Let God be God.
— By Max Ediger —
“I’m an oppressor!” With those few words Kim Houn began his final reflective essay at the end of the School of Peace (SOP) 2007. The SOP is a major program of the Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) based in Asia that annually brings together 20 young people from around Asia for a 14-week living/learning experience. The young people come from different faiths, ethnicities, cultures and languages and during the 14 weeks, they live together, eat together, dialogue together and argue together in a process designed to help them learn how to celebrate diversity rather than fear it.
Kim Houn then explained why he saw himself as an oppressor. “As a Christian, I put God in a box and controlled the way God was supposed to relate to Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. I didn’t want God to love them or to accept them unless they changed to be like me. When I go back to my home country, I am going to open the box and let God be God. And then I am going to follow God instead of trying to lead God.”
Like Kim Houn, many Christians are uncomfortable with entering into dialogue with people of other faiths. Perhaps they are afraid that the goal of serious dialogue between faiths is to blend them all together into one syncretic faith in which Christians would need to give up some of their beliefs and absorb some of the beliefs of the “other”.
Dialogue, however, is not about merging faiths together, but it is about learning to understand through engagement. Kim Houn expressed several key learnings about engagement and dialogue he received during his 14 weeks in SOP.
First, if we are very confident in our own faith, we do not need to be afraid of listening to the teachings of other faiths. He realized that while engaging with people of other faith, he began to reflect more deeply and seriously on his own spiritual journey and thus gained a deeper understanding about what it means to follow Christ. Consequently, his commitment to the teachings of Jesus deepened.
Secondly, Kim Houn realized that making an effort to understand others does not mean that we accept their ideas as our truth, or justify their actions. It does mean that if we can understand more clearly how and why others think and believe differently, we can share our own beliefs in ways that are not offensive to others or cause conflicts with them. Sincerely trying to understand others makes it easier for them to open up and try to understand us.
Like Kim Houn, perhaps we too are oppressors, keeping God locked up in a box, trying to lead rather than follow. We need to have the courage to open the box and “let God be God.”
Max Ediger has lived and worked throughout East Asia since 1971. Currently calling Cambodia home, Max is Coordinator of Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF). ICF was formed to facilitate the examination of different religious perspectives on the root causes of some of the threats and conflicts we experience in community today such as poverty, consumptive lifestyles, and unjust distribution of land.
ICF supports regional religious partnerships in working together for the transformation of society. It is an endeavor to find alternatives through listening, learning, and discerning messages from the grassroots and the development of cooperative efforts to achieve these alternatives together through involvement and action.
The basic goals of Interfaith Cooperation are to support a regional interfaith Asian movement for justice and transformation that focuses on marginalized communities; confronts the roots of violence; and promotes justice in the economic, political, and social spheres.