I find it curious how the various areas of my life often intersect in the strangest ways, and without any attempt at intentionality on my part. Perhaps it is some strange "law of attraction" - some big "secret" I've yet to discover. But for the moment, I'll just accept it as an intriguing intersect.
Here follows a "for instance . . ."
A couple of weeks ago, my church book club decided that our next book to read would be "The Faith Club" - a book about 3 women, one Christian, one Jewish, and one Muslim, who seek to learn more about each other's faiths and subsequently, each other. This is path number one.
The Frau and I have been totally immersed in the West Wing series since we bought the entire 7 season compilation as a Christmas gift to ourselves. The common phrase around our house when we have an evening at home is, "Well, shall we go to Washington?" Last night, we found ourselves at the beginning of season six, wherein President Bartlett is on a quixotic mission to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Everyone thinks he is on a fool's errand, but he is resolved that he must try to do this thing, regardless of whether his closest staffers vehemently disagree. This path number two.
My school choir is singing a Sephardic (Spanish Jewish) folksong, and in doing a little background reading today to share with the kids, I not only was reminded of the ethnic origins of the Sephardic sect, but marveled that when they were unceremoniously expelled from the Iberian peninsula (Spain/Portugal), that it was the CHRISTIANS that ran them out. There was quite a lot of Muslim influence (from northern Africa) in Spain during the medieval period, and ironically, while their differences were duly noted, the Jewish community actually thrived under Muslim rule. It was only after the Christians assumed the political power position that the Jews found themselves persecuted. So, while "Columbus sailed the ocean blue," Spain and Portugal were great places to live unless you were a Jew. Oddly enough, many of these Jews left the Iberian peninsula for the Baltic peninsula, and in recent years are experiencing the same turmoil there that they did in 1492. These poor people need to find their "happy peninsula." Path number three.
This evening, the Frau and I attended a lecture at a nearby liberal arts university given by guest theologian and writer, Dr. Charles Kimball. The title of the lecture (the same as his book) was "When Religion Becomes Evil." Dr. Kimball specializes in comparative religions, Islam in particular. He is an ordained Baptist minister, whose grandfather was Jewish. So when he says that our experience often shapes our views of God and theology, I believe him. He also encouraged us not to let our experience limit our view of God. He said, and I think this is a fairly accurate quote, "God may be at work in the world in ways that transcend my experience." He went on to say that all of the major religions that have withstood the test of time have one fundamental premise in common - they all start with the belief that "something is wrong" with the human predicament. For the Jew and Christian, that "something" is sinfulness. For the Buddhist, it is ignorance (if you weren't ignorant, you wouldn't need the Buddha to enlighten you). And for the Muslim, it is forgetfulness (it is because you forget who God is, that you fail to live in the way God wants you to live). Much of his discourse revolved around our misunderstandings of these other faith groups, and how we confuse, especially the vast majority of Muslims, with extremist Islamic terrorists. As he said, "a few clever people, bent on a purpose, can wreak great havoc." He also reminded us that "terrorism is the weapon of the weak," used by people who have no power base, so they manipulate to create their "weapon." He closed with a beautiful quote about diversity from the 5th chapter of the Koran, but I wasn't able to jot it down accurately. I'm going to try to find it and post it at a later time. Thus ends path number four.
Now maybe these four "paths," as I've chosen to label them, and my perceived intersections of these paths are significant only to me. But I feel like all roads are intersecting, and I'm on a crash course to a heightened understanding of what these three faith groups have in common. I actually think I'll be including a fourth group along the way and exploring Buddhist/Hindu traditions (I've found myself on at least one side-road of late on a friend's blog exploring fundamental truths from the Bhagavad Gita - and I'm quite sure I've misspelled that, but I digress). I'd truly like to have a better knowledge of the commonalities (as opposed to, but not to preclude, differences) so that I can perhaps glimpse a bit of God's workings in the world that transcend my experience.