Saturday, August 1, 2020

Journeying from Ecumenical to Multi-faith

As a person with disabilities, many of my actions showed others how I was different in a wrong way. Because of my visual impairment, I wasn’t picked for the soccer team at recess, and I was forced to either hang out with others who had diffabilities of their own, or with adults who probably felt sorry for me. As I graduated into high school, my diffabilities became mainstream, my visual impairment was accepted, and I could join others at the 7/11 down the street during my spare blocks if I wanted to. But as a pastor’s kid, in high school, my diffabilities changed from being physical to spiritual ones. I lived a good, evangelical Christian life which was admired and affirmed at home. And at church, I wasn’t on the outside looking in, hoping for acceptance. Instead, I was on the inside, loving the acceptance I was receiving at least one day per week.

On that particular day, I read and listened to reassuring scripture such as John 14:6 where Jesus famously said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father, except through me.” For years, this verse was a delight for me to read. It told me that, despite what did or didn’t happened at school, I was in the in crowd because this was the right thing to believe, and I believed it. But wherever there is an in-crowd, there are those who are kept out, and whether they want to be a part of the in-crowd or not, they aren’t.

As a student chaplain, I have loved learning about the inclusivity of multi-faith. Though this has increased my understanding and belief that God, however we believe in him, can speak to us in ways that are exactly what we need to hear, it also gives me many questions about the verse I loved so much when I was younger. By definition, does multi-faith mean that Jesus is not the way, the truth and the life, but rather simply one way, one truth to find a life that seems ever so elusive? Therefore, I am finding myself at a crossroads. In my desire to affirm all people whom I minister to, am I slowly walking away and denying the faith I was raised with? Am I actually denying Christ, my Saviour, Redeemer and Lord? Or is faith not as black and white an issue as John 14:6 makes Christians believe it is? Is Jesus the Lord who welcomes all of us, or does he only welcome those who are able to accept him as these three things, and if they don’t, are they forever on the outside?

In exegeting this verse, Fr. Richard Roar says that “Jesus is not talking about joining or privileging any group; he is describing the way by which all religions must allow matter and spirit to operate as one, which indeed is the universal way for all people.” In other words, as Gundi has said, “we need to have an appreciative understanding of the other person’s religion” and not discriminate between one faith group and another. This is because, as Imam Jamal of the Three Interfaith Amigos has said succinctly, “when there is discrimination, there is fear.”

As a Canadian, I have been watching from a distance how America has dealt with radical Islamic extremism, and my immediate righteous reaction to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath was, ‘I would never act that way.’ However, since then I have been uncertain what my alternative response would be. Rabbi Ted Falcon knew exactly what the correct response was. On that same day, he contacted his friend Imam Jamal Rahman and invited him to join him at his upcoming shabbat service “because it was crucial to offer a more authentic face of Islam than the face that created the fear of all Muslims.”

However, it’s not always that simple. As Falcon states “every authentic spiritual path is an avenue to a shared universal.” But Interfaith dialogue is often quite difficult because of the “particular and the universal.” It is often at this place where we stop, refusing to move further. But as Falcon continues, “that universal is far greater than any particular path. And when the particular path assumes that it owns the universal . . . we’re in for serious global difficulties.” Therefore, spirituality is, and must remain inclusive.

It has been over a decade since the twin towers fell, and though some people could say they have drawn closer to others of different faiths since then, so many of us have repelled from ‘the other.’ If we repel, Jason Byassee of the Vancouver School of Theology says that we will likely find solace in the scriptures of our own faith. Most of us stop there, deciding to know and be known only by those with whom we are like minded. But As we know our own faith, Byassee says that we are then free to relate with those of other faith traditions with openness and confidence. As we do this, we will realize that we are more alike than we are different. This realization allows Byassee, together with the three interfaith amigos to relate with one another with enjoyment, curiosity and humour. Pastor Don Mackenzie can then conclude that though it is difficult, “true interfaith dialogue can lead to effective collaboration on the moral issues facing our world today.” Though I cannot yet conclude that I am and act as an interfaith believer, I recognize that I am walking the road between Ecumenical and Multi-faith. As I continue to take one step followed by another, I trust that I will indeed get there.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Please Change

As I was waiting for the 240 bus at Georgia and Granville in downtown Vancouver this evening, a street person walked in front of each transit traveller in our line. As he walked along the edge of the curb, like a gymnast on a balance beam, he looked at us in the eye and asked “please change.” Because we were at a central travel hub in Vancouver, and his bare hands were cupped open, we all understood his question as “please give me some change” though he did not utter the three words in the middle.
But after a few minutes, I thought of his plea as a different request. “You, don’t act in your normal way, please change.” “You, well dressed business-woman, please change. Don’t just be concerned about your busy-ness, be concerned about mine too.” “You, cool, self-focussed teenager, who is on his way home after a night of partying, please change. Can you contribute to my party?” “You, well dressed chaplain, please change. Don’t simply be a bringer of religious gobbledygook – as you were a few hours ago. Please bring true good news, and you can start with me.”
About a minute after he asked me this simple, but penetrating question, I regret how I thought, ‘I don’t need to change as much as you do.’ Thankfully, my mouth is not as fast at expressing what my mind is thinking. But as I sat on the bus, now many miles away from the man who changed the thought pattern of my evening, I realized ‘I am not one who needs change, but I am one who needs to change.’ I need to change to become more caring, I need to change to become poorer in spirit, I need to change to become more like the beggar who asks for small things.
Now these questions linger: How do I need to change? What do I need to change into? Who may be able to help me change? Do I want to become more like the one who asks me to change? Or maybe most importantly, do I need to change at all, or can I watch the change around me and join in it?