Earlier this year, a friend who is the President of the Interfaith Dialogue Association in Western MI and host of the radio show Common Threads, spoke with Dana Trent and her husband, Fred Eaker about their interfaith marriage – and I was intrigued. Dana is the author of the book, Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, a book that I was fortunate to read this past week. The book reaffirms my belief that real and transformational interfaith dialogue is possible, but reminds me that it is not to be found in an organization or a simple one-time encounter.
In this memoir, Rev. Dana Trent recounts her faith formation prior to meeting and later marrying a former Hindu monk. A Southern Baptist, embraced by two different congregations with widely different approaches – one very progressive and the other more typical of the Southern Baptist tradition, she was ordained and then graduated from Duke School of Divinity. A self-proclaimed frumpy spinster, her meeting with Fred on eHarmony leads her on a spiritual journey that challenges and transforms her approach to God. As a Hindu, I am thrilled that this minister was theologically curious enough to develop a loving relationship not only with her partner, but to the Hinduism he brings into to her life. This is the pluralism that she and her marriage embody – something which I identify as both American and Hindu.
Her gratitude for the journey and the many little vignettes she recounts – navigating vegetarianism, Hindu-Christian theological dialogue, interfaith Sabbath keeping, a sex-free honeymoon at an ashram in India, guidance from a Hindu guru – are all part of the book’s charm and yet there is something so much deeper in the narrative. The book also serves as a sort of primer to Hinduism, with a focus on Gaudiya Vaishnavism, as Trent guides the reader through her understanding of Hinduism and Hindu practices. “Hinduism, when practiced devoutly, is an intense religion in which all things are sacred and every aspect of life from dawn till dusk flows toward the hub called God.” “Devout Hindus believe the wisdom your family doctor offers at annual physicals: you are what you eat. But the Hindu imperative has less to do with heart disease and high blood pressure and more to do with awareness and experience.”
The message of hope that the book has to offer is what I truly appreciated. As a Hindu who is concerned that interfaith is limited to the Abrahamic faiths, that the framework is limited to dogma and ideology, and that the eastern inclusive worldview has no place, this was a breath of fresh air. The honesty with which a failure is told is refreshing – and deeply moving…. Early on in their courtship, Dana tries to baptize Fred, saying “You’ve nearly been saved.” Acknowledging that she didn’t view Hinduism as an equal religious path, she also defers not only to her seminary professors who “wouldn’t have liked me pushing baptism on an unwilling candidate.” She arrives at a conclusion that is so Hindu…that the Truth is one, with many paths. She eventually accepts that, for Fred, Hinduism is a legitimate way to God, understanding that it is a “tradition that is older than Christianity, steeped in sacred scripture, ritual and authenticity. [She] was forcing God (and Fred) into her cozy little Baptist box.”
This is an interfaith marriage between two Americans rooted in Southern Baptist country – I found the Southern twang in their radio interview rather charming – with hearts open to each other and to the message of acceptance that is critical to truly transformational interfaith engagement. This is a call to action: that Hindus need to come forward and stand strong, as Fred Eaker did, to ensure that those who want to save our souls realize that Christian evangelism isn’t needed as we are already on sacred spiritual paths. This is a concrete message of hope and faith, told through a real and endearing love story of two advocates for pluralism: Rev. Dana Trent and her Hindu husband.