coexist.

mjkimpan  —  September 5, 2012 — 26 Comments


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.

why did jesus, moses, the buddha, and mohammed cross the road? :: christian identity in a multi-faith world
by brian d. mclaren

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Would Jesus push Moses aside and demand to cross first, claiming that his ancestor’s failed religion had been forever superseded by his own?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?

he continues,

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.

 

  • Alex T.

    “does sincere faith in the uniqueness and universality of jesus christ require one to see other faiths as false, dangerous or even demonic?”

    Yes–specifically false. Bits of truth can be found anywhere, but I believe following Jesus includes seeing him as the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14) I am not discouraging dialogue. In fact, I think healthy dialogue is probably one of the best ways to go into the world preaching the good news.

    I am currently studying Islam in a class at school and love when we come across verses that resonates with teachings I know and love. I would love to be able to talk about the ideas that are shared within these separate religions, but I wouldn’t feel like I was really loving those I dialogued with if I didn’t share with them that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Living Word, and the one whom through all things were created.

    It seems the questions presented in this book come from a genuine heart to love people, but the road Christians seek to walk on is narrow. We should love people unconditionally as Jesus did and does, but we should also not be afraid to speak what is true like Jesus.

    • http://www.mjkimpan.com/ michael j. kimpan

      thanks for sharing your thoughts, alex. as we’ll explore in my upcoming blog series http://www.mjkimpan.com/basics-an-introduction/ (and is hopefully evident in my previous posts), i am certainly not ashamed of jesus and his gospel – in fact, i’ve written a post on just that here http://www.mjkimpan.com/jesus-and-the-gospel/

      my concern comes with the way in which we often ‘stand for truth’ as christians – that often times our posture and tone does not foster further dialogue with other faiths, but rather ends conversations.

      balancing those desires is certainly a tension to be managed, and surely a reason mclaren’s book will resonate with so many while alienating others. my hope is to explore how best to proceed as one who identifies as a christ follower while being committed to inter-faith dialogue.

      thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts, alex! i’m certainly looking forward to your input and insights along the way as we dive deeper into this discussion.

  • @OdysseyMamaC

    I haven’t read this book yet, but your post immediately brought to mind one of my most beloved literary characters: Pi Patel, from Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. Young Pi lives in India and he simultaneously falls in love with Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. At one point, the three religious leaders all converge at his home to confront him and demand that he choose one faith. The priest says to Pi’s parents, “I know this boy. He is Piscine Molitor Patel, and he’s a Christian.” The imam replies, “I know him too, and I tell you he’s a Muslim.” And so on. And then there’s Pi, who has found his way to God through all, who says, “I don’t see why I can’t be all three. Mamaji has two passports. He’s Indian and French. Why can’t I be a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim?”

    I think Martel would be an interesting contributor to an interfaith dialogue, don’t you? :-)
    As a Christian, I do believe that the path to God is through Jesus. I also don’t believe that devout Muslims, Jews, etc. who love and serve God are all condemned to eternal hell fires. There are many theories and debates about the specifics of how these two beliefs might work or not, but for me, I okay letting God handle it. I’m just going to try and love people of all faiths the way my Jesus would….making them feel “welcome, safe, and at home” to the best of my ability.
    There are some religious groups that are, without a doubt, “false, dangerous, and demonic.” (I thinking along the lines of cults that promote mass suicides or groups that marry off young girls to abusive men and such. Not quite so interested in coexisting there. )However, I have little tolerance for people who demonize other religions simply because they are different. When I taught high-school English, I always asked my Honors students to read Persepolis, a graphic novel about the Iranian Revolution. As part of the assignment, groups completed research projects on Islam and other major world religions. By the end, students who had always viewed anything non-Christian as inherently evil were engaged in surprised discussions about the striking similarities between our core beliefs.
    As you suggest, “taking a stand” as Christians should be done in a way that shows respect to others and creates a safe place for sharing beliefs. Taking a stand does not mean we should avoid pursuing knowledge and understanding about other beliefs. And it certainly doesn’t mean we should “whup” anyone.
    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. As always, I enjoyed your fabulous writing.

    • http://www.mjkimpan.com/ michael j. kimpan

      thanks so much for sharing. ‘the life of pi’ is a piece that has come up in my recent conversations, so it’s fitting you should bring it up here. as always, i appreciate your thoughts (and apologize it took me so long to respond to this comment!).

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