World Religions and Ecumenicism

For the past year, I’ve been teaching courses in Humanities at a local community college. In my professional role, I have to maintain a certain degree of detachment from the various topics from lecture to lecture. This includes the major world religious traditions. While maintaining my personal Christian faith, I have learned to appreciate the other traditions for their contributions to global faith and to personal enrichment.

There is a measure of humanity that needs and longs for rites and rituals. Each world religion offers fundamental practices that create affirmation and maturity. Rites of marriage or funeral ceremonies help us as people navigate life’s changes. Although I see those from a Christian lens I’m learning to broaden and to listen. This longing for religious structure at an instinctual level creates a bridge to communicate across religious and culture lines.

So this challenge has provoked me to consider how the Church can likewise relate to its global neighbors in faith. Brian McLaren’s upcoming book is going to grapple with this and I am curious to see what slant he takes. I know that I have been enriched by taking a less emotional and more objective look at Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. Being new to the Emergent Village crowd, I’m curious if this resonates with others here.

I’m learning that loving ones neighbor means understanding them first — or at least trying to — before delving into the harder stuff. It’s too easy to dismiss any other tradition just because it’s different or foreign. We’ve so often assumed that we know and begun at the wrong end of the dialog. If we don’t listen and have hearts to consider that there is something worth receiving, we are all at a loss. Once mutual respect and conversation is established there can be greater room for intricacies.

I wouldn’t suggest a complete dismissal of uniqueness but rather an emphasis upon it. This extends the metaphor of the body of Christ to the next level in some ways. If we are all members of one Christological body, then how can the body of Christ relate to the body of Islam for instance? The “body of humanity” includes us all. Learning to relate within this broadest spectrum is truly a challenge that Christ commands with his maxim to love your neighbor regardless. He never qualified this statement. Granted there are versions of each tradition — subsects of each one times thousands — but as distinct religious bodies we can adhere to ourselves without losing the appreciation for the others.

This is rather ambitious of course since we have yet to work out this reality among our own Christianities, but loving ones neighbor must include this earnest effort to see the other, endorse it, hear it, and evaluate it from its own perspective. Stepping outside to listen and appreciate takes the edge off the initial awkwardness.

At a fundamental human level we can begin to see how the ties that bind us as God’s creation are in fact valuable points of contact.


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