Tefillin in winter

Doing dialogue

Jewish-Christian dialogue outside the denominational mainstream is apparently about to take a leap forward. Synagogue 3000 and folks from the Emergent church are planning a meeting next month:

Synagogue 3000 (S3K) and Emergent have announced a ground-breaking meeting to connect Jewish and Christian leaders who are experimenting with innovative congregations and trying to push beyond the traditional categories of "left" and "right." This will be the first conversation that brings them together to focus on the enterprise of building next-generation institutions.  Leaders from across the United States will gather during the inaugural session of the S3K Leadership Network's  Working Group on Emergent Sacred Communities, which takes place January 16-17, 2006, at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, California...

...S3K Senior Fellow Lawrence A. Hoffman, (Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life, forthcoming 2006) stressed the importance of building committed religious identity across faith lines. "We inhabit an epic moment," he said, "nothing short of a genuine spiritual awakening. It offers us an opportunity unique to all of human history: a chance for Jews and Christians to do God's work together, not just locally, but nationally, community by community, in shared witness to our two respective faiths."

That's from this article -- thanks to The Revealer for spreading the word. Blogger Shawn Landres, who is involved with S3K, is tracking some of the response. Perhaps not surprisingly, the planned meeting is drawing ire from more conservative or traditionalist folks who feel threatened or disturbed by the prospect of the interfaith collaboration.

From what I've read about the emergent church (movement? denomination? phenomenon?) I see some similarities between the way they're trying to restore and revitalize Christian communal life and the work that Jewish Renewal is trying to do within Judaism. It sounds to me like these folks hope to connect with one another, learn from one another, pray beside one another, study texts together, break bread together, and respectfully disagree together. I wish I could be there; as I said in a comment on Shawn's blog, this sounds like the kind of event I would really enjoy.

Some years ago, Reb Zalman offered a course called "Deep Ecumenism" to a group of rabbis and rabbinic students. (The telecourse I've been taking this fall is, in many ways, an outgrowth of his original workshop on the subject.) One of the comments he made in that class was,

I have learned a lot when I was dealing with Trappists or Hindus or with other people. I'd like you to have the opportunity to learn that way too. And then, to also be able to teach. A passuq [verse] that is good to have as your motto is: haver ani l'khol asher yira-ukha, 'I am a friend to anyone who respects and honors You, God, who is in awe of You.'

I've taken that verse to heart during my first few months of hospital chaplaincy, which is necessarily powerfully ecumenical work. It's easy to get bogged down in our divergent doctrines and theologies, but if we can acknowledge our differences and put them aside, we can learn tremendous things from one another. Three cheers for the people from S3K and Emergent who are brave enough to begin the conversation.

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