Commentary: Interfaith dialogue is about open mind, heart

I was a religion major at Chapman University, took several postgraduate world religions courses at Claremont Graduate University and taught classes at Orange Coast College. I am on the board of the Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council and am very active in interfaith work.

However, in all of my studies and work, I haven't had the honor of ever meeting a Taoist monk.

It's odd, because I love Lao Tzu and am quite drawn to the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching. I fully embrace the concept of chi, the energy and force that permeates all of the universe. While I have never practiced Tai Chi, I have a great respect for it.

Yet, even with the popularity of Taoist practices, I've never met a community of Taoists or sat down with a practitioner and discussed the finer points of the tradition.

Until now.

Over the past year and a half, Fairview Community Church has engaged in an interfaith dialogue during our Sunday worship. These dialogues have been more than just conversation. They have been opportunities to worship together, so that we not only understand with our intellect but come to understand at a deeper spiritual level and learn with our hearts.

Throughout those many months, we've meditated with Buddhists, read the Koran, sung with Jains and Jews, and learned about the healing qualities of crystals from a Wiccan and the cycle of samsara from a Hindu. We learned all about turbans from a Sikh and the oneness of the world from Unitarians.

Singing, praying, talking and being together, we've grown and expanded our understanding of the holy as we have deepened our relationship with God and each other.

And now, this Sunday, we've invited Pedram Shojai, a doctor of Oriental medicine and a practicing Taoist, to join us for worship and dialogue. He was a Taoist monk for four years and has studied with many great esoteric masters in Asia. I am eager to hear him speak about his experience, tradition and practice.

His knowledge of Oriental medicine and natural ways of healing and body wisdom will be embraced by those seeking alternative medicine or simply becoming more in touch with their body.

Each guest from every tradition we've encountered has expanded our understanding of the divine. Our Christian inclusivity and church motto, "Don't check your brain at the door," have enabled us to grow in our faith as well as our acceptance of ideas and beliefs different than our own.

As a lover of religions, I am eager to learn more about this tradition, its energy-centered understanding of the universe and the wisdom of the Tao.

Our service is open to anyone who is interested in learning, growing and sharing, whether you are Christian or Taoist, believe in God or are simply eager to learn. In sharing love, our truths and ourselves, we come to better understand one another and, I believe, deepen our relationship with God.

Join us at Fairview Community Church at 10 a.m. Sunday to learn more about Taoism from Pedram Shojai.

THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.

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