If you're reading this, the inauguration of a new column on a comparative religions website, I'm guessing it's because you follow this kind of thing, religion and inter-religious discussion. And if you've followed websites of this sort for any length of time, you'll already recognize a sort of in-house lexicon, a set of workhorse words and phrases that show up again and again. Engage. Explore. Perspective. Dialogue. And most ubiquitous of all: Conversation. Think of it as a kind of Devil's Dictionary for the Pew Forum crowd.
For fun, I looked at the copy in the "About" sections of several comparative religion destinations on the web, including Patheos, Religion Dispatches, Beliefnet, On Faith, and Civil Religion. I pulled out the keywords and plugged them into Wordle.com, which kindly handed me this, the visual representation of what we might call inter-religious discourse:
No big surprises there. And the sentences practically write themselves, don't they? We're here to engage in intelligent conversation exploring a dynamic dialogue between faith communities, where intersecting perspectives . . . you get the idea. What's interesting is that most of the words signify through one of two metaphors: industrial labor (engage, intersect, dynamic, innovative, productive, explore) or communication (conversation, dialogue, reflection, inform, perspective). Which makes sense, since most of the people producing this kind of writing -- myself included, of course -- have in fact chosen communication as their work, for better or for worse.
If on those same sites you look at the devotional writing, rather than the analytic pieces, you'll find a different set of implied metaphors at work. Most of these are taken from the natural world or from artisanal labor: lots of sowing and harvesting, growing, germinating, weaving, painting, giving birth. This is good language, and it does good work. But, as with the analytical discourse above, one begins to wonder what we might learn from a different set of metaphors.
So think of this as an introduction. I've titled my column, somewhat obliquely, "Salt and Seed." As a title, it's a bit precious, but I think it conveys the twin purposes I have in mind for this column: as salt, to preserve and to season the best ideas I encounter about religion generally and Mormonism in particular; and as seed, to germinate new ideas and explore new questions on those topics. You can expect the column in its former capacity to pass along links to and provide commentary on articles or essays that I find noteworthy; and in its latter capacity to host my own thoughts and arguments on the role of religion in public and private life.
And as you've no doubt noticed, I've already lapsed into "exploring" and "germinating" -- that is, into that familiar argot of inter-religious discourse. I'm sure there will be plenty of dynamic informed conversation and intersecting perspective in this column; I earnestly hope not to weave any rich tapestries of experience, but I suppose accidents do happen. In any case, I do intend to consider new ways of thinking and talking about discipleship and citizenship, and perhaps introduce a new metaphor or two into the public discourse. I hope you'll join me.
11/16/2010 5:00:00 AM