One thing we learned in our busy-bee studies leading up to “A Rabbi, A Priest, A Pastor & An Imam”… the three Abrahamic faiths have very different approaches to spreading their faith, creating tremendously different ripples in the world around them.
Muslims don’t evangelize. Their faith is all about the individual’s relationship to God, so one person simply isn’t responsible for another person’s behavior, salvation, or soul.
For Christianity, Jesus’ instructions to his disciples – or as it has come to be know “the great commission” – is central to the faith: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”
And then there’s Judaism, the colorful and quirky bird among them. If someone wants to convert, the Rabbi is required to deny them three times before, on the fourth inquiry, he will help them convert. Apparently they see the wisdom in someone first really (really, really) wanting it. Once converted, those not born into the faith are held in particularly high esteem.
Benyamin Cohen writes about the non-evangelizing nature of Judaism in his book My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders to the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith (uh – highly, highly recommended reading…)
Why donâ€™t synagogues offer a goody bag of multimedia swag to take home with you on the way out? Hands down, Christians do a bang-up job at branding their religion, but we Jews-well, not so much. Supposedly we run the media, and yet we canâ€™t cough up a gift basket and a take-home CD?
Dr. Leo Sandon, participating in two of our panels this year, calls pluralism “a generative ideology for Americans since before 1776.” You know, the whole “out of many, one” thing. (You must really mean it if you pick it as a motto.) Last night our Dinner at the Square discussion focused on just how you walk the complex walk of pluralism.
In his book Acts of Faith author Eboo Patel developed the idea for us a bit:
Religious pluralism is not forced consensus. It is a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution.
Patel puts this concept into operation in an organization he formed called Interfaith Youth Core. He describes the approach: â€œWe call it shared values-service learning. We begin by identifying the values that different religious communities hold in common-hospitality, cooperation, compassion, mercy.”
Patel agrees that you can go too far with the notion that weâ€™re the same:
“I wash my hands before I pray; you wash your hands before you pray; everything else is details. We donâ€™t believe thatâ€™s true. We believe the differences between religions are extremely important. As a devout Muslim, I certainly want to preserve the uniqueness of my religion. But you can go too far in that direction, which is the thinking that religious differences are so great that we canâ€™t even talk. The middle path, the only route to collective survival really, is to identify what is common between religions but to create the space where each can articulate its distinct path to that place. I think of it as affirming particularity and achieving pluralism.â€
Patel says that he has come to one conclusion: We have to save each other. Itâ€™s the only way to save ourselves.
We leave every “Dinner at the Square” like last night’s A Rabbi, A Priest, A Pastor & An Imam feeling that we had about 40 more hours of material to go over (and we probably would have been entertained through all 40 hours). Of course that’s particularly true when we’re taking on the daunting subject of faith and politics. Since mankind will likely not limp along without what we’ve learned, get ready for a blog-frenzy where we just let loose. We’ll turn to next season and it’s first topic health care shortly.
