Into the whirlwind
Meet Samir Selmanovic, director of the New York City inter-religious nonprofit, Faith House. Born a Muslim, raised an atheist, an avid student of Judaism, Selmanovic is a Christian and former clergyman with an urgent message for us all.
Selmanovic has grown weary of religion—any religion—to the extent that it claims to have a superior understanding of God. He calls this “the idolatry of certainty about God,” 1 and admits that he too once indulged in it:
How glorious, I thought, that God would actually put together a religion to carry the ultimate truth to the world! Yes, others would have truth too, but not the ultimate one, I thought, thrilled that it was we Christians who were chosen for the top task. … Whoever has not tried this drink…has never really been properly drunk. What can possibly compare to being in charge of God? 2
But things have changed for Selmanovic. Now he urges Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike to “adopt another revolutionary notion of divinity, imitating the spirit of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad—divinity that refuses to be managed, sacredness that spills out of our vessels, God who cannot be contained.” 3 Selmanovic embraces atheists as well, adding a subtle and beautiful chapter on their unique contribution to spiritual dialogue.
Selmanovic is convinced that “[w]ithout knowing and being known by strangers, we cannot grow in knowing either God or ourselves.” 4 When we truly see people of other faiths, he says, “when their eyes look into ours,” 5 everything begins to change—even our narrow, exclusive reading of our own sacred texts:
In the past, the whirlwind of religious passion came from our experiences of being visited, corrected, and blessed by God. Today, God has not withdrawn, but is calling us to a profound experience of meeting God in the stranger…. Religion has an exciting future. For those who are open to strangers, the whirlwind never stops. 6
Fortunately, this book is not a dull polemic. Woven through it are delightful stories of Selmanovic’s multi-faith family, his efforts to spark multi-faith interaction, and his long and many-layered love affair with God.
At the end of the book, Selmanovic finally manages to get his reluctant parents and sister, all atheists, to visit the Christian church where he preaches. Afterwards, alone in the parking lot, he bursts into laughter. Then he sits on the curb and weeps. For the pain Christianity has caused. For the way, he says, that we all find conflicts useful. For the fears we all perpetuate.
Religion, Selmanovic concludes, must “lose its life in order to find it.” 7
And yet, this book is bursting with hope. A Muslim holy man blesses Selmanovic’s conversion to Christianity. A Wiccan woman showers grace on a group of discouraged pastors. Jews singing Purim songs rush to the window, wave their yarmulkes, and harmonize with singers in a Latino Easter procession.
Reading these stories, I had to wonder whether Christian Scientists have a particularly significant role to play in what Selmanovic calls the “interdependence” of all faiths. Mary Baker Eddy said, “’As many as received him,’ — as accept the truth of being, — ‘to them gave he power to become the sons of God.’” 8
We could read this sentence as if it applied only to Christians, or only to Christian Scientists. Or we could decide that divine Science shines through all religions, and that many supposed strangers to Science already “accept the truth of being” to a much greater degree that we realize. After all, “Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals.” 9
Thanks to Selmanovic’s vivid stories, I’ve already begun to experience what he urges all religions to cultivate: “more laughter about ourselves, more tears for the stranger, and more whirlwind for us all.” 10
Topics: Interfaith | Tags: book review, idol, idolatry, multi-faith, muslim