Rev. Steve Lawler tried positive Lent, but was coerced into the more traditional giving something up–his decision to incorporate Islamic practices into his Lenten experience.
Rev. Lawler, who adopted Islamic prayer rituals, Qu’ranic study, and dietary restrictions did so for spiritual education and edification.
“I could have sat down and read scholarly literature on Islam, but that’s still stepping back from it rather than encountering it…You can think about doing something, but once you do it, you really reflect on it,” Rev. Lawler said to The Saint Louis Post Dispatch.
He cited the concept of “passing over”, which is commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Passing over is experiencing and empathizing with another religion to gain fresh insights into your current religious practice.
Passing over is a concept that recognizes the life-affirming facet to belief and does not privilege religious revelation as beyond the reach of the genuine intellectual and spiritual, although unbelieving inquiry. You do not have to subscribe to read the lifestyles and advice sections of the magazine.
The Post Dispatch also quotes Mohammed Ibrahim, the chairman of the board of directors of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, as saying: “I think it’s a good idea to understand better what Islam is,” he said. “We do welcome it. People can come and watch us pray at the mosques and participate in prayer if they want to.”
In both Islam and Christianity, conversion is encouraged, but can be stepped away from, in favor of learning about another belief system. It’s a pretty evident and easy distinction. The St. Louis Post Dispatch article clearly states that Rev. Lawler was conscientious about this, stating he did not say the shahada, one of the 5 pillars of Islam and the statement of faith: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Despite this, Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri stated that “[Rev. Lawler] can’t be both a Christian and a Muslim…If he chooses to practice as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church.”
After two days, threatened with punitive actions, Rev. Lawler retreated from this idea, at least publicly.
So what is Rev. Lawler doing for Lent now?
It would be a shame if he transitioned from this profound embrace of religious rituals in order to “pass over” and raising awareness about the theological parallels and differences between two historically intertwined religions–one of which has been beset with profiling, suspicion, discrimination, and scrutiny–to do the popular American Christian Lenten practice of using it as a self-help construct to kick a bad habit.
Islam considers Christians and Jews to be ‘People of the Book’ ( أهل الذمة ahl al-dhimmah), recipients of earlier revelations from Allah. ‘People of the Book‘ is generally positive designation (aside from jizyah tax), but carries the implication that they do not accept Muhammad as Seal of the Prophets, or his final revelation.
Comparative Religious Ethics: A Narrative Approach is an awesome book that goes deeper into the theme of passing over.
I remember reading about Islam when I was 8 and thinking, “Whoa! They pray 5 times a day?!? I only pray once, before bed, and if something bad, tragic, or scary happens. Muslims are SO much better at religion than I am.”