Interactive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook
by Rev. Bud Heckman and Rori Picker Neiss, eds. Woodstock, Vermont: Sky Light Paths, 2008. 266 pp. $30. www.skylightpaths.com
In 1955 Will Herberg published an influential study on the sociology of the dominant and visible religions in the North American context. The book was entitled Protestant, Catholic, Jew.
Things have changed. There are now more Muslims here than either Episcopalians or Presbyterians or Jews. Buddhism is becoming a North American religion and Baha’is, Jains and Hindus have built large temples in major North American cities.
About ten years after Herberg’s book came out, a visionary pluralist named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saw the challenge on the horizon and said in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize lecture:
“This is the great new problem of humankind. We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jews, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family duly separated by ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every pleas and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’
The interfaith movement in the United States has evolved rapidly and desperately needed a practical, hands-on, how-to manual put together by some of the best people in the field and covering a wide range of methodologies. That need is appreciably answered by Interactive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook.
The title derives from the conviction that faith is not passive but active, and if the faith of each person is living in dialogue with that of others, then faith is not only active but interactive. Interactive Faith seeks to provide the inhabitants of that “great world house” of which Dr. King spoke with the tools they need to relate to one another with respect and understanding. The only prerequisite is the willingness to engage “the other.”
The book is divided into three parts. Part I offers guidance on how to achieve interfaith dialogue through different media: spoken dialogue (chapter 1), the arts (chapter 2), and shared worship (chapter 3). The contributors to part II focus on putting interfaith into action , either through service (chapter 4) or advocacy (chapter 5). Part III offers a brief overview of major faith traditions, a short guide to some good interfaith organizations and resource centers, and suggestions for further learning.
In an extended introduction, editor Rev. Bud Heckman, former director of Religions for Peace USA, defines some key terms, offers some lessons from the field and practical ideas on how to become constructively engaged in the movement, as well as ten commandments that have guided his own interfaith work.
In chapter one, Rev. Dr. Francis Tiso, interfaith relations specialist at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, eschews dialogue that brackets truth, ignores theology, has no link to authority and tradition, and does not inquire about our “last end”, in favor of taking notice of the very real differences and historical issues that require a healing of memories. Even with scarce resources and perhaps a lack of sympathy for dialogue within the faith communities themselves, “dialogue must continue,” he writes. “There is simply no alternative; we have already seen where the absence of dialogue leads.”
In chapter two, Abby Stamelman Hocky, Rev. Susan Teegen-Case, and Rabbi Carol Harris-Shapiro make the reader aware that dialogue is by no means limited to the spoken word. Dialogue through the arts offers a powerful means of personal expression and relationship-building, and the seeds of transformation. New realities emerge in the creative process that surprise us, realities not always accessible using linear, didactic thinking. The writers share how at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia they have brought people together through journaling, poetry, photography, drumming, and a community mural project. True to the book’s desire to be practical, they provide 8 steps that should be taken in conceiving and planning an interfaith arts project or event.
In chapter three, Dr. Clark Lobenstein, director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (D.C.) which held this year at the national cathedral its 29th Annual Interfaith Concert, shares what he has learned about holding together loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for other traditions in interfaith prayer services. Once again, concrete guidelines are provided along with a discussion of examples of different services designed for a variety of occasions such as anniversaries, immediate response to an event or crisis, and services designed to increase awareness of a situation (e.g. AIDs epidemic or sensible gun laws).
In chapter four, Action through Service, Dr. Eboo Patel, April Kunz, and Noah Silverman develop the notion of Civil Pluralism--a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution. Diversity, they observe, if left to itself, can become the breeding ground for ignorance, discrimination, hostility, and violence. Civil pluralism asks us to go beyond the fact of merely acknowledging our diversity and to make commitments to one another and to the world that we share.
In chapter five, Action through Advocacy, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy recognizes that interreligious cooperation has become a virtual necessity both for credibility and effectiveness for any religious group that embraces an agenda for advocacy. He offers words of wisdom about what not to do as well as strategies and best practices.
Chapter six offers a valuable three page overview for each of 13 faith traditions’ history, scripture, beliefs, practices, and symbols. Chapter seven provides an annotated compendium of interfaith organizations and websites, while chapter eight lists helpful print and media resources.
Interactive Faith is popularly written and provides concrete, creative, and cutting-edge strategies to help the different religious communities build trust and celebrate our diversity and common goals. It delivers on its promise of being both a Handbook and Essential