Today, November 2, 2009, I was part of this inaugural event of the Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA . Over 400 people spent the day listening and interacting with Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious and political leaders. It was a fantastic event.
Here are some of the ideas I picked up during the day from the speakers and from participants. It will give you a flavor of the day. First, the title was intentional. It is not just about religious tolerance or even dialogue. It is about reconciliation. One spoke of this as a family reunion, and that is not Pollyanna. Family reunions are often difficult. We have hurt each other. Done things that have been destructive. But we have also prospered with each other.
Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl once listed 3 rules for religious understanding. (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies. (2) Don’t compare your best to their worst. (3) Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)
Inter-religious dialogue does not mean that we leave our faith traditions particularities at the door. That only invokes a watered down, generic, sterile religion. Rather, we must bring our uniqueness to the conversation and celebrate it! Rabbi Mark Diamond of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California spoke about seeking knowledge of the other tradition, understanding it, respecting it, having passion for your own tradition, and compassion for the other.
And along the way we need to approach our tradition, and the traditions of others with a sense of humility, and recognizing the oppositional identity we carry.
The most difficult part of the day was the panel with the Israeli Consul General and the Turkish Consul General. The conversation moved to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the Armenian Genocide. Quickly we were thrust into the arena of politics, involving land and people groups. I realized that the only hope for reconciliation and peace for us–diverse faith traditions in the US, conflicts between peoples, disputes over land–will come from the faith traditions.
We need to talk to each other and learn from each other. We need to pray for each other. We need to work together–maybe simply by creating an inter-faith soup kitchen. Or working together to eliminate homeless (Imagine LA does this!).We must work for the common good. We must work together to care for our neighbor–and we must broadly define who are neighbor is. Our neighbor is the person next to us, or distanced from us, who, like us, is created in the image of God. As Rabbi David Wolpe reminded us–faith matters. Children of Abraham must celebrate and embrace our own faith traditions. And we must work together to repair the world.