On the back of Interfaith Week it felt only appropriate to write about interfaith relationships, life together and hope.
Growing up in a certain type of church I was taught that people of other religions simply needed to be converted. But this worldview began to get messy as I got older, moved cities and actually became friends with Muslims and Sikhs and Atheists and Buddhists, and realised they were more than just the religious label I had given them. I read poetry with a Muslim friend and talked about music for hours with my Sikh friends. Dreamt up a whole new political system with atheist friends, and Buddhists taught me how to play piano. I fell in love with people that I had been told all my life I needed to change, and my world was turned upside down.
There is something very holy about loving the ‘other’. Jesus was always making friends with the most unexpected people, and this is a call we must continue to answer today. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a friend of the unlikely.
In today’s world of increasing xenophobia it is unlikely that Christians and Muslims hold real, deep friendships. It is unlikely that we have friends that look or believe or think very differently to us. It is unlikely that we can lay down our own stereotypes to see the person behind the Burqa. But Jesus calls us to more; this dry and weary land, full of disconnect, suspicion and fear of the other is crying out for a new way.
Jesus teaches us again and again that this new way is love. The hard, unglamourous graft of day-in, day-out countercultural love. It is getting to know our Muslim neighbours, drinking tea with them, listening to their stories and inviting them to be a part of our lives. No agenda, just interest in another person’s story. No preconceptions, just teaching our little part of the world that love, not fear, wins.
Interfaith relationships can be awkward; it can be hard to find time to meet around different prayer times, deciding what to eat (is it halal?, do you drink alcohol?), can we listen to music?, and then there are the inevitable big questions about difficult topics, from ‘what is the holy spirit it sounds weird’ to women in leadership to ISIS. But interfaith relationships are necessary in a world bent on alienating us from one another. They are necessary, and they are holy.
My soul longs for the day where each person is loved exactly as they are by every other person in their world. And so I pray that God would give us eyes to see the divine in each person we meet, however unexpected it may look.
I recently went to a conference run by The Feast, a really amazing organisation that creates safe spaces for dialogue between young people of different faiths. Click here to watch a short clip of a friend and I explaining why we think interfaith work is so exciting.