Interfaith Spirituality


Sermon given to the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu

May 15, 2016 by Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Lynch


“I have a dream. . . .” Between my first and second year of law school at the University of Idaho, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke those words at a Washington, D. C. rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I missed that rally as I was in California trying to make enough money to return to school in the fall. About two years later, King had another rally in Washington and this time I was in Albany, New York, taking the courses needed for my Masters and Ph.D. degrees. This time I was able to attend Rev. Dr. King’s second Washington, D.C. rally and it was one of the most moving experiences of my young life.

Let me digress: at Albany, I can recall attending a student party and a fellow student asked where I was from and I said, “I am from the West.” Cheerfully, he said, “Oh, so am I. I am from Buffalo.” I responded, “Great, I am from Idaho.” He then said, “Oh, that is where they grow corn.”

Please excuse my humor, but it is my way to segue to my topic of Interfaith Spirituality and my dream. I shall start with the word spirituality. Although there are several definitions, to me that word comes very close to mean “emotional maturity,” as explained by Rev. Dr. Karen Harris. For Karen and me that term means knowing and using some amount of spiritual wisdom to understand and guide your life. In the context of spirituality, the word interfaith to me means having the same spiritual wisdom in two or possibly many more religious traditions.

Shortly after my wife and I got married and we settled into our house together, she told me that all the religions of the world were saying the same basic message. Being an academic, I said, “Prove it.” She answered by waving her hand at the large collection of books from various faiths that she brought into our marriage. For unknown reasons, my not-very-religious-self took her hand waving as a challenge and the result was our first co-authored book called The Word of the Light.

That book demonstrated that indeed there is a common literature but it is primarily found and limited to what scholars called “the spiritual wisdom literature.” It is parallel at least among the Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Holy Scriptures. I was surprised to find a body of thought that can be called “Interfaith Spirituality” that addresses gaining, promoting, and living emotional maturity.

Let us stop and digest that. Spiritual wisdom is the common message at least among the five major religions and of interest they use the same words and metaphors even though each tradition spoke and wrote in different languages at different times. We are talking about scriptures from around the world and written over many centuries in remarkably different cultures. That fact is something very important but not easy to absorb. My suggestion to you is that maybe that message—that common spiritual wisdom–is significant enough for us to slow down in our very fast paced lives and treat that message seriously.

Now, let us turn to my dream. Would it not be wonderful if every church, synagogue, temple, and mosque taught that Interfaith Wisdom to their congregations on a systematic and continuous basis? Would it not be a true miracle that every religious tradition increased in their congregation’s emotional maturity? Would it not result in all of us living together in greater harmony in which each of us found inner peace and all of us found world peace? That is my dream! In parallel language to Rev. Dr. King, I see each of us and our children living and solving together climate change, conflicts in the name of religion, every human being growing into the best person she or he can be, harmony among all peoples, and us striving together to resolve such challenges as poverty and disease. That is my dream! And like King’s dream it can become a reality or at least we can move closer to that dream. That reality starts with one church, such as our church, that shows the world how that dream can be manifested.

Yes, I am a dreamer but I am also very pragmatic. Early in my life, I had a different dream: government could work better if they had the knowledge to handle their fiscal affairs more appropriately. To that end I wrote a textbook and I just finished writing the sixth edition of that same book. The first edition came out in 1979 and since that time it has been a leading textbook on that topic for almost 40 years. Certainly, that book has not fulfilled my dream but, at least, public budgeting in America and the world has improved because of that book.

How can we be not only dream but also practical dream in a place like this church? First, weekly sermons can use the theme of emotional maturity or what I call Interfaith Spirituality. Rev. Dr. Harris gave us examples of how that can be done in this very spot that I am standing in today. Frankly, I can give you 114 sermons that would grow our spirituality and I am sure that other ministers can give you hundreds and maybe thousands more. Each sermon would help each of us grow our emotional maturity and thus advance our spirituality.

Second, the same result can be accomplished in our religious education program from pre-school to adult education. Just as we are growing in maturity in this sanctuary, our children can grow their maturity in religious education during our services. Third, we can do even more in small groups like the chalice circles. These groups would need the assistance of good facilitators and members of the group would each tell their stories much like Rev. Harris did right here. We all have stories that showcase lessons we have learned that helped us grow into better human beings. Behind each such lesson is spiritual wisdom that we can identify. With each articulated wisdom, we can go on to say how we can incorporate that wisdom into our present and future lives so that we can live a little better “a life worthy of being lived,” as suggested by Aristotle.

Think about this story telling in small groups. You share stories about your life, what you saw in a movie, or what you read in a book that demonstrate a life lesson of importance you can present as a spiritual wisdom. Life is continually teaching each of us spiritual wisdom if we but open our eyes, ears, and especially our minds. This is best done if we quiet our monkey mind by closing off the chatter about us and in our heads. We tune out those thoughts that prevent our minds to feel, hear, see, and digest life’s lessons. Yes, spiritual wisdom lessons are in the many religions of this world but they are also in our very own life.

That is my dream. We can be better spiritually than we are today and together we can make a better world because we have grown emotionally. To do so we start first with ourselves, then our community, and finally our society. We must also always search for wisdom that can grow our Interfaith Spirituality. When we search, we will find it; and after we find it and live it, we–and eventually the world–will be better for our effort.

Thank you for your attention.

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