This post was written with my friend and colleague, Reverend Lillian Daniel.
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.
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.
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.
I used to enjoy walking into a home of peace and quiet. Since the film Frozen premiered, I have lacked this simple pleasure. Its soundtrack seems to play on a continuous loop every day throughout our home.
I guess that’s part of the price to pay for having two small children. As a glass half-full kind of guy, however, I’ve tried to find the positive message in my children’s obsession with this particular film. Aside from its beautiful music and cinematography, it does convey profound truths.
Should We All Let It Go?
On the surface, the overriding message seems to be “Let it go.” In other words, be true to yourself. Follow the passion lying deep in your heart.
But this interpretation ignores the events of the film. When Princess Elsa does “Let it go,” she unleashes her power to make everything frozen and almost destroys her country. When she thinks only about herself, others suffer.
Love Means Sacrifice
The deeper lesson is the connection between love and sacrifice. The true hero of the film, in my humble opinion, is not Elsa. It is her sister Anna.
Anna begins as the playful younger siblings. She is flummoxed when her sister seems to ignore her, unaware of Elsa’s fear of using her powers too capriciously.
She yearns for companionship and falls for the handsome and seemingly honorable Prince Hans. In the end, however, Hans seeks only to gain power for himself. He plans to kill Anna and blame Elsa.
Anna stops him by risking her own life to protect Elsa’s, and this sacrificial act of love saves the kingdom. It also saves Elsa, who realizes love is the key to controlling her power. The two sisters and the rest of the kingdom live happily ever after.
Putting it all together, we have three key spiritual truths.
1. Appearances deceive: Prince Hans seemed like a responsible loving leader. Yet, he nearly succeeds in murdering Anna and Elsa and taking over their kingdom.
Elsa also seemed like a rude and aloof sister to Anna. Yet, Elsa acted this way because she did not want to hurt her sister, not because she did not love her.
2. Letting it go can be dangerous: Despite the beauty and catchiness of the song, “Let it go” is not a lesson for living. It is a recipe for chaos if we let it go too far.
3. Love wins: A prince does not kiss the princess and save the day. Rather, a sister puts herself in harm’s way to save another life. A sister learns that power can only be used wisely when we love those we serve.
When love wins, we all live happily ever after.