The first time I heard the phrase “God is too big for any one religion” I was in seminary. This statement was found on a bumper sticker on my roommate’s car. I looked at it every morning when I walked out of the house to go to school. I was intrigued, but confused. Growing up with a “Jesus is the only way to God” upbringing, I had no idea about what to think of my Baptist soon-to-be clergy friend’s bold declaration on her car. Was she crazy being so public about her inclusive theology in the Bible Belt of the US??
Fast forward nine years to the present, as I willing submitted myself to a continuing education course in the practice of spiritual direction in an interfaith setting. My discomfort with God being found outside the bounds of Christianity has greatly diminished through thought, prayer and careful study. I believe that Jesus is the only way to God for me, but might not be the case for someone else. Vocationally, I am a pastor of an opened minded church where all are welcome as they work through their spiritual struggles (And, we really mean all). And, I am so proud to have friends in other faith traditions from whom I regularly meet with and learn from in my neighborhood. I find my own faith journey encouraged not only by texts in the words of Christian scripture, but reading of all kinds that draws my attention back to the common humanity that we all share. I too, can now talk about the vastness of God with confidence too.
So, while there were countless spiritual direction programs I could have learned much from in my own Christian tradition (much closer to home too), something stuck out to me about Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley. It wouldn’t let me go. I knew this would be a place where I would learn in a completely different context of my seminary education or any other formal training I’ve had, for that matter. I knew I could be uncomfortable, stretched theologically and come to moments of complete disagreement with my classmates. But, I also knew that this would be good for me. What might the Spirit be leading me into next? And for the past three days I’ve been learning.
In all my processing, I”m still scratching my head with all of the “why” questions of what being in a program like this for the next year (I’ll come back 3 other times before graduating) will mean for my future. But, what I do know is this: how blessed it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity of our common human tradition. Though I’m tempted to challenge my classmates at many junctures about their ideas on the brokeness (or not) in this world, God’s essence, human responsiblity, who the divine is, and the importance of committment to a faith community, such is not why I am here.
I am here to learn about how to receive stories of fellow pilgrims on a spiritual journey. I am here to learn how to be a better listener both to myself and others. I am here to learn from the richness of the world’s religious traditions, so to better edify my own spiritual practices. I am here to be among a community of folks unlike any other experience I could receive at home in DC.
While some might think I’m crazy and might even “loose” my own faith in an integrated setting like this, I have to say that such the opposite is true. Being in an interfaith culture for the week, I’m remembering again why I love being a Christian and why I could not imagine any other path for my life. While I can appreciate the faith practices of my classmates, I can’t imagine embracing their beliefs for myself.
Sure, there are hair pulling out moments where I wonder how soon I can go back to my Christian cocoon and why the teaching doesn’t mean more of “my” needs. But, such is far from the point. There is something I need from my classmates. Our world is growing more by the day in the direction against “organized religion” so it seems the interfaith education is the future. The God I am meeting in Berkeley is pushing my buttons, but this is what living in Interfaith land is all about.