On the Capitol and who defines Christianity

Even though I’ve deconstructed to the point where a lot of the people I grew up around would deny that I could be a Christian, I still feel very protective of Jesus and the idea of Christianity. I feel a weird sense of obligation to speak out when other Christians think it’s appropriate to carry a “Jesus Saves” flag as they storm the Capitol after a free and fair election. When Franklin Graham tweets that both sides need to bear responsibility for Wednesday’s events, I feel the need to say something. I have heard far too much comparison of America with God’s chosen people, a city on the hill, a light to all the world, and I’ve heard the words of the Bible get twisted to support American exceptionalism. (This could be a whole other post on Christian nationalism, which I loudly decry, but I won’t dive into that now). But suffice to say, I am OVER it.

The Bible has been used as a weapon all too often – keeping women and LGBTQ people down, propping up evangelicals’ ideas of purity (sexual and a variety of other areas, including ideological), creating a limited salvation narrative. A lot of people who have experienced religious trauma feel unable to come back to the book that has been behind a lot of their hurt, and I understand that inclination and respect it.

But in the place I stand now, I feel able to read the Bible with a new set of eyes. I want to yell in a megaphone, “FRANKLIN GRAHAM, READ YOUR BIBLE!” (find me on Twitter @corlowski428 to read my tweet response). I want to point out all the passages that talk about justice, and caring for the poor, and warning how wealth leads to corruption. I am currently preparing for a sermon on Micah 6, so I read all of Micah (it’s a short book). Micah is a prophet living in an era with corrupt rulers and unjust judges and self-serving people (sounds familiar, no? Though I know people on “both sides” will nod their heads, while only applying this to the “other side”…). A few passages really struck me:

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!

[The Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat the swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 3:9-10; 4:3-5
  • Cue one of my favorite songs from HAMILTON – Washington expresses his desire to sit under his own vine and fig tree and every time I hear it my heart just… melts. (it’s at minute 2:15). If you watch it, do me a favor and finish this post, ok?

Anyway, I digress. Though Hamilton is related in the quest for a good government. Back to Micah.

So how RADICAL is that? The prophet could literally be talking about us in the United States. A noble and honorable nation in many ways, yet built with injustice and blood (for instance, slavery and Native American genocide). A nation that still denies equity and justice for all too many of its inhabitants. We had to have an attempted coup / insurrection to wake up way too many of our national leaders to realize they have been following a corrupt, solely self-interested leader. Or at least make them abandon what they now realize is a sinking ship.

What Micah is reassuring me with has to do with the words I bolded: the promise of peace, the lure of God’s justice, an eventual time where people are treated fairly and there is equity in the land. I don’t know how my read-the-Bible-literally evangelicals did it, but they somehow skipped all the economic justice that is literally ALL OVER the Bible. Micah makes me believe again that these things – the ways of God’s justice – are something we should be working toward right now, and that they are possible.

So you know what I say? TAKE BACK THE BIBLE. It has been used as a weapon for far too long. I definitely don’t read it literally, and I see it as a human document but with a lot of divine inspiration. Read it how you feel led. I read it how I said and I still feel its power and the weight of its moral authority. Not in every verse (as I said, I believe it’s written by man), but in a lot of it. It doesn’t need to be literally true for it to be real, meaningful, and significant.

We can’t let the marchers on the Capitol define Christianity with their “Jesus Saves” signs. But don’t deny that if we (“we” in this instance being Christians who do not identify with Trumpism, or Christian nationalism, or think we’re “not racist”) do not speak up and act, we are part of the problem. There is no “but that’s not me! That doesn’t represent me!” if you are not actively working to change things. I know it can be scary. But silence is complicity. You get to decide where are all the places you are not silent, but you must do something. Start small and build from there.

Micah boldly spoke what I’m sure were unpopular words at the time. But he’s still making a difference in our lives today. Where will we each begin?

[Thanks to Jacob Izmaylov on Unsplash for the cover photo]

Writing a Book!

I lay the baby down for her nap, re-microwave (yes… the “re” is intentional; #momlife) my coffee, and settle down on the corner of the couch that will probably have a permanent imprint from my butt by the time this book is done. This has been my life most every day I am home with the baby for the last several months, as I urgently try to churn out this book that I feel so passionate about.

I began writing my spiritual memoir back in 2013, writing that now feels like the AOL / dial-up internet version of the book I am working on now. I have been transforming those memoir pieces into a book that examines fundamentalist evangelical Christianity and how it so frequently creates trauma in its adherents. I didn’t initially know I was writing a book with a focus on religious trauma. I discovered this in the writing process, as I re-experienced what it felt like to believe the old things and live my old life, and how much my emotions still often existed in this old space. What that looked like is that at times while writing this book, I was irrationally angry, shame-filled, depressed, and basically felt like I was flailing about for reasons I didn’t understand. Until I put together the puzzle pieces (with some help from friends) and realized I actually was processing some of the old traumas that my old faith put me through. “The only way out is through,” as the saying goes, and I was going through.

Trauma exists on a spectrum, and some of us have experienced BIG traumas from religion, some just a little, and some (miraculously?) none at all. In my book I try to help reframe the conversation around religious trauma to help people realize it doesn’t exist only in spaces that seem overtly traumatic – sexual abuse in churches comes to mind as an tragic example – but even in the very belief systems we are told MUST be true. Religious trauma can result in feelings of shame and excessive guilt related to religious experiences or beliefs; struggling to think independently (and without fear and guilt) after being told what to believe throughout your life; reactivity at old religious symbols, songs, practices, etc… and more!

The system I was raised in promised itself to be loving and grace-filled, while underneath this enticing surface, it was actually fear and shame-based, offering a controlling belief system and theology. There was only one correct way to believe, one atonement theology that was true (substitutionary penal atonement, for you theology nerds out there), and a multitude of right actions we needed to take in order to remain in the church’s good graces. We had to believe in a “loving” God who didn’t seem all that loving when you peeked under the surface, but this was not a reality we could ever bring ourselves to question.

This is not true freedom. This is not real grace.

Have you deconstructed your faith? Do you feel this began because of intellectual reasons or emotional ones? (or both!) Are you familiar with the concept of religious trauma, and if so, do you think this would apply to you?

[Visit www.religioustraumainstitute.com to take a survey helping them understand how people have been impacted by trauma!]

Review: “In the House of Friends”

In the House of Friends: Understand and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in the Christian Church.

Cults, spiritual abuse, religious trauma. We might think of things that happen in books or only in extreme circumstances, but Ken Garrett presents a very cogent explanation of what it looks like when this shows up in churches and denominations we might not expect it to. First we must redefine “cult” from a deviant group with an unorthodox or heretical belief system, to a situation (in the book a church, but could also be a political organization, family, or even psychotherapy!) where a leader manipulates those with less power using controlling or coercive tactics. “Spiritual abuse” may be a more digestible term. Garrett shares his personal story of his family’s involvement in a cultish but theologically normative church, and the damage it inflicted on his family. This book is very important for pastors, counselors, or leaders who will likely be providing spiritual care to those fleeing such situations, because they need to be educated on what the abusive power dynamics look like. However, it is also important for anyone who has experienced trauma occurring in a situation with a manipulative, controlling other. The book is engaging, informative, and a fast read. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the danger of narcissism in leaders, thought control, psychological manipulation, or religious trauma.

Find the book on Amazon

Learn more about spiritual abuse in the forum that the author himself founded

#InTheHouseOfFriends

“Cory and the Seventh Story” Review!

If you’re seeking a story friendly enough for children that’s also packed full of meaning for kids and adults alike, take a peek inside Cory & the Seventh Story. Authors Brian McLaren (of progressive Christian renown) and Gareth Higgins (writer and co-founder of the Wild Goose festival) teamed up to challenge us to consider the “seventh story” that provides a more compassionate, life-enriching path than the six stories our society has handed down to us.

