I went to a birthday party of a friend of ours at a local Italian restaurant and Pizzeria. There were a number of people at the party I had never met before. One of them was an actor who has studied improv and was very funny. He Kate and I hit it off. He also recently has become a Zen Buddhist. He was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist church. The revelation that I, dressed in my big Goth boots black kilt and a bowler hat, am a Pastor lead into an extended conversation about faith, philosophy and religion and a bit of comparative religion as we talked about the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity. This thread was interspersed with a number of other conversational threads and references to the Family Guy. For me meeting him and our conversations over the course of the evening was the highlight of the party. We genuinely connected on so many levels and our conversation and connection reminded me of the friendship I have had with the members of the Society
On Saturday running some errands I was thinking about the party and the conversation and then I thought of some of my frustration with the Lenten series on inter-religious relations/dialog. It dawned on me that I had, at this birthday party, what this series is trying to encourage: inter-faith relations and dialog. However, I didn't think at the party of our friend (who is Hindu) that I was involved in inter-faith relations and dialog. I need no added effort or "opportunities" to meet engage and be friends with people who do not share my Christian faith. This isn't any great virtue of mine necessarily, but a product of my context. It is not difficult to find meet and befriend people of different faiths in Chicago or LA (nor even rural California in the 70's the family that owned a strawberry field in Kingsburg were Buddhist when I was growing up.) In reflecting on the naturalness for me of simply relating to people and becoming friends with people without regard to their faith, but also not ignoring differences in belief either I realized what is the root problem I have with all this talk about inter-faith relations. It is the same problem I have with the push evangelical churches have to encourage people to evangelize: the programmatic element of it creates something that feels to me inauthentic and formulaic. Both Evangelism and inter-faith relations should emerge out of relationships that form naturally as an outgrowth of ones life. I feel like the current approach in inter-faith relations is little different in the group of Christians I am in than the approach to evangelism by evangelicals. Both are convinced that inter-faith relations/evangelism is a good all should be involved in and it is key and/or critical for this to take place and that Christians be involved in these things to fulfill there call as Christians. So we must have seminars on how to do it and talk about how to do it and create programs that will make it effective. When for me at least it is all far less complicated and I don't need experts and church bureaucrats and academics who specialize in these areas to help me do these things.
Actually to the surprise of all I would say there is no difference really between inter-religious relations/dialog and evangelism. If as a Christian I truly relate to those out side my faith I will not be able to keep from relating and talking about differences in belief and witness to what I believe to be true about God and Christ, which means talking about the Gospel which is all evangelism actually is when you get down to it. As I see it Christians so often try to make things so much harder than their faith actually demands. Becoming friends with people who believe differently than I has never been something I have had to work at and generally I have felt free to talk openly about my faith and for us to be open and honest about our differences without it ruining the friendship, sometimes even it has been the very basis of the friendship.