Barriers and Bridges

My first blog post was on the subject of why interfaith engagement is important to me as an individual. For this blog post, I would like to consider why interfaith engagement is important for the world at large.

A few weeks ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon at a small park with a small but mighty group of fellow Indianapolis citizens. We talked about our shared hope for a more peaceful city, giving examples from our different faiths about how we might go about making that happen

Speaking out of her rich tradition, a Muslim woman from the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) spoke beautifully about the need for peace in our city, which has had a particularly violent year with a record 113 homicides. Speaking from the Quran, she called those gathered, both Christian and Muslim, to work for peace. I needed to hear this; I needed her difference as a Muslim to speak out of her own faith values, to help inspire me to look inside of my own rich tradition and work for peace to make Indianapolis a safe and peaceful city for all of its people.

How do we today as people of faith use our differences to reach across faith boundaries and inspire each other rather than to retract further back into our faith identities toward religious fundamentalism?

Searching for a form of identity that does not seek to be purely individual but includes the other, Miroslav Volf says this:

“The human self is formed not through a simple rejection of the other—through a binary logic of opposition and negation—but through a complex process of “taking in” and ‘keeping out.’ We are who we are not because we are separate from the others who are next to us, but because we are both separate and connected, both distinct and related; the boundaries that mark out identities are both distinct and related; the boundaries that mark our identities are both barriers and bridges. “[i]

“The boundaries that mark our identities are both barriers and bridges.”

What differentiates you from me can also serve as a connection between us.

Speaking more specifically from the Christian perspective and the need to include the other, Brian McLaren says, “Peter realized in their encounter that the good news of Jesus subverted and transcended the old laws of insider-outsider, us-them, sacred-profane, clean-unclean” [ii]

God has made my neighbor holy, and not only should I tolerate their difference, but I am in great need of their difference in order to find peace in the world today. I am called as a Christian to seek out my neighbors of different religions and find out how our boundaries can be used as bridges. As a Christian, I could have closed my heart off to my Muslim friend at the park that day. However, I would have been closing the door on my neighbor, my community, and our common hope for peace.

I am inspired by the words and actions of my neighbor’s faith to seek out how Jesus is calling me to work for peace in my community.

In the words of one of my hero’s, Martian Luther King:  “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” [iii]

Our intertwined futures depend on our ability to encourage and work with each other.


[i] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996. Print.

[ii] McLaren, Brian D. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World. New York: Jericho, 2012. Print.

[iii] Speech from Martin Luther King given at Oberlin College “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”


Image Source: Katey Silberger (Attribution via Flicker Commons)

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One thought on “Barriers and Bridges

  1. David, I absolutely agree with you. The reason I got involved in interfaith dialogue was also a belief that the only way to lasting peace in our world today is through an understanding of each other. Fundamentalists and extremists in every faith tradition see only the boundaries you mention, and have an us-versus-them mentality. Yet if we could all learn about each other’s beliefs we would find so many similarities that the extremist narrative may not hold as much power anymore. All faith traditions require service, and that is one goal we can work together on to improve our world in a myriad of ways. Thank you for writing this!

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