Cory the raccoon and the other critters wrestle with how to navigate life in the village where the following six stories entrap: domination, revolution, isolation, purification, victimization, and accumulation. Each of those “stories” (ways of finding security in the world) is told in narrative form so that even kids can grasp the concepts. Things are looking pretty dreary due to this life-draining stories when a messiah-like figure in the form of a horse shows up. She offers a seventh story of reconciliation and of believing that we are better together than we are divided. Of course, as it goes with messiahs, some animals really don’t like this, and we start to get nervous about what will happen to her…

This is a timely book for our era (or any era, as we see how each of these stories have been around for a long time). It’s a beautiful and sensitive way to introduce kids to challenging topics they might hear about on the news or that happen globally, while giving them hope for something better. Illustrator Heather Harris creates charming and imaginative scenes that are a treat for the eyes. I highly recommend this book, whether you have kids or not. It would make a great resource for home, school, and churches / houses of worship alike.

Check out these sites:

About the book: https://www.theseventhstory.com/kids
Brian McLaren’s website
Gareth Higgins’ website

Thoughts on the New Zealand massacre from a counselor

Obviously you know the news by now from New Zealand: 50 people killed. Muslim worshippers at two different mosques. Suspected gunman with white supremacist, anti-Muslim beliefs with 5 legally purchased weapons, two of which were semi-automatic assault rifles. Hopefully, regardless of your own religious affiliation, your heart is broken and you are outraged.

I remember how shaken I felt after the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. The death count of this new massacre is nearly as high, but this time it is on the opposite side of the world and against people of a religion most of us do not identify with. What impact does this have on our concern? Our compassion? Or the ever-timely question of what we can do to make change?

I recall to mind exchanges I used to have with a counseling client, a boy nearing adolescence who was quite small for his age but quite big for his britches. Now, typically my approach is very client-centered and client-led, and I create a lot of space for the person’s beliefs and working out issues at their own pace, not the pace I wish they would go at. I was very challenged by this with this client.

One day my client came in complaining about, and even mocking, some of the new neighbors on his street and the kids in his class. He hated their accents. He hated how they weren’t up to speed on the American things he found important. My client (who was, by the way, a quarter black and I wondered about the internalized racism he must experience) lived in a very white suburb and to the best of my knowledge, it seemed this suburb was suddenly and uncomfortably diversifying particularly with a population of immigrants who also happened to be Muslim. My client’s family did not like this.

Sounds like New Zealand. Sounds like America.

My client would sometimes tell me about the things he was learning from his stepgrandma and how he was learning to distrust all the things he was learning in his public school. She told him the textbooks he studied were wrong. She told him that Democrats were actually the party of racists. She told him that the Qu’ran was filled with commandments to kill the infidel and about jihad and that Muslims were dangerous, bad people.

I remember the first time I met a Muslim and actually got to know her. I was raised on the same rhetoric that my client was hearing, and I learned a very one-sided view of Islam. I also came of age around the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which shaped my understanding of who Muslims were. In college, I was befriended by a sweet Muslim girl, because she happened to be the dorm neighbor of my best friend. She wore a head scarf almost all the time but would sometimes take it off in the safety of the all-female dorm hall. She had a smile to melt your heart, a warm and kind spirit, and a disarming tendency that drew you in. At the age of 18, my encounters with her were my first step toward a radical change in my exclusivistic Christian views and toward interfaith thinking.

Meanwhile, these recent encounters with my client became blood pressure-raising, cheeks-flushing 45 minute sessions. As I said, I typically interfere little with belief systems of clients, but I could not stay silent while he spouted off the rhetoric – propaganda – that he was picking up from a parental figure who was probably getting her own news from extraordinarily biased sources. I tried to challenge him on his notions of Islam, explaining what else Islam stood for: peace, respecting others, loving God. I even reminded him that his own Bible held some pretty ugly passages, but we generally choose to not focus on them. I questioned him on the blatant prejudice of categorizing “all” people of a certain group because he had a negative interaction with one of them.

I couldn’t not speak. I questioned whether it was okay to insert myself in such ways, but I also recalled the values I have promised to live by as a counselor to be culturally sensitive and stand up for the oppressed.

I don’t know if what I said in our conversations made any impact on him. I don’t know if the color of his own skin or his remarkable intelligence might one day have him think twice about people he perceives as outsiders or different, or if he will adopt defense mechanisms of paranoia and projection and view the “other” as evil and dangerous. But I knew then as well as I know now that the line of thinking he was following was not just discriminatory, not just hateful, but has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.

