What IS Interfaith? ~ Celebrating Our First Five Years

There are many reasons that one might wish pause and reflect a bit. One is a heart attack and triple bypass surgery! Another is a dream, a dream almost mystical in nature, that reaches the threshold of five full years of reality. With your permission, it is the second that will occupy our thoughts this morning.

About five and a half years ago, Steve Crawford, Dilara Hafiz and I sat in my kitchen and envisioned a congregation, founded upon Interfaith as a faith. Dilara now lives in Florida, and has found the commute, for some reason, just too much. But Steve is still here. Indeed, barring a revolt at our annual meeting after the service, he’ll be our president next year.

Five years. Five really good years. In five years we’ve gathered and donated nearly three thousand pounds of food for the Lynnwood food bank. We’ve walked the talk, literally, in the annual CROP Hunger Walk, where we regularly outraise churches five even ten times our size in online donations to address world hunger. Our own Rebecca Alder is coordinating monthly burrito rolls, where folks get together to prepare nourishing meals for the homeless and hungry. And we raised enough money not only to be financially solvent, but to begin part one of an Interfaith curriculum, where children will be able to learn about their parents’ spiritual path as well as a multitude of others, with respect and without hierarchy. When completed it will be available on our website, for free, for any community that wishes to make use of it. Not bad for a five year old church!

But more than all of this, for five years we have truly lived our Interfaith. We have practiced Interfaith as a faith. And that remains a wonderful and, frankly, remarkable accomplishment. That’s what I’d like to chat about briefly today, and I do mean briefly, as I’d like to leave plenty of time for celebrating. A fair-traded chocolate walnut pie awaits us.

We’ve practiced Interfaith here for five years and with really very little stress or strain. We were written up in the New York Times. I’ve written two books on Interfaith as a faith. Neither has been a runaway best seller! But people are indeed reading them. And yet, it does my humility good to remember that even now very few people truly get what we’re about. And that’s something to think about this morning. How might we better communicate what we’re about?

There is a growing comfort with interfaith dialogue. This is a good thing – a wonderful thing. Talking is an important step in our not hating and even killing each other over our diverse spiritual paths. When we say that Interfaith as a faith is different than interfaith dialogue, we are not, contrary to our cultural norm, saying that one is better than the other. But they are different.

Someone I used to know was very fond of what he termed “elevator speeches.” What’s your elevator speech? he would ask. How do you explain, whatever it is you are trying to explain, in the time it takes an elevator to go from the second to the third floor? I’ll admit, I frequently found it annoying. It’s our sound-bite world applied to everything. But, annoyance aside, he had a point.

So how do we explain what we’re about, in an elevator or anywhere else?

This might help. It’s a conversation I had between me and myself as I struggled over the past few days to describe the essence of Interfaith, and to do it in the time it takes to travel one floor.

What is Interfaith?

Interfaith teaches that there is no “them,” there is only “us.”

Fine, but what is Interfaith?

Ok, Interfaith teaches that it is not what we believe that counts, it’s what we do with our beliefs.

Fine. That’s what it teaches, but what is Interfaith? Me was beginning to find myself more than a little annoying; but we continued.

Interfaith embraces our spiritual diversity.

Fine. That’s what it does. But what is Interfaith?

Interfaith is spiritual humility. Interfaith is spiritual humility. It is a respect for our varying spiritual paths without prejudice or hierarchy.

Oh.

I’ve talked with a lot of good people over the years – well intentioned, with big hearts – and I have come to realize that spiritual humility is not only the great call of Interfaith but also the great impediment to embracing it. Humility is never easy. We talked about this more deeply at the last service. Humility is not what we are taught. Intriguingly, it’s what is preached, but it is not what is taught.

I bring this up because I hope many of us will help to spread the word, will speak of Interfaith to others – not as “the” way and certainly not the “only” way but as a positive way forward. You may have noticed that the world is in desperate need of some positive ways forward. And we can help.

One way we can help is by being able to communicate succinctly what we are about. The essence of it, the “elevator speech” is Interfaith is about spiritual humility. That is the foundation of everything we have built on. That is our modestly controversial and definitely difficult foundation stone.

But here we are, five years into the great adventure, living proof of Living Interfaith. Spiritual humility is not only possible – it works. Here we are, from so many differing spiritual paths, coming together to share and learn. There are no sparks here, yet great warmth. Amidst all the diversity, such warmth, such compassion, such unity of purpose.

“Come, come, whoever you are,” as we sing every service. And we come together, committed to each other and to a world of compassion. There is indeed much to celebrate. And I shall never tire of sharing with you what a privilege and joy it is to be a part of this truly remarkable congregation.

Amen.

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2 Responses to What IS Interfaith? ~ Celebrating Our First Five Years

  1. Henry says:

    Do you have an interfaith church in Tucson AZ.? I would like to include them in my thoughts and maybe join their effort if it’s about faith as opposed to creating another governing body of the faithful. These governments are only interested in themselves and not the true worship of the Spirit. So if this is what you are about please disregard my inquiry, but if not…then I am interested. But, again only if the church is not located in the wealthy part of the city. They raise themselves up to help the needs of the poor for their own praise and not the praise of God.

    • steven says:

      Hello Henry. To my knowledge there isn’t a Living Interfaith congregation in the Tucson area. But there’s no reason you couldn’t work with others to start one. The whole point of my writing “Practical Interfaith” was to help people come together and start their own Interfaith congregations. If you are interested, I’d encourage you to get the book and read it with a few like-minded friends. It’s hard work, starting an Interfaith congregation, and it takes time. But if this is what calls to you, I think you will find it spiritually very rewarding. Good luck to you!

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