The best gift I ever received was something I never wanted. A few days before I finished my 12th and final year as pastor of a church I loved deeply, the congregation’s lay leader shuffled into my office.
Now that the dust has settled from l’affaire Regensburg, it’s a good time to think about what makes for genuine interfaith dialogue. One thing is clear: the reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s address, as reported by the media, allowed little scope for dialogue. People took sides with tedious predictability.
"What keeps you up at night?” I asked the African cardinal at the end of a leisurely lunch near his home. Our conversation had ranged across a variety of topics: the scourge of AIDS in Africa, ineffective leadership within the churches, the character of theological education in our respective contexts, and our own calls to ministry.
In the spirit of St. Francis, I have begun to recognize that my nearest neighbors are not the Woodards or the Blacks—although they are very good neighbors indeed—but the various creatures with whom I live my life on a daily basis.
Our children expect peculiar vacations. While their friends go to Disney World or the beach, we go to monasteries and rare book libraries, making a holiday out of castles and forests along the way and returning with odd bits of nature or history for our display case.
Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, remembers Vincent Harding coming up to him at a church in Denver and suggesting that they work together. Patel declined, saying he thought the mission of his own organization didn’t mesh with Harding’s. After Harding died, Patel read his obituary and learned Harding was an unsung hero of the civil rights movement and a speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. Later, at an event attended by Patel and Harding’s widow Aljosie, Patel confessed that he had passed up a great opportunity. Aljosie said to Patel: “You should know that Vincent followed your work, and he loved you, and he forgives you” (OnBeing.org, June 9).