Friday, March 29, 2013


Plymouth Creek’s vision remains- To become a beacon of Christian openness and service. It’s about shining our joy about God’s grace through acts of compassion and inclusive faith.

And one way we’ve put that in practice recently involves conversation with local Muslims. A little background: Nearly two years ago, the Northwest Islamic Community Center purchased a building nearby church. They wanted a dedicated space in which to pray, fellowship, serve and teach their children. We stood with them at the City Council as less open neighbors tried to block the acquisition. It seemed to us that God’s love as we meet in Jesus urges us toward hospitality, not judgment.

Ever since, I’ve had multiple occasions to spend time with some of their leaders. Most recently, NWICC began hosting whomever would come for interfaith conversation. Islam 101, they dubbed it, acknowledging that many don’t much about their faith tradition, so many untruths have been spread. A couple of us went to the first of these “classes” to learn and show support.

Last week, a second conversation was moderated by NWICC board member Tamim, a dear man. The topic was “Jesus in Islam”, in honor of our approaching Easter holiday. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but the Muslim holy book- the Qur’an- mentions Jesus over twenty times. It speaks of Christ’s birth, echoing the gospels claims that it was miraculous, a virgin birth. It tells some of Christ’s teachings on compassion and love, citing stories of his healing prowess. There’s even mention of the crucifixion, though in this respect, our faiths diverge strongly. The Qur’an contends that Jesus didn’t die; he only seemed to by people of the day. Instead, he was taken into heaven and lives still, awaiting a second coming. The Christian Bible, by contrast, makes Jesus’ death a central element, claiming that our path to salvation and trust in eternal grace require that resurrection happened, however mysteriously.

Tamim knows that, of course, but as a faithful Muslim, it’s important that he privilege the claims of his holy book above ours. As a (hopefully!) faithful Christian, I must do the opposite too, of course. So I was glad to talk about our differences, learning and sharing with respect. For I believe that cultivating such openness to people of different faith traditions honors Plymouth Creek’s vision. We can celebrate and trust the truth of God we discover through faith in Jesus, while accepting that God’s outreach to humanity is broad enough to encompass other faiths. Or as my Muslim friends might say, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater!).

And I learned something about the history of Muslim understandings about Jesus that mirrors ours. You’ll recall that even the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. All four gospels have a unique spin. Paul’s writings present another. For centuries after, then, Christians struggled to clarify why that singular event mattered so. Was Jesus God? Did he just seem human? God and human? What would that mean?! I find this variety of opinion- admitting that, though people believe differently, God graciously accepts us, unites us still- one of Christianity’s most attractive convictions. We haven’t always put it into practice, but when it’s done well, it’s beautiful!

Perhaps similarly, Muslim scholars- Tamim tells me- have long debated Jesus’ role as revealed by the Qur’an. Was he a prophet on par with Muhammad? Subordinate? Greater, even?! Different folk claim different ideas, but they all still pray toward Mecca. And maybe that says as much about humanity as it does about God. We were created to think deeply, talk openly, question continually, seek God endlessly. In the meantime, though, God hopes we’ll work together, live and serve in peace.

If you can make an upcoming interfaith conversation, I hope you’ll join me. You needn’t be a Christian expert, just a faithful soul willing to learn. In fact, I find these conversations help me clarify my own beliefs as much as understand another’s. For a major one of those beliefs is that God is honored by openness to neighbors. People unlike us in important ways, but beloved children of God too.

Grace and Peace,

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