Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians as well as Christians with traditions not previously found in the U.S. have come to our shores and we find mosques, temples and other houses of worship springing up in neighborhoods that previously were home just to Christian churches and the occasional Jewish synagogue.
It's been a good, but challenging, change. It is requiring us to work toward religious harmony so we can become a model for the rest of the world. We're far from there yet, but we're making progress.
I'm thinking about all that here in Arkansas this weekend as my wife and I gather with our potluck group at the home of one of the couples in our group who now split time between here and Kansas City.
What's ecumenical or interfaith about our potluck group?
Well, couple No. 1: He's Catholic, she's Methodist. No. 2: He's Jewish, she's a convert from Christianity to Judaism. No. 3: Us. I grew up Presbyterian and, after an absence from the church of 12 or so years, have come back to be a Presbyterian again. My wife grew up in the Congregational church (now United Church of Christ) in Vermont, later became and Episcopalian and now jokes that she's an Episcoterian, having joined my Presbyterian congregation but still with close ties to her old congregation.
So how does a group like this avoid fighting about religion? Pretty easily, it turns out. We do our best to respect the religious choices each of us has made. We do our best to learn a bit about the faith of others in our group. We share many moral and ethical values that provide common ground for us. And we don't spend a lot of time talking directly about matters of faith.
Rather, we talk about our children, our work, our travels, our friends, the books we've read, the films we've seen, the developments in our city, national politics, food and on and on.
I think that's a pretty good model for how to live in religious harmony. Yes, it requires that we not insist that others see things our way. But it turns out there is greater wisdom in the group than there is in any single one of us.
And, besides, this is a long-term commitment. Our group has been together going on 40 years. And interfaith dialogue takes at least as long. You've got to get to the point where you know each other in profound ways and, in the end, love one another.
As we do.
(And while we're here we'll also look at nature's beauty, such as these flowers on our friends' deck that I photographed on a previous trip.)
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OVERSEEING THE ANGLICANS
The worldwide Anglican Communion has a new leader. Justin Welby has been named archbishop of Canterbury, and he says he's "overwhelmed and surprised." No doubt that's how he'll feel a year from now when it sinks in that the Anglicans, like many faith communities, are deeply divided over many issues and, thus, almost ungovernable. The late French president, Charles de Gaulle, is reported once to have said that no country with so many kinds of cheeses can be governed. The Anglicans have cheeses galore.