Friday, June 24, 2011

Cross-Cultural Friendship Revisited

I think my previous post, "Is It Possible to Be Friends With Someone of Another Culture or Religion?" may have come across that it was hopeless. I didn't mean to leave it that way, just to raise the question, to reflect on the fact that building friendship with someone from a different culture or religion can be tricky, can present surprises and challenges along the way, because of our different expectations about friendship and ways of approaching friendship.

I know, for example, that I have disappointed Arab friends at different times. Americans tend to be quickly "friendly," with people we barely know; but as individualists (culturally), and due to various factors, we have boundaries around the expectations between friends. Even a good friend, for example, might call and need help, but will accept various excuses if it doesn't work out; an Arab, though, in general, would never not help a friend, even if it were very inconvenient.

That's the thing. Friendship, I think, is about how deeply you can share with another person. It's about trust. And it's about what you can depend on, what you can expect. It's about loyalty, who will stick by you, and through what? At the very least, a cross-cultural or cross-religious friendship takes time, perhaps (?) longer than one with someone culturally and religiously closer. (And for me, there are levels or degrees of relationship, of friendship, or perhaps circles.)

So to conclude, I made some new friends this past week at the "Building Hope" Conference - some new Christian friends (American and other), some new Jewish friends (mostly Orthodox, and from different countries), and some new Muslim friends (from America and from both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority lands). But I use the term carefully - we were "friendly" with each other, and we began sharing stories (some of them deep, profound, very personal); we began (at least some of us with some others) talking about our "personal" lives, our families. We began...we laid a foundation. But it will take time for the relationships to go deep, to get to know each other well, build trust. And we'll probably have to pass through periods/areas of Miroslav's "non-understanding."

And to return to Tunisia, I do have strong Tunisian friendships. I lived there for 12 years, and spent thousands of hours with many different people. I know several Tunisian friends who I absolutely can count on - if I showed up in Tunisia, homeless (or not), and in need (of any kind), they would take me in (no questions asked), give me money or whatever I needed, and make sure I was all right. They would treat me (in my book) as if I were family. And that's partly the beauty of the Tunisian (Arab, Muslim) cultural way of treating people you have spent much time with. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Deeply Committed Yet Open to The "Other" - Jews, Christians and Muslims Seeking the Common Good

The “Building Hope: Muslims, Christians and Jews Seeking the Common Good” conference has come to an end. What an amazing time.

Normally, “interfaith” activities tend to attract more “liberal” or “progressive” people, in any of the faith traditions. Because of that, many of the more “conservative” people in each of the faith traditions tend to look on these gatherings and activities with suspicion – suspicion that the participants are acting as if “all roads lead to God” or all religions are the same or everything is relative; i.e., that we are “giving away the farm.”

In a way, at the heart of this conference was the question, can we as people of faith be deeply committed to our own faith, but yet relate to others – equally committed to their faith – with respect, and even beyond that, build relationships where we understand each other, can discuss our differences (even deep ones) frankly, and even become friends (in spite of our differences)? Can we experience transformative relationship with “the Other” - transformative, not in that we lose our own faith or distinctives, but in the sense that we grow as human beings with “large hearts,” able (like God) to embrace others whether they agree with us or not, to care for them as human beings, and to work together to seek the “common good” (the good of humanity), and not just look out for our own interests (hmm, that makes me think of the statement in the New Testament, “do not just look out for your own interests” - could that possibly include people of other faiths?).

For me as an Anthropologist, this is very much about what I often write about, growing from an Ethnocentric perspective on life, the world, faith, God – i.e., where the worldview and ways of my people are the only one I know – to an Ethnorelative (or Ethnosensitive) experience, recognizing that there are other worldviews and ways, and being able to enter into the life, the world, the perspectives of others, and learning to appreciate them as they are (different from me). This does not mean losing oneself, but rather, growing, expanding.

I think this conference was a smashing success. I am astounded, really. We were Christians (including evangelical, Catholic, and Oriental Orthodox, and several different countries), Jews (mainly Orthodox, but including Reform and Conservative, and both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, and again from different countries including Israel), and Muslims (both Sunni and Shiite, and from different countries) – all deeply committed, the kind of people you might expect to clash. And yet, from the start, there was respect, a desire to know and understand, an openness to listening and learning and changing, in the context of sharing with each other our deep commitments, and asking each other some hard questions.

A highlight, which I've written about, was visiting each other's places of worship. For many of us, it was the first time in one of the settings (or both). And everyone, as far as I heard, considered it a deeply meaningful and impactful experience. Openness to “the Other.” Wow.

Another highlight, probably the heart of the time, was the meals together and the opportunity to just “hang out,” getting to know each other. We all discovered, I think, the great power of personal relationship to transform our experience and perspectives. We tend to live with stereotypes of “the Other.” Only through relationship with real people can we break those strereotypes. (Something else that helped us greatly was humor – I'm not sure I knew that Orthodox Jews and Muslims could be so funny! Maybe we should start a new comedy tour?)

Last night as we reflected back on the 10 days, we used the metaphor of seeing through different glasses. I would probably sum up this experience for me by saying, developing new friendships with other Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims, has helped me to see Jesus more clearly. I am more thankful than ever, personally, for who he is and what he has done and daily does for me, for the fact that he came to give life and freedom.

I look forward to continuing to develop the relationships with my new friends, learning about myself, others, and God along the way.

For more reflections, from a perspective of Peacemaking, see

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Culture Quote of the Day - Through the Eyes of the Other

if we are to move forward [e.g., in better relationships between Christians, Jews and Muslims], we need to understand what the world looks like through the eyes of another person” 
(participant in the Building Hope Conference)

This pretty much applies to every in every domain, whether Muslims, Jews and Christians toward each other, or men and women, or whites and people of color, or different nationalities, etc.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Culture Cartoon of the Day - "Anthropologists!"

On the lighter side, one of the challenges facing Anthropologists, in our search for true understanding of other cultures:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Christian Worship"?

I used the phrase "Christian worship" in my title the last two days, re. my experiencing of worshiping God in the context of attending Friday (Muslim) prayers, and an Orthodox Jewish Shabbat service.

Let me return for a moment to that title. More accurately, I would have titled the postings, "A Christian Worshiping..." (at or in the context of, these other settings, or among these other worshipers in their faith context). "Christian worship" might imply that there is something organized, objective, a structure and approach, a liturgy, etc., that I mean. And how could you do that at a masjad or synagogue?

To me as a Christian, though, worship is not about - and doesn't require - liturgy and a specific place, qualified religious leaders, etc. Worship is about connecting with God in one's heart and mind and spirit. It's about being stirred to love him and respond to him, to see and respond to his glory and majesty, to offer one's heart and life to him in service (in Arabic, service and worship are one and the same word).

Jesus said, "a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)

Note that he said this to a Samaritan woman. As a Rabbi, it was questionable that he took his disciples through Samaria rather than the long way around, and downright scandalous that he spoke to a woman. And given that the Samaritans had what to the Jews was a false religion, it is powerful that he did not argue religion, or compare them, etc., but simply took the discussion to a new level.

I just wanted to clarify that, for someone who might think it odd to talk of "Christian worship" in a masjad or synagogue.

"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."

I am thankful that this weekend, I had opportunity not only to worship God in a church setting, but also in a masjad and a synagogue. It made for a rich weekend.

Christian Worship in a Synagogue?

Yesterday I had the opportunity for the first time, to attend an Orthodox Jewish prayer service. I found it very interesting, in every respect. I found myself wondering about the role of women in Orthodox Judaism, and about the shape/form of "feminist" movements in that context. I was struck by the reverence, the sense of the sacred, especially toward the Torah - the way it is kept in a special place, the way it is treated, brought out, walked around the room, the obvious reverence and respect the worshipers have for their sacred book.

The elements of the service, from my observation, were prayers, the bringing out of the Torah, a very long section (the longest) where the Torah is read, and a brief message.

During the Torah reading, seven of the male participants read sections. Everything was in Hebrew, of course. We had copies of the Scripture in Hebrew, with an English translation, and with rabbinic commentary in English. I found it fascinating to read both the text - translated slightly differently, in places, than the Old Testament in our Christian Bible - and the commentary.

I have determined to get myself one of these copies of the "Old Testament," to study the Jewish understanding of the Jewish Scriptures. It has just hit me, for the first time, that what I have is a Christian understanding of Judaism, and I would like to supplement that with the Jewish understanding of their faith. I expect it will be an eye-opening and enriching study.

As in the case of my time observing the Friday prayers, I found myself deeply stirred and worshiping God, in the Jewish prayer service. One point of connection, obviously, was that we were in a shared text, one that I have read all my life. But I was also stirred, through being in the Jewish Scripture, and thinking of their understanding of God in that context (apart from the New Testament and Jewish), to reflect on God, his holiness, his relationship with his people in times past, and whether I revere and honor God as deeply as what I observed among a people who will not even speak his name, but refer to him as "the Name" (Hashem).

Thank you, God, for stirring my heart and my faith in my journey among "the other."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Imam, A Rabbi, and Hearing from God

"Pray this prayer as if it were your last" (Imam Dawood, at Friday prayers yesterday)

"Repentance allows us to live with the consequences (of our actions), closer to God" (Rabbi Slotnik, at an Orthodox Jewish prayer service today, commenting on Numbers 14 and following).

I find, if I enter into another's context, and listen carefully, try to understand and appreciate their vision, their faith, their actions, in their context, and ask God to speak to me, he does - he speaks to me, through the other. I'm not going to theologize about this, but I have experienced it. Yesterday and today, God has touched my heart through Muslim and Jewish prayer (worship). And I am thankful. (Tomorrow we all participate in a Christian service.)

Christian Worship in a Masjid?

Yesterday, as an activity of our "Building Hope" Conference, I attended Friday prayers at the New Haven masjid. The speaker was one of our participants, Chaplain Dawood from Dartmouth. I appreciated his message. He was articulate, intermingling Arabic (Qur'anic quotes, Hadith, and Arabic expressions) with English. He had a several point message, focused on 10 things people can do in a minute, to stop and focus on God, to keep from getting too caught up in the busy-ness which afflicts us in modern America.

I was struck by the fact that if you took out the Islamic references and Arabic, and transposed the specific content from an Islamic framework to a Biblical one, you could give the message in a church. The issues are the same - how can we remember and keep focused on God, in the midst of a busy daily life? How can we stir our hearts, strengthen our faith, stay "warm" toward God?

Chaplain/Imam Dawood connected with his audience, and he connected with me. I found myself praying as he spoke, asking God to help me (through Jesus) to apply the points he was encouraging us to (in my faith context, my relationship with Jesus).

It is an interesting experience, trying to enter into and understand another faith context, on its own terms, but at the same time, finding a personal connection, bringing something back into my context, and receiving personal benefit.

I felt, as I left the masjid, that I had worshiped and fellowshiped with God.

Is it Possible to be Friends With Those of a Different Culture or Religion?

I remember a time, perhaps 3-4 years into my Tunisia sojourn, when I wondered if it was a realistic goal to have deep or close friendship with people of a different culture and religion (specifically, at the time, for me, with Tunisian Muslims). I was doing well in Arabic, able to communicate, and spending a lot of time with Tunisian "friends." But then we kept running into surprises, where people let us down in some way or another, e.g., where ulterior motives came to the surface ("can you get me a visa to America?") or taking advantage of us, etc. I realized that expectations are very different in different cultural settings, and also, that in the case of a different religion, there is a different set of allegiances. So what can you count on, what depth of trust can there be?

My perspective changed over the next few years, as I came to the point of having Tunisian friends that I felt I knew fairly deeply and could count on.

But this week, here at the Building Hope Conference at the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale, as we have been focusing on building relationships - and we have talked about friendships - between Christians, Jews and Muslims, I have been thinking about this again.

I had a rather surprising "incident" the other day, on the second or third day here. On a break, I was talking with a Muslim from the Middle East, but who has lived for a number of years in the U.S. We were chatting, and I asked if he is married? if he has kids? how many? (we were interacting - I was sharing about myself, too) do his kids go to public school in the U.S., or a private Islamic school?

And then the surprise - he said, "you're asking a lot of questions." I said I was sorry, didn't mean to, was just chatting. He said, "well, you ask about kids, but then whether they're in an Islamic private school? - that's personal."

This interaction took me aback. We could attribute it to an intercultural faux pas (e.g., generalize that middle easterners are more slow to share personal information, which I know), but there are other factors involved:

1. I know Middle Eastern culture, interact with Middle Eastern Muslims all the time, and feel that I have a sense of how the interaction is going. I often get into discussion, in Jordan where I live, with people I meet even for the first time, about our families.

2. I didn't think of the topic as particularly sensitive. I'm interested in the education question because of my interest in the immigrant experience, as well as that of how religious people in general relate to the question of public vs. private religious schools. It seemed to me a "normal" topic.

3. We're here at a conference whose explicit purpose is building relationship, and we have been encouraged, beyond that, to seek friendship. We had been together for a couple of days, and I had already had this kind of interaction with several participants, with no sign of getting "too personal, too quickly."

So what to conclude from this? It may be something personal to this individual. Perhaps as a Muslim in post-9/11 America, he has had too many non-Muslims asking too many personal questions, and is suspicious (I don't blame him). Or perhaps he is a private person. Or there may be some other explanation all together.

Whatever the explanation, I find myself thinking again about the nature of friendship, and what I can expect, or hope for, in building relationship with those of a different culture and/or a different religion. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Building Hope Through Building Relationship - Friendship is Key

Hanging out for 9 days with Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews from the U.S., Turkey, Iraq, New York, Israel, and elsewhere; with Sunni Muslims from various countries including the U.S., and a leading American Shiite Imam (from Iraq); and with Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Christians from Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, and the U.S. - presenting, asking questions and discussing; eating meals together; going on outings; and just becoming friends?

Let me say, very clearly – sharing our beliefs and practices and talking about all of the issues is significant and meaningful; but spending time building relationship with different others is by far the most significant aspect of this time at the “Building Hope” Conference.

As the Arab proverb says, "if you are ignorant of something, you are at enmity with it (or with him/her)." The person we do not know, that we fear, is the person we need to seek out. Relationship changes everything (if we are open to being changed).

Quotes of the Day - Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts re. Who is my Neighbor? and What does it mean to love my Neighbor, including the poor?

Some quotes from today (we're talking Orthodox Jews, committed Muslims including a Shi'ite Imam, and committed Christians from all main branches, talking together about our faith and issues like love of neighbor, peacemaking, and more):

"We're not talking about Christianity, Islam and Judaism, but about Christians, Muslims and Jews, and how we're going to live together; and we have to live together with Sikhs, Hindus, and others."

A gentile approached Shammai and said to him: "Convert me but teach me the entire Torah as I stand on one foot." Shammai, feeling that he wasn't serious, chased him away. This gentile then approached Hillel with the same request but was met with a very different reaction--Hillel agreed. The entire Torah on one foot that Hillel taught him was "what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the entire Torah while the rest is commentary. Go and learn it."
Talmud [Shabbos 31A]

Do not hate a fellow Israelite [your brother] in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
(Leviticus 19:17-18; 33-34)

Whoever believes in Allah (S.W.T.) and the Last Day, let him treat his neighbor well...” (Bukhari and Muslim) According to a report given by Bukhari, he (s.a.w.s.) said: “Whoever believes in Allah (S.W.T.) and the Last Day, let him not harm or annoy his neighbor...”

