Different Faiths, Common Humanity

By Justin Fung 12-15-2010

This past week I was afforded a sneak peek at the forthcoming PBS documentary The Calling, a two-night event about the journeys of seven young people of faith who seek to become professional clergy. The four-hour narrative follows their lives over several years, through ups and downs, doubts and uncertainties, journeys abroad, and wrestlings within.

Both of my brothers are now pastors, and I also recently followed this "calling" into pastoral ministry, so it was fascinating for me to see and hear the stories of these seven. They include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. The documentary served not only to educate me in the ways of clerical training in the other great faiths, but also to emphasize our common humanity even amid our differing spiritualities.

All of them struggled with the same things that my friends and I also struggled with at seminary: asking questions about our cultural, ethnic, familial, and relational identity; trying to figure out how traditional interpretations of our scriptures applied (or not) in our 21st century context; and wondering whether we had heard God's call rightly. All of them were buffeted and challenged by the similar realities of life that my friends and I faced: bereavements, children, marital and relational struggles and breakdowns, pressure to get married in order to be considered a better candidate, and a lack of employment opportunities.

Tahera, a Muslim woman seeking to be a chaplain, comes up against more traditional interpretations of the Qur'an and is denigrated for being a woman and single. Upon completing rabbinical school, Yerachmiel finds a job at a synagogue in New Jersey with a tiny congregation of retired folks that is about to die out. I was simultaneously encouraged and disheartened by the fact that it isn't just Christians who have to deal with these challenges.

What I took away from this documentary is that there is more that unites us than divides us. This is partially because it wasn't the purpose of the documentary to compare and contrast, to pit one against another, or to ask whether the three faiths that all claim Abraham as forebear worship the same God. It didn't ask questions about why these people felt called, or raise for debate the issue of the future of young people and religion or the role of professional clergy in an increasingly secularized society.

All that to say, don't expect a philosophical exploration of calling; you won't get it. What you will get is a well-made window into the stories and lives of seven young people of faith who sensed the calling of God on their lives and followed where it led.

The Calling will air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by actress America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) on Monday, Dec. 20 and Tuesday, Dec. 21 (check local listings).

Justin Fung is a graduate of London School of Theology and Fuller Theological Seminary, a former Sojourners intern, and now serves as the Leadership Resident at The District Church. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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