By Paul Chaffee
WHEN INTERRELIGION GETS PERSONAL
Seasoned workers in the interfaith vineyard rarely deviate when asked what has been most valuable in their interreligious journey – “It’s the relationships” comes back again and again. My Neighbor’s Faith – Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation (Orbis), published this month, takes us into those deep interfaith relationships with 53 religious leaders, teachers, theologians, community leaders, and activists. We’ve heard many of these voices before in their public, academic, or professional roles. In My Neighbor’s Faith, though,we get to hear their personal stories of encountering ‘the other’ and finding their lives transformed.
In the book’s forward, Joan Chittister weighs in personally. She grew up in a Protestant-Catholic Irish home, “a microcosm of the Wars of Religion,” and relates what it took to find her own spiritual rudder.
By contrast, Paul Raushenbush, editor of Huffington Post Religion, tells of growing up in a family that was thoroughly Protestant, thoroughly Jewish, and the better for it.
Brian McLaren, perhaps the most interfaith-friendly Christian evangelical in the U.S. today, tells of how a bathroom stuffed with hundreds of balloons and an eight-year-old Muslim boy led him to a lifetime of friendship with Muslims.
Judith Berling from Graduate Theological Union tells of doing her dissertation research in Chinese religion in Taiwan and being stunned and transformed by a Taoist fire-walking ceremony she witnessed.
Featured from My Neighor’s Faith in this issue of TIO is Valarie Kaur’s tale of growing up Sikh in a California farming community. “Double-Edged Daggers” is a parable of the enormous, complex emotional costs and benefits of interfaith encounter.
These several examples are the tip of the iceberg in this many-splendored story book. My Neighbor’s Faith contributors come from Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Protestant, and Sikh traditions. Each one, in his or her universe, faced the vulnerability implicit in seriously engaging the stranger and now shares the life-changing benefits that accrued.
The book, edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley, provides welcome leaven for all the other interfaith resources showing up these days. It shows us how very human and hopeful interfaith culture can be in the final analysis.