By Paul Chaffee
“I’ve just been elected a trustee at the interfaith council – what do I need to know?”
“I’d like to support friendship between Christians and Muslims in our town – but where do I start?”
“The assignment was to study interfaith dialogue – what does that even mean?”
“The editor said I needed to write a profile on this new interfaith taskforce – how do I get up-to-speed on this?”
Libraries of interfaith resources are being published every year, so it’s tempting to throw a bibliography at these queries. A more constructive solution is a treasure trove titled InterActive Faith: the Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook (Skylight Paths, 2008). Three years old now and weighing in at a relatively slim 268-pages, it’s starting to show its age.
Yet as a handbook with practical guidance for old-timers as well as newbies, this book is chock full of information, compelling stories, good advice, networking tools, and resources. In short, it’s the best single resource available for anyone with interfaith interests.
Why this book is valuable
- A 20-page introduction handles personal perspective, definitions, ways to move a good idea into community action, and strategic planning. Worth the price of the book.
- Fifty pages are devoted to reviewing 64 outstanding interfaith organizations with a serious presence on the web. Today over 2000 interfaith ventures have been catalogued in North America, and most of them have a website. Nonetheless, surveying a list of 64 is much easier than trying to swallow everything at once.
- A wonderful chapter introducing the complexities and possibilities of shared worship and prayer puts you light years ahead when you find yourself responsible for organizing next year’s Thanksgiving service or a 9/11 memorial.
- Brief but detailed summaries of ten traditions are valuable. The idea of addressing only ten feels quaint, three years later. But if you are visiting a temple representing a major tradition but new to you, doing a bit of homework here will strengthen new friendships.
For anyone interested in all things interfaith, one short chapter with a curious name is particularly compelling. It’s titled “A Taxonomy of Interfaith,” which means a classification of the different kinds of interfaith activities going on today. If you are involved in an interfaith project, you’ll probably find yourself in one of the 17 categories described and get to see how you are different from other types of efforts.
Thirteen authors contributed to InterActive Faith, edited by Bud Heckman and Rori Picker Neiss, with a forward by Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Their work is all good, but the sum is greater than the parts. My copy is always within arm’s reach.