22 January 2011

Even more intensive

The second intensive course I was allocated, and which took place at the beginning of last week, was entitled 'Christian responses to eastern faiths'. It provided views of Buddhism, Sikhism and Hindu and was highly illuminating! The classroom element of the course was useful, but haphazard. It was frustrating that whilst the course leader was knowledgable and likeable, the organisation of the course wasn't the best, and some of the delivery was below par. The highlight of the course, though, was the trip to Leicester (unlikely as it may sound). We visited places of worship of each of the faiths mentioned above, and I found much of the day truly inspiring.

For me there were two big highlights:

The visit to the Hindu temple was great. We were allowed to sit in on an act of worship, and were given the opportunity to ask lots of questions afterwards. Maybe it was just the man who we were talking to, but he was incredibly open to us. We were told that this is a hallmark of Hinduism, and whilst I don't hold to some of the pluralist principles we were told about, I really appreciated the spirit of openness and cooperation we were shown. It gave me genuine hope in the value of interfaith dialogue, and made me very humble about the respect accorded by many to my own faith.

The second highlight was when we visited the Sikh Gudwara. What an example of how to serve the community! We were given a great welcome and an interesting tour of the centre (in a former factory building). Again, we sat in on worship, and we were also invited to share in a meal. In the Gudwara, and in many others like it, Langar is a shared meal which is free, and available to anyone every day. My reaction at the time and now is 'why aren't we doing this?' Not because we should just copy what other people are doing, but because it is a genuinely good thing to do. So much of the Gospel story is set against a backdrop of hospitality and meals. If we don't think that Jesus was a cynical marketeer engaging in a fresh expressions experiment based on dining experiences, we can probably assume that he recognised that food and hospitality were (and are) central to the human life. He didn't feed the five thousand (however he did it) in order to tempt them all to sit through an Alpha presentation; he did it because he thought they were hungry, and he was concerned for their welfare. This should be our motivation for our work in the community. There shouldn't be a cynical subplot of conversion or profile-raising when we set about this type of work. We should do it out of love for our neighbour, whoever that might be, and whatever their religion. Of course, that doesn't mean we can't do mission or evangelism, but we ought to be clear about why we do each of the things we do.

So whilst I might not be converting to any eastern faith anytime soon, I think there are things we can learn if we are prepared to talk to people from other cultures and faiths. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to learn about these other faiths, and my eyes have been opened.

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