My regular readers are well aware that I've long been a proponent of interfaith dialogue. That's not just so people from different traditions can talk and talk and talk, often over one another. Rather it's so that we can understand each other better and move toward harmonious relationships that allow us to work together to help fix the wounded world.
The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler (pictured here) doesn't disagree with me about that, but in weekend remarks at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Overland Park, Kan., he noted that the term interfaith dialogue has become "very trendy" and has lost some of its punch and meaning. Interfaith dialogue, he complained, has become more about "the impartation of knowledge" and less about living together in peace and with common purpose.
Chandler, an American Episcopal priest who grew up in Senegal and has spent the last 10 years working in Egypt, said we should worry less about talking about our faith. Rather, he said, we should "live it so people can come to see its source."
Later, Chandler, author of Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths, described himself as "not so passionate about interfaith dialogue. . .but I'm passionate about interfaith friendships." And that's a harder task, he said.
I asked him about the reality that some Christians are biblical literalists who believe Islam is a religion of the devil, while some Muslims consider Christians to be infidels who should be done away with. Is it possible ever to bring such people together in peace and understanding?
Chandler hasn't depaired of that possibility. His experience in several Muslim countries, especially Egypt, he said, showed him that if you approach people and invite them not to debate religion but to participate in some common endeavor that both sides can support, eventually it's possible to break down some of the thick walls that form barriers between people of different rigid traditions.
It's not easy and it takes time, but it's possible, he indicated.
Chandler noted that one of the five pillars of Islam is for those who are financially and physically able to take a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life. The idea of pilgrimage can connect people of different faiths.
"I think it's critical for relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters," he said, "that we all see ourselves as pilgrims, as one, journeying toward God, and not having arrived."
In a time of strident religious voices seeking to divide, it's reassuring to hear of someone who has lived much of his life in Islamic cultures and wants Christians and Muslims to invest the time and energy required to live together harmoniously.
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New archeological evidence suggests that Buddha may have been born several centuries earlier than previously believed. The good news, of course, is that he reached Nirvana sooner than thought, too.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.