A few of these can help us exercise our own faith better

A good way to understand your own faith more is to experience another faith a little. We can all get stale or staid in our faith if we only reinforce it by associating with our own faith-kind and don’t expose ourselves to differences.

All faiths are not the same at root, as some blithely claim. They make different claims about God and have different aims. Those differences, however, mixed with what is common, can sharpen our perceptions of each other and bring our own convictions into sharper relief.

Reading about another religion, or talking to friends or neighbors or co-workers about what they believe and how they practice their faith, is a step. Two steps might be to explore things on their terms by visiting services or sharing in their faith rituals.

A baby step to begin might be to visit a different kind of church than the one you attend, even one within your denomination that has a different style or feel. You will end up asking yourself why your congregation works the way it does. A bigger stride would see a Protestant visiting a Catholic church, or vice versa. A larger leap still would be for Christians, Jews and Muslims to worship together or celebrate high holy days with one another.

Two experiences recently have gotten me thinking about my own Baptist Christian ways of being. First, I was part of an interfaith group that traveled to the Holy Land. Eighty Christians and Jews talked together, ate together and prayed together. Sharing a Shabbat meal and reflecting upon the meaning of it enriched my Christian understanding of Sabbath and of Holy Communion.

I also learned that Rabbinic Judaism was born out of the need to rethink the way Jews might conduct their lives without the Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. They determined that prayer, study and deeds of loving-kindness would govern the spiritual life. Baptists likewise emphasize the simplicity of a faith that includes the disciplines of prayer/worship, Bible study and service to the world.

Last month our church hosted friends from the Muslim community for an Iftar dinner during the month Ramadan. Iftar means “fast-breaking.” Muslims do not eat or drink during the daylight hours for the whole month, but they break the fast after sundown, often with friends, and sometimes with non-Muslim neighbors like us. Islam is built upon five pillars: the creed (confession that God is one and Muhammad is his prophet), the prayers (three or five times daily, depending upon the sect), almsgiving (charitable donations), fasting (especially during Ramadan) and pilgrimage (at least once in a lifetime to Muhammad’s birthplace of Mecca). Baptists do not fast as a rule the way other Christians, principally Catholic and Orthodox, do, mainly during Lent. Hearing Muslims’ witness to the spiritual power of fasting made me reconsider the value of the Christian practice.

Every religion touches the head, the heart and the hands. Believing, belonging and behaving are all part of a well-balanced faith.

Differences among religions and within religions can be analyzed by differences in how we think about God (head), how we experience God (heart), and how we respond to God by our daily deeds (hands). How devotees of a religion or a denomination or a church approach these three dimensions of the spiritual life tips us off to who they are, and in turn it turns a mirror on who we are.

Most Baptists start with the heart, and then we move swiftly to the hands and slowly to the head. We believe belief is first experience, then a lifestyle of good works, and finally reflections on it. We would profit by working harder to get to the head quicker. We might admit that experience with God grows out of spiritual practices more often than leading them.

What might you learn about your faith by a little faith stretching exercise?

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