Pluralism Sunday

“Pluralism Sunday,” Susan Ryder


John 10:14-16
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Rumi “Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War “There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.”

On the first Sunday of May many progressive Christian congregations observe Pluralism Sunday. We have done so a few times since the observance first began in 2007. Pluralism Sunday was inspired by Diana Eck’s “Pluralism Project,” which began in 2006 at Harvard University, as well as the 2ndof the 8 Points of Progressive Christianity, which reads, “By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.”

Throughout our almost 26 years as a congregation, we have embraced this affirmation – we regularly draw from diverse sources of wisdom for our spiritual journeys. We utilize biblical passages as part of our Sunday morning worship, as well as sacred texts from other sources, such as the Quran and the Upanishads, plus Buddha, Rumi, Starhawk, Mary Oliver, Parker Palmer, Edward Abbey, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and even Jerry McGuire. We believe there is truth to be found in other traditions that may follow a different path than ours to reach the Sacred. We believe the Sacred Mystery did not stop communicating with and inspiring us when the Judeo-Christian canon of Scripture closed – we believe that spirit continues to speak and inspire, gifting us with insight from a variety of sources.

Religious pluralism suggests that far from being weakened by different experiences of the Sacred, a faith community can be made stronger by acceptance of diverse experiences from other traditions. Religious pluralism ultimately strengthens all of humanity. Diana Eck writes “Pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies. Also, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.”

As we chatted in advance of the service this morning, Chris reminded me of the passage from John where Jesus speaks of those other sheep, which spoke to her of there being more than one group or religion in tune with the Sacred Mystery. Rumi and Sun Tzu would to agree. Religious pluralism accepts the coexistence of various religious and spiritual paths under the same roof, and celebrates the presence of other religions without needing to lose one’s own identity. I would add that it also includes sharing spiritual practices across religious and spiritual traditions – such as inviting a non-Jewish person to take part in a Seder meal (NOT so-called Christian Seder); or inviting a non-Muslim to the Eid meal that marks the end of Ramadan; or our practice of a communion table that is open to all regardless of what they may or may not believe. Breaking bread and sharing a cup together around this table does not require a prerequisite set of beliefs or qualifications. We invite all to share. As a congregation that values commensality, it’s no surprise that some of the most common ways we experience religious pluralism involve food.

To celebrate Pluralism Sunday, I invited Kim, Donella, and Chris to join me in sharing a spiritual tradition we practice that comes from outside of Christianity. As we share these rituals, I hope they will inspire you to reflect on some of your own spiritual practices, or something you might consider exploring, in celebration of religious pluralism. I’ll get things started and then turn things over to them.

Growing up I was taught by my church leaders, not my parents, that any little step that strayed off the straight and narrow path of Christianity risked making me vulnerable to the devil’s temptation. It was kind of like what was taught back in the 1970’s about the slippery slope of drug abuse – where some of us were taught that if we ever even smoked just one cigarette, the next thing we’d know is we’d be addicted to heroin. So if we dabbled in anything non-Christian or hung out with Catholic friends – we might be tempting fate, or the devil, to swoop in and lead us astray. So I was a little later than most to exploring spiritual practices outside of traditional Christianity. But when my sister began to practice a more pagan spiritual journey many years later, I was intrigued. And when we are together we will sometimes share a pagan ritual together. I love that she refers to the Sacred as Goddess, or Mother Goddess, which in this day and age is particularly affirming for me.

A ritual I remember most vividly was when we were together six years ago for Samhain, which means “Summer’s End,” is a festival of the dead observed as October turns to November. There are many earth-based connections and spiritual rituals related to Samhain, but the year we together was the same year our mother died. I was back in California for scattering our parents’ ashes and cleaning out Mom’s house, so we created an “ancestors alter” on Mom’s screen porch the night of Samhain. It was a small table filled with photos of family who had passed on – our parents and grandparents and some we’d never met – our ancestors. It also held small votive candles. We invited my brother over, and we each took a turn lighting a candle and speaking their names out loud, thanking them for being part of our life and lineage. After each of us spoke we took time for quiet reflection – and then Betsy led us in a blessing. The ritual ended, but we stayed out there a few more hours, drinking wine and laughing and sharing stories, as well as expressing our grief for the loss of our parents. It was a sacred moment I am so glad all three of us experienced together.