WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU
At the recent National Workshop on Christian Unity in DC, Rabbi Fred Dobb shared a concept he learned from a Swedish Lutheran bishop, Krister Stendahl, “sacred envy.” This, Rabbi Dobb explained, was saying, ‘I am not going to convert, but I see something in your tradition that I really like.” Some people find this threatening, of course, as if admitting that any other denomination or religion had anything worthwhile might imply that yours was illegitimate.
My own Methodist heritage has always acknowledged that we are “debtors to all,” as William Shrewsbury put it, having borrowed freely from Anglican, Puritan, and Pietist traditions, among others. Alfred Barrett insisted in 1848 that, “A single Christian, yea, or a single Christian church, is a puny thing standing alone, and does not see and feel and know all the gospel, because the eye of understanding and the heart of others is needed for this purpose.” I bear witness to this myself: I have found, as Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon said at the NWCU in response to Rabbi Dobb, that “interfaith dialogue has helped me to articulate my Christian faith more clearly.”
So let me declare, without any intention of abandoning my denomination or the Gospel, some things that I profoundly envy:
*I like the way some of the “liturgical” denominations see communion as celebration and insist these days that clergy are not celebrants: everyone celebrates; we parsons merely “preside” at the party.
*I love the infectious joy of African American congregations. In every black church I have visited, from Baptists in Riverhead and the AME Zion in Amityville to the Lutherans in Roosevelt , worship is exuberant praise. The same is true of Latinos, Koreans, etc., etc.
*I am inspired by the enthusiasm that Evangelicals bring to their work for Christian unity. We who have been in these trenches for a long time can easily grow weary, impatient and discouraged, but Evangelicals bring fresh passion to events such as Jesus Alive, and over the last few years there have been Reformed-Pentecostal dialogues, Church of God-Mennonite dialogues, a joint meeting of the mission boards of four black Baptist denominations, and the creation last September of a new Wesleyan Holiness Consortium.
*I am envious of the way Reformed and Presbyterian tradition requires those seeking baptism for their child to be active members of a local congregation, and has the local governing body of each congregation set policies for non-member weddings. Not only does this emphasize the way in which the whole church joins in these celebrations, it also allows spares pastors some of the wrath of grandparents and mothers of the bride. In addition, it permits parsons to politely avoid spending every Saturday of their lives with brides and grooms whom they will never see again.
*I love the sense of history I find in both Orthodox and Catholic churches, their continuity over millennia, “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” and I also love the way Pentecostals, the United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalists remind us that, “God is still speaking.”
*I appreciate the way that both Buddhists and Quakers gently nudge us to unplug, turn off the noise, shut up, sit down, and just be silent a while. The more that I am bombarded with incessant ads and jangling cell phones, the more I value silent prayer and meditation!
*I admire the way Muslims and Bahais focus on doing good rather than avoiding evil and I am humbled by how racially inclusive their communities are. By concentrating on “domestic harmony” at the Islamic Center of Long Island and on “race unity” among Bahais everywhere, they have achieved far more than my own denomination has in fighting domestic violence and racism.
*I am happily humbled by the way Sikhs feed everyone who comes to the gurudwara. Methodists make sure you get coffee after worship; the Sikhs give you lunch.
*And I am really humbled by the openness that Brahma Kumaris show to people of other faiths. After listening to a wonderful talk on meditation at Global Harmony House in Great Neck, I was asked by their guru if there was anything I would like to add. Can you imagine her getting such a welcome in your congregation?
*I am amused, bemused, and delighted by the way Hindus seem to see Jains and Brahma Kumaris, and often Sikhs and Buddhists and nearly everyone else as fellow travelers on the road to God. As Christians sometimes say, “Where we put a period, God puts a comma.”
*And last, but certainly not least, I am gratefully indebted to Judaism for teaching me over and over again that we are called to “tikkun olam,” to repair the brokenness of our world. And for raising a certain Jewish kid whom I strive to follow.
The Rev. Thomas W. Goodhue
Long Island Council of Churches