We Need Each Other

Interfaith reflections

The Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad which featured “America the Beautiful” sung in various languages has struck many as a beautiful display of the wide diversity of this nation. A nation which has always prided itself on being a melting pot, a place where people from anywhere on the globe have found a home.

Yet, unsurprisingly, some managed to find it inappropriate. One group responded on Facebook with this little gem: “Call us what you want, but my Ancestors came here and learned this beautiful language – they did not ask to be catered to… they taught themselves, and thrived…. to hear one of nation’s proudest songs in other languages was a bit disheartening… Bring on the Pepsi!”

Which makes me wonder, do we really want peace in our world? Do we really want understanding? As a person who seeks to cultivate dialogue between people of varying viewpoints, this is a high value of mine. Some disagree.

Some think the idea of gathering people of different perspectives around the same table is naïve or simply the wrong approach. Particularly people from my own religious tradition, Christianity. There is a strong evangelical Christian heritage here in America. Some of the most thoughtful, loving, sincere people I know claim this tradition. And those of us who might consider ourselves more mainline or progressive or from some other tradition of Christianity often find ourselves influenced by this tradition. The thought of engaging people of other faiths or no faith often leaves us with this nagging thought: “But I really need to get them to come around to Jesus.”

Jesus and Coke

Sharing the love.

The Urge to Convert

I get it. I really do. Jesus is great. Like Coca-Cola, he’s refreshing, and we want to share him. I think this desire goes hand-in-hand with the reaction to the Super Bowl ad: they need to learn our language. They need to become like us.

The urge to convert—whether it be cultural, religious, linguistic, tribal (SEAHAWKS RULE!)—runs deep in all of us. We are who we are, we like who we are, we like the way we do things and how we do things, and we can’t help but want to share that with the world. It is not necessarily a bad tendency. It is, at base, a human tendency.

Yet for the sake of humanity, it’s time to HIT PAUSE on that urge. Our world is all the richer because we are not all the same.

And it turns out, we need each other. We need this diversity, just as any healthy ecological system requires a certain amount of biodiversity. We need to learn from each other. It’s not as simple as: “They just need to come around to Jesus. Oh, and also learn English.”

Not by a long shot.

The contemplative interfaith teacher Beverly Lanzetta describes what is at the heart of interreligious and interfaith dialogue:

In today’s world the various concepts relating to interfaith and interreligious issues are often used interchangeably, and are employed to address similar ideas and practices. These terms emphasize a self-conscious commitment to four areas: a) importance of personal faith experience as a foundation for authentic dialogue; b) communal discernment of truth as a necessary element in clarifying the claims of one’s own tradition; c) recognition that an interreligious vision cannot be achieved at the expense of historically marginalized groups of people; and d) the need to apply this shared wisdom to pressing historical circumstances.”

In other words, engaging the other helps me learn new things, understand myself better, and helps all of us deal with the real issues we are facing together. If we are to contribute to a global harmony rather than a global discord, we NEED to learn to understand, respect and honor each other.

To quote the great Kenny Loggins:

I’m tired of living this life
Fooling myself, believing we’re right when
I’ve never given love
With any conviction of the heart

One with the earth, with the sky
One with everything in life
I believe we’ll survive
If we only try

How long must we all wait to change?
This world bound in chains that we live in
To know what it is to forgive
And be forg-i-i-iven

Too many years of taking now
Isn’t it time to stop somehow?
Air that’s too angry to breathe
Water our children can’t drink

You’ve heard it hundreds of times
Say you’re aware, believe and you care
But do you care enough?
Where’s your conviction of the heart?

There really is one earth, one sky. Let’s share it, people. Thanks for the reminder, Coca-Cola.

