Friday, March 9, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Dialogue — A Spiritual Practice for 21st Century

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

The word dialogue comes from the Greek dia, meaning through, and logos, a word that includes the meanings of language, principle, rationality, law, etc. Dialogue invites us to engage with the other by respecting the ‘otherness of the other’ as we grow together in humanity and world citizenship for peace and justice.

Global Ministries’ Mission Dialogue Forum conducted a session on interfaith literacy in January 2018 in order to offer the Global Ministries staff an appreciative understanding of world religions and spiritualities and promote interfaith dialogue. The following are some of the insights we encountered during the mission dialogue session and wish to share with a wider public.

Cross-Cultural Literacy
As global citizens of the world, it is important to not just learn to respect the people of all faiths and non-affiliates but also to develop understanding, sensitization and awareness as the necessary step. The challenge is to empower global citizens cross culturally in a changing world today to face the challenges of tomorrow. Literacy challenges of the new times are that of interfaith literacy, cross-cultural literacy and ecological literacy.
A recent Pew Research study on the changing scenarios of the world’s major religions forecasted into 2050, when the world population will be about 9.3 billion. Finding include the following:

  • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world. By 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history.
  • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population. (Is our society become a post-secular society?)
  • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
  • In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish based on religion.
  • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Our Neighbors
Given these facts together with rapid growth of international migration and human movements across national and global borders sociology and spirituality of our neighbor will have a spectacular come back. This is extremely challenging for the Christians in mission and ministry; engaging our neighbor and her faith will be the critical question in front of all humans. When we say and greet, “How is it going!” are we practicing missional seriousness? In the greeting there is a call to stop and dialogue on the “goings of the other”. The faith of the other is a significant dimension of that ‘going.’

Test of Faith is Faith in Relation
I thought sharing a few highlights from Rev. Dr. Lynn De Silva (1919-1982), an eminent Sri Lankan Methodist theologian, ecumenist and world religions scholar could share some wisdom for Christians who are called to be in mission today. According to De Silva:
  • Dialogue does not in any way diminish full and loyal commitment to one's own faith, but rather enriches and strengthens it.
  • Dialogue, far from being a temptation to syncretism, is a safeguard against it, because in dialogue we get to know one another's faith in depth. One's own faith is tested and refined and sharpened thereby. The real test of faiths is faiths-in-relation.
  • Dialogue is a creative interaction which liberates a person from a closed or cloistered system to which he happens to belong by an accident of birth and elevates him to spiritual freedom giving him a vision of wider dimensions of spiritual life by his sharing in the spirituality of others.

Intra-Cultural Dialogue
From the point of view of reconciliation, healing and goodwill, navigating through intracultural dialogue and cross-cultural dialogue is the test of our time. Sometimes intra-cultural relationships are harder and even tougher than cross cultural dialogue. What we need today is a dialogical leadership at all levels. Dialogue cannot be genuine unless we engage as equals. This may be of special critical relevance in inter-racial dialogue, inter-economic dialogue (the rich and the poor), and inter-theological dialogue within our own cultural communities.

Prayer and meditation in all faiths is a dialogue. The challenge of the world religions and other spiritualities today is to earnestly invite their own adherents to engage seriously in prayer and mediation as a mystical spiritual empowering source for dialoging with humanity and the rest of creation. Let the gift of Dialogue be our 21st century spiritual practice for the fullness of LIFE.

“It is vital that we stand up with the same aspiration and that we talk openly with each other. In any situation, dialogue is a positive endeavor. It builds solidarity and creates unity. dialogue gives rise to trust, even among those who don’t see eye to eye.” - Nichiren Daishonin

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