So how will we respond to this latest tragedy? Can our country self-examine and quit deceiving ourselves that policies like an attempted “Muslim ban” and broadly referring to neighbors across the southern border as “bad hombres,” gang members, rapists, and murderers might actually be part and parcel of the very same fabric from which this mass murderer arose? Might we admit that “nationalism,” as we understand it today, is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be? Can we understand that when a significant portion of our country thinks the Qu’ran is only filled with hate for the infidel and assumes that to be Muslim is equivalent to being a terrorist, that we are all in danger and the worse off for it? Both because of people like this recent shooter and because actual terrorist organizations thrive off of angry, skewed views of Muslims?

Can our churches respond and say “We stand with Muslims”? Can we boldly proclaim that we are all God’s children and the heart of God and our own heart breaks with the loss of life and the proliferation of hate?

We are not left with our hands tied, regardless of how many time zones away this tragedy is this time. The problem is in our own backyards as well. What are we willing to risk to send the message that love – love of the neighbor, love of the stranger, love of the immigrant, love of the Muslim – is stronger than the hate that constantly threatens to divide and even kill us?

Review: The Disfiguration of Nature: Why Caring for the Environment is Inherently Conservative

In his provocative, controversial-at-times book, James Krueger makes his case why environmentalism is inherently a conservative cause. He prefers the term “conservation” to make clear the word’s ties to conserving and conservatism. This book is of supreme relevance in a time when political divisions are becoming starker, nuance feels like a relic, and we seem to have forgotten how to submit to one another for the good of the whole. At times his rhetoric is abrasive and grating, especially when he adds in inflammatory topics of LGBTQ and abortion rights. But don’t give up and throw the book aside. We already do too much of that in our inabilities to truly dialogue anymore. Krueger has much of value to say and it is important to at least be open to his challenges, lest we only wall ourselves into echo chambers of those who think and believe just like we do.

Krueger’s main premise is that our political identities have strayed far from their origins, and both sides now believe in the goodness of progress (however that is defined) regardless of cost (e.g., neoliberalism), and very often to the detriment of the very earth we live on. He re-defines (or rather hearkens back to) definitions of conservative and liberal. “Conservatives” were once defined as those who use tradition as a guide for the future, who strongly value family life and other social organizing systems that keep us beholden to one another, and who prioritize morality and personal integrity (p. 6). “Liberalism,” as he defines it, prioritizes progress for the sake of progress, supports technological advances, and a market- and profit-driven system that is given free reign by a limited government (p. 7). Clearly, our conservative and liberal political parties have moved a tad from such origins. Today’s Republican party has much more of a libertarian instead of a conservative ideology, and both parties swim somewhere in the soup of classical liberalism. Because of this, classical conservatism has been lost.

A conservative by his new / old definition, Krueger is not against a government with authority to set limits on businesses and provide social safety nets for the vulnerable in society. He acknowledges that big business is very poor at self-regulation and believes it is the role of government to set the needed limits that then benefit all instead of the few. What is important to him is respecting the laws and limits of nature and being humble about our own place in the world.

Krueger brings in LGBTQ and abortion issues because these are often, for Republican voters, issues that keep them away from a pro-environment vote (which is now solely the realm of Democrats). He does not support governmental promotion of LGBTQ or abortion rights, because he believes that both of these issues go against laws of nature and traditional moral principles. In some ways, especially with LGBTQ rights, I feel he is setting up a straw man argument (though it may appeal to today’s conservatives) about what the LGBTQ population wants: the destruction of the marriage institution, sex and sexuality becoming un-sacred and used solely for one’s personal pleasure, without concern to how we are responsible to one another in relationship. Perhaps it is my own personal experience of knowing so many married or monogamously committed, and very often Christian, LGBTQ couples that this argument barely makes sense to me. He also assumes there is no biological basis to homosexuality, whereas I do not think you can make such an argument based on what we witness even in the rest of the animal kingdom. On the issue of abortion, I give him credit that he supports much more social, governmental support for single mothers who keep the babies they are not ready for. I too wish for this and wish the Republicans could take this up as a pro-life issue.

