Mosiacs in Motion

18 Jan

The NCMA co-hosted conference this coming June has chosen the provocative, yet practical, theme of multi-faith community as “mosaics in motion.”  For most of us, I believe, the religious diversity at play on our campuses now begs for more than programmatic contrivance or academic curiosity to assist young women and men at various stages of formation through which we encounter them.

Many of us, I suspect, learned the process of crafting a mosaic at summer camp through the intricate assembling of glass shards into a fixed form, be it an ashtray or a decorative bowl. It bore the semblance of our creative intention, however imperfect, and sometimes became an artifact that was preserved and passed on because of a specific story within the larger family that it mysteriously evoked.

Religion, at least on one essential level, is an artifact that’s simultaneously static and dynamic. All faiths, if you will, are mosaics in motion. They bear the indelible, and culturally specific, marks of striving, dreaming and epiphany. So, while the institutions that we serve would rightfully have us celebrate the plurality of religions that nudge us beyond the parochial norms of yesteryear, we who stand at this busy crossroad of inter-faith commerce must act as stewards of the past and acolytes of the future, as those who bear witness to the traditions that light our paths and the Light that shines on all paths.

How do we (do you?) go about doing this? Since there are as many good answers as there are equally good colleagues, I’ll trust that you will post responses to enrich this discussion. One way that I have gone about the task of creatively serving the calling of my tradition, while honoring, and learning from, the “religious other,” is poignantly spelled-out in a book that changed my life over twenty-five years ago: “The Way of All the Earth: Experiments in Truth and Religion,” by John S. Dunne.

Dunne’s thesis was that the greatest work of the world’s most avowed visionaries was rooted in a respectful inter-faith encounter of “passing over” and “coming back.” What we do in passing over is to enter sympathetically into the wisdom, moral attitudes and spiritual practices of the religious other. By becoming receptive to the teachings and practices that illustrate the best of other traditions, we can gain insights that serve as imperatives for following one’s own faith more completely.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “passed over” into the non-violent spirituality of Gandhi, after reading his autobiography, and was subsequently emboldened to assume leadership as America’s greatest prophet of civil rights.

I carry with me this attitude of “passing over” and “coming back” as one way of allowing my mosaic of faith to be both fixed and flexible. What do you do?

Reverend Mark Forrester                                                                                            United Methodist Campus Minister at Vanderbilt University

Mark Forrester has been the United Methodist Affiliated Chaplain at Vanderbilt University for seventeen years. For more than twenty years the United Methodist and Episcopal student ministries have merged into an ecumenical organization, The Wesley/Canterbury Fellowship. Mark is  an elder in the Tennessee Conference of the UMC, having served ten years in parish ministry before venturing into campus ministry (1991) as the director of The Wesley Foundation at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN. Education: BA, Trevecca Nazarene College (1979); M.Div., Vanderbilt Divinity School (1983); D.Min., Columbia Theological Seminary (2005).
Mark is married (Elaine), has two grown daughters (Emily and Shelley), and a grandson (Cayden). Aside from family and ministry, one enduring passion is home brewing!

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