July 16th, 2019

The neighbourly thing

By Medicine Hat News on February 9, 2019.

In the late 1980s, while a minister in Calgary, I had the privilege of taking part in tone of a series of “Canadian Christian Festivals,” which brought together most branches of the Christian family in worship, study, and generally moving towards better knowledge and appreciation of each other.

As a promotional gimmick, the Presbyterians distributed a lapel button with the caption, “Have you hugged a Presbyterian today?” One of the first visitors to respond was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary at the time, showing up to give — and receive — his hug. Needless to say, this silly and simple gesture, broke generations of historical and theological “ice.”

Sad to say, this same Festival was picketed at its gates, by a group condemning and criticizing just such inter-faith “heresy.”

The busy-work of most faith-communities today is a mix of energies devoted to maintenance and survival.

What takes more intentional effort and enthusiasm, is outreach, mission, and service.

And it’s still true that in today’s Church-at-large, the right hand hardly knows what the left is doing, and few seem to make the time to find out. In retirement, I have the opportunity — which I greatly treasure — of sometimes visiting sister congregations other than my own home-base. And I am often amazed at what I didn’t know was happening in my own community, in Jesus’ name!

A former Archbishop of Canterbury was quoted as saying, “The fundamental contradiction is that any two disciples of our Lord, would not be in communion with one another.” And if many Christians seem estranged from one another and fail to understand or support one another, then how much more is this true between different faith groups — Muslim, Jewish, Christian?

Seems to me this is a particularly crucial time in world history for this kind of neighbourly exchange and encouragement.

Sometimes the spirituality of another person whose beliefs and practices seem very different from our own, can positively amaze us, and even energize and renew us.

For some years while living in Calgary, I volunteered with an inter-faith community action association. In our usually chaotic but stimulating time and work together, I met a very memorable Muslim woman. She worked long hours in her own successful restaurant, and still managed to partner with her professional husband, raise a family, and engage in community-life.

She assured me that she could never keep it all together, were it not for the several very early morning hours spent in meditation and prayer at her local place of worship.

Her humbling witness and devotion was an example which I respected and admired greatly, but never managed to match!

Jesus made the claim — and I believe it — “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through me.” (John 14:6)

Not everyone shares that conviction.

But if the Christian believer is committed to encouraging others to see life and the world and the workings of God, through Christian lens, then surely it would be unChristian and uncharitable to dismiss or disregard or think less of, that person who sees things differently from the follower of Jesus.

If we claim to think and act and speak in the name of a God who is Love, how can we possibly relate to those whose beliefs we don’t entirely share, in any manner that is unloving and un-Christ-like. What a strange contradiction — and sin — that would be.

God’s peace to you.

Bob Cruickshank is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Medicine Hat. Today’s column was to be submitted by Lutheran Pastor Sid Nelson, who is hospitalized at this time, and we wish him well.

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