In the 1970s Alex Haley wrote the best-seller Roots. He sought to find the roots of his life as an African-American. Where did he come from? What experiences shaped who he was?
We all ask these questions. We seek not only geographic roots and ethnic roots. We look for spiritual roots. Where do we come from? Why do we believe what we believe?
For Christians much of the answer lies in Judaism. Pope Francis recently put it bluntly when he said, “I believe that inter-religious dialogue must investigate the Jewish roots of Christianity and the Christian flowering of Judaism… Inside every Christian is a Jew.”
The Past is Never Past
The Pope acknowledged this statement will upset many people. Some Jews will feel the statement does not acknowledge the tragic history of anti-semitism in the Church. Some might also say in referring to the Christian “flowering” of Judaism, his statement minimizes the legitimacy of Judaism on its own.
The Pope is not denigrating any of us. His statement is an invitation to dig deeper into who we are. Finding our roots does not delegitimize who we have become. It helps us understand ourselves better. We all know this in our personal lives.
As an example, I live in Chicago. I love this city to the depths of my soul. Yet, I also grew up in Houston, Texas. I love visiting there and and am grateful for the slight southern twang it gave me. I also attended high school in Milwaukee, and living there can me an appreciation for the lakefront.
We Don’t Have to Agree in order to Learn
Appreciating the beauties of Houston and Milwaukee does not diminish my love for Chicago. Similarly, knowing more about Judaism need not diminish a Christian’s love and appreciation of Christianity. As a rabbi, I have seen the sparks ignited when some of the treasures of Judaism are opened up to people who have never experienced them.
Yes, we will disagree on practices and interpretations. Yet, disagreement does not imply illegitimacy. To live in a time when Christians can find meaning in Jewish practices, and Jews can work and learn with Christians as partners is a blessing we should celebrate.
How We Grow Through Each Other
This lesson really hit home when I dialogued on Lent and Passover with my friend Reverend Lillian Daniel. We were moved by the questions members of our congregations asked us and one another. Jews can learn more about major aspects of Christianity like the Resurrection, and Christians can learn more about Jewish texts like the Talmud.
All of us discovered a new religious truth for the 21st century: Learning about and exploring other faiths does threaten our uniqueness. It brings us closer to the God who created us all.