Ten Best: Strange religious bedfellows

by Jordan Green

Episcopal priest declares herself a Muslim

It would be hard to send shockwaves through the Episcopal Church after an openly gay bishop was consecrated in New Hampshire and breakaway churches appended themselves to the Church of Nigeria in protest of the American church’s growing liberalism, but the announcement by an Episcopal priest in Seattle that she is now both a practicing Muslim and Christian did create a minor stir. So we examine the possibility for various religious meldings- along with the obvious hurdles. In Redding’s case, she was ordered by the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf to “not exercise any responsibilities” as a priest for at least a year, according to a recent item in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It comes down to this: To be a Muslim, you must acknowledge that there is but one god and Muhammad is His prophet. Episcopalians and most other Christians profess the three-in-one formula of God the maker of heaven and earth, God in the flesh-and-blood incarnation of Christ, and God in all humanity as the Holy Spirit.

A bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state

A bi-national state on the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River may be similarly unrealistic. The benefits are easy to argue: equal rights under the law for Jews and Palestinians and shared access to the religious sites venerated by the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. The most obvious example would be the tomb of Abraham in Hebron, a city dissected by Jewish settlements but lying in the middle of the Palestinian occupied territories. To the Jews, it’s the Cave of the Patriarchs, but Muslims refer to the site as Ibrahimi Mosque. The problem with such a solution is that it would vitiate the Jewish nature of the state of Israel – a central plank of Zionist ideology. On the other side of the dispute, Hamas – currently the ruling party of Palestine – has long insisted on an exclusively Islamic society.

Grace Community Church-St. Mary’s House homeless outreach

Two churches in the general vicinity of UNCG serve food to homeless people: St. Mary’s House, an Episcopal student ministry on Walker Avenue, and the inter-demoninational Grace Community Church on Lee Street. Although the Episcopal Church has been maligned as “the Republican Party at prayer” because of the wealth and political influence of its membership, it also has a longstanding history of social action. Grace Community Church falls within the evangelical-protestant tradition, stressing a more personal relationship with Jesus than most Episcopalians feel comfortable. Cara Michele Forrest, a friend who works with the homeless community, tells me that many evangelicals are coming to believe that in the past too much attention has been paid to personal morality, and serving the poor should take more emphasis.

Catholic-Muslim merger – not!

On Sept. 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XI famously quoted 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II as saying, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” This one may take a couple more millennia of dialogue to get off the ground.

Ramadan-Rosh Hashanah confluence

For the third year in a row the most important holidays of the Muslim and Jewish faiths, respectively Ramadan and the high holy days beginning with Rosh Hashanah, started at roughly the same time – on Sept. 12 this year. The commonalities of the two observances are striking: Ramadan stresses prayers, fasting, charity and accountability, and ends with the feast of Eid ul-Fitr; the Jewish high holy days also focus on fasting, repentance, settling accounts with those one has wronged, and atoning.

Tikkun Community’s ecumenicalism

“Tikkun alam” is Hebrew for “repair the world,” and so Tikkun Community was the natural name for the progressive movement founded by Rabbi Michael Lerner. From the start, the organization has stressed the emancipatory commonalities in the Jewish and Christian faiths. “The Biblical idea of the sabbatical year for all and the biblical idea of jubilee with its call for a redistribution of land and wealth back to a basic equality once every 50 years provide us with inspiration for how to learn from the wisdom of sacred texts,” Tikkun’s vision statement reads. “Although our organization will speak at times in the name of the best in the Jewish tradition, we will also honor all major spiritual traditions represented in our membership.”

Cornel West: Prophetic possibilities of Islam

One of Lerner’s most enthusiastic allies has been Cornel West, professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. Among West’s many themes is the notion of drawing out the prophetic and humane aspects of the Islamic tradition. Speaking to broadcaster Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now” in 2004, West said, “You’ve got gangsters who attack us. You got autocratic states. You got ugly forms of antisemitism within the autocratic states, but they also have oil. And how do you talk about democratizing in the Islamic world, what I call even socratizing Islam? I think Islam has tremendous prophetic possibilities, as does Judaism, as does Christianity.”

An indigenous adaptation of Christianity

Once when I attended mass at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico in 2004, the Eucharist was interrupted by a group of native townspeople returning a statue of the Virgin Mary to her rightful place. They sang, strummed acoustic guitars and beat drums as they processed to the altar. The priest, the Rev. Terry Brennan, received them graciously, but later fumed to me that they should have shown proper respect for the Christian liturgy.

Gethsemani Buddhist-Christian meeting

The Buddhist-Christian meeting took place in July 1996 at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, home of the late Catholic monk and author Thomas Merton. A pivotal moment in this exchange took place in 1968, when Merton traveled to the Far East and met with the Dalai Lama. Twenty-seven years after Merton’s death, when Christians and Buddhists met at Gethsemani, Father Conner gave this account: “Zoketsu Norman Fischer, an American convert to Buddhism… raised a question regarding the crucifix, which is the central Christian symbol and…. He said he greatly admires Jesus and feels ‘sad’ to see him nailed to a cross. One Christian responded that the helplessness of Jesus on the cross resembles the ‘uselessness of meditation.'”

‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’

The Anglican hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” was written by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander in the town of Minehead on the western coast of England in 1848, according to an entry in Wikipedia. The first verse – “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all” – provided several titles for the books of veterinarian/author James Herriot. They also point to the Celtic roots of the Anglican church prior to the Roman invasion of the British isles. And while it would probably be academically reckless (and heretical) to trace the church’s lineage back to paganism, a strain of reverence for the natural world does crop up in the Anglican tradition.