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Paying Attention to Your Interfaith Journey


Paying Attention to Your Interfaith Journey 

by Paul Chaffee

The word interfaith has been busting out all over. Online, over the air, in the morning paper, locally and globally – the interfaith implications of almost everything are being explored, it seems. Activists in the nascent interfaith movement 50 years ago, even 25, would be astonished by this tectonic communications shift. When TIO launched in 2011, there were those who worried we wouldn’t have enough to write about in a monthly publication. That was never a problem.

The ‘content’ keeps growing. Katharine Marshall, a frequent TIO contributor, has a new book online that paints a much bigger interfaith picture than most have ever imagined. Marshall brings to the task years of research and experience in international development, both secular and religious. In scope as well as detail her interfaith narrative is unmatched.  Interfaith Journeys – An Exploration of History, Ideas, and Future Directions is the most important history and analysis of “the interfaith movement” to date. TIO is honored this month to publish the final pages of Professor Marshall’s book, including a link to download the entire text for free. Read it for the big picture.

TIO explores interfaith’s ‘big picture’ diversity in several ways this month. Marcus Braybrooke offers a profile of the founder of the Bahá’í faith. The stellar convention held last month by the Religion Communicators Council is reviewed. Bud Heckman pinpoints what interfaith nonprofits need to pay attention to if they want funding. And I dare you not to like the article titled “What If Animals Believe in God?”

Our Interfaith J0urneys

All of that said, let’s stop to remember that each of us journeys with a unique personal faith and interfaith perspective. We’re shaped by who we know – crucial events – major influences – our own unique history – our decisions. The ‘other’ I may be seeking to reconcile with on my journey may not be the ‘other’ you cope with in yours. How are our journeys the same? How are they different? TIO is dedicated to the notion that hearing each other’s journeys is a rich learning experience helping us as we address the ‘other,’ whoever that may be. And more, in the process we can engender a deep appreciation for each other and explore new ways to make the world better.

International Church of Bangkok Logo - Phot0:  icbangkok.org

International Church of Bangkok Logo - Phot0: icbangkok.org

My own interfaith journey began as a 12-year-old attending confirmation class at the English-speaking International Church in Bangkok, where my parents were Presbyterian missionaries. After an engaging, even illuminating year of classes, the pastor showed up one day, congratulating us and saying “I guess you’ll be joining the church now.” I was confused and a bit angry. Back home, I said to Dad, “Join?! I’m just learning what you believe, don’t know what the Buddhists here in Thailand believe, much less what the rest of the world believes? And you want me to join?”

“No, no, no” my Dad exclaimed, “not at all.” Joining would always be my choice, he said, and joining could happen whenever I wanted it, if ever. The next day he gave me a book on world religions and another on Christian sects. Basically he gave me permission to listen and take seriously the faith and interfaith journeys of others, a permission that liberated my life. What a gift from a parent to someone that young on the journey!

Half of TIO this month is dedicated to our ‘interfaith journeys,’ starting with how children understand the origins of the universe and finishing several articles later with Katherine Marshall’s suggestions about our collective journey into the future. These contributions have enriched me, and I hope they do the same for you.