Many people, she notes, think interfaith conversation means "moving toward relativism." But "the assertion that 'at root all religions are the same' just isn't true. If you do any kind of careful comparative religion, you understand just how different religious traditions are." People do not need to adopt the rhetoric of "oneness" in order to care about their religious neighbors, Lohre argues. Relying on that approach misses the complexities of the various religions.
The Three Amigos would in some ways accept and in other ways reject Lohre's point. "The question of boundaries is absolutely essential," Falcon insists. "I must find a way to connect with another faith without taking on its identity. What we are doing is acknowledging other faiths as legitimate paths to a shared universal." The three recently discussed a newspaper editorial that criticized Christian groups for holding Seders in their churches -- as if the Seder is a tradition possessed by Christians. The three agreed with the critique. Their own interfaith Seder, they noted, is a Jewish celebration, led by a Jewish rabbi, but with interfaith elements.
The three are also dissatisfied with the kind of interfaith service in which participants try to find a lowest common denominator of faith. Far more intriguing and satisfying to them is offering hospitality to one another in their respective congregations and working with one another on common projects. When they speak at one another's events, they speak from their own Jewish, Christian, or Muslim tradition. They cite their own sacred texts and tell stories from their own traditions.
Nevertheless, the Three Amigos also tend to blur the boundaries. For example, Mackenzie has asked Rahman and Falcon to help him serve the elements of communion at a service at University Congregational. For him, it is deeply meaningful to have Rahman and Falcon holding the baskets of bread as the congregation comes forward to share in this central Christian ritual. It links the three men and the three faiths together. It is important to note that the UCC has a tradition of open-table fellowship at communion and that at University Congregational the elements are called "the bread of life" and "the cup of blessing." This communion service does not focus on the christological distinctives of the meal the way that many other Christian services would.