350: Samir Selmanovic and the Story of Seeing “God in the Other”

e’re in the midst of the 2nd Annual Interfaith Heroes Month right now — a season dramatically heightened this week by the convergence of Martin Luther King Day and the transformation in Washington D.C. (If you’d like to talk more about your reactions to the week, visit www.OurValues.org or drop us an Email.)
    ReadTheSpirit’s central mission is to help you make spiritual connections through media, so today we invited Sheryl Fullerton to share an interfaith story with us. Sheryl is a major figure in spiritual media. She’s the executive editor for spirituality and religion at Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons.
    We asked Sheryl how she sees interfaith work at the moment — and specifically to tell us about a book she has chosen to publish with an emerging interfaith hero: Samir Selmanovic (in the photo at left, below).
    Here is …

By Sheryl Fullerton

    It seems everywhere I look these days, there is talk of interfaith this or that, for or against. The impulse either to strengthen boundaries or breach them seems intense, maybe because of the general feeling that change is in the air, that an era is ending and we need new ways forward—or, as some feel, we need to do everything in our power to resist the changes.
    It’s from such times of tension and uncertainty and passionate discussion that books are born. And that is the case with a new book we’re publishing next fall by Samir Selmanovic, tentatively titled for now “God in the Other.”

    I remember when I first opened up Samir’s proposal. His opening statement hit me right between the eyes: “For years I’ve been talking about three monotheistic religions to nonbelievers. And here is what I hear: ‘At best, Jews, Christians, and Muslims look like three religious stooges in a slapstick comedy. At worst, they look like three brothers with hands clasped in prayer and soaked in blood.’ We have littered history with incredible amounts of stupidity, injustice and suffering. The world has simply had it with us. They are not listening anymore… Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have painted a picture of God that is difficult to admire, much less worship….Either monotheism will die, or evolve.”
    When I read that, I nodded.
    I’d thought many times that we can’t continue the insanity of doing the same things we’ve been doing—we humans are literally destroying each other all over the world, way too often in the name of God. The more I read, the more I thought Samir’s unique life experience was a huge part of his insights and his urgency. Raised in Croatia in a culturally Muslim family, he converted to Seventh Day Adventism while in the Yugoslavian army, was disowned by his family for doing so, went to college and seminary, pastored churches in southern California and New York City, and just last fall launched an interfaith community (for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) called Faith House Manhattan.
    Faith House’s vision is to be a community that honors and learns from the teachings, practices, sufferings, and joys of people from different religions, worldviews, philosophies, and belief systems.

    Tony Campolo aptly described both Samir and Faith House when he said, “Samir Selmanovic is just what we have needed to bring the spirit of Christ to bear in a fractured society. His attempts to create dialogue between peoples of different religious traditions is essential in a pluralistic society and is desperately needed in a world in which religion has become an instrument of war instead of actualizing its intended goal of being an instrument of peace. Here is a young man with vision and with the kind of drive and commitment that will enable his dreams to be actualized….I am sure that he will be used [by] God in this project, living out the biblically-prescribed ministry of reconciliation.

    In his book, Samir tells of his personal journey to uncover the beauty and potency of religion that is able to place the good of the world above its own survival. He argues that for Christianity, Islam and Judaism to recapture the human imagination, the theology and practice of finding God in The Other will have to move from the outskirts of religious experience to its heart. Instead of losing its strength and depth, such renewed religion will help heal the world.
    Those are grand ideas — and it is a time for large visions.
    My hope for Samir and this book is that it will matter, that it will start new conversations and new connections. His call for us to give up our “God management systems” and engage each other with love and compassion as human beings who are all created in God’s image is compelling. I hope the book will get people thinking and talking about their assumptions and will, I pray, help to foster more reconciliation, more respect, more listening, which would help us to have less fear, less anger, less religiously inspired violence. He’s not calling for us to find some magic formula of religious common denominators that we can agree on—to do so would create a flavorless potage that wouldn’t have the nutritious quality of our religious traditions.
    In a way what he asks is a lot more radical: Can a Christian worship Christ with abandon while learning about God from a Muslim? Can a Muslim submit to Allah while challenging Islam? Can an observant Jew praise God for the gift of New Testament and Quran? Can a staunch atheist find comfort in a religion?
Samir’s book offers a big “yes” to questions such as these and helps us see how this might be so.

    To read more about Faith House Manhattan visit the group’s web site, which is full of inspirational reading. Or, to read a bio on Samir Selmanovic, visit his on page on the group’s site.

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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