The word ecumenism (pronounced ek-u-men-ism) used to mean good things for me. But now I'm questioning if I ever knew what it really meant. OK, I agree, it's a high dollar word, and not exactly a household word either. Over the years, I surmised that it is an attempt to bring multi-religious people who espouse diverse belief systems and faith traditions into some kind of unity, yet not to forget what makes them different from each other. Anyone, like myself, who has engaged with a religious group presently or in the past knows this ain't going to be a lazy day at the park.
Ecumenism, rather, has its etymology from ecumenical, i.e., from the inhabited world, 1. general or universal; especially of Christ as a whole 2. furthering religious unity, especially among Christian churches (Webster's New World Dicionary and Thesaurus. Michael Agnes (Ed.In Chief,et al). (1996). New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 194). Did you get that? Within the ranks of Christianity. This was a mind blower for me.
My particular illusion for many years has been that Ecumenism was a way of trying to pull together, in some inclusive way, the multi-colored quilt of the wide variety of all of the great faith traditions, in hopes for more unity and respect; surely the result could be very positive, especially because of the need for understanding in such a violent and fragmentary world. Reality says that the quality of peaceful respect that ought to be somewhere in sight is often, not, happily coming. In my personal experience and by simply observing what's going out there, some of the most brutal conflicts are religious conflicts.
But if you're similar in some degree, Ecumenism, can also be seen as a device of conflict and conflagration rather than all faiths "at potential" in terms of being able to obtain a good degree of empathy for others that are different from yourself, notably in the United States since it's still has more Christians than any of the other religions (Sorry, I don't have specific stats, have to get back to on that). This is definitely changing demographically since Buddhism and Mormonism are two of the fastest growing faiths in our midst.
A recent article entitled Majority of daily blessings in House, Senate offered by Christians--and in Jesus' name (Austin American-Statesman, February 24,2013, p. E-1) raised the issue about invocations, and in whose name they're given. The article observed some interesting facts--that most of the prayers said in the Texas Legislature are Christian-focused and use the name of Jesus:
*According to the article, there were 39 invocations in the Texas Legislature this session, one Jewish, and another Muslim
*25 of The House and Senate invocations were in the name of Jesus
Just so you know, I don't disrespect Christianity, and I'm not a ranting atheist or agnostic--hey, all I'd like to see is a little equality here
*The prayers tested legislative instructions on giving invocations (don't give me that crap about, "Oh, they can get away with anything there, just turn and eye and go blind instantly!)
Austin has had a huge influx of people from Asia and Southeast Asia, remember? Many European immigrants who have arrived at the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn, are Muslims
*The article offers this suggestion: continuing this kind of invocational practice will indeed create more conflict, especially if Christians and everyone else give themselves the silent treatment. Open discussion is advised. Do you really think that most, white Americans (with our baggage of privilege) listen carefully to persons of color who already sometimes feel invisible and a victim of their legislative circumstances (I'm not writing here about being a victim, but sitting in the 'house of vulnerability)--how did you like my try at God-talk?
*The Texas Legislature's invocation instructions reads that invocations should be non-sectarian, civil, respectful towards all, and with end goal of bring folks together and avoiding political invocations. Main object? To insure respect for all people and their divergent faiths, customs, and cultures. Friends, it ain't happening here
I'll stop there even though the article continues; my thanks to Ken Herman for his article, and his courage to raise his pen over this one.
I spent two years in Southwest Houston at one of the major hospitals on the Southwest side. I was trained in the role of Resident Hospital Chaplain. The area where the hospital is located is one of the most diverse areas of Houston, very close to China and Viet Nam town. We were trained effectively, I believe, to become culturally competent, noteably in the area of the diversity in religions and their unique religious teachings, especially in the area of Death/Dying and working with families around bereavement and grief. The hospital, due to its geographic location becomes a UN of Healthcare. It's said that in the Houston Community College system one hundred and five languages are spoken--this is from the horse's mouth, yours truly being the horse.
I learned by doing at the hospital; I had to be alert to how other non-Christian faiths named their higher power(s) (if they spoke in English), and pray accordingly, or use a neutral term. I used a notebook of research on the varied faiths. I sought more understanding of their rituals and ordinances, communicating respect for their customs, especially around death and bereavement. I learned the place of family, at the time of death, in other faiths; I also learned a great deal from having conversations with those of other faiths than my own--I also learned from the mistakes I made in some of these conversations.
This was also a time of crisis of faith in my life. Gradually, I moved away from the faith into which I was born--Christianity--and moved towards Eastern Spirituality. Today I would consider myself a Buddhist, or what I would term a Universalist (not a Unitarian Universalist, but embracing the fact that there are compatible, universal teachings at the core of all faith traditions). In my particular journey, developing stronger cultural competency skills--opened me up to more freedom to choose what I thought was best for own disposition, and my personal spirituality.
A local Episcopal church here in Austin, St. Hildegards, began noticing about twenty years ago, how the Bible was loaded with masculine terms referencing God. When translators used terms for God they were for the most part masculine The St. Hildegards community decided to use more neutral and definitely more feminine terms for God and Lord as well as other Biblical God-Language. They started using the Inclusive Bible that eliminates all of the masculine terms for God All of their hymns follow this rule, as well as their liturgies which they have created; this brought a great sense of joy and liberation to the church community. Also this helped them become free of the Patriarchal (church systems run by men), Hierarchal structure which has been a legacy of Christian history, and continues to this day. Check out St. Hildegard's website at: www. hildegard-austin.org.
@Christopher Bear-Beam March 2, 2013