As we begin our third year together, with new faces that deserve a good introduction to who we are, as well as familiar faces that deserve more than a rehash of old messages, let’s see what we can do.
This morning we began our service, as we’ve begun every service we’ve shared since our very first, with the words, “Welcome to Living Interfaith. Know that the whole of you is welcome. You are not asked to leave who you are at the door.” Perhaps it is time to look at those words again, because those simple words that by now we may be so used to that they just fly by, form the very core of who we are.
Know that the whole of you is welcome. The WHOLE of you. So we’re not just talking about spiritual paths, though it would certainly be a big enough step if we were. Yes, Buddhist, Baha’i, Humanist, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Unitarian, Taoist, Pagan, Seeker, just to scratch the surface, yes, all of good will are welcome – not just “tolerated.” Welcome!
Yet we welcome the whole of you, and our spiritual paths are not the whole of us. Men and women, gay and straight, whatever our ethnicity or skin tone, wealthy, impoverished, middle class, or “other”, all of good will are welcome.
We come together. We come together. In a world that much too often seems to be coming apart, we come together. We come together, in community, to share and to live our Interfaith. And what does that mean? Many of you know that interfaith as a word is not quite as old as I am, but still, it’s been around a while. And here, at Living Interfaith, we seek to move the word itself a little bit further down the road. We seek to move Interfaith beyond the realm polite discussion, where it has been stuck for some time, and into how we actually live our lives. And that’s not always easy. So we come together, in community, not only to share but to support each other, to be there for each other.
In my travels this summer, promoting my book The Interfaith Alternative, note the subtle plug, as I talked to people, I referred to us as Interfaithers. I like that word. Interfaither. For me, Interfaithist speaks to page after page of doctrines and dogmas. Interfaithism? No thank you! Interfaither: a person who embraces Interfaith as a faith.
Interfaith, as a faith, teaches us that there are many paths to the sacred. And there is no one “right” path for everyone. And it is not so much the path you walk, as how you walk your path. Just recently, I’ve been contacted by someone in Mukilteo, who follows the way of Taoism, someone from Sequim, who is called to the path of the Buddha, someone from Edmonds who is called to the path of Islam, and someone from the UK, who does hope to visit us! but probably not in the too near future, who is called to the path of an Interfaith Chaplain in hospice care. And all are welcome as a part of the family.
As John Donne put it, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
A little earlier, the choir shared, “This Little Light of Mine.” “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” By all means, each of us should let our light shine.
One of the great teachings of Interfaith is that your light is not a threat to mine. In a culture that seems obsessed with a zero sum world; that preaches the fear that there is only “so much” room as we climb higher; and if you make it up the ladder, I may not – Interfaith says no! Indeed, if I make it up the ladder and you haven’t yet, Interfaith says I should turn and offer you a helping hand – for we are in this together. By all means, shine your light as brightly as you can. It is no threat to me. Indeed, your light may well illuminate something that I’ve never seen before. Because truth be known, and habits being what they are, I tend to shine my light in this direction and not that one. And here you come, with your own light, shining, perhaps, in a slightly different direction – or a very different direction. Whoa! Never noticed that before! If we will truly respect each other, what a world we can build!
By pooling this little light of mine, and your little light, and your little light, and your little light … we can illuminate the earth! We can banish the darkness. But only if I respect your light, and you respect mine.
This is why we are called not merely to espouse Interfaith but to live it; to flaming live it!
And that means, among other things, nurturing each other’s light.
Sometimes … sometimes our light can feel dimmed. Life has been known to throw us some pretty nasty curves from time to time. I’ve had them tossed at me. I feel pretty secure that if you’ve lived any time at all, they’ve been tossed at you. Loss, heartache, stress. Interfaith is a dedication not simply to this little light of mine. And, quite frankly, not simply to these little lights of ours. Interfaith is a dedication to all light. All light. Even if it shines in an area we’d just as soon leave dark.
There’s an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Now, the truth of it is, just in case someone is “fact checking” this sharing, the truth of it is that this ancient Chinese curse is neither ancient nor in all likelihood Chinese. Nonetheless, we do live in interesting times. Challenging times. Challenging to us as individuals. Challenging to us as a nation. Challenging to us as the human race.
I remember a song from when I was a teenager, and I blush, just slightly, to admit that that’s roughly half a century ago. It was called “Eve of Destruction.” I remember it particularly because it was sung by a bass, and not some tenor, which meant I could sing along without screeching. But the theme was: we’re on the abyss. We’re on the eve of destruction. This was the early 1960’s. Which, let’s face it, makes for a pretty long “eve” if we’re still, today, on the eve of destruction.
Nonetheless, there is one phrase that has stayed with me over the years. It cried out to my Interfaith soul even then. “Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace.” Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace. Interfaith teaches us that we cannot truly say grace if we hate our neighbor. And it also teaches us that every human on earth is our neighbor. This doesn’t mean we will always agree with our neighbor. It doesn’t mean that we may not strongly disagree with our neighbor. It happens. But disagreement doesn’t change the fact that she or he is our neighbor. Jewish teaching, echoed by Jesus and Muhammad, tells us that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. In Taoism, it’s the same message, though the wording is different. “He who can find no room for others lacks compassion, and to him who lacks compassion, all men are strangers.” In Buddhism, “As a mother guards the life of her child with her own life, let all-embracing thoughts for all that lives be thine.” From the writings of the Baha’i, “To be Baha’i is simply to love humanity…” Love. We may quibble about the phrasing, and many make a living at it, but at its heart, we are all called to love. We are called to love our neighbor. And we are reminded that our neighbor is all of humanity.
I think it would have been hugely different if the teaching had been, “Agree with thy neighbor.” Or, “Never argue with thy neighbor.” But it isn’t.
I mention this because, while many of us have been busy and may have missed it, there have been a couple of … political conventions over the past two weeks – each declaring how the “other” party will destroy America. Now I’m not going to be talking politics here today, for which you may thank the heavens! But I will offer this. Our propensity to demonize the people we disagree with – to demonize, to make into demons – this is hurtful. This is hating our next door neighbor and thinking we can still say grace.
If you don’t agree with the policies of a particular candidate, by all means, vote for the other guy. Hmm. The other “guy.” I have to tell you, there’s a part of me that looks forward to 2016, and the possibility that Condoleezza Rice will be running for president against Hilary Clinton. And I’ll be able to say, if you don’t agree with the policies of a particular candidate, by all means, vote for the other gal. But I digress.
I’m not saying that there aren’t disagreements to be had, and that some of those disagreements may be fundamental and important. But I would ask each of us to take this home – that while demonizing the people we disagree with may from time to time be politically expedient, it is always, always spiritually bankrupting.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. There’s a lot more to that then meets the ear. I think a part of the teaching is that each of us, though we may have a BIG ego, has a little light. And each and every one of us has right for that light to shine. That is Interfaith at its core. That is how we live Interfaith.
I believe we have the right and obligation to let our light shine. Each and every one of us. Every soul on earth. And no one’s right to shine is greater than another’s.
Before we turn to our final hymn, I’d just like to read the words. Sometimes we’re so involved in singing that the words just pass by.
No matter if you live now far or near,
No matter what your weakness or your strength,
There is not one alive we count outside.
May deeper joy for all now come at length.
May deeper joy for all now come at length.