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Jesus (Luke 10:25-37)

My concern is not that we don't love our enemies, but that we don't love anyone; that we just love ourselves and those who it is convenient to love. … In the West, now, we are lacking even a sense of community, what it means to have literal, actual neighbors. … What would it look like for us to take our literal neighborhoods seriously?”

in order to love anyone, you not only need empathy, but you also need a great deal of forgiveness”

if the religious leader is the leader of community organization, it doesn't last – need to get it to the grassroots level”

We all have poor neighbors. We live with them as if they don't exist.”

Amos 5:24, “let justice fall down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty flowing stream”

"we are to love our neighbor, but sometimes I don't love my wife"

If poverty were a man, I would have killed him,” and “every time a poor person starves, it is because of the accumulation of wealth by the wealthy” (Imam Ali; i.e., poverty is not from God, but is a human problem).

Don't claim to believe in me [Muhammad], when you sleep with a full stomach, while your neighbor is hungry” (Hadith) - “social justice and helping the poor is considered a primary responsibility for every Muslim.”

the best image of love is the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples” - “love does not look down, but looks up (from a position of humility)”

charity for those in your community, and justice for all” - there has to be room in our bigger world for particularism”; “we are all human beings created in the divine image, and every human being has worth and dignity, but how do you put that into a program? Do you make no distinctions?” Or do you take the view that “you exist in a world of concentric circles of obligation” (family, neighborhood, tribe or caste, etc., country, and world)? “But is this model satisfying? Doesn't there need to be room for giving charity to our own people first?”

You can see that interacted over some very heavy and significant issues, among them, the question of “who is my neighbor?” and “what does love of neighbor mean?” spilling into particularism versus universalism, i.e., the question of whether we are right in looking to some extent after the needs of our own community first, and then for others, or whether we need to be practicing love of neighbor (including charity) to all people equally.

Let me say, very clearly – talking about all of these issues is significant and meaningful; but spending time building relationship with different others – in my case, with Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, with Sunni and Shiite Muslims from different nations, and with Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Christians – is by far the most significant aspect of this time at the “Building Hope” Conference.

Who do we love? Who do we do good to? What is our mandate?

An interesting question came up yesterday, as we were talking about peacemaking and tolerance in our (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) traditions.

A Jewish presenter shared the text,
The reason Adam was created alone in the world is to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever keeps alive a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had preserved the entire world.

But someone pointed out that there is another version,


This raises the question, are Jews encouraged not to destroy / to save, Jewish life, or all life?

Similarly, a Muslim presenter shared the Hadith, 

"None of you truly believes (in Allaah and in His religion) until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself,"

but another pointed out that this is "weak," that the "strong" version is 

"None of you truly believes (in Allah and in His religion) until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself,"

with the understanding that "brother" means fellow Muslims.

And for Christians, does Jesus' teaching to "lover your neighbor as yourself" mean fellow Christian, or all others? (Note, for example, that in Matthew 5:23-24 it says, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift." - does "brother or sister" mean fellow Christian, or everyone?)

I do not approach this from the position of arguing what Islam or Judaism teaches (e.g., some Christians argue that Islam teaches only love of Muslims). One question is what the texts say; another is, how do we interpret and apply them, what do we emphasize.

My perspective is that in any of our traditions we are faced with the question, how do we relate to people (The Other) outside our tradition, outside our community? What are our commitments? Are we committed to doing good to all people, loving all people, saving the life of all people? The potential is there, in each of our traditions, for inclusivity or exclusivity, for narrowness or breadth.