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17 Comments

Filed under Church, Culture, Politics, Practices, Pub Theology

17 responses to “We Need Each Other

  1. Brian – nice writing. I wonder if it is buried deep in “no such thing as a free lunch”. The love of God freely given, neither earned nor bought, just “is” – whether that is too much a complicated concept. So programmed are we to work, earn, judge, push and shove just to “get ahead”. Strip all that away and there ain’t much left apart from love. So what do we do? How do we do? Who do we do it to? When do we do it? “Not doing” just too complicated to take on board. I know I struggle with that.
    Here’s to more pub!

  2. This is a really great post, Brian. I am off to reblog…

  3. Reblogged this on Mary J Melange and commented:
    Great commentary on what I thought was a wonderful commercial.

  4. And in the end, the entire intention of the commercial was to brainwash folks into drinking their diabetes juice.

  5. We all live under the same sun, regardless of our beliefs.
    I fully agree with your post and Coca Cola.
    What I love the most in the US, my adoptive country, is its diversity.
    Even though I still favor wine to Coca Cola. Some French stuff never dies!

  6. Craig H

    Bryan,

    Greetings. It’s Craig Hoekema. We’ve chatted before a few months ago. I ran across your blog again as it was featured in a group “CRC pastors” email.

    Let me be upfront that this blog troubled me more than the last one to which I responded.

    If you had just focused on everyone getting along and everyone being willing to listen to others and honor and respect others, then I wouldn’t have responded.

    But you went beyond that to suggesting that we pause “the urge to convert.” In a lot of cases, I can agree, but not when we’re talking about the “urge to convert others to faith in Christ.” You lump that in as if it’s no different than the urge to make someone root for the Seahawks or speak your language. You suggest that with all such urges (including conversion to Christ) we should “HIT PAUSE.” (For how long exactly?)

    First of all Bryan, it’s hard to see how this isn’t baldly self-refuting. Is it not the intent of this blog to convince others og the ideas it presents? However, one of the aspects of the view of which you’re trying to convince us is that we should pause our urge to convert. Why do you get to do what you’re telling the rest of us to pause?

    I don’t know what you’re using as your authority for making this claim. Based on what you’ve told me before, presumably Jesus would be an authority for whether or not the “urge to convert” should be put on “pause.” What did Jesus say that would suggest he’d endorse this idea? What did Jesus say that would lead one to conclude that merely dialoguing with people who deny Christ’s Lordship is preferable to calling them to submit to his Lordship? Moving from values like “diversity is beautiful” and “we need to honor, understand and respect each other” to the conclusion: therefore “pause your urge to convert people to faith in Jesus” is an unjustified leap of reasoning.

    If what you mean is that we should understand/respect/honor people BEFORE we try to convert them to Christ; I agree entirely. But I should note that if this is your view, it is not clear at all from this blog. You don’t just take issue with inconsiderate or hasty conversion attempts; you call for a hiatus on the “urge” itself. And you offer no clarification of when it would be appropriate to act on one’s “urge to convert” someone to Christ.

    When someone who claims to follow Jesus (particularly a church leader) begins to downplay the urge to call others to acknowledge and submit to Christ’s Lordship, I submit that such a person is losing touch with what it means to follow Jesus in the first place. At best this blog was written hastily and could use some important clarification. At worst, this blog moves in the direction of denying the centrality of the gospel. As a colleague, it troubles me deeply.

    I would be thrilled to hear that I’ve severely misunderstood you.

    • Hi Craig-
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I see how it appears that I’m being self-refuting, and perhaps I am, inadvertantly. What I’m saying is innate is the urge to make people like ourselves. Particularly the need to make people believe my religion (or more precisely, my version of my religion), or speak my language, or subscribe to my cultural preferences. I’m saying, let’s pause that. The response to the Coca-Cola ad cited above is what prompted this blog post, and I think people who say such things are often the same ones who feel the need to “bring ‘em to Jesus.” The point that I am trying to convey in the post is that we, particularly as Americans, are prone to want to convert others to our language, our style of democracy, our religion, our culture. I think when we are overzealous in this regard, we not only miss out on what others have to offer us, but we also often contribute to the larger discord in the world (particularly religious & cultural conflicts, which can contribute to violent conflicts).

