By Kate Dewhurst
The general population is showing a greater interest in spiritual matters, and the Victoria Times Colonist is acknowledging that fact.
They inaugurated a new blog May 13 – an online forum called ‘Spiritually Speaking.’ It can be found at http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/blogs/spiritually-speaking-1.61091
“I approached the Times Colonist about the idea of having a blog that was a forum for individuals of faith (or no faith) to give a larger perspective on how spirituality touched their lives in different and practical ways,” said Anna Bowness-Park, spokesperson for Christian Science in B.C.
She noted that “the short shrift that religion is often given leads to sound-byte conceptions of faiths, resulting in ignorance, myth and misinformation.”
In addition, she observed that the mass media often only cover religion when the news is negative – leading to an overly critical perception of faith.
The purpose of the blog is to “expand the lens the media generally trains on religion and spirituality.”
Her hope is that the various conversations on the blog will lead to a significantly greater degree of understanding, “that corrects popular misconceptions and impositions about faith and religion.”
The Times Colonist is supportive of the endeavour, and of the wide interfaith cooperation the blog inspires.
It is moderated by a team, including Bowness-Park, and is mostly comprised of current and former interfaith chaplains from UVic.
The team includes Shoshana Litman, Canada’s first ordained maggidah, or Jewish storyteller; Rabbi Barak Cohen, of Congregation Aish HaTorah in Victoria); Lucy Reid, rector of St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church in Oak Bay; Ven. Eshu Martin, a Buddhist and abbot of the Victoria Zen Centre; and Suresh Basrur, a board member of Victoria Hindu temple and a devoted student of the religions of India. Rounding out the moderating team is Henri Lock, United Church chaplain at the University of Victoria.
Upcoming contributors include a Muslim imam, a Pentecostal minister, a Lutheran minister and an atheist. The blog will also feature some high profile guest writers.
Gregory Hartnell, a Catholic layperson, was featured as the first guest writer, and contributed his poetic musings about reason and faith, ego and humility.
He said participating is “a great way for us Christians to get to know others who adhere to different faiths – or no faith at all.” He sees it as an opportunity “to listen, with Christian patience . . . and to learn from them what we can, without jeopardizing our own precious faith.”
The moderating team aims to create a respectful environment on the blog, and contributors are asked to adhere to a number of guidelines to this end. One of these, Bowness-Park explained, is that the forum “is not to be used for proselytizing or for condemning other religions.”
Hartnell admitted that it takes “real discernment to learn how to engage in an online dialogue about spirituality without proselytizing.” Evangelical and Catholic writers, for whom evangelism is an essential part of faith, will likely find this a difficult restriction to embrace.
Also, Hartnell said he approached the task reluctantly, as he had hoped the representative Catholic would be “a good woman from the former European colonies in South America, Africa or Asia to represent this growing side of the Catholic Church that is often not heard.”
He raised an interesting point. Whose story gets told? Whose voice gets heard?
Freelance Victoria journalist Steve Weatherbe and Nanaimo-based Lutheran minister Colin Liske were concerned about the initial absence of Catholic and evangelical voices on Spiritually Speaking. Accordingly, they started their own blog, at Faithvictoria.wordpress.com.
“On Faithvictoria we hope to attract bloggers representing conservative Christianity, whatever their denomination,” said Weatherbe. He suggested Catholics and evangelicals, who are a large proportion of the religious population in Victoria, should have been more prominently featured on Spiritually Speaking.
Bowness-Park, for one, seems open to featuring a variety of voices – as long as they are respectful and constructive. When she moderates, she deletes comments from ‘trolls’ – i.e. people who post inflammatory remarks on an online forum with the intention of provoking others, to elicit a desired emotional response. Her purpose is to make the blog a safe place for people to share their thoughts.
Spiritually Speaking should prove useful for those interested in learning about other faiths and participating in respectful interfaith dialogue.
FaithVictoria, meanwhile, will strive to serve the needs of people operating from a more conservative perspective.