The African-American Christian experience is one sown in unique historical fields, as the faith grew in America among slaves despite its support for (or at the very least its failure to oppose) the institution of slavery. The principles argued to free the colonies of her British oppressor argued convincingly at the same time against slavery. At the start of the Revolution, slaves issued a series of petitions for freedom, this one penned by someone who – while not permitted a formal education – eloquently states the airtight case that tragically took centuries to prevail (the misspellings poetically adding weight and truth to the heart the plea):
â€œCannot but express their Astonishment that It has Never Bin Considered that Every Principle from which Amarica has Acted in the Cours of their unhappy Deficultes with Great Briton Pleads Stronger than A thousand arguments in favour of your petioners . . . [who] askâ€ to be â€œrestored to the enjoyments of that which is the Naturel Right If all men. . . . so may the Inhabitance of these Stats No longer chargeable with the inconstancy of acting themselves the part which thay condem and oppose in others. Be prospered in their present Glorious struggle for Liberty and have those Blessing to themâ€¦â€
The tragic position they labored to worship in impacted the growth of a unique style of worship, still in evidence today in many churches, with worship becoming an emotional catharsis on a beautiful roller coaster ride of rhythm and crescendo. From Canaan Land, A Religious Histories of African Americans:
Once or twice a year the master of the plantation allowed a slave preacher from the neighboring plantation to preach to his slaves. The preacher, following an old tradition, would always bring the sermon to its climax by dramatizing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He would dwell on the agony of Jesus hanging on the crossâ€¦by this time the preacher was exhausted but his congregation felt uplifted and restored to face the following week. When the preacher had finished his sermon, he would pause, and stare into every face. Then he would tell them as forcefully as he could: â€˜Remember, you are not slaves! You are children of God!â€
We’d love for you to join us Tuesday night for our “Summer at the Square” picnic and our conversation “A Rabbi, A Priest, A Pastor & An Imam,” but whether you’re attending or not, why not take a moment to look at this draft list of wisdom on how we navigate those roiling waters where faith meets politics. Last season, our synopsis on “America’s Energy Future” had many objective facts. This season objectivity is a tall order. But, maybe, if we all did everything on our list starting – uh – tomorrow ??… we think we might just learn something from each other and make the world a smidge of a better place while we’re learning? Who knows.
Let us know what you think. All civil comments – critical or complimentary – are warmly welcomed. Try to elaborate enough that we can use your thoughts to improve our list.
i mean it’s no rabbi, priest, pastor, and imam. but it is a cute story…
in december right after 9/11 we had new neighbors moving in down the
street. i took the prerequisite plate o’ cookies down to them and
found some people unloading boxes. i introduced myself and told them i
was a neighbor and had cookies.
i was greeted with cold stares and a warning to take my cookies back.
they weren’t the neighbors. they were the movers and i was told that i
wouldn’t really want to bring cookies to “these” neighbors.
well, nothing like a little warning to make me TOTALLY interested in
meeting someone. so i came down later once “those” movers had finished.
and met this lovely family with two children the ages of my two
younger children. and a sweet mom and dad. and it took me a little
while to figure out what made them “these” neighbors. it think it
might have been the turbans on the dad’s and the son’s heads. but
turbans notwithstanding, they liked cookies.
i invited them to go christmas caroling with us that evening. there
was a neighborhood group going and it was before the time when one
would have thought to call it “holiday caroling”. they politely
refused. they didn’t “christmas carol”. i said that we would sing some
secular songs too. but they didn’t celebrate christmas at all.
i am not sure what should have been my first clue.
but they did come up to visit the next day to ask about schools and
could i recommend a good preschool for their daughter. at the time my
youngest daughter was attending and i was teaching part time at temple
israel preschool. so i told them all about that preschool and how
great it was for children.
the mom said that she didn’t think they could attend a jewish preschool.
again, i am not quick on these things…
but i told her that i wasn’t jewish (maybe the christmas caroling
thing had tipped her off). that i was a christian and that it was a
really great place. very warm. loving. accepting of ALL faiths. and i
told her i would take her and show her around.
and i did. and it was perfect for her daughter.
i took her and her oldest child, the turbaned boy, to our elementary
school and introduced them around too.
and then we started carpooling. the greatest form of civility known to
parents and neighbors.
we split up the elementary school trip and some days her daughter would
come to my house at 7:30 and stay with me until i took the girls to
preschool. it worked out wonderfully (and all you parents out there
know that a perfect carpool is to dream the impossible dream…)
she was upfront and honest with me and asked me not to proselytize. so
i looked it up in the dictionary and realized what it meant.
i was upfront and honest with her. i told her that i did listen the
christian music cds in the car. but not loud and i would doubt that
her kids would be singing along to “amazing grace” anytime soon. and i
told her that sometimes we prayed before hitting the car drop off
area. especially if someone wasn’t feeling well or had a big test. but
that i wouldn’t force her kids to pray but i would take requests if
they had them. and she said both of those things (the music and the
prayer requests) would be fine.