As a Christian, I believe that our mandate, from Jesus, is to love all people. After all, when he taught that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the example he used to illustrate this (to his Jewish listeners) was the dispised, “half-breed,” “false religion” Samaritan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Culture Cartoon of the Day: Universal Truths All Religions Agree On

So what's your view of The Other?

Concerned About Understanding and Peace? Familiar with the Common Word?

Do you desire better Christian-Muslim-Jewish understanding, and peace between these communities? (If not, why not?) If you are, are you familiar with the Common Word initiative - - and the Christian response that issued from the Yale (the Center for Faith and Culture at the Divinity School) - This is the kind of initiative that is needed, if we are to have better relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews in the world today, and more peace. If you are a person of religious conviction (or not), I would encourage you to look at and think about this (and other) initiative.

To Protest on the Sidewalk, or Eat Falafal in the Mosque?

One of our Muslim speakers talked about an American Christian leader who brought a group of Christians to protest outside his mosque (protesting against the Muslims wanting to "take over America and impose Sharia."

The Muslim leader invited the Christian leader, rather than sitting outside on the sidewalk, to come into the mosque, eat falafal with them, and talk. The Christian leader, he said, refused. "He was not interested in talking - he just wanted to protest" (and, when asked what his idea was of Sharia, didn't have any idea - he was protesting what he did not know).

This strikes me as a believable but sad comentary on Muslim-Christian (though it could include anyone) relations in these days. And again we are forced to consider, would I rather react and protest, or am I willing to step out of my comfort zone, enter the mosque (or whatever the space), share a meal, and get to know The Other?

Understanding, Image, and Self-Awareness - the impact of Interfaith Relationships

We are talking about a wide range of fascinating topics, at the "Building Hope" Conference. We have started out with all three groups - Muslims, Jews and Christians - sharing about our beliefs and practices, with questions and discussions.

A theme, so far, that I find myself thinking about, is that of understanding and image.

More than one person has said something like, you (the other two groups) have a certain image of us. I would like it if you would let me explain myself (our group, our beliefs, etc.), and replace your image of me (us) with our image of ourselves (i.e., see us as we think we are).

This, of course, makes total sense, but how easy it is to forget. How easy it is to relate to others based on my image of them, rather than learning to know them as they are (this movement, I would say, is at the heart of what it means to move from relating to people ethnocentrically to relating to them ethnorelatively or ethnosensitively).

But an issue arises, of course - to what extent can we really understand "The Other"? Someone pointed out an author (I forget who), who said that we really can't fully/deeply/truly understand other peoples' religious faith. I seem to remember Wilfred Cantwell Smith saying something of the sort. This could be true not only between religious communities (how can I as a Christian, for example, know how a Muslim feels about the Qur'an, or the depth of the impact of saying the Shahada, in/on his or her mind, heart, soul?), but also within a religious tradition (can I really know the reality of another person's faith, what's going on in their heart and mind and spirit?).

Of course, we can work in the direction of understanding, but we need to observe, ask questions, listen carefully, and push ourselves to go deeper, not to stop at the surface. It strikes me how often our relationships with and understanding of each other, remain relatively superficial, either assuming we "know" the other, or perhaps not even thinking about it.

One other thing - self-awareness comes, in part, through coming to understand how others perceive us. If a Muslim or a Jew tells me as a Christian, "honestly, I tend to think of you Christians as polytheists," that can be a cause for interesting self-reflection, learning about myself as well as the Other. I find myself thinking, for example, what really is monotheism? what does it mean to worship God monotheistically? and how can I express my conviction of the fact that I am monotheistic, in a way that can make sense to Muslims and Jews in light of the different understandings we have of God?

I'm reminded of a classic statement of anthropological experience, that we "journey into (or among) the other, only to returned changed to ourselves" (to find ourselves, to know ourselves, in a new light).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Muslims, Christians and Jews on the path to understanding?

The "Building Hope" conference has begun.

