Note: This post was recently published at the Huffington Post. You can read and comment there as well.
You don’t need to look far to see all the damage that religious differences can cause. The media is awash with news of violence, anger, judgment, and discrimination stemming from religious disagreements. We have become so focused on our own religion, our own spirituality, our own faith that we have forgotten the importance of the respectful acknowledgement of the faiths of others. We have forgotten to consider the importance of another’s religion to their culture. We have forgotten to practice those all-important acts of empathy and compassion. And interfaith relations have suffered as a result.
When we think about spiritual practices, things like prayer, introspection, meditation, and worship come to mind. Although crucial components of spirituality, these activities tend to focus on internal behaviors or activities conducted in the company of like-minded individuals. Unfortunately, these activities often lack the recognition that we are part of larger web of connection that binds us all together in our shared humanity, despite all of the inherent cultural and religious differences.
By engaging in the intentional practice of faith sharing, however, perhaps we can shed our ignorance and connect with humanity on a deeper and more respectful level.
Faith sharing comes in many forms, but one of the most obvious forms of faith sharing is good old fashioned conversation. (I have found wine to be a helpful addition, as well.) For instance, I am part of a small community group that has been meeting on a semi-monthly for more than four years. We rarely see each outside of these monthly get-togethers, yet I consider these women to be among some of my dearest friends. We come from different faith backgrounds, different demographics, and different parts of the metro Chicago area, yet we always have one thing in common – our mutual interest in facilitating each other’s spiritual accountability by engaging in respectful faith sharing.
We eat. We drink. We talk. We share.
We talk about food and wine and sex and God. We talk about our jobs and our kids and our spouses and our spirituality.
We share our dreams, our insecurities, our doubts, and our faith. We share our joys and concerns. We share our thoughts and ideas about what it means to live a life of compassion, generosity, justice, and spirituality. We share our life stories and our faith stories.
And in doing so, we share the deepest parts of ourselves. We share our faith and we share our doubts about God. We share our most vulnerable and sensitive beliefs, laying ourselves raw and fully open to the possibility of knowing each other on a deeper level.
In talking about our beliefs and sharing our faith with each other, we have granted one another a rare glimpse into the deepest recesses of our souls – a place that many of us don’t even let our closest friends and family members see.
We live in a society that shuns faith sharing, particularly interfaith communication. We are scared of it. We are afraid of being judged and we are afraid of judging. We are afraid that if we talk about sensitive and personal issues such as faith and spirituality that we might be forced to acknowledge that there are differences between us.
And interfaith relations suffer as a result. We forget that differences do not need to divide us; rather, acknowledging differences can be a means of expanding our options and opening our minds. When we talk about beliefs – not necessarily what we believe but why we believe – we grant ourselves the opportunity to know someone on a deeper level and open our minds to alternative perspectives. When we share our faith – not just how we practice our faith but how our faith shapes our life – we give someone else the gift of knowing us more intimately.
If you shy away from spiritual conversations and neglect to learn about the faith of others, ask yourself: am I uncomfortable because I am afraid that I will be judged or am I uncomfortable because I am unsure of what I believe?
Oftentimes, the fear of judgment is a reality, but ignorance is only exacerbated when we fall prey to the fear of judgment. Other times, we shy away from conversations about our faith simply because we are unsure of what we believe. We have doubts and questions. We see inconsistencies and there are times when we just don’t know what we believe. But there is no shame in admitting the presence of spiritual doubts, and, in fact, acknowledging doubts is a critical part of an authentic faith.
For many of us, our faith (or maybe even our lack of faith) is a large part of who we are and how we live our lives. By refraining from talking about our faith, we are preventing ourselves from really getting to know others – both those of different cultures and backgrounds, as well as those people who are closest to us. And when we fail to know and understand others and ourselves, we breed ignorance and judgment. We dehumanize others by diminishing their culture and their faith. And we ultimately prevent ourselves from fully knowing the power of compassionate Grace.
Faith sharing is not about proselytizing with the goal of conversion. Rather, faith sharing is about connecting with someone else through a responsible and respectful conversation that involves a full and fair informational exchange. Faith sharing is about humanizing other faiths in order to foster acceptance, respect, and empathy. Faith sharing is about interfaith education so that, in learning more about the faith of others, we can more deeply connect to our own. Faith sharing is about the use of humility and compassion to combat violence and discrimination, so that we all can live a graceful and Grace-filled life.