      Of course, in saying this, I am saying “be more open-minded, more tolerant, more willing to accept people where they are.” This could be construed as me saying “be like me,” except that I’m not sure that’s where I am, but it is where I aspire to be. I was not trying to say we should pause all urges to persuade people of anything, though I see how it can read that way. I do think the approach I am condoning is superior, hence I bothered to write about it!

      In any case, I think our energy would better be served by figuring out how to share this “one earth and one sky” than spending time wishing (or working toward) everyone speaking our language or converting to our religion. Hence the part about interfaith dialogue which is explicitly different than most evangelical approaches.

      Not sure what you mean, “What is my authority?” for saying this. It sounds like Eric’s later issue: I cite Kenny Loggins and an interfaith teacher, but “not the Bible.” The authority is: common sense. We do have one planet to share with humanity. That’s it. And we all know this. So let’s not downplay (or ignore) what ought to be paramount: getting along, sharing resources, taking care of the planet, in favor of some other issues that we don’t know to that same level: i.e. issues of faith.

      At the same time, I do aspire to follow and be like Jesus. He often took time to engage people where they were without requiring them to conform to the religious expectations of the day. He modeled a hospitality that allowed people to feel welcome without having to become something else first. He also put practical needs as paramount, such as sharing resources: share your coat with him who has none; and getting along: if someone strikes you, turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge. But we’re also living in a different era and facing issues that weren’t on the table in Jesus’ day, so one has to extrapolate.

      It’s also true that Jesus cited poetry and plays of the day, as did Paul— in other words, popular culture and conventional wisdom. In other words, there is truth out in the world that isn’t all controlled or owned by any one religious or philosophical tradition.

      Hence an interfaith approach seeks to learn from others (knowing we don’t know it all, whoever ‘we’ is), and to together apply such “shared wisdom to pressing historical circumstances.” But such engagement also begins with one’s own authentic personal faith experience, so one can enter the conversation as a faithful Christian, Jew, Muslim, or any other tradition.

      I can see someone opposing what I’m saying if they’re coming from a “we’re right about everything and have nothing to learn from others” perspective. Or the view that Jesus’ top priority was that we convert the entire world to (our version of) Christianity. I don’t hold either of those perspectives.

      As John Caputo puts it in What Would Jesus Deconstruct, “Orthodoxy is idolatry if it means holding ‘the correct opinions’ about God’—’fundamentalism’ is the most extreme and salient example of such idolatry—but not if it means holding faith in the right way, that is, not holding it at all but being held by God, in love and service. Theology is idolatry if it means what we say about God instead of letting ourselves be addressed by what God has to say to us. Faith is idolatrous if it is rigidly self-certain, but not if it is softened in the waters of ‘doubt.'” (p.131)

      And later he says, and perhaps this is more in tune with what I’m trying to get at in this post, “The deconstruction of Christianity is not an attack on the church but a critique of the idols to which it is vulnerable—the literalism and authoritarianism, the sexism and racism, the militarism and imperialism, and the love of unrestrained capitalism with which the church in its various forms has today and for too long been entangled, any one of which is toxic to the kingdom of God.” (p.135)

      • Craig H

        Bryan,

        Thanks for your response.

        Allow me to speak as openly and honestly as I can as a colleague who is sincerely troubled by what you’ve articulated. I intend to be very direct, because I think you need to be firmly challenged in what you’ve written. I hope you will receive it in a spirit of love.

        What troubles me the most is hearing an ordained minister of the gospel disparaging evangelism. I can understand disparaging certain evangelistic techniques or disparaging hasty / high pressure evangelism or disparaging treating people like projects or disparaging divisiveness or disparaging evangelism that conflates one’s own culture with the gospel etc. etc. etc. But a blanket disparaging of evangelism? a blanket dismissal of the urgency and centrality of the great commission? Bryan, that is simply out of touch with the Jesus recorded in the gospels. Not to mention out of touch with scripture as a whole.