Krueger’s book is a thin volume but very densely and academically written. It is not for the faint of heart if you fear being challenged, inspired, and even angered all in the same chapter. I do not agree with all of what he has written, yet I still want to shout the underlying message from the rooftops: Conservation is not an inherently liberal issue! Conservatives need to take up the issue of conservation! We have no time (or land, or water, or air) to waste!

Those of us who live in small towns, who naturally have more connection to the land and may either farm or know farmers nearby, easily understand this. My own town of Bellefontaine, Ohio has a free recycling program, has reduced their trash waste by 24% just this last year, and many people compost in their own backyards. They also tend to vote Republican. Conserving and being a conservative are not mutually exclusive.

So what is it we must do? In my opinion, people on both sides of the aisle must stop monolithic thinking and bring some humility to the table. Democrats, especially big-city Democrats, must gain respect for the giant red swath of America in the heartland, the people who are often much more intimately connected with the land and submission to the cycles of earth. Republicans need to recall their roots and end the unhealthy marriage to big-business interests and false individual autonomy (e.g. through lowering taxes no matter the cost) that has somehow come to define them.

Additionally, I appreciate Krueger’s bold yet hard-to-swallow stance that we cannot continue our technological race forward that serves to consume more and more resources, even when we try and commit to using renewable resources in our gluttonous consumption. A lesson that seems most difficult for Americans to learn is that we cannot have it all, we should not have it all, and we must stop thinking we can have it all instantly. I’m only a fish swimming in this same water yet I know this greedy desire is one of our great moral downfalls. Are we willing to give up our pride, our greed, and be willing to submit to each other and to the earth in time to rescue our planet from destruction?

Woodpecker

Winter, long and melancholy,
has kicked up its feet;
Stretched out, it’s here to stay,
an unwelcomed guest in the home of my soul

Poetry reminds me of life beyond this gray
I crave the greens, blues, whites, and yes even grays
of the places I used to live and love
recalling the girl it feels I only used to be

Then one day –
barely perceptible, a milder breeze on my face
a little sunshine through the clouds
a woodpecker drums furiously on a tree

Buds push through the dirt, too early
yet stubbornly seeking light anyway
The earth turns, we stretch towards the sun
I stretch toward tomorrow

And the woodpecker reminds me,

Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat
He insists on now,
insists on cracking open the moment of today.

TURN YOUR ALARM SYSTEM OFF!

Two women, worlds apart, are talking.

“It is hard to listen to me?”

“It’s not hard. I have my alarm system turned off.”

On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Arlie Hochschild

You know the feeling. My alarm system is on almost all of the time, so much so that I don’t even realize I have an alarm system. My hackles get raised when Fox & Friends plays on the gym’s TV during my morning workout, or when I think people are going to speak derogatorily about immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, Millennials, etc. Such things are my alarm system finely tuned to.

Our church is doing a book study called “Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism,” by Carolyn Helsel. Talk about an opportunity for alarm bells! “Anxious” is an appropriate word: we can be anxious that we will say something offensive, anxious that the conversation is going to devolve into politics, anxious that someone else is going to say something that really gets under our skin and our face will flush and we will try and talk honestly about systemic racism without being written off as a naïve, bleeding-heart liberal (oh whoops, was that just me??).

What would happen if we could just listen to people without alarm systems going off? With the understanding that others will say things we don’t agree with, but that we don’t have to let this hurt us. They got to their positions and beliefs somehow, just as we got to ours.

Don’t think I’m suggesting we just roll over and play dead when the “other side” starts raising its voice. Not at all. I firmly believe in the importance of truth-telling, honesty, and objectivity. But I’m also aware that facts do little to change people’s opinions when their emotions point them a different way.

Sometimes giving facts to emotion-driven people is about as useful as this dog is presently being.

Our brains are ruled by confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is not exactly objective: it feigns objectivity while really just reinforcing what we already believe at an emotional, gut level. We want so badly to understand the world we live in and make it a safe, habitable place. We make it safe by making it small. Once we think we understand something, we try and fit in all new pieces of information into the systems we have already worked out for ourselves. This has been our survival strategy for millennia upon millennia: we had to quickly learn how to categorize stimuli into “safe” and “not safe,” so we could, you know, act quickly and not get eaten by bears or stomped on by wooly mammoths.

