Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blessed By Diversity in India

Will we be remembered for what we create or for what we destroy? McMurry Assistant Chaplain Tim Palmer captured my imagination with this question during a McMurry University mission trip to India. At the time he raised the question, we were touring the Ellora Caves near Aurangabad, in the state of Maharashtra, India. These are not naturally occurring caves. Over a period of centuries, Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist artisans painstakingly carved full size temples into the side of a mountain. Later, many of the statues in the caves were defaced by Mogul warriors who feared idolatry.

Religion at its worst identifies itself through an enemy, through what it hates or destroys. I’m not singling out a particular religion. Few major religions can claim innocence. There are groups of people in virtually every religion that find their identity in opposing others, sometimes violently, sometimes simply with a holier-than-thou silence. I realize as I write this article—or as you read it—that if we are primarily thinking of those “other” religions that define themselves through opposition to an enemy, then we’ve missed the point. We have to look at ourselves first.

A major dimension of human development, of course, is self-definition through opposition, thus the “terrible twos” and adolescence. Destructive problems arise, however, when biological adults continue to define their religious identity at a “terrible two” or adolescent level. I’m not ignoring the fact that there are major problems in the world that we must resist. There is much in the world that is hurtful, violent, and destructive that we need to resist, nonviolently. But there is a huge difference between resisting that which is destructive, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, constructing our religious identity through what we oppose or hate. Mission trips and study abroad opportunities can teach us to identify ourselves through what we love rather than through what we oppose or hate.

In his newest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, Brian McLaren invites us to a creative rather than a destructive way of dealing with religious difference. He answers the question posed in the title this way: to get to the “other.”  They crossed the road to get to the “other.” He asserts, I think accurately, that if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed met on the road, they would learn to get along with each other much better than many of their followers have. And they would lead us to encounters where we would discover each other as God’s children rather than as enemies.

McMurry in Motion initiatives to India and elsewhere help us to experience the reality that all God’s children are just that, God’s children. All are sisters and brothers. While in India, we discovered sisters and brothers of diverse faith backgrounds at St. John English School, at New Beginnings Children's Home, among a group of people with leprosy, and in the diversity of Indian culture. The Rev. John Dongerdive, and all the leaders of Life Light Ministries (the umbrella ministry for St. John and New Beginnings), exhibit genuine faith while, simultaneously, working in loving relationship with people of other faiths. 

Students, and all of us who participate in McMurry study abroad and mission initiatives, have the golden opportunity to learn to work together with the religious and cultural “other” to create a better world. If “mission” is essentially about sharing God’s love, then surely loving and finding community with the religious “other” is central to our mission. More, it is a means of taking responsibility for creating peace in the world. Will we be remembered for what we create or for what we destroy?

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