Monday, July 11, 2011

Finding True North #28: Reflecting Toward 9/11/11, Part 3—Interfaith Worship

This is part 3 of a series in which I'm reflecting on liturgical themes and symbols as I prepare to offer some ideas to North UMC for worship on 9/11/11, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which falls on a Sunday. You can read part 1, "Ashes," here, and part 2, "Tears," here. In both of those, I focused on specific images and began to lay some groundwork for potential worship ideas; here, I will talk about interfaith/intertradition worship, as North will be participating in an interfaith service in addition to its Sunday morning worship on 9/11/11. After this, I'll move on to thinking more concretely about how North might begin to plan a service that is reflective, meaningful, and hopefully coherentmeaning I will probably reject many of my coolest ideas...but that's part of the point.

Interfaith worship is tricky. There are all sorts of theological questions to be asked right off the bat. Just starting with ecumenical Christian worship, there are problems of tradition, Biblical interpretation, authority, etc. When you move to interfaith worship and include, for example, Jews and Muslims, you've opened a whole other can of worms. Yes, these are the big three Abrahamic faiths—but do we even worship the same God? How do we acknowledge and embrace our common ground without resorting to a "least common denominator" attitude that diminishes the theological and liturgical integrity of each discrete faith tradition?

I believe that it is important to meet people of other faiths on their terms, not ours. This means being willing to learn about and be attentive to other beliefs and traditions, even if they may seem to contradict ours. The Liturgical Conference blog offers some really helpful guidelines for interfaith/intertradition worship, to which I have linked at the bottom of this post. Here's an abbreviated version of their guidelines:
  1. Learn to appreciate the underlying worldview of another faith.
  2. Learn the names of things.
  3. Find an interpreter/"native informant."
  4. Learn to observe and listen.
  5. Abide by the conventions.
  6. Respect the practices reserved for "insiders" (don't appropriate at will!).
  7. Expect surprises.
  8. Reflect theologically on your experience.
My favorite definition so far of the term "hipster" is "apathetic cultural appropriator." We live in a time and place where cultures other than ours often have a sort of exotic appeal, but the temptation to appropriate from other traditions without understanding the full meaning of that appropriation is dangerous. In worship planning, this means that we shouldn't cobble together a variety of exotic-looking practices and call it interfaith worship. There needs to be some sort of integrity within the service itself as a coherent whole as well as in regard to each tradition represented. As the guidelines above make clear, having a "native informant" is vital to this process. Even a scholar of Islamic practice may not suffice in translating the customs and rituals that are a part of Muslim worship, and just because Christians read the Hebrew Bible as well as Jews does not mean that they can immediately transfer their understanding of Scripture and superimpose it on Jewish tradition. Basically, planning interfaith worship well means entering into relationships that are mutual, open and attentive. This is harder than picking a song in Arabic, reading a Psalm in Hebrew and singing a Christian hymn; but the results of such time investment will be immeasurably better in terms not only of the integrity of the worship itself but in terms of building relationships among people of different faiths.

Have you participated in an interfaith worship service before? What was it like? What did you enjoy about it, and what rubbed you the wrong way? What specific issues does a 9/11 remembrance service bring up in terms of interfaith relations that might affect one's approach to planning such an event?

"Guidelines for Interfaith/Intertraditional Worship," The Liturgical Conference, part 1 (link) and part 2 (link).

1 comments:

Felipe Neumann said...

I haven't participated in an interfaith worship service, to tell you the truth, that's kind of a new concept to me!
Although, I'm brazilian and if I was asked what country holds the biggest religion diversity in the world I'd say Brazil! :)
I'm jewish and have catholic, mormon, protestant friends and religion is a common subject whenever we're hanging out together.
I have been taking the missionary discussions of the LDS Church (when you call LDS missionaries to your home so they can teach you principles of their faith and gospel) and it has been amazing.
I decided to do this because my ex girlfriend is mormon and I felt like I needed to understand her faith better, unfortunately we broke up... but I'm still taking the discussions and they're great nonetheless.
I've been reading your blog for awhile now, keep up the good work, I like your writings.

