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Alterity.

The word "alterity" is not in my Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, but of course my "new" dictionary is more than fifty years old. It's time for Google, I thought, but that quickly led to 91,800 Web sites, and I really did not want to know that much about "otherness." That's the trouble with us in general. We are much more comfortable with home, the familiar, what is like us--in gender, ethnicity, age, and, yes, religion. In many ways, there is nothing wrong with that: shared values can be reinforced values, and people my age like to reminisce together about the past. But in many ways everyone but me is "other," and living only in my own little world is a lonely world, a cramped world, a frightening world, a biased world. I want out.

Hence it is appropriate that a number of essays in this issue explore issues like interreligious dialogue, my own biblical alter ego the Chronicler, gifted and strange little boys named Cole, and the millions, mostly other than us, who are infected by HIV/AIDS.

Carol Schersten Lahurd shares what she has learned through a number of interfaith encounters and discusses how the Bible can both complicate and guide the task of interfaith relations. One needs to distinguish between the need to evaluate the doctrinal truth of what one hears from the religious other and the experience of meeting God in and through the other. The Bible calls us to witness to and to serve the religious other as neighbor. Taking account of the divergent understandings of God in our own sacred text may make us more open to encountering the understandings of religious others. We need to meet the religious other with gentleness and forbearance rather than with arrogance and condemnation. The conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman is an example of diplomacy in embracing the religious and cultural other. In addition to interreligious dialogue Christians need to participate in the life of and in joint actions with the religious other. Learning to make common cause with other believers is part of our present reality as Christians living in the world's most powerful and wealthy nation.

Esther M. Menn asserts that Lutherans must simultaneously hold on to both the gospel and interfaith understanding. The gospel is true and has a cosmic, universal dimension that is much larger than Christianity has ever been. Interfaith understanding is not hostile to a commitment to the Christian gospel but in fact can deepen it. Christian-Jewish relations can offer a positive model for interfaith understanding. By facing up to a history of misunderstanding and hatred, the church has been able to repent for past wrongs and resolve to do better in the future. The church has come to recognize the Jewishness of Jesus and the early Christian movement and the Jewish roots of Christian liturgy. Early Christian biblical interpretation has much in common with Jewish midrash. As we recognize the vitality of contemporary Judaism, it becomes impossible to maintain old supersessionist ways of thinking, which viewed the new covenant in Christ as a superior replacement of the old covenant of Moses.

Ralph W. Klein points out that we have little information on how the psalms were used in ancient Israelite worship but that the citation of psalms in the narratives of 1 Chronicles 16 and 2 Chronicles 6 may provide some information on their use in postexilic times. 1 Chronicles 16 cites excerpts from Psalms 105, 96, and 106 and thus creates a new psalm. The promises made to vulnerable Abraham and Sarah had freed these ancestors from harm; and that, ultimately, according to this new psalm, would be contemporary Israel's happy fate as well. This psalm is a good example of the doxological character of worship in Chronicles. The Chronicler invites all Israel to rally round the temple in Jerusalem, and he breaks through even the boundaries of Israel in this psalm as he exhorts the nations and even the entire cosmos to praise Yahweh. At the end of Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple, the Chronicler inserts a citation from the messianic Psalm 132, but the priorities of that psalm are inverted in Chronicles: temple and people now have more priority than the Davidic king. The Chronicler did not expect a renewal of the monarchy but urged the people instead to live faithfully. This focus on the behavior of the community as a whole is confirmed by the Chronicler's recasting of 1 Kgs 9:1-9 in 2 Chr 7:12-22.

Jessica Nipp explores the religious meaning of The Sixth Sense, a movie that deals with life after death, our interaction with the supernatural, the righting of an old wrong, and a desperate search for forgiveness. The hero Malcolm wrestles with his deteriorating relationship to his wife and to his own self-esteem (even though one discovers at the end of the film that Malcolm has been dead of a gunshot wound all along). It is in his interactions with and learning from little Cole, a troubled, spiritually gifted boy, that Malcolm is able to find the forgiveness and peace that has eluded him. This article explores the theological implications of this popular film by analyzing four key sequences in it. The broken relationships of Malcolm and Cole cause them fear, despair, and spiritual hunger, and the process of healing those broken relationships is for them inextricably intertwined with their journey toward faith and redemption. The film's important and profound lesson is that we should live not only ethically but also faithfully. When I read this review, I dropped everything and rented the movie.

Peter Mageto describes the global threat posed by HIV/AIDS that exceeds the threat raised by terrorism or other social ills. Africa is the hardest-hit continent, with almost 70 percent of all world infections. This essay is a case study of the role played by the church in Kenya in meeting this challenge. Four major strategies are proposed by which pastoral teams in the northern hemisphere could collaborate with teams in the southern hemisphere. The church of Jesus Christ everywhere needs to take a leading role in voicing the pain and suffering of all those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, especially those in third-world nations where poverty, civil strife, and patriarchy remain as major contributors to the high rate of HIV infection.

Christianity, the church, and the Bible are at once our best friends and our worst enemies when it comes to alterity. There are, as Jesus reminded us, different "ways"--some broad, leading to destruction, others more focused, leading to life. Psalm 1 asks us whether we would rather be a tree or a chaff, and if those are the choices, call me "Woody." But what if the "other" is harmed by my attitude, or what if my self is impoverished through lack of interaction with the "other"? I do not want to be prejudiced or sectarian. I keep saying that the church exists primarily for those who are not yet part of it, and even for those who will never be part of it. Is that a call for dialogue, witness, and mission? Or should we just call that a calling?

Ralph W. Klein, Editor
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Article Details
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Author:Klein, Ralph W.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Words:1205
Previous Article:Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (proper 18): September 4, 2005.
Next Article:Holding together the gospel and interfaith relations in a lifelong journey.


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