As babies we are born into a family and a culture that gives us our sense of identity, that teaches us to distinguish ourselves from others, that tells us. We need this sense of identity for our security and sense of belonging so important to living a life of meaning and well-being. In a way we all start life with a closed identity but life and experience can change this. For me the change came when I studied world religions at Lancaster University and encountered people of faiths other than Christianity. The obvious goodness of people and the wisdom in their faith was a challenge to mine as I came to realise that living my life in a relatively closed, though loving, community had put limits on my horizons and my understanding of the world and others. I now had to re-examine my own faith and come to an understanding of it in a more inclusive and expansive way.
This experience of an old and given identity no longer fitting is a common one and perhaps a necessary experience if faith is to mature. Sometimes people decide to change their identity totally as in conversion though this can simply result in a new closed identity. But sometimes a person keeps their identity, is secure within it but has moved from being closed to being open to others, making space and time for them, having concern for their well-being, being willing to engage with them and work together for the common good. The other is now seen as a friend rather than an enemy, a brother or sister, a 'we' rather than a 'them and us'. But sometimes this change of identity is viewed with suspicion in our community and that can limit our freedom. Brian McLaren in his book ' Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road' expresses this perfectly when he says
" all of us are poised between two dangers. The obvious one is 'the Other'. The subtle one is 'Us'. If we defend ourselves against the Other, if we attack the Other, we gain credibility with 'Us'. We show that we are loyal, supportive, believers, members of 'Us' and we are generously rewarded and affirmed. We gain a lot by attacking the Other - in religious circles as well as political ones.
Ironically Us can be an equally great threat to each of us as does the Other, probably greater. Us might withdraw its approval of me. It might label me disloyal, unsupportive, unbeliever, unorthodox, liberal, anathema etc. To be rebuked, marginalised, or exluded by Us is an even greater threat than to be attacked by the Other."
How true this is. Interreligious dialogue, standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of all faiths is not a mealy mouthed activity but one that takes courage and integrity. No wonder it is still a minority sport.