By Tom Holmes
Why are we afraid of boundaries?
John Hubbuch had a op/ed piece in last week’s Wednesday Journal with the headline Searching for a Christian in Oak Park. In the piece he used the Apostles’ Creed as the standard for judging whether a person was a Christian or not.
I’m on the same page with John on this one, since I’m a Lutheran and we say the creed most every Sunday. But I’m very aware that many Christian faith communities around here don’t use it, and some are downright opposed to having creeds, because they seem to be exclusive. The assumption seems to be that if we clearly say who we are and what we believe, then someone is going to feel out of place or not welcome.
I’m not sure where that attitude came from. I’ve been writing on religion for years, and I don’t find it to be true.
For example, I suppose Roman Catholics maintain arguably the most rigid doctrinal boundaries around. So do Missouri Synod Lutherans. Let’s throw in Hasidic Jews and the members of the mosque in Villa Park (that’s the Muslim congregation I know the best). My experience in every case is that all of the above have been very welcoming.
Now, I’m not supposed to receive communion in Catholic or Missouri Synod Churches—although some pastors in both denominations have given it to me anyway. I suppose that in a way that is being exclusive, but I didn’t experience it that way. What I sense was that they felt somewhat pained at their denying me the sacrament, because they genuinely wanted me to be united with them in the deepest way.
It felt to me like they had integrity. It didn’t feel like they were excluding me. The difference between the two is huge.
Likewise, the Hasidic Rabbi in Oak Park, Yitzchok Bergstein, has welcomed me into his home for a class, an interview and a Passover Seder. Neither he nor I pretended that I was a Jew, and I chose not to actively participate in some of what I was observing, but I definitely felt welcomed by him and his family.
In fact, I tend to be attracted more to believers who have firm doctrinal boundaries. . .IF that integrity is combined with love. Rabbi Bergstein and his family keep all 613 of the Jewish laws scrupulously. One time when I was there after midnight, he asked me to turn off a light in his refrigerator because for him to do so on that particular day would break one of the laws he followed. I felt kind of honored. He was sticking to his principles, but he seemed to trust and respect me enough to ask for my help.
Every time I go to Thailand, I dialogue with Buddhist monks. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Christians are from Mercury and Buddhists are from Pluto. Yet, they welcome me every time and always seem to enjoy the mutual learning. In fact, I’m grateful for their being different, because in “bumping up against them,” i.e. encountering a solid, coherent, different view of the world, I’ve been enabled to better sort out my own world view—what to keep and what to discard.