Eighteen years ago this week the Berlin Wall opened up. I spent most of the 1980s, most of my 20s, as a journalist and diplomat in the divided city. I was immersed in the human and geopolitical dynamics of the defining rift of that era — East versus West, Capitalism versus Communism. I knew and loved people on both sides of the wall. And we were all so certain that it was an unshakable fact of our lifetimes. The geopolitical clash of our time is characterized by many in religious terms — simplistically, too often, in terms of the "Muslim world" versus the "Christian West." Yet in October, 138 leading Muslim clerics, scholars, and intellectuals from every denomination and school of thought in Islam issued an unprecedented invitation to dialogue. It is called "A Common Word Between Us and You", and begins to lay out common ground between the world's largest traditions, Islam and Christianity, on which a peaceful global future can be based. Christian as well as Jewish leaders have responded positively. And now major Christian thinkers and scholars across denominations, including leading Evangelicals, have issued a formal response, a wholehearted willingness to begin. "We live in exciting times," the Croatian-American theologian Miroslav Volf writes me about this. His Center for Faith and Culture at Yale drafted the Christian response. He was born and spiritually formed in a part of the world where Muslims and Christians have known violent division. "I feel," he writes, "that I am helping to dismantle a wall." Some might question whether an exchange of scholarly ideas and good will can make a difference. That is a reasonable question, and the dialogue beginning now is work for generations, not for a few months or years. But I experience it as just one manifestation of a movement that is occurring simultaneously at many levels. Everywhere I turn, I see a new depth of inquiry and shared activism across faiths. I just returned from a remarkable conference hosted by the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core run by Eboo Patel. He and his colleagues are becoming tremendous leaders, convening and equipping what is organically happening among young people — high school through early 30s — across religious divides, literally across the world. In addition to the capacity crowd of 450 "young people" representing the broadest possible range of religious traditions (IFYC's promotional video on their home page gives you a sense of what is happening among new generations.), major foundations and think tanks sent representatives to this meeting, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for American Progress, and the Henry Luce Foundation. Keep watching this space, and the world around you, for ideas and movements happening just below the radar of our easy, media-driven fixation on religious strife.
On the radio program, we begin a two part-series on consumption and sustainability. Next week we travel to a remarkable project, the Rural Studio, that builds elegant and economical homes and public spaces in one of the poorest regions of the U.S. — restoring and sustaining human dignity as well as the natural world. First, we revisit my conversation with Nathan Dungan on money and moral balance. It is unnerving to remember that the root of the word "credit" is credo, to entrust or to believe. But at this moment in our public imagination, credit is closely associated with ruinous debt, with loss of trust and livelihood. And at this time of year, on a very basic and familiar level, many of us are torn between what we want to buy and what we can afford, between the pleasure of giving to those we love and the expectation that we must. There is a value for me in this conversation with Nathan Dungan simply in opening up this subject for discussion, and I hope you'll experience that too. It is surprisingly helpful simply to name the conflicting impulses money stirs in me and, I know, in my children. They, he reminds me, are in the first generation of human beings bombarded by advanced marketing messages — 3,000 a day, studies say — since infancy. Perhaps this is obvious, but I had never quite named the fact that advertising drives us into a cycle of seeing and wanting and spending. More to the point, this cycle trains us to focus reflexively on ourselves and on our own immediate wants and needs. Nathan Dungan has a philosophy and framework for financial planning in families that redirects attention to values as well as wants and needs — giving weight to sharing and saving as well as spending money. It has changed the way I've talked about money and lived about money with my children this past year.