After celebrating Eid on Sunday, I woke up Monday with a burning question on my mind: “What now?”
You might be wondering the same thing as you make your way back to my blog for the first time after my Ramadan experience.
Some of you might be disappointed to know that I did not decide to become a Muslim! Yaseen told me that he knew there were some Muslims praying very hard that I might “see the light” and convert. I see this strain of thinking in the comments, too. I understand and appreciate the kind of compassion which Muslims are exercising when they pray this way.
But the truth is, I am a Christian, and my conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God has never been stronger. That is simply who I am and what I believe. My Christian convictions are a matter of both head and heart, intellect and experience.
This truth about me should not be a hindrance to further interfaith dialogue, however. True dialogue and mutual appreciation can only begin when all parties claim and own their convictions in the presence of others, without compromising or watering them down.
I am also aware that there are a number of Christians who are disappointed and angered that I embarked on this Ramadan journey. My actions sparked a controversy at my church, which culminated in a congregational meeting on Sunday. Some people in the congregation filed complaints against me, believing that I had compromised my faith and disparaged my church.
They wanted to know if I really believed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. They were concerned that I was downplaying my belief in Jesus, or somehow betraying the uniqueness of Christ.
In my answers and explanations, I tried to underline my Christian beliefs. I take my ordination vows in the United Methodist Church very seriously, one of which deals specifically with my acceptance of, and commitment to, doctrines and articles of faith.
Again, I am very clear about what I believe. I am convinced that one can only engage in true dialogue when grounded in a very clear sense of identity, belief, and conviction. You have to know who you are in order to engage with the “other” without feeling fear or anxiety. I have tried very hard to model that kind of engagement.
Likewise, the experience has been humbling. In some profound ways, my convictions have been challenged – not changed, but challenged.
I cannot escape the truth that my convictions are largely shaped by where I come from and what I have experienced in my life on this earth. I was raised in a Christian home, reading the Bible from an early age. My parents modeled Christian disciplines and taught me a Christian way of living. I was born and raised in America, where the majority of people subscribe to, at least nominally, the Christian religion. All of these factors play heavily into the fact that I am now a Christian pastor. These things have shaped my convictions.
But what if I had been born in Bosnia as a Muslim, and experienced the ethnic cleansing that swept the region in the 1990s, and seen Christians killing and raping my fellow Muslims? What if I had been born in India as a Hindu, or in South Africa as an Afrikaaner committed to apartheid? What if I had been born an African-American in the deep American south in the last century? What if I had been born in the rainforests of Cameroon among the pygmies, or in the slums of Haiti?
I would have a fundamentally different conception of the world. My heart and head would have a radically different perspective on who God is, how to properly worship that God, and what I should be doing with my life.
Because of this simple fact – because there are an infinite number of perspectives and experiences of life on this planet – all convictions that people of faith treasure in their hearts must be held lightly. We must not let them go, neither must we subscribe to a pluralist view (all roads lead to the same place).
But rather than clinging to them tightly and defensively, we hold them lightly, calmly, peacefully. We accept our convictions as gifts, rather than possessions that must be held with a closed fist.
We simply need to be humble, and remain open to the idea that our ideas might change. Or better yet, we must humbly acknowledge that God is infinitely bigger than our convictions, no matter how well-honed and intellectually sound.
At times, we have to shut up and let the silence of God overwhelm us.
As the dust settles over my observance of Ramadan, I think it’s time to simply bend down and observe the flowers that remain. I don’t want the remains of the controversy to obscure the true beauty of my experience.
I choose to gaze upon the flowers of grace, compassion, hospitality, and understanding that are beginning to take root and blossom. Please come and walk in this garden with me.