Stumbling Over God

Why do the three historic Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – continue to treat each other like pariahs? Jews and Muslims fight over possession of the promised land. Christians want to convert Jews and Muslims. While each tradition has ethical precepts that enjoin its followers to be open to and care for strangers – the Others – Zionist Jews, fundamentalist Christians, and Jihadist Muslim terrorists seem more concerned with protecting the tribe against the Others. Humility is called for in each of the faith traditions, but arrogance seems to hold sway instead.

This morning I have been reading both Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book on religion and violence and Father Richard Rohr’s daily email meditation. Both appeal to the part of me that wants to find a third way between the tribalism of our separate faith traditions and the universalism of no tradition at all. Both Sacks and Rohr strike me as committed tribalists (a Jew and a Christian) who are yearning for a more universal embodiment of their tribal faith traditions. And, yet, the subtle arrogance of each of their tribal musings seems to come through.

In response to reading them, I realized that I have been a universalist (masquerading for many, many years as a tribalist Presbyterian Christian) who is searching and yearning for a more integral and whole tribe. One way or another, we all seem to stumble over God.

I wonder if a part of the movement toward a third way between the universal yearning and the particular (tribal) embodiment of the Abrahamic faiths may be caught up in the title of a book that I am awaiting – namely, Putting God Second by Rabbi Doniel Hartman. When we put Jews, Christians, and Muslims put God first, we seem to get caught up in our tribal boundaries – my God is greater than your god; my Faith is better than your faith; my Faith Community has more integrity than your faith community.

Sacks reminds us that the Abrahamic cycle of stories is preceded by Noah story – the covenant with humankind is prior to the covenant with Abraham; humanity is prior to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Perhaps the only way ahead is to think first about humankind – not my tribe or your tribe, but all of us together. I don’t want to write God out of the picture; but I am aware that whenever I put God first, I tend to elevate my godliness (or lack thereof) above that of others whose God is inferior to mine. Once again tribalism rears its ugly head.

I am heartened when I see stories of a Jewish synagogue welcoming a Christian fundamentalist who came to repent for his shooting the synagogue… or when Muslims show up to help clean up a vandalized Jewish cemetery… or Christians surrounding a mosque to protect the worshippers during daily prayers. Those stories represent the best of the Abrahamic faiths, envisioning the Other as sister and brother in the broader Abrahamic family.

I wonder, however, when members of the three faith traditions are going to come together in righteous indignation to confront the xenophobic spirit of contemporary American society that sees the Other (read that as non-white, non-Christian, non-male, poor) as being a threat.

Since the current cultural narrative, enhanced by the election of President Donald Trump, is catered to by a right-wing Christian evangelicalism, I would hope that one or more national Christian leaders might demonstrate a genuine openness (an invitation) to leaders from Jewish and Islamic community to come together in dialogue, to mine the resources of all three traditions, and to witness to a common humanity that is diverse and inclusive, built on respect and tender justice, that stands with and for the poor and marginalized.

Perhaps such a dialogue might inspire leaders of synagogues, churches, and mosques to engage in similar interactions on the local level as a means of retraining the members and participants in their respective faith communities in the common humanity of our separate spiritualities. A pipe dream? Perhaps, but if we do not dream the dreams the current realities will remain stuck where they are.