Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Do Christians Need to Learn More About Judaism? A Rabbi Responds to the Pope

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?

pope rabbi 1

 
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.

Why Do Jews Care So Much About Israel?

Last year I attended the Irish Fest in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The music and ambience make it one of most unforgettable days of the year.

jews

Listening to a concert, I struck up a conversation with someone standing next to me. I told him I was a rabbi, and once we got past the usual incredulity and discussion of why I don’t have a beard, he turned serious.

“I’m Irish,” he said, “And I love Irish music. I’m here celebrating being Irish. But I don’t plan to move to Ireland. I don’t talk about it all the time. Why do Jews care so much about Israel? It’s all I hear—Israel, Israel, Israel.”  Continue Reading This Post »

In the Wake of the Kansas City Horror: The Life-Saving Power of Interfaith Conversation

This post was written with my friend and colleague, Reverend Lillian Daniel. 

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The late great Abraham Joshua Heschel was once asked why he devoted so much time to interfaith dialogue. He answering by recounting part of his family history. “When the Nazis came for my parents,” he wrote, “they had no one to call. They did not know the local minister. They could not call the mayor. They could not call the local parish. Now,” he said, “if something happened, I could pick up the phone and talk to half a dozen Christian leaders in 15 minutes.”

As American clergy of a younger generation, a rabbi and a pastor in the suburbs of Chicago, we didn’t imbue our own dialogue with any kind of lifesaving importance. We knew it would be interesting, fun even, to talk about Maundy Thursday and Passover, and then share it with our congregations in the context of worship.

But we found ourselves confronting a sometimes tragic history between our faiths. We asked some piercing questions. We found ourselves learning from one another.

We probably began with the lofty goal of modeling meaningful religious conversations for our congregations. But after trying it out, we both realized we were learning and changing.

Because whether you are clergy in the pulpit or members in the pews, we all wince at the excesses – the pistol packing pastor who wants to burn the Koran, the irresponsible leaders who believe every inch of the holy land belongs to them, the violent zealots who think killing the innocent is an acceptable price to pay for making a religious point.

We soon realized that as clergy, we would not be “models of dialogue” in the worship services, but fellow travellers, just learning how to live. And nothing made that clearer than returning to our respective homes that Sunday to hear the horrifying news of shootings at the Jewish Community Center in Kansas.

So, having worshipped with one another’s congregations on the Sabbath before Passover and on Palm Sunday: What did we learn?

1. If you can’t say it in front of the rabbi/or the pastor, don’t say it all. We don’t need to water down our unique beliefs. We need to affirm them with openness and dignity. But having a clergy guest makes us look at what we are saying, and not saying, with more clarity. We need to talk about what is difficult as we search for what we share.

2. There is still much work to be done: Much of the interfaith dialogue over the last half century has been at the organizational level. Numerous leaders of big groups have spoken with one another. The benefits have been tangible. Yet, much of the deeper understanding and knowledge of one another’s faith has not spread to the pews. 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. This knowledge need not threaten our uniqueness, but bring us closer to the God who created us all.

3. Ask the awkward questions: We each tried to surprise each other with a difficult question. Evan asked Lillian about Satan. Lillian asked Evan if he believed the Ten Plagues really happened. Our answers may surprise you, and we have several more in the works. 
 
4. It’s not theoretical, it’s the world we live in.
Denominational pronouncements are not where the rubber hits the roads. We have to take this to the thoughtful and curious people in our congregations. The members of our congregations are not engaged in interfaith dialogue. They live, as we do, in a multi-faith world. It’s not about talking, it’s about living.

And in the wake of the recent tragedy in Kansas, two clergy and two congregations realized that Heschel’s remarks do speak to us today.  This work is more lifesaving than we thought.

You can watch the dialogue sermons from the first Sunday in Lent and from Palm Sunday, by Rev Lillian Daniel and Rabbi Evan Moffic, at First Congregational Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Sermon from the Mound: 7 Spiritual Truths from the Baseball Diamond

Sports are one of the great sources for spiritual insights. As a child, I remember paying extra attention when the rabbi used an illustration  from baseball or football.

baseball life lessons

They helped me visualize and understand the spiritual lesson. Of all sports, baseball lends itself best to Jewish wisdom.

Every year as the season opens, I am reminded of this truth. As a Chicagoan, most of whose synagogue members are Cubs fans, I need to draw from that wisdom often.

Here are seven insights gleaned from the baseball diamond.

1. No one is perfect: No player gets a hit every at bat. No pitcher wins every game. No team has a perfect season.

As Tommy Lasorda put it, “No matter how good we are, we’re going to lose one-third of our games. No matter how bad we are we’re going to win one-third of your games and so it’s the other third that makes all the difference.”

2. Hope spring eternal:  Every season inspires the imagination. Every pitch is a new opportunity. It is no accident baseball starts in the spring. The change in season reinforces this lesson, as nature is reborn and life reappears.

3. The little things are the big things:Have you ever been at a baseball game transformed by a badly thrown pitch? Have you ever seen a ball land just right of the foul line, leading to the game-winning run? In baseball, as in life, the little things make all the difference.

4. Patience is required: Baseball can be really boring. There is a lot of waiting. Batters wait for the pitch. Fielders wait for the ball. Fans wait for a home run.

Yet, when we least expect it, we may be called to catch a fly ball. We may be called upon to score the game-winning run. If we don’t pay attention, it can whiz right by us.

5. We are alone and together: In baseball every player matters, yet only the team wins or loses. We play alone, yet we play for the team.

The same is true in life. We are responsible for our choices. Yet, we play with others. We play for our families, our work, our traditions, our God.

6. There is no time limit: When a baseball game starts, no one knows whether it will be long or short. It could last 9 short innings. It could reach 16 excruciating ones. We stay in the game until it’s over.

7. Everyone can get in the game: Height is crucial to basketball. Weight is crucial to football. IQ is crucial to chess. Yet, all of these measurements are generally irrelevant for baseball.

Anyone can play. Anyone can get lucky. All you need to do is suit up.

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