Anti-apartheid interfaith action: 5-8-13
Don't tick off organists: 5-10-13

Being honest about religion: 5-9-13

Several years ago I was the moderator for a conversation between a Muslim and a Jew as part of the annual Festival of Faiths of Kansas City.

Religious-literacyThe Muslim was the scholar Akbar Ahmed from American University. The Jew was Judea Pearl, father of Danny Pearl, a journalist slain by extremists in Pakistan.

I think I surprised them a bit when I asked them this: Tell me what you find most beautiful about the other person's religion.

I was reminded of that exchange the other day when I saw this video clip of a recent convocation at Elon University in Elon, N.C.

"60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan, the moderator, asked panelists not what they found most beautiful in the religion of other people on the panel but what they didn't like at all about those religions.

In the hands of angry people who prefer to denounce any faith but their own, that could be a dangerous question. But the people on the panel seen responding in this clip -- a Buddhist, a Jew and an Episcopalian -- handled it with honesty and grace, for the most part.

And if we can't be honest in interfaith dialogue, what's the point? But as you think about Lara Logan's question, I hope you'll also think about the one I asked Akbar and Judea.

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The percentage of Americans who now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated is nearing 20. In Canada, however, that percentage, according to a newly released national survey, is closer to 25 percent. If you win this contest do you Winnipeg?

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On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good, by Jim Wallis. Over the years, Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners and editor of its magazine, has made himself a listened-to voice in the nexus of religion and politics. He's a little hard to pin down in that he generally comes off as an evangelical who is a social progressive. He's a wise interpreter of what's wrong with the way politics and religion relate these days, though I sometimes wonder whether he's mostly recycling previously published ideas. In his latest book he raises up a concept that desperately needs more attention -- the common good. In our uncivil society, the idea of their being a common good that nearly everyone can see and support has pretty much been knee-capped by all kinds of destructive and individualistic forces. Wallis here acknowledges that lots of "people in America feel politically homeless in the raging battles between ideological extremes. But they could find their home in a new call for the common good. . ." Wallis reveals more deeply the forces that have shaped his thinking from early adulthood, and no doubt they will resonate with many readers. In the end, Wallis is here insisting loudly that "God is personal but never private." Which means that through our individual relationship with God we should be moved to work on "God's purposes in the world." It's a good message. I just wish more people were listening.


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