A Necessary Conversation
The recent shooting in Wisconsin at a Sikh Temple has many wondering if religiously-rooted violence is about to erupt, or if this is one of the dying gasps of intolerance as our world continues to become a more hospitable place.
I would like to lean toward the latter, but realize we have a long ways to go.My own experience in interfaith conversations, as highlighted in my new book, Pub Theology, is that we need to work toward listening and learning, rather than antagonizing.
A few comments by young people of various faith traditions highlight as much (from an article in the Huffington Post):
Hannah Shirey, Christian, New York, USA
Through the pain, I have been reminded of the deep gratitude I feel for my time spent at a Sikh NGO this last year.
As we move forward, I am inspired by Sikh scripture that calls devotees to “recognize the human race as one” and by Jesus of Nazareth’s famous words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” In our differences and our pain we are all interconnected and we all are capable of being peace-builders.
Nomi Teutsch, Jewish, Jerusalem, Israel
The injunction to “love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt” is one of the most central teachings of my Jewish faith. To me, this speaks to the connection that all minorities have to one another. We must not only feel hurt and anguish, but rather remember to transform those feelings into standing up for other groups in their times of need.
I spent the last year working at UNITED SIKHS along with Hannah Shirey, and I became more and more connected to Sikhi’s message of equality and openness each day. I pray that Sunday’s devastating events remind us all to get to know the strangers in our midst so that we may love them.
Sana Rahim, Muslim, Chicago, USA
On Aug. 5, ignorance and hatred materialized into a tragedy that will be etched in my memory for years to come. Last night, I went to my local gurdwara and stood in solidarity with the Sikh community as an American Muslim. While the Quran stipulates that our differences exist so that we “may come to know one another,” it is only when our friendships compel us to action that we truly begin to challenge the status quo.
Eric Farr, Bahá’í, Toronto, Canada
As a Bahá’í, I commit myself to helping usher in a day when people of every race and religion will look at each other with an understanding and protective love akin to what we feel for the members of our own family. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers for my brothers and sisters of the Sikh Faith affected by the tragic events of this past Sunday.
Immy Kaur, Sikh, Birmingham, UK
The last few years have seen me move from skeptical to utterly convinced about the need for interfaith interaction, friendship and shared experience. During this painfully difficult time as a community, I have been touched by the global outpouring of love and support towards the Sikh community. The state of Chardi Kala by the American Sikh organizations leaves me yet again in awe of my brothers and sisters across the shores.
An excerpt from the introduction of Pub Theology calls for this needed conversation together:
My argument in this book is simple: good things happen when we sit down at the same table together and talk honestly about things that matter — and frankly, having a beer doesn’t hurt. We don’t need to agree on whatever it is that we discuss — that isn’t even the point. The point is that we are all stuck here together on this planet (for the unforeseeable future) — and we might as well get to know each other while we’re here. My sense is that more and more people are hungry for this. People of all backgrounds are opening up about the broadness and diversity of thought and belief around them. And I sense that there is a growing desire for this among my fellow Christians as well. People are ready. Ready to see openness happen in their own lives and communities. Ready to move beyond fear to understanding. Ready to take a brave step forward in learning to live out their own faith honestly and with integrity in the increasingly pluralistic and global world we find ourselves in.
Here’s the good news. It’s happening. In conversation. At the pub. Over beer. From London to New York to Ann Arbor, people are gathering to communicate, connect, and learn from one another over the topic of religion and theology, of all things.
In the past we’ve typically assumed that if you want to find God, going to church is the place to go. I wonder if this is still the case. It seems to me that God is breaking out of churches everywhere. In fact, some would say that’s not the best place to find him. Given the places Jesus frequented, that shouldn’t surprise us (hint: he never went to church!). It turns out that a pub creates a perfect setting in which to encounter people who are interested in spiritual topics, philosophy, life, and — yes — theology, and they are open to being honest about it. For some, it even becomes a place to encounter God himself.
Let me be up front that I write this as a Christian. But I write in the hope that readers of any perspective, religious or not, might garner something from these pages. Further, my hope is that as you read you will encounter a shift toward a more chastened, humble, and inviting Christianity — one that will have a seat at the table in the important conversations our world is having. Unless we are willing to first listen and make space for the other, we won’t be invited. Here you will find real life stories, real people, real questions — many gleaned from conversations and encounters during actual Pub Theology gatherings. These recollections will attempt to give flesh and bones to this needed shift.
Where is God?
Who is God?
What do other religions say?
What do those who’ve given up on God say?
Turns out agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, humanists, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans and many others have wonderful traditions that have wrestled with these very questions for centuries. It’s time we start to listen. If you’re tired of pat answers that exclude wrestling and doubt while presuming certainty in the face of serious questions, welcome to the club. I wrestle with these issues in my own life. I wouldn’t be surprised if you do as well. I hope you’ll find encouragement and ideas here toward living out a more global faith.
How are you engaging those around you who have different ideas about God, faith, and life?
Here’s to more good conversations. We need them.