8617464168_930a6095f3_mIn the mid-eighties, while a student at McMaster Divinity College, I had the opportunity to hear some renowned scholars and writers who were guest speakers at the University.  One such figure was Hans Kung, spokesperson for ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue; he had, in his career, alienated himself from Catholic authority by his broad-ranging vision of different religions in dialogue with one another, and his implicit suggestion that Christianity was not the only truth.  He had led what was essentially a new phenomenon, that of ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, which really only began to emerge in the 1960s, as the shrinking global village brought people into increasingly regular contact with those from other faith traditions. An earlier attempt to bridge the divide between religions was seemingly made when the first Parliament of World Religions was convened as a side element of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; criticism hurled at that event was that it was a thinly-disguised attempt to assert the predominance and the exclusivity of Christianity.  One of the leading figures at the 1893 gathering was Swami Vivekananda, a spokesperson for Hinduism; he brought an awareness of Hinduism and India to North America. Separated by almost one hundred years, by continents and theologies and religion of practice, both Vivekananda and Kung spent their own lifetimes speaking of the need for interfaith awareness and understanding and acceptance. In our contemporary world, we speak of tolerance, a weak word. What is needed, of course, is much more than simple religious tolerance, but what Vivekananda had sought, and what Kung proclaims is necessary: acceptance and understanding.  The same, of course, can be applied to principles, ideologies, issues, rights beyond the religious sphere. “Certainly tolerance and acceptance were at the forefront of my music” says musician Bruce Springsteen, and many musicians and celebrities jump aboard the politically correct bandwagon to espouse equality, rights, and tolerance. But more than mere tolerance is needed, especially with regard to religion. Religion, specifically Christianity, has been subject to much abuse of late – it seems it is socially and culturally acceptable to dismiss religion and especially Christianity. Certainly the tradition of Christian religion has elements that lend itself to severe criticism: religious war, pogroms, marginalization of people. But there is much more to the history of Christianity that is often overlooked: the founding of hospitals and social justice works, the acts of philanthropy and generosity, the establishing of educational institutions and social programs, to name only a few. We have just passed the most significant weekend of the Christian calendar, Good Friday and Easter. And the culture in which Good Friday is a statutory holiday, and then Monday an extra holiday for government and school workers, is a culture that seems to know less and less about the significance and meaning of such holy times.  We are learning, slowly, about religions and their followers, including Hindu holy days, Muslim observances, and First Nations spiritual traditions.  Perhaps our culture, rather than being quick to offer criticism of the faith that has dominated over the centuries, should take the same care to learn some of the stories and practices, and to generate the same respect, towards Christianity which, although in eclipse in the northern hemisphere, continues to grow in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Christianity, it seems, is often dismissed, and the central narratives and theologies of the faith are given critical comments by those who do not know them well enough to understand them, let alone condemn them, displaying a lack even of civil respect. What is needed, beginning in our multicultural and multireligious world, is more than tolerance. There needs to be acceptance that ideas, practices, and theologies which are not ours are still held dearly by others. There needs to be an understanding of the significance, the meaning, and even the stories held by others. Gone are the days of mandatory religious instruction in schools and universities; and yet, for well-roundedness, for learning to open our minds and our hearts to others, it seems that we should be encouraging, nurturing, and urging people to do more than simply scoff at religion, but to understand it. In a global world where Christianity may be shrinking in around us, but is still growing, expanding and developing in the southern hemisphere, in a world where religion still shapes the lives of most of the world’s population, where religious conflict still looms large and where religious fundamentalism creates danger, it is perhaps even more important that we not only learn about the religions in our midst and beyond, but that we come to an understanding of them, an acceptance of the role they play, and an appreciation of the meaning they hold to their adherents. This might begin, perhaps, with just learning the stories and knowing what the holidays are, and why they are important, from Anglicanism to Zen Buddhism, from Bahai to Zoroastrianism, and everything in between, including Christianity, for all our on our doorstep, and seen through the windows of where we live, and also through stained glass.   CELEBRATING FAITH IN APRIL   Thursday April 11th New Year  – (Hindu)      Saturday  April 13th Baisakhi – New Year (Sikh)   Saturday April 21st First Day of Ridvan (Baha’i)   Thursday April 25th         Therevadin New Year (Buddhist)   Sunday April 28th Palm Sunday (Orthodox Christian)

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