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Making Interfaith Dialogue Possible

December 31, 2010

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me…It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.”

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied…”The one I feed.” (http://www.uselessgraphics.com/nativeamerican.htm)

“Interfaith dialogue” has become one of the new catch phrases of the day.  Too often it is used to refer to a conference or seminar attended by people of various faiths who meet for several days to share papers or discuss common issues.  True interfaith dialogue, however, is much more.  It refers to cooperation and positive interaction between people of different faiths over a long period of time.  Generally it could be used for such positive interaction between people of different faiths who live in the same community and struggle daily to understand and communicate with each other.  In such a setting daily and long term efforts to share, to listen and to learn are required and this translates into a dialogue of life rather than simply a dialogue of words.  This dialogue of life transforms people and creates the foundations for an authentic community growing and thriving within diversity.

This intense interaction of people living with significant differences is difficult.  All of us have chauvinistic ideas of others.  Our understanding of those who are different from us has often come through misinformation and sadly, sometimes even disinformation.  The mass media frequently provides the misinformation that creates prejudices to form.   Within this complex web of relationships we may learn to tolerate the “other” but moving from tolerance to authentic engagement with them can prove to be complicated.  True interfaith dialogue requires the readiness and willingness to engage the “other” with openness, to listen carefully and to share ideas humbly.

Like the elder Cherokee Native American, there is a fight going on inside us between two wolves.  One wolf tells us that our religion is the best and only right religion.  Those of other faiths are “lost” and need to be changed.  This wolf listens to the information that describes most graphically our differences and the “dangers” of the other.  While we may tolerate the other, the possibility of our moving to aggressiveness is always present because we easily begin to see the other as a threat to ourselves and our own religious faith.

The other wolf calls us to seek a deeper understanding of the other, to set our own prejudices and misconceptions aside and allow new information to help us form new relationships.  This wolf does not suggest that we are wrong in our faith, but rather that our own faith can be enhanced by learning deeply and honestly about the faith of others.  It helps us move toward engagement and the formation of communities within diversity which can confront violence in creative and positive ways.

As these two wolves fight inside us, we must decide which one we will feed.  That is a decision we can freely choose.  If we choose to have the courage to move toward engagement, we will find that real, life-giving interfaith dialogue is, indeed, possible.

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