As your newest Times-News religion columnist, let me introduce myself. I am Rev. Elizabeth Greene, a Unitarian Universalist minister. I served as minister to the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for 25 years, retiring from full-time ministry in June 2013. Currently, I am serving the Magic Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Twin Falls as ¼-time minister. While I still live in Boise, I am delighted to be spending several days a month in the Magic Valley, a place I have always loved.
The Magic Valley UU congregation’s mission statement declares that the Fellowship’s purposes in the world are: “to help each person live, laugh, love and seek the truth; to be a place of celebration, comfort, love, and learning for all ages; to serve our community in the spirit of justice and democracy; and to respect all religious paths.”
Today, let me elaborate just a little on the last phrase. Another way we like to say it is, “There are many paths to the Holy.” We believe that Mystery, however it is named (God, Higher Power, Spirit of Life, Creator), is experienced in many ways by different people and different faith traditions. We believe that all experiences of the Holy, when they are life-affirming and respectful of the divine in every person, are part of Creation’s wonderful diversity.
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Here is an example of these values embodied in the world, an inter-faith group in Boise called Healing the Future. The group began to meet a couple of years ago, inspired by a common commitment to the proposition that inter-faith activities bring to the world more peace, better relationships, open hearts, and sometimes even a transforming holy understanding.
The first activity was an interfaith evening in which representatives from nine different religions shared (five minutes each) prayers, songs, scripture, chanting, and silence on the subject of peace. More than 100 people came, and expressed a wish for two things: 1) to have more evenings like it, experiencing the faiths of others, and 2) to attend an event where it was possible to interact more, more deeply and with more people.
A longer event was planned, four hours of inter-faith dialogue, socializing and feasting. About 50 of us attended from about 10 faith traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Baha’i. I had been part of the not-always-consistent interfaith community in Boise for almost 25 years at that time, and don’t recall anything quite like it. There was something about talking and listening and breaking bread with people from different spiritual views that moved the hearts of many of us. It is spirit-opening to feel others’ reverence, Godly experiences and the depth of spiritual emotion that arises when people trust and share.
There is, of course, a position that says religions need not or should not talk to others because of the possibility of contamination or dilution of cherished beliefs. Or because one believes that his or her faith is the only one for all people, so why try to learn about faiths that are considered simply wrong, probably fatally wrong? Or maybe folks resist interfaith situations just because we tend to hang out with people like us.
In any case, we Unitarian Universalists and all in Healing Our Future take another path. We know that this world has a huge variety of blessed differences and that differences can be difficult for human beings. So, our road is to bring people of different views together. We know that it is possible to develop mutual understanding and respect while also deepening our own religious identity and commitments.
Our religious and spiritual journeys are deeply, deeply important to us. We are enriched when we hear the deep beliefs and values of others and when we speak our own. I am grateful to all who have the courage and generosity to embrace the traditions of others.
Elizabeth Greene, minister of Magic Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.