Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Five: Faith and Culture

Terri has been working with a local inter-faith project and poses these questions (perhaps not five, she says) as they relate to interfaith studies:

So, in honor of a week of interfaith study and celebration:

1. Have you ever had an experience of a religion other than your own? And, if so, what was it like for you to experience something different? If you haven't, what religion might you like to study, experience, and learn more about?

I have had only minimal inter-faith experience. I have had friends who were rabbis and studied Torah with them. At one lectionary study, a conservative rabbi often came and we were able to enter the Hebrew scripture with much more depth. I have taken my parishes to services at local synagogues at the invitation of the rabbi and attended local interfaith services. I have also done inter-faith weddings and funerals with Jewish colleagues. But I am still woefully ignorant of other traditions.

2. Have you ever studied, travelled, or explored other cultures? What and where, and when?

I have traveled in Europe and Latin America so I have not had to confront the full experience of a majority experience of a faith other than Christianity. But each one of those countries had a different way of addressing Christianity that was interesting. Even the differences within my own Episcopal/Anglican tradition: the difference between the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church of Mexico or Honduras, the West Indies and the U. S. is radically different. It is my opinion that the lived-out culture carries faith more readily than any other thing. And even the different regions in our own nation carry faith differently than others. (i.e. the difference between the New England vs. the South or the experience of California in comparison to the Mid-Atlantic states) Even the way that people approach Christianity is different.

3. Any stories you wish to share about a person (author, teacher, etc), or a friend or colleague, from another culture or religion, who has impacted you in some capacity?

While I was working along the MS coast following Katrina we had volunteers from many different traditions who came to work in the Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster relief efforts. One doctor who came to assist in the tent clinic was Hindu. He would come each evening to the prayer service that was usually done from the Book of Common Prayer (the only prayer books that were available following the storm). At dinner we engaged in some interesting conversations about how he was able to worship with us and how he understood his own faith in the light of the disaster of Katrina. We also had Muslims and Jews who worked with us that fall and we all worshipped together. It was one of the most gratifying faith experiences I have ever had.

4. My last parish before I retired was a small Lutheran (ELCA) congregation in upstate NY. That experience really informed me of how insular we become as Christians in our own denominations. Theologically I AM NOT a Lutheran. Most of Lutheran theology leaves me cold and I was never able to adopt the “Law and Gospel” thing that so characterizes Lutheran preaching. But the experience helped me really understand how much national culture has to do with how we how we understand our faith. The 2nd and 3rd generation Germans, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes I had in my congregation all had different takes on Lutheranism. Those whose families who came from Prussia and those whose roots were in Bavaria had different slants on how God was to be worshipped. I got them talking about it at coffee hour one morning because I was fascinated and it helped me serve them better. It also helped them understand why they were having difficulties among themselves and made it possible for them to develop a bit more cohesiveness as a congregation.

Within my own tradition, I have worked most of my career on the interface between White/Anglo culture and the African-American and Latino cultures. To experience Christ in those cultures requires an openness that I would not have had if I hadn’t been willing to enter into another culture to share in their faith. It has broadened my faith and allowed me understand people more deeply.

5. I am presently working on an inter-communion effort within the Anglican Communion. For the past 9 months I have been on a list serve with people from all over the world, all English-speaking Anglicans but who have widely-differing understandings of worship, theology and even the English language. Churchill used to say of Britain and the US:” two countries separated by a common language.” This is VERY true. When we have tried to publish anything in the name of the group, we find that what is very understandable in one country is not necessarily understandable in another.

When I was in CA, we started a Spanish-speaking mission from our parish. But how was I going to pass on what was uniquely Anglican rather than Roman Catholic in the Spanish language? This conundrum cannot be taken lightly. Translation requires a different mindset. And that finally helped me break through many of the problems I had reading the Bible in translation. Although Hindus, Muslims and Jews read their scriptures in their original language, the language of faith is rooted in a language that is no longer used: Sanskrit, early Arabic and Biblical Hebrew. This is not so true for those who read their scripture in translation. Language carries culture. And faith is carried by culture. T’is a puzzlement.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Muthah+, you hit upon what made me a heretic growing up Lutheran. I never got "Law and Gospel" either! I was supposed to repent over everything. I wasn't even sure if half of it was worth repenting over.

I still vividly recall at about age 10, doing the LCMS Confession of sin, "We are truly sorry, and justly deserve your eternal punishment." I remember thinking, "Whaaaa? Aw, I lied to my mom, I smarted back at the teacher, I was late coming in the house from playing. Yeah, it's wrong, but I don't think it's quite being eternally punished over! NO! I DON'T deserve God's eternal punishment for it!"

And that is when I began my journey as a heretic Lutheran...which is why I got lucky finding the Episcopal church!

That said, I still get "grace" like a Lutheran, and I suppose that won't change. Sometimes I do look around at my church and think, "You know, I think we're all a little too full of our incarnation now and then...and we didn't DO anything to deserve this grace, so I think we need to just shut up and be thankful." LOL

Fran said...

What a fine post and very thought provoking.

I actually tend to know more about other faiths outside of Christianity than I do about other denominations of Christianity. Although I have had the great gift and privilege of learning a lot about the Episcopal church from all of you!

I will add that the experience of traveling in Jerusalem and in Jordan was life changing in regard to broadening my awareness.

Thanks for this post!