Admit it. You don’t want to be stomped either.

So what can help us increase our capacity for feeling safe – and also for helping others feel safe?

There are many routes to do this. Just being aware of our own hyperaroused alarm system is a step. I would add in cultivating qualities of curiosity, compassion, empathy, and openness.

Cultivating openness.

Retrieved from www.pickthebrain.com

For me, spirituality helps inform the approach to the “other.” In non-dualistic ways of being (which I would describe, in part, as the place God dwells), the distinction between “self” and “other” is a false dichotomy. We are somehow deeply interconnected even with those who feel like enemies. Yes, that means I’m even connected with Trump. My ego may throw a little fit about that and my surface-level skin might crawl, but the deeper part of me has compassion for the both of us because we’re just human, trying to get by. Our wounds are different. He has a little more power (in the traditional sense) than I do. He has more of a temper than I do. But a belief I hold is that we are both image-bearers of the divine, muddled as that image may be.

I thought about inserting a pic of Trump instead… but I like this better.

Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of spirituality is navigating the path between the contemplative knowledge that we are all connected and everything is, ultimately, okay — with the reality that we are in a world where real-life issues need to be addressed, people’s rights need to be protected, where the poor, broken, and wounded receive real-life healing. I’m not saying I have the answers. But I believe we need both parts to be fully human. Hating the perpetrator while tending to the victims does not actually bring about the beloved community.

These are hard words to swallow. I write them and I want to believe them, but it is so difficult to live into. But if we can, we find the alarm system is suddenly a relic. We don’t have to hate and be alarmed by the other. And then, maybe then, will our world start to become the place we so desperately need it to be.

A new tagline; a clarified mission

My best friend and her wife were in town this weekend when we had the happy coincidence of a big, gnarly snowstorm holding us all hostage in our house. This meant we were trapped inside with them, forced to play multiple games of Carcassone and Sequence, eat copious amounts of cookies, cook hearty Southern food, and talk shop about the Enneagram. I know. Rough times, right?

Having them around gives me the chance to have long conversations about topics of interest to me (I love my husband dearly, but he’s more of a doer, not much of a conversationalist…). One realization I had (am having) is the surprisingly little amount of insight I sometimes feel I have into myself. For instance, although I know the Enneagram pretty well, I have the worst time knowing (or staying on) what type I am. I’ve been very good at persuading my listener that I am really a certain type, only to change my mind a couple months later. What that means to me is that sometimes I identify so strongly with an idea of what/who I am, that it is hard to step back and see the stable, unchanging Self that lies underneath all the preconceptions I hold about myself.

In that same vein, this weekend I realized that the tagline I had for my blog is misleading. Not intentionally, of course, but rather because I thought it was what I was about – or what I was supposed to be about. My tagline was “thoughtful explorations of spirituality, psychology, and their intersections,” as you may recall. After all, I’m a counselor, and I feel myself to be spiritually inclined and want to write about it. So that’s what I do, right?

Actually, no. When I take a cursory look at the podcasts I listen to, the books I gravitate to (currently just dived in to Karen Armstrong’s A History of God), and the things I often write about on here, I have a different inclination. I unabashedly enjoy writing about theological issues. I particularly enjoy looking at those issues through a lens of culture: both our modern culture, and the culture in which ancient texts were written.

I have a passion that cannot be extinguished (at least it hasn’t been, yet) for the urgency of not letting constricting theologies and religious views lead society around like a bull on a nose ring. My heart quickens when I think about helping free an enslaved Christendom from its patriarchal, colonial, xenophobic, unbridled capitalistic chains, and help restore it to the justice-for-the-oppressed, freedom-for-the-enslaved, dividing-walls-broken-down, grace-filled emancipator that Christianity was meant to be.

Retrieved from Stock Photos

That is what I feel called to write about here. Sure, I might say things that some perceive as polarizing, or too political, in ways that writing about psychology would not have me do. But look at our world around us. Is the time not an urgent now?

