Ken Chitwood: A Voice for Religious Literacy
The Internet is big. Really big. You may think an old New York phone book is big, but that’s peanuts compared to the Internet.
So you’d think it might be full of what I was looking for: uplifting, thought-provoking websites that exist to increase understanding among people in general and religions in particular. Well, compared to the zillions of sites, blogs, and social networking platforms that seem to exist primarily to divide people, not so much. What I was seeking was something life-affirming, something to counter the toxic waste of the Internet.
Searching for a ray of light on the net reminded me of the old Bruce Springsteen song, 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).
Then one day during a desultory look through my email, there it was: the antidote I was looking for. A like-minded friend sent me a link to a blog by Ken Chitwood. Her message simply said, “You might like this.”
The first thing I see is: “The person who knows only one religion, knows none.”
— Max Müller
And then: “The friendly study of the world’s religions is a most sacred duty.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Right. Ken’s a religious guy. Obviously. In one of his bios he describes himself as a religion nerd. Okay. I’m right on the beam.
He quips that PhD stands for Permanent Head Damage, even though he has earned a doctorate studying Religion in the Americas. There is no question that he values his study and research, but full of himself, he’s not.
Yup. I like this guy.
As I dug deeper into his website I discovered a 28-minute video clip of a talk he gave several years ago at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. The talk was on Christian-Muslim relations. He was speaking passionately about increasing understanding between these two religious traditions. Turns out this is what he does. He says his calling is to increase the level of religious literacy in the world. Greater understanding paves the way to greater tolerance. He goes on to say that, for him, it’s more than work—it’s a divine inspiration.
He appreciates that people are at their best when working together, breaking down barriers and solving problems to their mutual benefit.
At that point, I felt inspired enough to watch the whole video. It was worth every second. In his ardent plea for an end to an “us-and-them” mentality among religions, he tells stories about an embarrassing taste of his own foot while having dinner with a Muslim friend; pig races in Houston; a simple greeting in Arabic; and diplomacy through eating dates. What’s this last bit? Watch the video.
After the 28 minutes, I was convinced. This guy is oxygen in a toxic world.
I devoured a riveting article he wrote about an Egyptian surgeon who repeatedly volunteered to work in war zones. And more: a series of articles on the effects of COVID-19 on the traditional Muslim pilgrimage. A deeply inspiring story about Sonny Bill Williams, a Muslim player in The All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team. And who knew that German Evangelicals are performing their services in English? I didn’t.
That’s just scraping the surface. He’s a prolific writer and every article is a gem.
And what shines through them all is simple but profound: he is a religious scholar through and through, but even more importantly he loves people. He believes in society and strives to better it through increased understanding. He appreciates that people are at their best when working together, breaking down barriers and solving problems to their mutual benefit. He’s a pastor, and if this isn’t an example of the Lord’s good work, I don’t know what is.
In the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Paul the Apostle says:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Ken Chitwood abounds in every good work.
I hope you get to know him through his writing. His light shines brightly and it will make you smile. Even through the Internet.