Rising Leader Series: Week 5 - Pluralism
Updated: Feb 25
ROPE BRIDGE DANCING
Come join me on this bridge all snaggletooth--
ropes worn to thread, foot panels not all there.
Let’s each come speak our deep authentic truth,
yet touch divergent ears with humble care.
As older, Christian, Minnesotan me;
younger, in-many-ways-different you;
not just to tribe will we speak honesty,
nor claim to be sole keepers of the true.
Out here upon this ragged common span,
shall we reach brave to offer up our hearts?
Authority, humility link hands,
while seek to crack blind certitude apart.
Can in my words to my own self be true,
whilst giving ear to your true self’s truth too?
It’s great to be back with you. I’ve thought about you often this past week. I’ve prayed for you, too– because you are our hope. You are the one who will lead us with goodness in your heart.
Too often, the modern Christian message has been to pull away from the world-- to shrink our circles of care-- to focus just on our own private prayer and private morality. To affiliate just with those like us. But this is not what Jesus teaches. Jesus Christ saw the connectedness of all people and things, with love interwoven. He encountered and served the marginalized, and ministered to the sick and the sinner. He challenged the self-righteous. He stood up to unjust authority. He saw no Jew nor Greek, nor Roman nor Samaritan– just children of God. And so He reached out to people of different faiths. As it was back then, so it is to this day: Jesus calls His followers on an ecumenical soul journey towards goodness. First to deepen our relationship with Him, then to widen our circles of care, and then to become His hands and feet in the world.
We live in a diverse world: 2.4 billion Christians, 1.9 billion Muslims, 1.2 billion Hindus, 1.1 billion secular / nonreligious / atheists, 500 million Buddhists, and 800 million devoted to other religions. We all share one planet; we are all companions, arms linked, on humanity’s march of destiny.
I’m a Christian. Does my path to God enable me to claim superior goodness? Of course not. Each of us is shaped by our circumstance; each of us is free to choose our own path of belief; each of us is free to return to the good that is within us. We who are Christian have our own path, but that path calls upon us to reach out to all people. There can be no other way, in this pluralistic world of ours, if we are to take up the critical leadership work our age demands.
Pursuing goodness and exhibiting respect for others are central tenets in every faith tradition. Mature followers of all beliefs see goodness in all. Speaking in reference to all the world's belief systems, the theologian Brian McLaren differentiates faith before doubt-- which is about perfecting our set of beliefs-- from faith after doubt-- which is about moving beyond belief checklists into revolutionary love. What love is this? Abundant, indiscriminate love. Love for ourselves, for others around us, for all people (friend, foe, citizen, alien, the forgotten and the foreigner), for all living things, for the planet, for future generations. A mature Christian lives in mutuality with all-- called to “judge not, lest you be judged”.
Fr. Richard Rohr refers to the world’s major faiths as different rivers– each releasing mists into the atmosphere, which are gathered up into the clouds, commingling there with the waters of all rivers– a common spiritual love source. I am partial to Christianity as my path to God and goodness. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I am forever grateful. But I will not condemn other pathways to goodness. I celebrate them. Goodness is of God, and goodness and Godliness can come from any human heart.
So how do we engage in constructive dialogue with people whose religious views are different from our own? How can we find common ground? How can we seek first to understand, then to be understood? This seems an important building block towards a better future.
Perhaps our whole approach to the human diversity around us has been all wrong. We tend to fly to the extremes. We either preach our truth in a tone that brooks no quarter for opposing views, or we bury our truth entirely-- sharing what we really believe only in the company of the convicted. But neither of these approaches works well. The first is tribal, judgmental, alienating. The second is inauthentic, untrusting of the capacity of others for tolerance, and noncontributory to the building of shared values.
There is a third way. Remember the "disciplines of goodness" ladder I shared with you last week?
If we work upward from the bottom, piety (our love of God, and God’s love of us) teaches us the dignity of all. That leads us to become more decent and civil. And if we are ready to extend decency and civility to others, why not, then, speak our truth? With respect, we can offer our worldview as one lens through which our world’s needs and challenges might be viewed. We can share why we believe this lens offers something important to the world. In this way, the teachings of our faith might be offered as pathways towards healing and renewal.
But to be life-giving, it must be two-way. We must also be willing to hear others share their truths. This interchange is not to be feared-- it’s healthy. In the dialogue, our unconsidered beliefs are put to the test. We are challenged to ponder more deeply-- to self-reflect. It's so easy to float in a haze of lazy thinking and unquestioned habits. In back-and-forth dialogue, thinking sharpens. Habits are put under the light. Together, as we debate, we carve out a delicate three-dimensional sculpture called “shared values.” And we begin to realize we are less different than we thought we were.
But of course we rarely do this. In our modern pluralistic society, we tend to avoid authentic dialogue. In private we cultivate our beliefs, but as we venture into the common square, most of us engage in sterilized happy-talk. Sure, a few come armed with a flamethrower-- especially in online forums. Vanilla or vitriolic-- nothing in between. Until elections come along, when all of our pathologically-suppressed convictions explode into volcanic conflict-- civility be damned.
I choose a different path. In my passion to support you in your mission to save the world, good leader, I write as a Christian. I care about the state of our world, I care about you as you rise to lead, and I care about God. I share my truth, because I believe it can offer you a path to lead in a way that can heal and renew the world. But I also respect other voices. I don’t do this perfectly. But for those of good will who wish to contribute different voices, different perspectives, I say “welcome.” Let’s seek out harmony in joyful choir.
Authenticity-- that’s the key. Let’s talk politics, but with good will. Let’s talk religion or nonbelief, but with good will. Let’s celebrate Christmas, Easter, Diwali, Eid-Ul-Fitr, Hanukkah, Passover and Kwanzaa. Let’s watch an indigenous dance, praising Mother Earth. Goodness calls to goodness, good leader. I encourage you: go out and connect with others of good will. Speak your truth, listen to the truth of others, find shared values, and encourage leaders of all pathways to come together in service of the common good.
Next week’s letter will be filled with Spirit. Can’t wait to share it with you.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” --John 13:34
Your Christian friend,
Previous Weeks' Letters: