Make Dialogue part of your Religious Way of Life
I have been reflecting on Dr. Leonard Swidler’s presentation at this year’s Tachmindji event, where he called on us to “make dialogue part of our religious ways of life.” In Christian communities, this means at a minimum following Jesus’ example of engaging “others” beyond his cadre of disciples with his vision of the kingdom. Jesus can be seen to engage in a kind of dialogue, in his usual modes of teaching, healing, or doing miracles, as he always engages persons where they are, and often commends their faith. But there are moments of deeper discussion, even Socratic dialogue as well, as with Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3) or Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4). Here Jesus engages in dialogue to inquire into the other person’s mind and worldview, making connections and issuing challenges to awaken them to God’s kingdom in their midst.
Dr. Swidler reminds us that dialogue may be part of the fabric of the cosmos itself, and for Christians we affirm a communication and divine dance in the three persons of the Godhead. And with other traditions, including Judaism and Islam, we Christians envision God as one of prophecy and Revelation, whereby God is always reaching out to his people with divine wisdom, law and blessings. If God’s mode of engagement is one of self-communication and building relations, then indeed God is a dialogical Being.
I find many seminarians and religious folk today are eager to engage in genuine dialogue with others, either to share more deeply their vision of God and the universe, or learn from others and perhaps be transformed by their faith. Serious people of faith are moving beyond the smorgasbord approach to having a taste of this religion or that, and seeking to find deeper points of shared inquiry, belief, or practice. They are also eager to face stark differences between Christian communities, and between the world religions–with honesty and with respect. Here at the Consortium, we believe such depth encounters–around commonalities and differences–is the way to build and sustain genuine dialogue over time.
I invite students, alumni, and lay leaders to utilize the schools of the Consortium to build dialogue into their religious way of life. I encourage seminarians and lay folk to consider the two Certificate programs the Consortium schools offer (http://www.washtheocon.org/Certificate%20Courses.htm): one in Ecumenism–focusing on intra-Christian relations, the other in Muslim-Christian studies What is unique about our approach to each is combining strong academic study with the practices of dialogue and shared inquiry–usually with Christians from other traditions in the room, or with Christian and Muslim students studying and learning together. Learning about Ecumenical or Interfaith dialogue today is not enough to adopt Dr. Swidler’s challenge–practicing the art of dialogue is essential.