Monday, January 21, 2008

After the Dialogue

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel to represent Christianity for the Interfaith Dialogue Club at the local high school in town.I went with the understanding that I'd be representing the Catholic Church, only to find when I arrived I was the only Christian on the panel. The other panelists were Baha'i, Hindu, Jewish, Unitarian, Buddhist and Islamic.

We were asked to give a general introduction to our respective 5 minutes or less. Not to make it any easier I was stuck between a Jewish panelist who described her faith as "a moral code for social justice" and the Unitarian minister who brought his hymnal which had traditional Christian hymns (protestant we were very explicitly told), Hindu holy songs, Islamic hymns and the words of Buddha set to music.

Where do you begin to explain Christianity in 5 minutes? I couldn't very well begin with "We also believe the Jewish faith tradition but diverge 2000 years ago with Jesus of Nazareth whom we believe fulfilled the messianic prophecies..." It wouldn't make any sense in light of the Jewish introduction we got.

Interestingly enough, the panelist I felt closest to was the Islamic panelist. After the discussions were over and we were headed to our cars he and I talked about it. Neither of us felt like we could appropriately explain our faiths in the five minutes we had to answer each question while the others felt content. In fact many of our answers on questions, like prayer, came out remarkably similar. Our answers to questions about morality, and surprisingly, Heaven and Hell were also very similar. We both came to the conclusion we had to, at times, be so general that many of the distinctions of our faiths were hard to catch.

That's not to say however that Christ couldn't be found in my answers. I'd like to think every answer I gave was very Christ centered. For example, when asked about Christianity's motivations for behaving morally I answered like this:

"As I said earlier, our faith holds that mankind was not created in our present state. We were once in a perfect relationship with God as father, and with ourselves as perfect children. However, a decision was made to love ourselves more than our God. The consequences of this choice have been devastating. The good news of the Christian faith though, is that the choice is reversible. Jesus of Nazareth, we believe, came to us to give us a way to cross over the infinite chasm we created in loving ourselves rather than the One whom we should love with all our hearts. We believe that our belief in Jesus and His way, coupled with freely choosing to live our lives in the way I described earlier is how that choice is remade. Our motivation then, is simply living for the next life, when things are made perfect again. Our motivation is... Heaven. Word" (Yes I actually said "word" at the end. I was looking at the teens from our church and wanted to make sure the were listening. They were.)

All in all, it was a good experience. I learned some things about the other faiths I didn't know (did you know Hindu's consider themselves monotheistic?). I was also able to, in a short period of time, explain Christianity to over a hundred people, many of whom weren't Christians. Most of all, I think the best experiences were two-fold:
  • 1) Some of our teens from St. Thomas Aquinas were there and got to hear their faith proclaimed publicly. Let me tell you, they were quite proud to be there as Christians.
  • 2) I figured out I should be able to explain the faith in under five minutes. Its possible. Just from that one night, I somehow better understand some of the most important tenants of what we believe. There are some other folks who do too- they say the creed every Sunday.

In his closing remarks, the Buddhist panelist summed it up I think with what I believe the other faiths offer and where they fall gravely short: "I had a lot of questions about life. Buddhism didn't answer those questions but it gave me a direction." If he wants the answer I think I know it- Jesus.


Paul Cat said...

I think I would have just recited the creed. Then maybe gone back to clarify what it meant.

Gashwin said...

Greetings! What a great experience this must have been.

Just a note about the Hindus: Hiduism is such a diverse and varied religion, rally collection of religions. In the modern period there has been a degree of uniformity, first in response to colonialism, and now especially with the rise of Hindu nationalism and the experience of diaspora communities in the West. Many Hindus would certainly consider themselves monotheistic, but this is quite different from monotheism as understood by the Abrahamic religions ... it's a monotheism in polytheism of sorts.

(I'm a convert to the Faith from Hinduism, BTW)

Keep up the great work -- I hear wonderful things about y'all's ministry!

pyrosapien said...

I would have to agree with Paul Cat. I heard of a priest (perhaps Bishop Fulton Sheen) who was asked by a reporter during a live TV interview, "Describe exactly what it is that Catholics believe in the 30 seconds we have left". The reporter had a smug look on his face as if he just stuck it to him... The priest recited the apostles creed live on TV for the entire viewing audience to hear.