Come… read my sacred texts as if they were yours…

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Posted on February 14th, 2011 | Filed under Academic, Challenges, Community, Featured, Interfaith, Leadership, Learning, News, Social Issues, Theology
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In an earlier post, I offered a reflection on the types of inter-religious encounters that, although often well intentioned, tend to be reductive and ultimately unhelpful in the development of inter-religious dialogue. This does not mean I have given up on the such dialogue, on the contrary I believe it is one of the most important endeavors of our time.

Many years ago I had a friend who thought Christian faith did not have much to do with other religions. For this friend, the main activity of Christians involved telling or demonstrating to the world, all the world, that the saving love of God was available to them through Jesus Christ. Recently, after many years, we met at a coffee shop to catch up and share life stories. My friend had moved on from working in a big successful main-line church and had become involved with international development projects.

After settling into our comfy cafe chairs, my friend said, " Kelly, you were right. Inter-faith relationships are a matter of life and death. They really do matter."

The photo above illustrates this point perhaps better than any words written in a blog. A chain made up of Christians protects Muslim protesters in the midst of prayer. Life and death decisions. Muslims deciding to pray in the midst of protest... a decisive sign of vulnerability and faith, and Christians, commanded by Jesus to "go and do likewise" as had done the Good Samaritan, protect the vulnerable by guarding them with their own bodies.

Likewise, Muslims protect Christians: "The fact that only a few weeks after the Alexandria attack, Egyptian Copts could hold public prayers in the streets of Cairo, in an overwhelmingly Muslim crowd of protesters, protected by ranks of volunteers from the Muslim Brotherhood at the entrances to the square, may indicate a shift in the atmosphere in Egypt."

What does it look like for those of us on this side of the world, not in the midst of revolution fraught with the possibly of dangerous religious strife, to make life and death decisions about inter-religious dialogue and relationships? What sort of risks should we take even if protecting each other with our bodies might not seem like an option here in the United States? One of many possible answers to these questions includes the practice of Scriptural Reasoning (SR).

"Scriptural Reasoning" was first established as a method for shared scriptural study among a small group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars of religion—scholars of scripture, of the traditions of scriptural interpretation, of theology, and of philosophy. These scholars have tended to work in small groups of about twenty members, meeting together several times and year and joining together both for study, discussion, and for various writing projects.

Working out of universities and seminaries, scholars of Scriptural Reasoning have shared their methods of study with students and colleagues, with religious leaders in neighboring cities, and with members of local congregations and some peace groups. Through such contact, more public forms of scriptural reasoning study have appeared, including student study circles in the Abrahamic traditions, circles of religious leaders and teachers, and circles of congregants. The SR scholars also established groups like the Children of Abraham Institute to foster grass-roots study circles among members of the Abrahamic traditions and communities.

SR requires at least three chairs, three scriptural texts and one table. The primary assumption in this context is that each tradition is particular.  Instead of assuming similarities, the goal is simply to create a space of dialogue around what some might consider the highest sign of particularity between religious faiths – scripture.  Perhaps out of dialogue comes discoveries of analogous beliefs or understandings between traditions, but primarily what comes out of the interaction are relationships, new understanding of one another, and of the particularity of our own particular traditions. This act of forming relationships, of debate and dialogue is in itself a sign of peace and love in practice. This of course does not replace all other forms of inter-religious dialogue. Instead it adds to the various initiatives at inter-religious dialogue an episodic (monthly, annual...) and temporary (2 hours, day-long,...) meeting space where those shaped by a tradition can open a temporary space of hospitable, respectful and mutual learning through dialogue.

This may seem pretty tame compared to guarding people with our bodies, but I believe sharing our sacred texts through respectful dialogue is more radical than one might first suppose. It requires entering a vulnerable space, in which all are open to listening to the other even if it means hearing your sacred text interpreted from the point of view of another faith tradition. This type of dialogue disrupts hegemonic tendencies...  it allows for those who have been entrenched in their own tradition to see their sacred text from the point of view of another -- without insisting on one dogmatic interpretation of meaning.

For those of my fellow Christians out there who doubt the efficacy of a non-proselytizing form of scripture-sharing consider part of this excerpt from the Gospel of Matthew "...if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?" Jesus pushes his disciples to love even their enemies and those that persecute them... I would say in our context, one in which Christians are more likely to persecute and less likely to be persecuted, we are called to radically know the other and invite the other tell us how they see us through their eyes. God commands: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself"; let us build up courage to protect each other with our bodies by doing what God commands and learning from what Egyptian protesters practice. Let us invite and accept the invitation to read each others' sacred texts together.

This type of dialogue, although simple in form, requires certified training in order to be termed "Scriptural Reasoning". If you are interested in holding a training session in your community or university, you may leave a note in the comments below or find information through the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning Forum.

