Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Regardless of what we call it or how we see it, we are all part of "something greater than ourselves"

(The series I started with my previous post will continue next week)

Last Sunday I attended the 18th Annual World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation. I’ve attended the World Sabbath almost every year for the past decade, and this was my first time attending it as a Buddhist.

I’ve encountered a few misconceptions about what participating in “interfaith” really means. Some people assume that doing anything “interfaith” means they will be expected to immerse themselves in different religions, participate in blended worship, or feel pressured to develop a certain level of religious literacy or else be judged negatively if they are ignorant about other faiths represented. Some people still insist on keeping their religious experience mutually exclusive, meaning they don’t object to people practicing other religions nearby as long as a strict boundary is maintained between the religions.

To such people, Muslims and Christians and Sikhs and Hindus and Baha’is and Zoroastrians and Jains all presenting prayer, song, and even dance as worship all in the same room within the same two hours is just too much to wrap their heads (or hearts) around.

That’s exactly what happened two days ago at the Jewish synagogue Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, though, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The World Sabbath was created in 1999 by the late Reverend Rodney Reinhart to foster not a blended religious community, but a celebration that our individual faiths—and the human community as a whole—are stronger together when we realize that “we are all part of something greater than ourselves,” as Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El put it.

While we have differing concepts of what that which is greater than ourselves is, we are all still undeniably part of that same whole, having come from the same origin and via the same manner of starting our human existence on this planet.

My experience at this World Sabbath was interesting because, as I said above, it was my first such event I attended as a Buddhist. While I have participated in interfaith programs since becoming Buddhist in 2015, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel at the World Sabbath since my personal faith is no longer God-centered. Many people have even asked me lately where Buddhists (and other people who are not monotheistic, such as pagans) fit into such interfaith events. That’s not an easy question to answer, and if we ask different people we’ll probably get different answers.

The most obvious answer that I can think of, and that I’ve heard from some other people, is that both humanists and polytheists have more difficulty plugging themselves in to programs such as the World Sabbath because of the religious emphasis on God. Some may fear judgment, and some may just simply have no interest in participating in a God-centered spiritual experience.

With this in mind, I was very pleased when Rabbi Miller referred to us being part of something “greater than ourselves” rather than taking that opportunity to refer to us all as children (or people) of God. Obviously the idea of us being God’s people was stated a number of times throughout the prayers and songs presented; it wasn’t said at every single opportunity it could have been, though, nor did I feel as though there was an overt implication that there was no room at all for people who don’t see God as a father or an androgynous personage of some sort.

For some people, this approach may not be conciliatory enough; for me, it was.

I used to practice God-centered religion, so regardless of the fact I don’t anymore, my experience and perspective are different than that of someone who was never God-centered in their practice, or who is uncomfortable with God-centered practice for any number of reasons.

I’ll discuss my perspective on this in more depth in my next post, in addition to why, as a humanistic Buddhist whose beliefs about the spiritual force of the universe have minimal (if any) theological common ground with most of the other participants, I still feel that my involvement with interfaith programs is important.

Image: "Interfaith Collective 2" by Karla Joy Huber, 2008 and 2015, Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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