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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some Thoughts on Christian-Muslim Talks

Although I do not write much about dialogues with other religions, or even other branches of Christianity, I am familiar with most everything religious, and even an expert in some things. I found out, however, at this Christian-Muslim roundtable this past Sunday, that I have a lot to learn...

There were about 70 people at this roundtable ( we were organized into groups of seven or so), and every table had a couple of flavors of Christianity and a Muslim. It turns out that most of the Muslims were of the Sunni tradition, and one of the women at my table was raised a Methodist and married into Islam 25 years ago. The conversations revolved around religious practices, as the doctrine of Love God and love your neighbor was assumed to be enough to go on for purposes of this event. (As one Methodist remarked, however, for some Christians that is not enough...and Muslims too I am told.)

Muslims pray five prayers a day--and some pray 3 times to fufill that ritual, and others pray 5 times a day to fufill this requirement. But notice how different that is from Christians. Christians pray, but it is hardly a requirement. In fact, I can think of three or four famous Christian theologians off the top of my head who remarked (in print!) their dis-ease with praying, and sometimes they even forgot to pray. But for Islam not only is prayer a defining characteristic, but it is THE defining characteristic. For those of us Christians the question I ask is this: what ritual defines Christianity?

Baptism could be one...but it usually only happens once in a lifetime, and for some people such as myself, it happened so early in my life I can't even remember it. Communion would be one, but some Christians practice communion so infrequently that it is hardly a life-sustaining ritual, much less a defining one. We could use prayer, but other than family members, religious leaders, and maybe people in your small group, do you know anybody else who prays? I mean, if you are a Christian and a Muslim lives on one side of your house and another Christian lives on the other, which one do you think you'll have a better chance of interrupting their prayer when you go over to borrow an egg?

I am led to believe that Christianity is more of a belief system than a ritual system. What I mean by that is that Christianity is about what your core ideas, values, and beliefs are in and about the world, God, yourself, and your neighbor rather than a set of practices about how to be Christian. That explains, as you can see, the huge variety of Christianities out there, and the relative cohesiveness of Islam. In fact, the woman at my table who converted to Islam said that was a main reason why she converted. There were too many choices in Christianity-- too many chances, she noted, at getting it wrong.

I agreed with her, there are in Christianity way too many chances to get life wrong...but here's the thing--every religion, every belief, every idea has the chance to be wrong...the question is: which one has the chance to be right? Or, more importantly, to enable forgiveness to try again when you get it wrong? The mark of a good religion is not if it gets you where you want to go if you succeed; but rather, if you gets you there even when you fail.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.


kat said...

I stayed with a Christian family once (I think they were Catholic?--not sure) They would thank God before every meal and ask for safety of their family before sleeping---does that not make 4 prayers a day?

God is not a Jew or Christian or Muslim....God is Most Merciful, Most Compassionate---if we trust in that, then all we need to do is strive sincerely, to the best of our ability, to do God's will with all our heart.
God's will=right intentions that lead to right actionsfor the benefit of all of God's creations.

Scott Frederickson said...

Yes, Christians do pray, but when I have an image of a generic Christian pop into my mind it is not one at prayer...but it is when I think of a generic Muslim. I just find that interesting.

I do agree that if we would trust in God, our God-given gifts, and the power of living, we would be better off...but still, what happens if we do not? How does God behave then? Thanks for reading.

Scott Frederickson said...
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