There is too much to reflect on coherently at this time, but a couple of thoughts about how to relate to the Other, in a way that might lead to something positive:

* We were encouraged last night that for deeper understanding, we must go beyond study of texts (history, etc.), and focus on developing friendship with others (the others we might be suspicious or afraid or ignorant of, in conflict with, etc.). In fact, that's why 30 of us - Muslims, Christians and Jews - are spending 10 days together, sharing life, sharing meals, sharing faith, and discussing difficult issues.

* We were also encouraged that the path to understanding usually leads through times of non-understanding. If we think we "understand" the Other from the start, what we really understand are just our own stereotypes of the Other, relating to an image rather than reality. 

* Today, one of the Jewish speakers reminded us that Muslims and Christians both tend to think they understand Judaism, but what we really understand are our own versions of Judaism, based on our textual traditions. If we really want to understand Judaism (and Jews), we need to let them speak, and listen, to come to know them, and their version. The challenge, the speaker pointed out, is to hold our texts and images in one hand, and to create space for understanding Judaism on its own terms, at the same time. 

What we experienced, today, was Muslims and Jews sharing about their beliefs and practices, and significant question and answer times (that were too short, but very significant); and lots of relational time, as well, over meals and breaks, interacting, getting to know each other, and - I hope - moving toward more of an understanding of Each Other as we really are (not as images). 

And we still have 8 more full days of this! I'm hopeful...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Faith and Culture: a Conservative Muslim "fighting for freedom," but not like the Tea Party

A Yale University PhD student who is wildly popular among the world's most conservative Muslims? Raised, educated, and at home in America and Saudi Arabia alike? A "pacifist Salafi"? Working out conservative Islam in the American context (and being against the "hijacking" of Islam by terrorists)? Receiving a death threat for shaking a woman's hand? Talking openly about "the J word" (Jihad)?

For a fascinating example of the interplay of faith and culture, see this article about one of the most famous "conservative" Muslims in the world, Yasir Qadhi:

It is something of a curiosity that Qadhi, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, now lives in a landscape marked by church steeples and “What would Jesus do?” bumper stickers. But the American South seems to agree with Qadhi, who often preaches on the Islamic principle of polite conduct. He takes to the gentility of his students at Rhodes, who call him sir. There is no better place to be Muslim than in America, he says, because as a minority “you feel your faith.” At times, he seems oddly Pollyanna-ish about his future in Tennessee, where someone tried to torch the site of a planned mosque last year. Qadhi concedes that living someplace like Saudi Arabia might be easier, but “it’s not my land at the end of the day,” he said. “I am an American. What else can I say?” Some of Qadhi’s followers find his ease with American culture perplexing, even suspicious. Yet it is his unapologetic comfort with America — his assertion that Muslims belong here as much as anyone — that has also made him a point of pride for many young Salafis. “We need to make sure that our children can live freely, and we’re going to fight for that freedom,” he told me one afternoon. “And every time I use that word, I need to make a disclaimer — I don’t mean ‘fight’ in the Tea Party sense of overthrowing the government.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Culture Quote of the Day - don't assume, don't project

"The first step toward becoming more culturally intelligent is to become more aware of our own cultural identity.... We have a universal tendency to think that other people do things for the same reasons we do them. After all, we learned to do what we do by observing others around us. But as we become more aware of our own culture and its values, we're less likely to project our values onto the Other. Understanding our own culture protects us from assuming the actions of the Other mean the same thing as when we act that way."
David Livermore, Cultural Intelligence

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Culture Quote of the Day - self-awareness

"The inward, transformative journey of cultural intelligence involves a heightened understanding of our own cultural background. In what ways are we shaped by the cultures of which we're a part? How does our cultural background shape the way we think, see, and love? ... This kind of understanding about our own cultural background...plays a significant role in helping us move forward in the journey of cultural intelligence."
David Livermore, Cultural Intelligence