she had some bad experiences with evangelicals in the past. “haven’t
we all?”, i asked…
and i wanted to use the big new word that i had learned so i asked her
not to proselytize too. and she told me that sikh’s didn’t actively
why wouldn’t they want me????????? oh well. let the carpooling begin…
one day my oldest daughter (who was in 2nd grade) came home and told
me that she had asked our neighbor on her carpool run that morning why
her son and husband wore the turbans. she said that it was because of
their religion and she explained it all and all my daughter could
remember is that it was all very confusing and wasn’t our religion so
i told her that things that seem so simple to a person who has heard
them their WHOLE life (in her case a very long 8 years) might seem
complicated to someone who hadn’t heard them yet. and we talked about
how there were different religions and what that meant.
then my daughter asked the BIG question that evangelicals don’t really
want to have to explain to their kids because we don’t want to ask it
ourselves…”does that mean they won’t be in heaven with us”. and i
said what i felt in my heart. i don’t know. but they are friends and
our neighbors and that is the way it is supposed to be now and maybe
forever and ever. and i hope and pray and i wonder and i wander and i
question and sometimes i can’t answer because the lump in my throat
and in my heart is too big. and that is why we all need a God. because
the questions are too big for us to answer on our own.
and then we sang “amazing grace” and took prayer requests. just kidding.
eventually the neighbors built a house in another neighborhood and
they moved away from the “perfect carpool situation”. sigh. they
regret it. i know they do. i tell them that they should every time i
see them. i miss them being down the street.
i miss carpooling with someone that wasn’t in my usual circle of
friends. someone different, someone to learn from, someone to listen
to that isn’t saying the same thing that all my other friends say.
someone who challenged my faith by having a different world view.
someone who made my children ask questions and me have to search out
answers. i have had other carpools, but that one was different.
i miss her kids singing amazing grace at the top of their lungs and
all their prayer requests (just kidding. they never sang along and i
think i took one prayer request in that whole year which was from one
of MY kids about a lost homework sheet).
what i miss the most is that every time i walked my evangelical
daughter and her sikh daughter through the front door of the jewish
preschool together i could feel that somewhere george washington,
thomas jefferson and john adams all gave each other a fist pump with a
Any op-ed that starts out quoting George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation like this one by David Brooks gets a run in this blog.
Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution – that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.
The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested – to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent – to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate – to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.
Remnants of the dignity code lasted for decades. For most of American history, politicians did not publicly campaign for president. It was thought that the act of publicly promoting oneself was ruinously corrupting. For most of American history, memoirists passed over the intimacies of private life. Even in the 19th century, people were appalled that journalists might pollute a wedding by covering it in the press…
But the dignity code itself has been completely obliterated. The rules that guided Washington and generations of people after him are simply gone.
“What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? . . . A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; A patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. There are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.”
–Adlai Stevenson, New York City August 27, 1952
From Friday’s Bill Moyers Journal, an interview of three Union Theological Seminary faculty members. Here, speaking with Union’s President Serene Jones, he addresses pluralism, a topic relevant to July 14 Dinner at the Square “A Rabbi, A Priest, A Pastor & An Imam”:
BILL MOYERS: A pluralistic world and society, American society. In fact a recent poll suggests that the number of Americans who call themselves Christian has fallen by about 11 percent. Isn’t it presumptuous to think that the world can be arranged according to Christian doctrine?
SERENE JONES: That’s actually one of the powerful things about what I think is the belly story of America at it’s best, is the story of democracy, which is, it’s a story that allows multiple faith stories to be held within it, in ways that are respectful and pulling forth the meaning of life questions. And allowing them to intermingle and interact, in a space that is encouraging of discussion and conflict.
For this occasion, I will pass it off to the Founders. Please feel free to add your favorite quotes to the mix.
“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” — George Washington
“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” –Patrick Henry
“A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.” — Benjamin Franklin
“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” –John Adams
“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.” –Thomas Jefferson
As the buzz of media has circled (and circled and circled) the sad news of Michael Jackson’s untimely death, we’ve given some thought to what Village Square message there is in all of the hoopla.
