by Pastor Laurie Larson Caesar
Our Mission of the Atonement community experienced a gorgeous service on the surprising gifts of interfaith conversations and study this first month of 2012. Through the thoughtful words of Mary Follen, Claire Gilbert, Annette Stixrud, Catherine Arnold and Christopher Predeek, we were reminded of so much that needs to be said, clearly and directly, from the pulpit: In our current culture, we are surrounded by neighbors from all over the world. Faithful, humble living takes many faith forms. And, Christ's message - his very life - was rooted in love, healing and listening. It's not that respect for other faith traditions is allowed in our tradition, in other words; it is that Christian hospitality and humility require it!
I was reminded of the life and leadership of one of my mentors, the well-known Lutheran New Testament scholar Krister Stendahl. He served as Dean of Harvard Divinity School in the 1970s, and later, as chair of the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on the Church and the Jewish People, he directed a commission that prepared the way for much important interfaith work of the last 30 years.
"I would,” Bishop Stendahl once said, “apply the same rules for good leadership that I often do for effective interfaith dialogue:
Let the other define herself (‘Don’t think you know the other without listening’)
Compare equal to equal (not ‘my’ positive qualities to the negative ones of the other)
Find beauty in the other so as to develop ‘holy envy’.”
I find that these three principles serve me well, when I remember to live deeply out of them, in my ministry and my life. I have found other practitioners of these principles at Mission of the Atonement. Living in the tension of this Catholic-Lutheran community has taught us the importance of listening, beginning with openness and not defensiveness, and especially the surprising blessings of "Holy Envy."
The twentieth-century theologian Max Warren said it this way:
"Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on their dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival."
A rich and woundrous article: "Why I Love the Bible" by the Rev. Krister Stendahl