        (That’s why I asked you about your authority. If the Jesus who said “Go make disciples…teaching them to obey…” is not the authority on this question, then who is? I know no Jesus who disparaged evangelism; only one who commanded it.)

        I would add that what you’ve articulated is also out of touch with the Reformed tradition and the confessions you have subscribed to as an ordained minister of the CRC. I struggle with the lack of integrity displayed by serving a denomination that has the covenantal expectations we do of one another…and yet holding the view you’ve articulated. Certainly one of Home Mission’s most important expectations of you is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that people come to and are nurtured in their faith in Christ. It’s hard to reconcile your largely dismissive view of evangelism with the covenanted expectation placed upon you; and I’m left wondering where is your accountability.

        In addition, your position is laden with reasoning that is, at best, not sufficiently examined.

        First of all, there’s the issue of self-refutation which I already mentioned. You are doing exactly what you’re telling us not to do. You remarked that you’re not really telling us to ‘be like you’ because you’re not sure you’ve attained your own ideal. But that’s really irrelevant. What’s illogical is trying to proselytize someone to a non-proselytizing position; regardless of whether or not you’ve attained the position yourself. And given that it’s the position YOU most prefer, you’re just as guilty as anyone of wanting others to ‘be like you’.

        A truly consistent non-proselytizing position (which I have encountered) is one that says, “So you’re a proselytizer…great! I have no desire to change you. You go right on being a passionate proselytizer because that’s part of who you are.” Clearly this is not the position you’ve articulated.

        A second logical issue I have with what you’re written, and to which I’ve already referred, is the way you’ve lumped religious conversion together with language, political, or cultural conversion.

        The issue is that language, political structure, and culture are (for the most part) issues of preference; religion is an issue of truth and falsehood. Religion makes claims like, “Jesus is divine and rose from the dead” or “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” Religion makes statements about God, about the past, about reality that are either true or false. “My culture is the best” or “my language is the best” are not comparable claims.

        As such, the urge to convert someone to your religion is far more comparable to the urge to teach someone about World War II or about the dangers of taking drugs. These are issues where you’re inviting/encouraging someone to accept what you believe to be true about history and reality…not simply inflating the importance of your own opinion or preference. Unless of course you are betraying here your own underlying conviction that religious claims really ARE more comparable to opinions than matters of truth and falsehood. In which case, I’d take even greater exception.

        A final logical issue is what I can probably best refer to as a blending of straw men and false dilemmas. This is an approach I see a lot in those whose views push the ‘bounds of orthodoxy’ (or those who just plain take issue with the phrase). It’s an approach you used the last time we chatted as well. You tend to endorse obviously virtuous positions (or argue against obviously flawed positions) and then assume that as long as one accepts this obviously virtuous position (or rejects this obviously flawed position), then he/she should naturally end up agreeing with you.

        To illustrate, the thrust of your argument is this: IF people agree with me that diversity is wonderful and we need to honor and respect and learn from and share with and be kind to one another, THEN you should accept my non-proselytizing recommendation. The false dilemma is that it ignores that one could agree with the protasis but reject the apodosis. It’s a straw man in that it implies that if you reject the apodosis, then you must not be the kind of person who accepts the protasis. At best this is uncareful…at worst it’s manipulative.

        Another example from something you wrote: “I can see someone opposing what I’m saying if they’re coming from a ‘we’re right about everything and have nothing to learn from others’ perspective.”

        The implication here is that the kind of people who disagree with you are the kind of people who think they’re right about everything (straw man). Conversely, if one is not the kind of person who thinks he’s/she’s right about everything, then the only other option is to accept your non-proselytizing recommendation (false dilemma).

        Bryan, this is a long response, it is a direct response, and I recognize it is a potentially offensive response. But you’re my colleague, and I believe I have an obligation to push back firmly on this one. I hope you will receive it in a spirit of love, not only for you, but for Jesus Christ, his gospel, and his kingdom.

