Friday, March 11, 2011

A Reflection on Particularity

I am a pastor in the Lutheran, Christian tradition.  I am called to be pastor, disciple developer, kingdom builder and ministry grower to, within, and through the campus of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.  Our spring break trips have been important in finding leaders, building commitment among them, and growing our little community.

So why, when I’ve been tasked with growing our Lutheran, Christian ministry on this campus, when we’re in the middle of multiple fundraising campaigns due to shrinking budgets and new buildings, and in my first year of my first call, would I decide (with the student leaders I should add) to take one of the most complicated (and expensive) domestic trip we could imagine?  Why would we choose to travel to a big city, with students whose culture and religion is different from “ours?” 

How are we deepening our own sense of discipleship on campus, our own relationship with Jesus, while standing side by side with students connected to mosques and Islamic centers?  Can our Christian faith, and our growing community, actually be strengthened by being in relationship with Muslim students?

I deeply believe that the answer is yes. 

For three reasons:

1.        I was raised in a family where we were given two fundamental beliefs about God; 
a.       God loves you, and so you can/should love the world (especially your little piece of it), and
b.      God created this world as good, and so you should be curious about it.

As I got older, and started exploring the world, I also began to take the incarnation, the Immanuel, God-with-us reality of Christianity very seriously.  The more I came to understand the fight that it was to claim, over and over and over again, that God could exist right alongside this beautiful broken fleshy vulnerability we call our body, the more I wanted to claim Christianity as my own, and came to understand that God had claimed me a long time ago.  

God exists all over in this world, inhabits so many little corners and broad expanses, why wouldn’t we sit down with people who have a different world view and ask, “Where did you see God today?”

We discover our own particularity, its beauty and its brokenness, when we put it into conversation with other particular traditions.  By having these conversations, in our own little way, we preserve some of the diversity created by God.  We don’t end up with some watered down “I believe in the golden rule,” sort of moral deism.  We root ourselves deeply in common values of each of our ancient traditions, discover what is most important to us about our own beliefs and practices, and in that affirmation realize that what is most important to us doesn’t, perhaps, have to be most important to everyone.

2.        In the freedom, love and mercy we know in Christ, we are called to participate in the healing and redemption of this world God loves so much. 

There is a deep division in our society, only heightened by the media frenzy which seems magnetized to hatred and ignorance.  Though extremists do plot bombings in the far reaches and city centers of our world (and neighborhoods), all Muslims pay the price for this extremism in a way that isn’t warranted.  We want to stand with those who share our values of compassion, love, hospitality, justice and service to the neighbor.  We want to be a sign of who we might be able to be as a community, and as a world.

3.         These conversations happen anyway.  Both Muslim and Christian students are asking questions of pluralism in their dorm rooms, across cafeteria tables, and in classrooms.  If we are afraid to address them, in relationship, we risk losing the beauty of particularity.  We also risk the opportunity to be in conversation about our similarities and our differences, making it okay to be passionate about one’s own faith while still curious about another’s. 

We are better together.  Our students are energized, passionate, and proud of what they are doing.  The University is re-imagining what a religious community can be on campus.  God is, indeed, active in this process, enlivening our planning, and guiding our conversations.    

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