At noon today, the Cobb Interfaith Spiritual Leaders group will be meeting at the new location for a mosque in Cobb County. (If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same mosque whose request to rent space in a strip mall in Kennesaw was rejected by that city’s Council.)
Our discussion topic today is “What Is the Meaning of Faith?” I broke it down into four parts: (1) What is faith? (2) What is Christian faith? (3) What is Christian faith to me? and (4) the importance of interfaith dialogue.
Here are parts 3 and 4…
What is Christian faith to me?
In November 1999, I and several members of my congregation attended a meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Spewing vitriol, clapping their hands, and stamping their feet, that body of 2,000 delegates voted to disfellowship ours and one other congregation. Still reeling from that devastating experience, I arrived later that evening at the Temple in Atlanta for a gathering where I was to represent the Religious Education Association, an interfaith organization for which I worked. Unable to engage in the small talk I was there to make for my job, I wandered around searching for a place where I could gather my thoughts and feelings from the day.
I found a chapel. It was beautiful–wooden walls, sturdy pews, soft lighting. I was grateful for the quiet space…but after a few minutes, I found myself looking for….a cross. In my head, I KNEW I wouldn’t find a cross in a chapel in the Temple, but my heart…Oh! My heart, my broken spirit needed to see a cross. I needed to know that God felt and knew the suffering I was feeling. For me–for me–the sure sign of God’s acquaintance with suffering was the cross.
That was the moment I knew I was Christian (yes, this was after seminary and after 3 baptisms!). The room in which I sat was holy; I could feel that. But it was made holy by people who connect with God in different ways, with different language than I use to connect with God. In that moment, I knew it is the language, images, and stories of Christian faith that best help me to make sense of my living, in particular, and all of life, in general.
What is the meaning of interfaith dialogue?
I think it’s significant that I first embraced my Christian faith in a Jewish chapel. After years of the faithful filling the space with their prayers, it had become a holy place, a holding place. That room held me and helped me claim my own faith (one, of course, rooted in Judaism :-).
My experience in the chapel at the Temple illustrates well the gift and promise of interfaith dialogue. Though each uses different language, rituals, and stories, all our traditions revere the Holy and all created life. That reverence for the Holy and life is the place where we can connect with each other. Hearing each other speak about our individual faith traditions–that’s the means we have of getting closer to a fuller understanding of both the divine and the created. Interfaith dialogue is not a nice thing to add to our schedules if we have time. It’s not “extra-curricular.” Interfaith dialogue is at the heart of our core curriculum. As we learn more about other faiths, we learn more about our own. Hearing people of other faiths talk about their beliefs and commitments, we are strengthened in our own.
And, as I learned in a Jewish chapel, sometimes by practicing our own faith, we can nurture someone of another faith in their journey.
Peace, shalom, salaam…