Cue up today’s Sarah Palin announcement that she will resign the Alaska governorship to bring the Village Square message sliding into home plate. Bear with me for a moment, I’ll explain…
Did you know that Michael Jackson was sued over 1,000 times? Can you even begin to imagine that sort of circus as a part of your life? One lawsuit would do most of us in. Clearly his fortune played a roll in that fate as did his rumored misdeeds, but possibly more of a contributing factor was his fame – a la 24 hour cable and internet rumor reverberation. Not taking a side on Jackson’s alleged sexual deviancy, when we started our love/hate affair with Jackson he was an adorable boy singing “ABC”. Clearly his abusive dad had a hand in it, but don’t we also have a role in who that little boy has become?
News, cable, media… ultimately they give us want we want, and they know what we want (via polls out the wazoo) whether we admit it to ourselves or not. Jackson’s 1,000+ lawsuits were sort of sponsored by us. We have a mass media environment – brought to us by technology we won’t be putting back in Pandora’s box no matter how we might wish it so – that just warps things. I think they warped that beautiful and fantastically talented little boy.
Now, Sarah Palin. A little more than half of America thought she wasn’t ready to become our Vice President. Fair enough. But there is something once again warping about the experience she’s clearly had as she’s danced this dance with our mass culture. Her words: “I’ve been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations such as holding a fish in a photograph or wearing a jacket with a logo on it.”
It used to be that the common sense connections we made in America kept this boat of ours floating high. But our connections are different today. They don’t feature plain common sense prominently, rather they highlight market share. They’re not playing to the best in us which we used to bring front and center to our rotary club, our PTA, our bowling league. Instead, they’ve found the worst in us, the TV we watch and the websites we visit when there’s no one there we have to fess up to.
Market share brings us boys who grow into men who get sued 1,000 times. It brings us decent strong women who say yes when someone asks them to run for office, but find their life is turned all upside down and inside out as a result. As so on and so on until we reconnect with each other enough to strongly tell them in unison that it’s not what we want anymore.
The media is like a laser that exponentially strengthens what WE are asking for. We need to understand and focus its power. Ultimately it is US who will tell them it’s time to stop. Two weeks of Michael Jackson death rubber-necking needs to be received by us with a big yawn in the Nielsen’s.
For now, like Sarah Palin or not, hit your knees tonight and thank her for knocking Michael Jackson’s death out of the media cycle.
Let him rest in peace.
And again – like Palin or not – you’re going to have to appreciate some of what she just said to us today: “We’re fishermen, we know that only dead fish go with the flow.”
Here’s hoping most Americans aren’t dead fish.
Meet Vita, a coming star in the next generation and one of founding members of Leadership NEXT, a Village Square project to encourage young adults to jump into the civic fray. Pitched at the 20-something crowd, we’re planning to spread civil discourse like a virus. Here’s Vita on faith…
Oughtn’t we wrap up the Faith & Politics year at the square with a rousing civil row a la Ning?
My brain is slushy from this kickboxing class I took a few hours ago at Women’s World. All the jumping, ya know.
But let’s do this; Commence by pitching the top 5 things you’d like someone else to know about your opinions re: le faith y le politics (yes french, spanish, english). Ready? Go ya’ll, go.
1) Church here……. State…………………………………………here.
2) I’m a Christian, fairly orthodox.
3) The Founders did not toil for a distinctively Christian nation so much as they banded together some crux philosophical principles, out of which extraordinary documents- the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were birthed.
4) I think the interplay between Christianity specifically and politics (at least domestically) tends to be where much of the issue clusters. But faith is all-encompassing- politics and Islam, politics and Buddhism, politics and Judaism, Mormonism, etc. And this is equally about politics and secularism.
5) I don’t buy the notion that God gets stoked when we blow people up. Ever.
Vita’s was just the first round of the “rousing civil row.” Why not click on over and meet the rest of our GenNEXTers.