In preparation for this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “Forces that Shape Our Daily Lives: The Contemporary Search for Spirituality,” speakers were asked to contemplate a question: How might the non-religious, or “nones,” unite with the religious mainstream to create a better future?
Joel N. Lohr is more interested in the reverse question.
“Instead of trying to help ‘nones’ see why religion is important,” he said, “why don’t we, as religious people, learn from those who have journeyed away from faith, or have never had a deep connection to faith, or just choose not to identity with organized religion?”
Lohr, the president of Hartford Seminary, a nondenominational theological college, has spent much of his career advocating for dialogue across belief systems. He will be speaking as part of the Interfaith Lecture Series at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 8, on CHQ Assembly.
Lohr’s speech, titled “Finding Myself in the Other: Learning from Those Outside My Faith,” will focus on his personal faith journey.
“In some ways, the journey that I’m on has helped me to know myself more fully, and I’ve only been able to achieve that through my engagement with those who are true outsiders, or through people who don’t necessarily share my faith or my outlook on faith,” he said. “There’s a helpful model there for us, especially as religious people.”
Lohr recognizes that it’s common for people, religious and non-religious alike, to fear and avoid situations outside of their comfort zone. In his experience building relationships with people with vastly different beliefs and perspectives, he’s found that approaching new situations with an “appreciative curiosity” can transform these interactions.
“Find something to appreciate in the ‘other,’” he said. “Express what brings about a certain sense of wonder or appreciation for the ‘other,’ and from there you can ask respectful questions.”
He cautions against generalizations and snap judgements.
“I really think that the key to finding friendships and growing in our relationships with those that are different from us, is to work really hard and intentionally (to) not make assumptions about who we might encounter or what they might think,” Lohr said.
He said that much of his philosophy on interacting across beliefs comes down to entering conversations with a “posture of humility.”
“Go into the conversation assuming that the other person has something that you can learn and that you don’t know,” Lohr said. “Assume you might be blessed by engaging (with) that person.”
But what if the fear isn’t of the unknown, but of judgement from religious peers for keeping the “wrong” company?
According to Lohr, there are worse things to be judged for.
“Jesus spent most of his earthly life engaging with those who were considered outsiders,” he said. “If we’re never being accused of hanging around with the wrong people, we’re probably not doing it right.”
This program is made possible by the Deloras K. and L. Beaty Pemberton Lectureship.