Interfaith Insight - 2020

Permanent link for "Responding in times of fear, with hope and a prayer" by Doug Kindschi on March 17, 2020

Schools are closed, athletic events canceled, store shelves empty, and a national emergency declared while the World Health Organization declares an official pandemic.  And all this affects our faith communities as well. Most churches have cancelled or moved to live-streaming services. Pilgrimages to the Islamic holy sites in Mecca have been banned and the local Masjid At-Tawheed has suspended Friday prayers. Jewish services have been cancelled as well as other faith gatherings.

From a religious perspective it reminds us that we are not in charge as much as we would like to think. Things happen outside our control and our freedom has its limits.

It has been summed up beautifully by a Capuchin Franciscan priest and friar, Brother Richard Hendrick, who lives and works in Ireland. He teaches Christian meditation and mindfulness and works in the city center of Dublin.  In a recent posting on Twitter, he wrote the following piece titled “Lockdown.”

“Yes there is fear.

Yes there is isolation.

Yes there is panic buying.

Yes there is sickness.

Yes there is even death.


They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

You can hear the birds again.

They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

The sky is no longer thick with fumes

But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

People are singing to each other

across the empty squares,

keeping their windows open

so that those who are alone

may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know

is busy spreading fliers with her number

through the neighborhood

So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

are preparing to welcome

and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting

All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are.

To how little control we really have.

To what really matters.

To Love.

So we pray and we remember that

Yes there is fear.

But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.

But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.

But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.

But there does not have to be disease of the soul.

Yes there is even death.

But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.

Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

The birds are singing again

The sky is clearing,

Spring is coming,

And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul

And though you may not be able

to touch across the empty square,


It is also a time for prayer, and Cameron Bellm, a mother of two living in Seattle, offered on Instagram this “Prayer for a Pandemic.”

“May we who are merely inconvenienced
     Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
     Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
     Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
     Remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips
     Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
     Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
     Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
     let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
     Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

Posted on Permanent link for "Responding in times of fear, with hope and a prayer" by Doug Kindschi on March 17, 2020.

Permanent link for Insights published in the Grand Rapids Press in 2020 on February 1, 2020

January 30, 2020 - Finding cooperation and respect in the path to peace by Doug Kindschi

January 23, 2020 - Honoring a man of grace, justice and community by Charles Honey

January 16, 2020 - Finding God in the faith of others through 'Holy Envy' by Doug Kindschi

January 9, 2020 - Response to anti-Semitism presents a challenge by Doug Kindschi

January 2, 2020 - Give some thoughts to reorient the New Year  by Kyle Kooyers

Posted on Permanent link for Insights published in the Grand Rapids Press in 2020 on February 1, 2020.

Permanent link for Finding God in the faith of others through Holy Envy by Douglas Kindschi, Sylvia and Richard Kaufman Founding Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU on January 16, 2020

Can learning of other faiths and getting to know others who believe differently strengthen our own faith understanding?

This is the theme of the book by Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others .  Taylor, an Episcopal priestanda retired professor of religion at Piedmont College in Georgia, tells the story of her own faith journey as she fully realized that “all religions are not alike.”

“Their followers see the world in very distinct ways,” Taylor writes. “Their understanding of the human condition proceedsfrom different assumptions, leading them to propose different remedies.”  Yet she adds, “I found things to envy in all of the traditions.”  She then asks, “Could my faith be improved by the faith of others?”  She describes her book as being“about how my envy of other traditions turned into holy envy, offering me the chance to be born again within my own tradition.”

She traces the term “holy envy” to the biblical scholar Krister Stendahl, who was on the faculty and served as dean of Harvard Divinity School. He then returned to his home in Sweden and waselected the Bishop of Stockholm.  Stendahl proposed three rules for interfaith understanding:

  1. When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  2. Don’t compare your best to their worst.
  3. Leave room for holy envy.

He explained that holy envy is being willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.

As Stendahl practiced his own interfaith rules while dealing with minority religious traditions in Sweden, he concluded, “In the eyes of God, we are all minorities.  That’s a rude awakening for many Christians, who have never come to grips with the pluralism of the world.”

Taylor writes about her students coming to grips with pluralism and embracing it but with little help from their elders. She writes, “No preacher has suggested to them that today’s Good Samaritan might be a Good Muslim or a Good Humanist. No Confirmation class teacher has taught them that the Golden Rule includes honoring the neighbor’s religion as they would have the neighbor honor theirs.”

She also writes about the attitude of some who approach religion as wanting to “play on the winning team, the wish to secure divine favoritism.” Our desire to understand and experience God is not a contest where we have to see ourselves as the winners and the others as losers.  Even in sports competition one can learn from the other team and become better.

This gets toStendahl’s second rule, “Don’t compare your best to their worst.”  Taylor suggests, “Compare your best to their best, so that each becomes better in its own distinct way.”

In my many years with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, I have found that for nearly everyone who has become deeply involved with learning about and learning with others of a different faith, the experience has deepened one’s own faith. If our only interaction is with people who believe as we do, we can stay at a shallow level. The benefit of engaging beliefs differentfrom one’s own pushes us to think more deeply about our beliefs. 

Taylor also urges us to “engage those who are different without feeling compelled to defeat or destroy them. This requires skills. It also requires spiritual and psychological maturity, which makes it a work in progress for humans of any age.”

Taylor also warns against the “race to the lowest common denominator.”  We are not trying to say that all religions are the same, because doing such prevents us “from exploring the differences in any meaningful way.”  In our interfaith efforts here in West Michigan, we have warned against “thin dialogue” where we water down our faith so we will all agree.  We learn from “thick dialogue,” where we bring the thickness of our faith to the table but in a way that respects the thickness of the other’s faith. 

Interacting with those of a different faith can get tricky when it comes to how far one goes in sharing the worship practices. Taylor tells of a time when she stood next to a Jewish colleague at a Christian service that included communion or the Eucharist.  While the Christian leader made it clear that all were welcome to participate, it was also clear that her Jewish friend was not planning to do so but to just observe. Taylor did the same, but then, as she writes, “What had I just done? Why had I done it?” She knew that her colleague did not expect that gesture from her. Then Taylor writes, “I still do not know whether I failed Christianity that night or passed.” But she did know that her act was one that involved the relationship of that human being standing next to her.

We don’t always know what is the right thing to do in a given situation, but, as a Jewish reviewer of her book, Nancy Fuchs Kriemer, commented, “We are not God, so we don’t know how God most wants to be worshipped. We have a better idea how people want to be treated. We are not commanded to love our religions. We are commanded to love our neighbors.”

Taylor shares the insight of British theologian John Hick, who has called for a “Copernican revolution in theology.” Before Copernicus, we believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. Now, we understand that we are one of a number of planets circling the sun that is the center. In Hick’sCopernican revolution in theology, “God assumes the prime place at the center and Christianity joins the orbits of the great religions circling around.”

In Hick’s theological solar system, we act with humility and do not assume that we have absolute truth.  As Taylor puts it, “Absolute truth moves to the center of the system, leaving people of good faith with meaningful perceptions of that truth from their own orbits. This does not require anyone to give up the claim to uniqueness. It only requires the acceptance of unique neighbors, who concur that the brightness they see at the center of everything exceeds their ability to possess it.”

Can each of us affirm our own insights while staying open to the insights of others? Can we even be open to a little holy envy?

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Posted on Permanent link for Finding God in the faith of others through Holy Envy by Douglas Kindschi, Sylvia and Richard Kaufman Founding Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU on January 16, 2020.

Page last modified March 17, 2020