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Volume 99, Number 2

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Lecture on The Kite Runner challenges students' reaction to faith differences (continued)

The second thing is that we can enrich our witness by learning to build conversations with people who have different understandings of faith — or even different faiths — than you and I.  Notice I’ve chosen the word “witness” here, because I believe very deeply in Christian witness.  I believe that we are called to bear witness to what God has done for us and the world in Christ.  I’ve tried to devote my life to that.  So I believe in witness, but I believe that one of the most enriching ways we can witness is by learning to build conversations, particularly with those who are different. 

What often happens is that we finish with the salvation question.  We ask, “are they saved?”  Now that’s a very important question.  We need to ask that question.  But it’s not the only question we should ask.  Maybe not even the first question we should ask.  It’s an important one, but not the only one. 

Are they saved?  But I think another very important question we should ask is, "what might they know about God?"  Might it be that people who hold different understandings than you and I might know something about God?  It’s a different question than saying, “Are they saved?”  It’s a question that says "might there be some common understanding of God that we could use to build a conversation that would allow us to enrich our witness?"  Here we’re talking about the biblical understanding of revelation. . . God’s activity to make himself known.  God works that he may make himself known to others.  And we have examples of people in scripture who knew about God, knew some very important things about God, even taught his covenant people about God, yet they themselves were outside God’s covenant people. . . . God works to reveal himself and you and I can enrich our witnesses by building on conversations that draw upon what we might know of God and what someone else might know about God.  Enriching our witness by building conversations. 

"Might there be some common understanding of God that we could use to build a conversation that would allow us to enrich our witness?"

Following that would be to build on our commonalities. Tonight we’re talking about diversity, differences. Sometimes I fear that in all of our talk about human differences, we lose sight of the fact that humans also have a great deal in common. In my first-year seminar discussion this afternoon, this was one of the things that we talked about that emerges from this book; that for all

of the differences between us and Amir. . . there are still many similarities.  We are about to find ourselves in that story.  I think even though differences are very important, and we’re talking about those tonight, may we not lose sight of the fact that humans share many commonalities; that there are common elements in all faiths; that these provide opportunity for conversation and friendship building; and that our scripture, our faith tradition, explains these similarities.  And it explains these similarities with the understanding of humanity that all creatures, all humans, are created in God’s image. All humans, regardless of what we may think about them, bear the fingerprints of God.  And so the question is one that Jonathan Sacks asks – I think a very pointed question. Can we recognize God’s image in one who is not in my image? It’s a challenge, isn’t it? Is it possible to see the fingerprints of the Creator, the image of God, in someone who is not like me? Sometimes we have to look for the Creator’s fingerprint. 

Allow me to use an illustration here, for a moment. On the screen is a photo, a couple photos, of this ceramic bust of the suffering Christ.  It is very precious to me.  It is one of the many things in my office that connect me with people and places in my past. This is among the most cherished of those pieces in my office. This was given to me by my sister before I went to college, a long time ago.  I only had one sibling, a sister, her name was Kathy. We were very close. She died in 1990. But before I went to college in the mid '70’s she made this for me, and she gave this to me. And all the years I was in college it sat on my desk in my dorm room. When I went to Africa, this went with me.  When I came back and lived in Kentucky, it was there, and here it is at Messiah with me now. I remembered some years later, after Kathy had died, that when she gave me this, she turned it over and she pointed out on the base a defect, a flaw.  And she apologized for it.  She showed me her fingerprint. She apologized that she left her fingerprint on this beautiful piece. But you know what? That fingerprint has become very precious to me over the years. Because it reminds me of my sister, who made this for me, and the relationship that we enjoyed. 

I like to think of that as an illustration for you and I when we approach people who are very different than you and I, even people who hold a different faith. They bear God’s image. It might be something that we have to look for, it might be something that we have to even search for, but my sacred text tells me that it’s there, that the fingerprint of God is there.  And I find it helpful to look for that, to find out how God is there, and to build upon that, to build upon those commonalities that I might find.   

So tonight engaging faith differences is an incredibly important thing for you and I to begin and to polish. It is happening.  It’s happening all over the world, and I could give you many examples.  Here, I refer, only briefly, to one. Since 1990, Mennonite Central Committee and Muslim leaders have been in a series of discussions and conversations in Iran. Muslim leaders in Iran have invited Christians from this country there for conversations, for better understanding, for opportunities for witness, and this has been ongoing now for 17 years. This is one of many opportunities that we have to engage people in very positive, healthy, and biblical ways, even those who are different in faith.

So you see. . . engaging faith differences doesn’t have to threaten or diminish our faith. I would like to think that rather than diminishing our faith, when we engage in very positive, healthy, biblical ways, people of another faith, that our faith is actually being enlarged and enriched because this offers opportunity for us to review and strengthen these ancient and foundational elements of our faith. 

As we close, let us affirm tonight these core beliefs of our faith, ones that are very dear to me, and to you, ones that can guide us to be better global citizens and, I think, more faithful Christians: 

We affirm that God is at work everywhere: beyond the borders, beyond the boundaries, beyond the barriers, even in surprising people and places. This is the omnipresence of God. We affirm that everyone has something of God to share. We believe this because God is at work to reveal God’s self.  We also affirm that our common humanity allows us to build conversation despite these differences because the image of God is stamped upon each of us; we have opportunities to identify those commonalities, and to begin conversations that can give us opportunity for faithful witness and enlarging and enriching our faith. 

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