Martin Melville | A philosophy of interfaith relations

December 14, 2013 

Martin Melville

It is easy to think that one person’s impact or influence is insignificant, though history is populated with enough individuals who have done just that to discount that assertion.

We are called to act as part of our faith, regardless of what we perceive to be the chances of success.

In many ways we are like 2-year-olds exploring. We hover about our mother’s knee until something attracts our attention. Then we go exploring. We venture into the “wider” world, sometimes further than we realize, further than we dare.

We realize with alarm that we are out of our comfort zone and we come running back. Of course, some of us are reluctant, some more adventurous. And then there are over-protective parents, afraid to let their children investigate the world.

Fear and prejudice are often responses to that which we do not know or understand, that which is different, that which is not ours (or so we think).

They are often shadows on the wall, monsters we have attempted to shut in the closet. The monsters will still be there until we shine our inquisitive light on them, until there is some attempt at resolution. Then they will be known as the shadows they are.

In learning about other traditions, one danger is becoming eclectic. But if learning is sought in humility with the intent to gain understanding, it is implied that one is secure enough in one’s faith and oneself that one can withstand and be enriched by different perspectives.

It has been said that faith untested is no faith; it is a house of cards or straw.

The universal tenets of religion are kindness, generosity and gratitude. As a Friend (Quaker), I would add integrity. Anything else, practiced without integrity, has its value compromised.

Rainer Maria Rilke is quoted: “I began to live the questions.” Early Friends understood this, I think.

My observation would be that when your faith and communication with God come to permeate your life, you either have or will experience transformation.

There is no duality, no separation. Only the willingness to listen and obey.

Many who haven’t experienced this grace try to refute that there is validity in submission or obedience; when you are in the presence, it is a joy to do so.

For me, the divine is present wherever I am. If I can’t pick it up on this relationship, the problem is on my end of the connection, not His.

Martin Melville is a woodsman, a member of the State College Friends Meeting (Quakers), and a participant in Interfaith Initiative Centre County.

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