Here's a question: what does it mean to be in community with others, even other people who don't share your faith?
Some months ago a committee I'm on came up with the brilliant idea of exploring the idea of the global church in our deacon meetings, rather than spend 90 minutes shuffling papers and deciding who's sitting at the volunteer table on which Sunday. (with email, there's no need to waste all this time.) We thought, Let's have little mini-lectures about the church and all the different communities. Yay! we thought. We'll learn something!
So we brought in a religion writer from the Trib and had a nice little conversation about faith in the city and how a paper covers it. Success.
Then, since we wanted to be relevant, we thought, 'Hm. Let's bring in the guy who lectures on Islam in our Academy. He can talk to us about the Islamic community and tell us stuff we don't know.'
Yeah...big dreams. You'd think having a really measured Moslem professor and lawyer come in from the burbs and talk about the Islamic community and Middle Eastern history from the inside would not be enough to push moderate, progressive Christians over the edge, but apparently it is.
You'd think hearing a mini-lecture about the ways that Christian and Moslem culture, history, commerce and geo-politics have been intertwined since something like the 11th century would be distant enough to prevent people from freaking out, but you'd be wrong.
You'd also think that hearing an articulate brown man (who was also very very attractive - very) tell a room full of privileged white people that brown immigrants who've been living here for a couple generations don't care what you think of them and didn't really come to this country to assimmilate would have made sense but, yeah, you'd be wrong there, too.
On the whole, his mini-lecture was about more than religion; it was about his culture; it was about how much older it was, how learned it was, how grounded it was in 'enlightenment' ideas. But it was also about the cultural identity of an immigrant and this was the part of his lecture that made some of us squirm.
(What? You *don't* want to be an American?? Well, that's just...just un-American!!)
When we say we want to understand, do we really? Or do we really mean that we want that other person to say something we agree with, something that bolsters our already inflated image of who and what we are?
When we say we want to be inclusive (as a progressive congregation - I don't expect conservative churches to embrace this newfangled notion of inclusion) what do we really mean and what happens when someone you want to include holds up his hand and says, 'Uh, appreciate the gesture, but we're fine just where we are'?