Friday, January 25, 2013

Choosing to Trust in God and Interfaith

Image by Phauly, Creative Commons License,
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There is a myth about trust that it is just the natural consequence of a series of events that prove that someone is trustworthy. I think trust is about making a choice to trust someone or a group, it is given not just earned.  In our teachings about our relationship with God, this approach plays out and I think it has application to interfaith relationships as well.

One of the great challenges of our time is the relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims and more broadly between people who have strong differences of belief. This is largely driven by generalising  specific issues  relating to some people, attitudes or events,  with the groups as a whole, as has been well articulated by Walid Aly[i].

Trust as a choice
One key idea is that trust is demanded, withholding is insulting. I always think of the teenager who screams at his mother, YOU DON’T TRUST ME, before slamming the door. I wondered about that. Why is that an accusation? If your mother doesn’t trust you doesn’t that mean that you have failed to earn her trust?! Clearly that’s not how it works. We can see that when a desperate parent will suddenly trust a child who recently got their driver’s license more if they urgently need him/her to run an errand such as pick up something from the shops before the guests arrive. 

The challenge of trust
Personal experiences and news stories from around the world and those horrible hate filled e-mails give plenty of reasons not to put my trust in my Muslim neighbour. A blood soaked history of Christian persecution of Jews as well as significant competition of ideas stand in the way of trusting my Christian neighbour.

Christianity grew out of Judaism and it is fair to say that some Christians would see their path as having superseded Pharisaic?  Judaism. Yet, I am a proud Pharisee Jew, explicitly so at least once a week, when almost every Sabbath I eat a hot Pharisee food called Tchulent to declare my agreement with the Pharisees in an intra-faith dispute from the time of Jesus. There was a view put that on the Sabbath we must eat cold food because of the prohibition against lighting a fire, but the Pharisees insisted that fire can be lit before the Sabbath and the food left on the fire. Yet this is the world of Rabbinic Judaism that Christianity rejected. As a Tchulent eater, am I supposed to pretend that we are all on the same page?

In Jewish tradition there is some quite harsh things written about enemies. This Saturday we will read how in the aftermath of an attack by Amalek following the Exodus from Egypt God commands Moses to write it down as a remembrance, put it into the handover file in the ears of Joshua, that God will erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens…a divine war against Amalek for generations[ii], until the time of the Messiah[iii].

This Sunday I will be speaking at an Anabaptist conference in response to some pretty provocative ideas on the theme of peace building Of course my audience on Sunday believes that the Messiah has already come, and the time for hating enemies has past. Can I trust them to respect me despite my belief that the Messiah is not here yet? Can the people who have been taught one must love their enemies and those who have been merely taught to love their friends, really trust and respect each other?

Leap of Faith  
I think faith in interfaith can draw some inspiration from the way tradition teach us about faith in God. In our reading this week, the Israelites are both praised for their willingness to take a leap of faith “your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown[iv]” and found wanting because of the weakness of their faith. God does not take them the direct route to the Promised Land because God thinks they might change their mind when they see war with the Canaanites and will simply return to Egypt[v]. This is the same God who decreed that they would be enslaved for generations in Egypt and has only now freed them. This is also the same God many Israelites were disappointed in when things got worse before they got better when Moses first approached Pharaoh. Surely God needs to build some trust first. Apparently not.

God gets more demanding. When the Israelites find themselves with the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind them some cry out to God[vi], others[vii] believing they are facing imminent death, they lash out at Moses. Moses quickly tries to reassure the people then begins praying himself. God is not interested in prayers. He tells Moses “why do you cry to me? speak to the Israelites and they should travel![viii]But travel to where? Walk into the sea? The answer is yes. They were expected to show absolute trust in God and simply walk into the sea with confidence that it will turn out ok. Commentary suggests that it is only through this act of faith that they will earn the miracle of the sea splitting[ix]. We are taught that in fact one man named Nachshon does exactly that. He jumps into the sea and that is when it splits.

Jumping in to Interfaith with my inspiring friends
Interfaith needs an element of Nachshon. All the arguments and differences both significant and trivial can be managed. What is required is good faith and a willingness to choose trust. For me this is not always easy, but it is easier than for most. This is because of my friendship with some amazingly inspiring people of sincere good will. I won’t mention all, but I am looking forward to catching up with some of them on Sunday.

[i] Aly, W. (2007). People Like Us. How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West. Melbourne: Picador-Pan Macmillan
[ii] Exodus 17:14-16
[iii] Targum Yonatan ben Uziel
[iv] Jeremiah 2:2
[v] Exodus 13:17
[vi] Exodus 14:10-12
[vii] Ramban points out that there were two groups
[viii] Exodus 14:15
[ix] Ohr Hachayim

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