Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thanksgivingkkah (long overdue post)

This Thanksgiving, my mother set a table for 38 people including 4 generations and many religious identities: United Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Humanist Jews, Hindus, a Buddhist from all over the country and world. Everyone had a seat at one table stretching the room from end to end. My parents built this room for the express purpose of extending hospitality and they call it the "great hall" because it is great to have this many people in one space. This is the room where the Christmas tree stands, where birthdays and milestones are celebrated, where a disco ball hangs each New Year's Eve and many an adult has abandoned all shame and donned a Halloween costume. It truly is a great space, made greater this year by a new festival celebrated in its walls: Hanukkah.

So much hope, yet such a long road to go

This morning, I hold in balance hope and suffering. I just read this article my husband left open on my web browser this morning that makes me beam with pride for my local Jewish community. Featured in the main image is a cousin of my husband who is showing her Muslim sister radical love and hospitality. Our neighboring community of Murfreesboro is struggling with showing mere tolerance for the Muslim community trying to worship there and even recognizing their very American right to do so freely. The Jewish community of Obahai Shalom, a reform congregation led by Rabbi Schiftan, recognized this injustice and acted with compassion and neighborly love. In an effort to show solidarity as minority communities, the two are talking to one another, listening to one another, visiting one another and loving one another. What I see when I read this article is loving kindness and it fills me with hope.

I also hold hope for a wonderful opportunity that is happening tomorrow, Wednesday, February 26 at 6pm at Belmont UMC. Bishop Talbert is coming to speak about Biblical Obedience - as in love, really love everybody, really everybody. He will speak about radical love and hospitality, as he has done throughout his ministry, even if that means bucking the system and breaking the rules. I hold on to the hope his words and presence brings because I also hold suffering.

The United Methodist denomination is struggling with who is lovable and worthy of God's love, who is included and excluded, who has rights and who does not have rights. This debate brings up that hot passion of anger in me especially when I see this article posted on Facebook and "liked." The president of Uganda just signed a law that makes homosexuality a punishable crime and he based this decision on very bad science. He used strong words of judgement and condemnation that challenges my hopefulness. I fear for the people of Uganda and am saddened by this support of bigotry.

Recently, I've read that hope is not an emotion, it's a practice and a behavior. Brené Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, that hope is a behavior that comes out of the perseverance through adversity. The UMC has known adversity before. They've known division and in-fighting. The church once debated over the biblical validity of slavery and women's rights and segregation. We persevered and we have hope. In many parts of the world, Jews and Muslims are enemies. Here in Nashville, we have hope for peace and reconciliation. UM bishops and pastors are breaking the rules and loving radically.

In the words of Wendell Berry, "be joyful, though you have considered all the facts." Today, I will be joyful and hopeful.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Saffron Cross: Reinventing the Wheel

My signed copy with a palm cross given to me by a
sweet friend and a favor from a Hindu wedding
I am so excited I got to see a blogger I've been following for some time now, yesterday at my church! Her name is J. Dana Trent and she recently wrote, and published through the Upper Room, a book about interfaith marriage, Saffron Cross. In it, she writes about her relationship with her husband, which is particularly interesting because she is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and he is a former Hindu monk and ordained Hindu priest! Their marriage is grounded in worshiping together, always.

Their personal story is as inspirational as their attitude about interfaith marriage: done well, being in interfaith relationships, whether with a spouse, friend, or co-worker, can enhance the connection you have with your own religious tradition, while strengthening kinship and community worldwide. We're talking global revolution! Just imagine what could happen if we all listened to each other and opened ourselves up to the idea that there is more than one path to God. 

But listening can be scary! Dana enthusiastically encouraged us sitting there to be brave enough to ask a person we know of a different faith about their faith journey, how they connect with the divine, and about their traditions. The goal is not to dilute one's own faith in finding universalities or to cause confusion, but that in hearing of another's devotion to God, we can be inspired to deepen our own devotion. One reason this occurs through interfaith conversations is because the hard questions are asked: what do you believe, why do you believe, and how do you practice this belief system? "How often do you contemplate these questions," she asked. Digging deep and spending time discerning the answers to these questions deepened and affirmed, strengthened and invigorated her Christian faith instead of challenging it. 

Some of the listeners pushed back. "What about the bible passages that say there is only one way to God, through Christ?" "What about those who will not acknowledge the bible as both a sacred and historical book?" Her and Fred's responses floored me. You could actually see in their faces and countenance just how many people they have encountered who feel exactly this closed off to forming interfaith relationships, how many times they have tried to explain the context of that exact passage in the book of John. But instead of being frustrated and exasperated by those who disagree with them, you could see just how much this couple loves them. They accept, with humility, that each person is on his or her own journey, that their devotion to their form of worship is valid and valued by God. And, with that quiet confidence only humility can afford, they are okay if others do not agree with their faith choices. Wow. 

Hearing Dana speak and reading Saffron Cross reminds me that my husband, son and I are not alone. There are other interfaith families out there reinventing this wheel who give us inspiration and guidance and with whom we can commiserate and grow in this multi-faith journey. I'm excited to see how her book adds to the conversation about interfaith relationships (and not just marital ones) and I hope you join me in reading her book!