On my self described "soul-searching missionary adventure tour around the globe," one of my main desires has been to explore other faiths. I believe this is of vital importance, because it gives you a greater insight into other cultures, their ways of thinking and behaving, and it serves as an opportunity to strengthen your own faith. One of the best ways to know what you believe is to know what you do not believe and why. Additionally, you are a greater asset in the mission field because you know what people believe from the source itself. It's great to want to walk into a place with a desire to save the people, but if you don't know exactly what you are saving them from, what use is it? You can say, "but their belif is a lie," or "they are practicing a religion of heresy," but they could easily turn around and say the same back to you. Maybe they never had an opportunity to explore different faiths, or maybe they grew up a cradle Buddhist the same way you grew up a cradle Christian. There is nothing quite like walking a mile in someone's shoes.
While wandering around Bangkok, exploring the various religious sights, doing my best to immerse myself in the culture, I was struck by how similar we are at our core. I think it can best be described in a phrase used by many shop owners, "same-same, but different." We have all been created with a God shaped hole. We all have a desire for meaning and truth. We all have a desire for a connection with the Divine. We are all same-same, but different.
I do not want my words to get twisted. I do not want you to think that I am adopting the "Coexist" stance, but as my philosophy professor taught me, there is a little bit of truth in everything, even in peoples desire to "coexist." Mother Teresa saw this when she that her goal was to make people the best Muslim, the best Hindu, the best person they could be. I believe that mother Teresa saw beyond all the legalities to the core of it all: Love. Love of people for who they are, where they are at. She worked with faith, knowing that as long as you do your work with love, God will make up for what you cannot do.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a class by a Buddhist monk on meditation and the origins and principles of the religion. It was fascinating and one of the best experiences of my trip. One question he asked us stood out to me, "are we same or different?" Depite my earlier realization, I immediately wanted to raise my hand and say, "different!" "I am Catholic, you are Buddhist. I am American, you are Thai....etc." Instead, I kept my mouth shut, maintaining an open mind and an open heart. His answer struck me at the core, "we are same because we all have anger, all have selfish, all have desire, all have hope, all want to become better people and connect with the higher." How very true he is.
The religious people I have encountered in Thailand have some of the strongest faith I have ever seen. The reverence they have is admirable and puts me to shame in many ways. They have a desire to amend their wrongs so they make christening offerings to monks (like confession). They have a desire to grow their temple (or Wat), so they donate their hard earned money. They have a desire to share their faith, so they send out missionaries and offer classes. They respect their faith, so they offer their free time to work at the temple and help the poor. They have a deep respect for their founders and leaders, so they venerate holy images. They desire to be of service and live strong, healthy, happy, moral lives.
These people are our brothers and sisters. Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, doesn't matter. As it says in the book, Life of Pi, "Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go out as far as the legs of reason will carry them-and then they leap." However misguided and misinformed as it may be, they all have faith. Faith in Nirvana, faith in the laws of science, faith in Allah, faith in Christ. But doubt is never an option. As the author points out further, "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."
This trip has taught me the beauty of different cultures, and the beauty of other faiths. I am learning to appreciate differences and incorporate common truths and practices. Jesus came into this world to love. He hung out with the sinners, spent time in their homes, and never condemned. I want to follow in His footsteps, that path that Mother Teresa joined, hoping that my presence will plant a seed, trusting that the Divine Farmer will bring about a full harvest in my life and the lives of those I meet.
After all, "the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably." (Life of Pi)