Best regards from Brazil!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Finding True North #28: Reflecting Toward 9/11/11, Part 3—Interfaith Worship

This is part 3 of a series in which I'm reflecting on liturgical themes and symbols as I prepare to offer some ideas to North UMC for worship on 9/11/11, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which falls on a Sunday. You can read part 1, "Ashes," here, and part 2, "Tears," here. In both of those, I focused on specific images and began to lay some groundwork for potential worship ideas; here, I will talk about interfaith/intertradition worship, as North will be participating in an interfaith service in addition to its Sunday morning worship on 9/11/11. After this, I'll move on to thinking more concretely about how North might begin to plan a service that is reflective, meaningful, and hopefully coherentmeaning I will probably reject many of my coolest ideas...but that's part of the point.

Interfaith worship is tricky. There are all sorts of theological questions to be asked right off the bat. Just starting with ecumenical Christian worship, there are problems of tradition, Biblical interpretation, authority, etc. When you move to interfaith worship and include, for example, Jews and Muslims, you've opened a whole other can of worms. Yes, these are the big three Abrahamic faiths—but do we even worship the same God? How do we acknowledge and embrace our common ground without resorting to a "least common denominator" attitude that diminishes the theological and liturgical integrity of each discrete faith tradition?

I believe that it is important to meet people of other faiths on their terms, not ours. This means being willing to learn about and be attentive to other beliefs and traditions, even if they may seem to contradict ours. The Liturgical Conference blog offers some really helpful guidelines for interfaith/intertradition worship, to which I have linked at the bottom of this post. Here's an abbreviated version of their guidelines:

  1. Learn to appreciate the underlying worldview of another faith.
  2. Learn the names of things.
  3. Find an interpreter/"native informant."
  4. Learn to observe and listen.
  5. Abide by the conventions.
  6. Respect the practices reserved for "insiders" (don't appropriate at will!).
  7. Expect surprises.
  8. Reflect theologically on your experience.
My favorite definition so far of the term "hipster" is "apathetic cultural appropriator." We live in a time and place where cultures other than ours often have a sort of exotic appeal, but the temptation to appropriate from other traditions without understanding the full meaning of that appropriation is dangerous. In worship planning, this means that we shouldn't cobble together a variety of exotic-looking practices and call it interfaith worship. There needs to be some sort of integrity within the service itself as a coherent whole as well as in regard to each tradition represented. As the guidelines above make clear, having a "native informant" is vital to this process. Even a scholar of Islamic practice may not suffice in translating the customs and rituals that are a part of Muslim worship, and just because Christians read the Hebrew Bible as well as Jews does not mean that they can immediately transfer their understanding of Scripture and superimpose it on Jewish tradition. Basically, planning interfaith worship well means entering into relationships that are mutual, open and attentive. This is harder than picking a song in Arabic, reading a Psalm in Hebrew and singing a Christian hymn; but the results of such time investment will be immeasurably better in terms not only of the integrity of the worship itself but in terms of building relationships among people of different faiths.

Have you participated in an interfaith worship service before? What was it like? What did you enjoy about it, and what rubbed you the wrong way? What specific issues does a 9/11 remembrance service bring up in terms of interfaith relations that might affect one's approach to planning such an event?

"Guidelines for Interfaith/Intertraditional Worship," The Liturgical Conference, part 1 (link) and part 2 (link).

1 comments:

Felipe Neumann said...

I haven't participated in an interfaith worship service, to tell you the truth, that's kind of a new concept to me!
Although, I'm brazilian and if I was asked what country holds the biggest religion diversity in the world I'd say Brazil! :)
I'm jewish and have catholic, mormon, protestant friends and religion is a common subject whenever we're hanging out together.
I have been taking the missionary discussions of the LDS Church (when you call LDS missionaries to your home so they can teach you principles of their faith and gospel) and it has been amazing.
I decided to do this because my ex girlfriend is mormon and I felt like I needed to understand her faith better, unfortunately we broke up... but I'm still taking the discussions and they're great nonetheless.
I've been reading your blog for awhile now, keep up the good work, I like your writings.

Best regards from Brazil!

 

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