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever felt you were “supposed” to do one thing but realized your heart was drawn toward another? Have you ever realized your conceptions of yourself were really misconceptions – and humbly chose your new way? Have you ever felt you must speak, but were afraid to, but maybe you did it anyway? My heart extends toward you, anonymous you, because I know your struggles to do so are probably greater than mine. This is no easy work. My hope is we push toward truth and emancipation together.

May we courageously step out into the unknown.

Intra- and inter-faith conversation in an age of division

Our world is undeniably diversifying. Our “tribes” of people who used to be separate and not in contact with one another are now rubbing shoulders more often, working at the same workplaces, living down the street from each other. There is still resistance to this encounter with the other, of course, but it seems inevitable that this pattern will only continue this way in the long run. One question this can raise for people is: what do we do about encounters with people of other faith? Do we pretend they don’t exist? Do we convert them? Will they convert us? Or is there a way to engage in productive conversation and respectful learning from one another?

Susan Strouse, author of INTRAfaith Conversations: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves About INTERfaith Matters?, has created a guide for church members and leaders who are interested in doing the work of inter- and intrafaith learning. Strouse was (at time of writing her book) a Lutheran minister in California who is passionate about facilitating interfaith conversations. She has her DMin (doctor of ministry degree), and it appears much of her research for her doctoral thesis made it into the book. The pages are replete with all kinds of references and there are helpful appendices at the end. That being said, her writing is scholarly but not stuffy, and the book is very approachable. (My regret is I wish I had the hard copy version instead of the electronic version, because there’s so much information packed in!)

Having an interfaith conversation, or learning about interfaith matters, is altogether distinct from having an ulterior goal of wanting to convert the other faith-holders. Thus, for Christians (for whom evangelizing is often a big concern), there are many resistances that might be had about doing interfaith conversations. Strouse adeptly addresses questions that arise, such as “How do I stay true to my faith if I’m not trying to convert the other person?” or “But what about how the Bible says, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?” She encourages the questions to be vocalized in congregations, because that is the whole point of an intrafaith dialogue. There are no single answers to the questions; no one “right” perspective to hold.

Strouse lays out some different frameworks for thinking about religious diversity. One such framework is pluralism spectrum: one end being exclusivist (e.g., faith in Jesus as described by Christianity is the only way for salvation); a middle ground of inclusivism (e.g., other faiths can hold their own beliefs, but it is the saving grace and way of Jesus that ultimately saves them, for that grace is for all regardless of if they choose it), or pluralistic (other religions are authentic paths on their own terms, regardless of if they include Jesus or not). Simply to have a framework to form one’s thoughts within can help people identify more clearly where they are at and be able to communicate to others their stances on issues. No position is declared right or wrong in the interfaith dialogue, but the intrafaith conversation allows for deeper self-understanding.

Strouse goes much further into other issues on the interfaith and intrafaith landscape, including the rise of the spiritually independent, how to do theology in an interfaith context, mysticism and the contemplative heart, and more practical aspects of how to actually host the dialogues.

I strongly believe one of the best antidotes to fear and hatred of the other is having actual person-to-person contact with the other, or at least taking the opportunity to be directly educated by the other (letting them teach you about their experiences. We can do this through reading if need be.). Strouse points out that we must not compare our best with their worst, but our best with their best. In an era seeming beset by division and skepticism about the “other side,” I wish that we could all be as humble and gracious to learn from others different us, yet as grounded in our own tradition to teach others the best of our best.

I wonder what you, my reader, think of the inter- and intra-faith dialogue. I wonder if these are issues you have thought about, or if you have wrestled with the theology behind it (I’m aware not everyone gets as excited about theology as I do…). What symbol might you choose to represent where you are? Would it be a picture with multiple religious symbols? A symbol of only your particular religion? Maybe a cross-shaped umbrella, sheltering all other religions (the “inclusivist” position)? Wherever you find yourself, this is a conversation worth having!

This is a book review for Speakeasy. I receive certain books for free in exchange for providing an honest review. If you have more curiosity about joining Speakeasy yourself, leave me a comment!

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