Recently, I wandered through the tent community at Occupy DC, admiring the boisterous, particolored arrival of the people into the mute, monumental grey canyons of the federal city. I knew I felt some personal harmonic resonance, but until this morning, I could not clearly articulate how or why the Occupy movement seemed especially relevant to interfaith families.
Then, I read a brilliant reflection on “Occupy’s Sacred Mob” by Vincent Gonzalez, a doctoral student in religious studies. Like most other religion writers and theologians, Gonzalez has been pondering “what is “religious” about the Occupy Wall Street movement.” And although this was not his intent, his analysis, on the website Religious Dispatches, spoke directly to me as an interfaith child and parent.
Inspired by the writings of French intellectual Roger Caillois, Gonzalez analyzes religion in the Occupy movement in the context of a vision of the sacred “characterized by organic complexity rather than spiritual singularity.” Of course, as someone born into a state of religious double-belonging, I am immediately drawn to any analysis that privileges complexity over singularity.
Gonzalez goes on to describe how “the intimacy of life in a park or along a sidewalk is causing traditions to do something more than “coexist” plurally. Religions are colluding and combining.” And this is exactly how traditions behave in interfaith families: they go beyond safe and ephemeral “interfaith dialogue” and commit to living together and combining into families, not in temporary encampments but in permanent dwellings. Beyond the parallel play of pluralism, interfaith families are swapping ritual genes and spiritual memes.
In the Occupy tent cities, Gonzalez identifies the natural emergence of “sites of religious conjunction” (meditation spaces and improvised shrines where images of Buddha, Ghandi and Christ coexist). This cross-pollination, he admits, may “repel” some, and clearly it inflames the religious right.
In interfaith families, we are all too familiar with the idea that we have gone too far, that such hybridization is unseemly, or even perilous. We wrestle with those who wish that interfaith families did not exist, or that all such families can and should be somehow absorbed back into religious singularity. Instead, many of us insist on reveling in our organic complexity, our embodiment of religious conjunction. We are gathering to drum our polyrhythms in cities across America, building new communities in which to explore the rich synergy of our interfaith existence.