Featured Photo: Taken by @NevineZaki in Cairo, Egypt: http://yfrog.com/h02gvclj

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27 Responses to “Come… read my sacred texts as if they were yours…”

  1. Sara Staley says:

    Kelly,

    Now it is my turn to tell you how much I have enjoyed your perspective in this piece. Particularity so often gets swallowed up in dialogue, but you have shown that this does not have to be the case – in fact particularity can add much richness to the discussion.

    I would like to inquire about the Scriptural Reasoning training you mention at the end of your blog. I can think of several people off of the top of my head here in Boston who would be interested in such a training, and I am certainly interested as well. I have perused the JSR Forum website, but could you point me in the right direction to learn how I might organize a training?

    Thanks for sharing this,

    Sara

    • Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your comments! I will get back to you soon with more details about the training Ben mentioned, which will be happening at in Charlottesville, VA at UVA June 25-28. Would it be ok to pass on your contact information to the organizers of the training?

      Peace,
      Kelly

  2. @Sara – if a Boston SR group is in the works, count me in!

    Thanks for sharing your reflections, Kelly!

  3. Ben Maton says:

    Spreading the good news of SR… kudos to you Kelly! And it seems you may have already garnered a couple of “seekers”. What I like best about SR (when SR is at its best, IMO) is that it requires no agreement from other SR “friends” on just what the purpose of SR is– no need to name from extra-study “goal.” Instead of being interfaith dialogue about “something”, it allows members of differing communities to do in an attenuated way what is otherwise impossible–to participate with members of another Abrahamic faith in the devotion to sacred scriptures which all three faiths agree is constitutive (in different ways) of their identities.

    All those interested ought mark their calendars from some cool SR stuff this summer at the University of Virginia, June 25-28!

    Peace,
    Ben

    • Sara Staley says:

      I am completely on board (I have been on the Postliberal train for a while so this is right up my alley!) but the cryptic references to cool trainings and events are killing me! What us going on at UVA June 25-28? Is it open to the public (or to students at other theological/religious studies institutions)? Inquiring minds want to know :o)

    • Thanks for your comments… I look forward to a post from you about this topic sometime in the near future… perhaps after a comp or two?
      Peace,
      Kelly

  4. Paul Sorrentino says:

    Kelly, That reflects my experience with SR. A great forum for inter-religious dialogue. Thank you.

  5. R.J.L says:

    Kelly,

    May I share this post with my Sunday School group? While some of it may be over their heads, I think it actually should be pretty accessible and it says a lot of what I have been trying to get through to them much more eloquently than I have been able to.

  6. Brad Bannon says:

    Great post, Kelly – and great idea… and what an amazing photograph!

  7. To all who are interested… Martin Davis from Congregational Resources Guide’s CR Radio interviewed me about Scriptural Reasoning. You can check it out here:

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cr-radio/2011/02/24/reading-scripture-as-if-it-were-your-own

    More info to come about the training in June. There will be a website about it soon.

    Peace,
    Kelly

  8. Cindy says:

    Kelly – you have given us a real gift. I’m looking forward to the website!

    Our semi-rural/suburban mainline parish tried to engage members of the local An-Nur Foundation, which has made a number of our Christian neighbors very, very nervous, in a shared Thanksgiving service.

    We received no response from them, but we’d issued an invitation with a date and time, so I felt compelled to at least try to ensure that we were ready to welcome strangers, and worship in a way that was not offensive or repellant to them.

    As if we could do such a thing unilaterally! My anguished FB post, that this was harder than it sounded when we thought to do it, elicited some passionate responses and rather pointed accusations – of denying Jesus, of syncretizing. YIKES!

    It was fortunate that we had no response to our invitation, because I’m sure my anxiety and our cluelessness would have done more harm than good.

    I’m hoping that SR might be possible in our neighborhood. Maybe the stakes aren’t as high as in some places, but there is still opportunity even in the relative backwaters of the world!

    Thanks again.

  9. rachel morey says:

    This summer, the Minnesota Interfaith Open Forum (which I co-organize w/leaders from the Ahmadiyaa Muslim community and the Hindu Temple of Maple Grove) is moving in a new direction: to date, we’ve held our forums on “issues of the day” (status of women, politics, poverty). At our July forum, we’ve decided to ask the question, “Why do you believe what you believe?”

    I’m excited about this movement toward the content of faith (although talking about its implications proved a good starting point for us) – the key will, I believe, be the same key as with a conversation moderated by the rules of scriptural reasoning: a hermeneutic of trust and good faith. Real relationship is transformative, and that’s why it is so terrifying to people of deeply held faith, no matter what their intentions.

  10. The website is up re: Scriptural Reasoning Training in June 2011! hope you see you all there.
    http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/jsrforum/srevents.html
    Please let me know if you have more questions.

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Kelly West Figueroa-Ray is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice at the University of Virginia. She is focusing on the relationship between scripture and theology as it is lived out in communities of faith with a particular interest in multicultural Christian ministries.


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