      • Hi Craig-
        Hope you’re not losing any sleep over this. ;-)

        Thanks for engaging. I suppose my beef is not with evangelism per se, but, as you noted earlier, in a certain kind of evangelism. In fact, my next post will likely be about the kind of evangelism I think we ought to be endorsing. So, I guess… stay tuned.

        This post began with a response to the outcry about the Coca-Cola ad featuring multiple languages. I extended that desire to “make them be like us” to a few other things, and you’re correct that those things are not equal. I could have been more careful in delineating the differences.

        I’m not saying no one is allowed to convince or persuade anyone of anything except for me—that’s clearly ridiculous. It is natural for us to share things we’re passionate about – and we should (and we inevitably will). We can’t help but share things we feel strongly about – including you in responding to this post. And that is welcome and appropriate. But those things are different than demanding that Americans have to speak English, or that the rest of the world should be like America, or that people must become Christians or we won’t associate with them, or more likely, we’ll think less of them.

        Mostly I’m saying, let’s respect who people are and where they are, without getting bent out of shape if they are different than us. That’s it! And a lot of people appreciated hearing that. Thank you for pointing out some flaws in my arguments, I’ll try to be more careful next time.

        Cheers-
        Bryan

  7. I think the guy in the last comment misunderstood you. What I got out of your post was that we should embrace all people and enjoy the variety of different cultures etc rather than try to make everyone like ourselves. I am all for missionary work, our church sends young people out to do just that when they reach the age of 18. But while I as a Mormon would like everyone to enjoy the blessings of my faith, I am not so bent on converting people that I can’t enjoy the friendship of someone who’s not interested in my religion. What we need to put a pause on, is people who dismiss others simply because they’re not a good prospect for conversion,

  8. Eric Van Dyken

    1. This blog post is a pretty straight-forward denunciation of the Great Commission.

    2. Bryan seems troubled by the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and of Christianity – in this he has a problem with Jesus himself, not with Christians.

    3. Conversion is not about making people “like us”, but like Christ.

    4. Where in the Bible does it say that we need other religions in order to address “pressing historical circumstances”? (Hint: it doesn’t)

    5. Contrary to Kenny Loggins’ musings, we are not “one with the earth” or one with the sky or one with everything in life. Such new age musings are not to be found in the Bible either.

    6. The world doesn’t need conversation, the world needs conversion.

    7. We don’t seek to convert because “Jesus is great” (or refreshing, for that matter), but rather out of obedience and out of love. We don’t love our neighbors by withholding the only truly eternal goods news that there is.

    8. This blog post is curious for the fact that it makes several appeals to wisdom/authority from a songwriter and from a contemplative interfaith guru, but makes not one appeal to scripture.

    9. By all means, let’s love all people and treat all people with dignity. However, allowing them to remain ignorant of the saving gospel of God’s grace made manifest in Jesus Christ is not loving them.

  9. Pingback: Coke brings us together (or not) | ReFocus

  10. I appreaciate your favor as a reply on my “Washington, DC Snow, Hot Chocolate Tweet,” which led me to your blog, I read the Cola / Jesus Post, as well as many of the replies. I notice you didn’t mention “GOD” only “Jesus!” I question how those who believe, consider “The God” got it all wrong and HAD TO send a human male form to “save it/US all?” There is no true history to support that A (The) God sent a man, a fictitious blood thirsty zombie Jew, Jesus born from an already married “Virgin” to save the souls, granting eternal life to HUMANS “sinners” (all of us” is the claim)…No man can speak (not powerful enough) for THE GOD. I don’t believe any thing any man has ever said, concerning such and people who claim as such, neighbors, doctors, lawyers, store clerks, self hating gays and lesbians (people) frighten me and should be institutionalized.

  11. Craig H

    Thanks for your reply Bryan, and for receiving my reply in it’s intended tone. I will keep my eyes posted for your upcoming blog on evangelism.
    Craig

  12. Pingback: If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus | Nosmerca

  13. Pingback: If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus! | Bryan Berghoef

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