Can we claim which paths are rabbit trails or authentic? This seems to be the primary concern of the mega-church. A quick test is to look at the measure of love of God, neighbor or self. But how could we really with any integrity? It would be like a climber speaking with authority about paths on the other side of the mountain that he has never been on. The climber may read about these paths in books or have talked to another climber on that particular side. This then, would prove to the climber that all paths seem to be heading to the same place. But any serious climber knows that only those who have climbed the path can speak with authority about where it leads and how it gets there. Once again, to say that there are "other mountains" is a poly-mountain idea and I'm only talking in a mono-mountain context. Nor is it good to assume that all are going up. Taoism seems to state that we should be content with where we are an interact naturally and non-utilitarian with our contexts and those we find in it. The Abrahamic faiths are the ones that seem most concerned about getting to the top and pondering what’s up there. The point being, we should listen to one another and hear what they have to say about their journey.
If people of other faiths want to swap faithful stories of their path and journey up the mountain, then great! In fact, I get a better handle on my faith when I hear these stories. If people of other faiths with whom we are in dialog decide to convert to our path as a result of this sharing, fine! However, conversion is not the ultimate purpose here of interfaith dialogue, sharing the joy and wisdom gleaned from our climbing experience is.
All We Have Is Metaphor
Religions are like art, poetry, not science. It is after spiritual truths and seeking the best way to live, one that is in tune with a wider and more transcendent reality. I don’t know what to call this, so throughout this paper I have called it God, even though I recognize that other religions don’t have this concept. All we really have is metaphor to describe this experience. Hell, that’s all we have to describe anything! The word apple isn’t the essence of the little red/green/gold thing that grows on trees.
I'm reminded on a Joseph Campbell story about a tribe in Australia whose social order was maintained with the aid of bullroarers which are long flat boards with a couple of slits cut in them and a rope tied at one end. They are swung around over one's head and the low humming sound is other worldly. When the gods were angry the men of the tribe would sound the bullroarers in the woods at night. No one in the tribe knew this of course. The males of the tribe would explain why the gods were angry and what behavior had to change. In the initiation rite of young men into manhood in the tribe is very violent and bloody. Its culmination is the revelation to the boy by the chief priest of "We make the noises."
I believe we do. The noises we make are us trying to attach meaning to the experience of living. Most noises are self-generated and self-interpreted in this model and it seems to be about control. I have no interest in this. My future ministry will be about trying to get behind the buzz of the bullroars and experience the true sounds of the world. Sometimes God is in the thunderstorm, or earthquake, but often God is in the nothing. Just a still small voice in the wilderness. My ministry will be trying to get behind the feedback and attach some meaning to the shared existence of the community I will serve based on the tradition we come out of, namely Christianity. I also naturally tend to look at the similarities between not only my denomination and act ecumenically, but also bring in interfaith dialog. I base this on the shear fact that I share this existence on this planet and it could have been otherwise.
We are made of stardust and tied to the universe. Life on earth is very linked and interconnected. Authoritative claims take away this connection and the church has been a large part of this. So this leads me to think that there's something behind it all... some higher order behind the chaos. I call this something God. Which leads me to a different take on the incarnation: What if we are the incarnated universe trying to figure itself out?
So with that in mind we're called to wrestle and figure it out not make super vague claims like "Jesus is the answer PERIOD" like the mega-church would say. Nor say "There is no god, objective empiricism is the only way to go" like the stalwart atheists do. We are not objective, and while we may have some access to the facts, our brains can’t connect them all as we are very limited. There is an emotional and spiritual side that must be accounted for and atheists often miss this or don’t put enough emphasis on it.
We humans are making noises to try to understand the infinite. We are putting up boundaries on something that cannot be bound and what we place there should only be looked through into the grand divine. I too will look for wisdom where I find it whether in Taoist, Buddhist, Islamic, or one of the other of the world’s great religions. The way I see it, Jesus taught from somewhere between 1 and 3 years. The records we have are spotty at best and completely spun or even fabricated toward a particular editorial slant at worst. Jesus didn’t and couldn’t have taught a comprehensive view and this becomes apparent when Christianity is compared to the vast teachings of the Buddha’s 40 year career.
What I do know is that religion can make all the dogmas and doctrines it wants, the divine won't be contained. It's knocking over fences, crossing property lines. I am compelled to follow.