i picked up a book with the intent of reading it weeks from now – but after cracking it open a day ago, i can’t seem to put it down.
the ever controversial, often misunderstood and always intriguing brian mclaren brings what could possibly be his most important work to the table of inter-faith dialogue, exposing and challenging the religious hostility that is so often present in today’s christianity and yet unwanted by an increasing number within that faith community.
imagine four of history’s greatest religious leaders…not fighting, not arguing, not damning and condemning one another, not launching crusades or jihads, but walking together, moving together, leading together. quite a sight in our mind’s eye.
mclaren courageously asks the questions that have been at the forefront of many of my own conversations in the context of inter-faith dialogue – noticing how our religion has, over its first two thousand years of existence, ‘spent too little energy making peace and too much erecting and perfecting walls of separation, suspicion and hostility.‘
in the bible we read much about love, but in the various christian subcultures in which i’ve both participated and observed, i continually encounter fear, superiority and hostility of the Other – ‘other’ defined, by mclaren, as anyone who is considered to be an outsider, ‘not one of us,’ belonging to a differing group, gender, orientation, party, community, religion, race, culture or creed.
it is within that context that mclaren asks,
how do you think Jesus would treat Moses, Mohammed, and the Buddha if they came to a crosswalk together?
Would Jesus push Moses aside and demand to cross first, claiming that his ancestor’s failed religion had been forever superseded by his own? Would he trade insults with Mohammed, claiming his crusaders could whup Mohammed’s jihadists any day of the week, demanding that Mohammed cross behind, not beside him? Would Jesus demand the Buddha kneel at his feet and demonstrate submission before letting him cross? Or would he walk with them and, once on the other side, welcome each to a table of fellowship, not demanding any special status or privileges, maybe even taking the role of a servant – hanging up their coats, getting them something to eat and drink, making sure each felt welcome, safe,
and at home?
I have no doubt that Jesus would actually practice the neighborliness he preached rather than following our example of religious supremacy, hostility, fear, isolation, misinformation, exclusion or demonization… Maybe his followers would pull out a sword and slash off their ears, or herd them and their followers into ghettos, concentration camps, or reservations where their influence could be limited. But not Jesus. Never.
characteristically (and more practically), mclaren raises even more questions after this :: how do we dissociate from that hostility without abandoning the [christian] identity? how do we remain loyal to what is good and real in our faith without giving tactic support to what is wrong and dangerous? how do we, as christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon? does sincere faith in the uniqueness and universality of jesus christ require one to see other faiths as false, dangerous or even demonic?
i’ve not finished reading the book, so i don’t yet know if mclaren’s suggested solutions will be met with a hearty approval from myself or my faith community. but i do confidently declare that i wholeheartedly share in his desired end – to bring healing and to awaken a better way within those of us who would consider ourselves to be WayWard followers of jesus ::
This healing won’t come easy. It will require some profound rethinking — repentance, in the sturdiest and best sense of the word. It will, as every important breakthrough does, engender push-back and critique, which will call for humble, thoughtful and patient response.
what about you? what do you think?
* by the way, if the concept of inter religious dialogue is a new one to you, perhaps you’ll find the following video helpful – and as always, i’m curious as to your thoughts.