Last week, as I was surfing the ‘net, I came across one of those wonderful infographics which capture the heart of something important in such a simple form. This one was called “How to Respect Other Religions.” As I read it and thought about it, it struck me that this is just good advice for life in general, or for becoming more open about anything new.
So here goes — the 12 Commandments of respect and communication.
1) Educate yourself. Before you make any comments or pass any judgments, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Learn. Be open to knowing something new. Explore. Be prepared to be delighted in what you might find on that journey of exploration.
2) Be amazed — or even converted — into a better version of yourself. I love this one. Be open to that piece of wonder and awe that might transform you and make you more whole. Every new idea — by which I mean every idea that is new to you — has something in it that might just cause you to be changed into something more beautiful. This is true for people of all the different faiths as well as for atheists. We can all learn and grow from one another.
3) Be patient —don’t form opinions too soon. Take the time you need to learn and grow. Some ideas strike us as odd the first time we hear them. But first reactions are not always the best reactions. First reactions sometimes keep us from seeing a deeper truth.
4) Build relationships. Get to know other religions not just by reading a book, but by talking to people who practice them. That’s not just true of religions, but true of every sphere of life. Get to know people of other cultures and races. Build relationships with people in the LGBTQ community. As we get to know, respect and love others, we will find it impossible to condemn others if they think differently than we do.
5) Keep your sense of humour handy. Always. Don’t take yourself or your beliefs or your opinions too seriously. Find joy in every moment.
6) Ask questions — listen. Listen deeply. Seek to find out how this belief may be life–giving to another person. Asking questions is indispensable to building relationships. It also shows that we know we don’t know everything, and that we are willing to learn.
7) Say, “I don’t understand — yet.” Be open to the fact that in time, with patience (#3), you may well come to understand. Be aware that it may well take a long time to come to understand what inspires other people.
8) Experience how others worship. Learning about the beliefs that inspire other people isn’t just a “head trip”. It requires experience, learning it from the inside. It’s an opportunity to build relationships as you worship with other people, joining in community with them as they give voice to the truths by which they live.
9) Honour convictions; don’t try to remake people in your own image. How important this is! Especially when the convictions of other people are different than our convictions. I’ve often said in this space that no single one of us can claim to know the whole truth. The sad history of Christianity (and some other religious traditions) is that too often, we condemn others as being wrong. It’s okay to say “I disagree”. It’s not okay to condemn others on the basis of that disagreement.
10) Eat together, play together, and hold each other’s babies. I smiled at this one. How important it is to just be together, to eat and play, to dance and sing, to care for one another in such simple pleasures. And how can you not respect someone else when you hold their children in your arms?
11) Embrace mystery. At the heart of every faith tradition, at the heart of every person, we find mystery. Mystery isn’t something to be solved. Mystery is that impenetrable sense at the heart of every faith conviction that there is something or someone MORE in the universe. It defies our paltry attempts to define it. It’s important to honour the place of mystery which resides at the heart of life. Not everything can be explained or defined.
12) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This “golden rule” lies at the heart of every single one of the world’s major religions. If nothing else, we share this in common, that we are to treat one another with grace, compassion, respect, and above all, with love.
Twelve commandments … if only we could learn together to live in this way. Imagine how much more gracious life could be.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook