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Reviewed by:
  • Beside Still Waters: Jews, Christians and the Way of the Buddha
  • Paul L. Swanson

This is a very moving collection of essays by committed Jews and Christians who have learned from and experienced Buddhism over a good portion of their lives. The names of the authors will be familiar to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Buddhist-Christian dialogue of the past twenty to thirty years. The essays are inspiring without being sentimental. It is tempting (and would probably be easier) to give brief comments about each of the numerous choice and thoughtful essays in this collection, to offer kudos to old friends and colleagues, as many reviews have already done. Instead, in the short space given to me, I would like to concentrate on the essay by Terry Muck on "Living in God's Grace," and use this opportunity to comment briefly on the importance of dialogue for people of a "conservative" persuasion.

I especially appreciate the essay by Terry Muck because he succeeds sublimely in the difficult (and touchy) task of justifying the importance of learning from Buddhism for someone from a conservative Protestant background. I did my undergraduate studies at the same college (at around the same time) as Terry—Bethel College —a midsize, Midwestern, evangelical Protestant milieu. The attitude of many students (and faculty) at Bethel (at least in the early 1970s) was reflected in a comment I overheard from a fellow student in the class we were taking on "World Religions": "Why do we have to study other religions when we already have The Truth?" In retrospect, hearing this comment was a defining moment for me, and my antipathy to this statement and my strong belief that this comment reflected a mistaken (and arrogant, un-Christian) attitude propelled me to return to Japan and study Japanese religions, eventually leading to a focus on Buddhist studies and a career as a "Buddhologist." Like Terry, I still value my Christian identity and commitment, and yet find that my spiritual journey has been enriched beyond measure by living a variety of religious experiences, most prominently from the Buddhist traditions.

As Terry points out in his essay, such an openness to other religions is looked on with suspicion, at best, from much of the evangelical Christian community. In a later essay in this book Norman Fischer (reflecting Kris Kristofferson?) uses the phrase "we are walking contradictions" (p. 252). But is this really so? Must commitment to one tradition exclude being enriched by others? Of course not. I myself feel the "contradiction" only when trying to explain it to other people; in daily life, the "contradictions" are not a cause for tension but more a source of enrichment. Perhaps the case of dual cultures or multiple ethnic or national backgrounds is somewhat analogous here. I, personally, am an American by citizenship, though I cannot (and do not wish to) claim to be only American. I was born and raised and have lived most of my life here in Japan, but I cannot (and do not wish to) claim to be Japanese. Must this be a contradiction? Does this give me a double identity, or no identity at all, or just make identity more multivalent and richer? And is this not analogous to many of our experiences of multiple religious belonging, or at least of multiple religious heritages? Cannot this openness be reconciled with the evangelical concerns of conservative Protestants? Terry's essay shows that it can.

To return to Terry Muck's essay, he not only defends his own personal involvement in dialogue and the importance of learning from other religious traditions, but [End Page 263] directly faces one of the greatest imperatives for interreligious understanding: acceptance of the dialogical challenge by those of a conservative persuasion. He eloquently spells out how (at least for him) openness to other religions springs naturally from his hope as a Christian based on God's grace, and points out that there are limits to just "being a good Christian in the Church" (p. 194), cut off from the hurly-burly of the world.

To look at this point from another perspective, I believe that the conservative members of the worldwide...