Friday, June 4, 2010

Interfaith Study of Sacred Text

Haven't blogged in months. Being back in the states, back at home, in school -- just being "present" in life has taken all that I have to give. But wanted to sharing a blog posting that talks about one of the wonderful things that I've been doing - learning sacred text with seminarians from the Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

This is from Leadership for a World of Religious Diversity a blog started by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, one of the Rabbis at RRC.  She takes leadership in all the interfaith initiatives at the school and has recently brought on Rabbi Melissa Heller to be part of the project. Melissa has been facilitating the wonderful Jewish-Christian Hevruta classes that I've been participating in these past two years. The blog I want to share is a posting by Melissa on our most recent class, along with a picture... if I can figure out how to do it.  I guess I'll just do it the old fashioned way - cut and paste - as I am not home where my 16 year old can show me the technologically correct method!

I was  pleased to be able to attend the conference in April sponsored by Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College Rabbinical School, “Educating Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Leaders for Service in a Multi-Religious World: The American Seminary Context.”

Like my colleague Nancy, who blogged about the experience below, I came away impressed and inspired, also noting many of the recurring themes that Nancy listed in her last post.
One of them- including Evangelical Christians in inter-religious dialogue- resonates deeply with me. A course that I am currently co-teaching with Professor Emmanuel Itapson at Palmer Theological Seminary (PTS) is doing exactly that.

“Jewish-Christian Encounter Through Text”- a course offered jointly by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) and PTS brings together 8 Rabbinical students from RRC and 8 seminarians from PTS to study in interfaith pairs. For a semester, the students engage deeply with one another, with Biblical text as a foundation for their explorations and conversations.

What happens when you bring these seemingly disparate groups of emerging religious leaders together?
A lot.
They seek commonality. They tell stories. They bring their vulnerabilities. They navigate issues of accessibility and ownership of the text. They are offered a new lens through which to view their sacred text. They are forced to articulate their beliefs and explain aspects of their traditions to their partners, helping them to clarify their relationships to their tradition, their sacred literature and to God. As the semester progresses and trust develops, they share their challenges. They question their partners. They practice humility. They come to understand their differences-and respect them.

As the relationships deepen between the pairs, and among the group, so too does understanding. What results is a broadening of the definitions of “Progressive Jew” and “Evangelical Christian” –to include nuance, personal narratives and diversity.

While there is much I could say about the ways this experience has been thus far transformative for the students (and the instructors!) I would rather share a few words from one of the Rabbinical students taking the course. She writes:

“Each study session with [my partner] takes us deeper into the text, into our curiosity about one another and each other’s faith tradition, and into the spaces where we differ, which is where the energy and excitement (and fear of what we will encounter) lie. When we first met, we were a bit shy and polite, almost like a first date when you are excited and want to make a good first impression, and most of all do not want to get off on the wrong foot. Now we jump right into our dialogue, not wanting to waste a second and I feel slightly annoyed when someone comes to the door of “our space” and says we have to stop!…Anyway, the conversations now are beyond intellectually stimulating – they are soul stirring!”

This is my class of 18 seminarians (RRC and PTS), Melissa and Emmanuel, at our last J-C Hevruta Class. We spent this class at Palmer, sharing a (kosher) meal, sharing text on social justice, and then sharing personal blessings for each other. A wonderful way to end a semester full of shared learning.