Rejecting Stereotypes, Forging New Relationships

It was my privilege and delight last evening to participate in a program sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning. (The Jay Phillips Center is a joint project of University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University in Collegeville.) The program featured a lecture given by my friend Rabbi Norman Cohen and a response by me.

The title of Rabbi Cohen’s lecture was Jews and Christians: Rejecting Stereotypes, Forging New Relationships. In his lecture, he talked about the history of Christian-Jewish relationships, the improvement in dialogue between the two and the need to make further progress in that dialogue. He believes that much dialogue has “consisted only of cautious attempts to find common ground, to determine and emphasize the things we share,” risking an unintended syncretism and a failure on the part of both Christians and Jews to develop greater understanding of the “distinctive flavors” of the other’s faith. He talked about some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that plague the efforts of both Christians and Jews to grow in their relationship with each other.

Ultimately, Rabbi Cohen believes that “only the concept of a God who is so great that covenant can be created with more than one people and in different ways, is the road to better interfaith understanding.”

I began my response to his lecture by talking about why I believe greater understanding between Jews and Christians is important. I then shared some observations about some of the points he raised in his talk, starting with observations about Christian perceptions of Judaism and, more briefly, raising a couple of thoughts about Jewish perceptions of Christianity. I ended with some observations regarding both Christians and Jews that affect how we view each other, including my strong agreement that we cannot (using his words) “be so bold as to think that our God is so limited that God chooses only the Jews or has replaced the Jews with the Christians.”

Because Rabbi Cohen’s lecture is a part of a larger writing project in which he is currently engaged, I can not post a text of his lecture. However, I have posted on my website the text that formed the basis of my response. You can find that text here.

Following our talks, there was a lively questions and answer period. One of thing on which we all agreed is that these sorts of conversations are important and that we need to find ways to bring them to larger audiences.

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2 thoughts on “Rejecting Stereotypes, Forging New Relationships

  1. During the homily this morning (Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) father spoke of a young Mary most likely presented in the temple, at or near the age of three, whose home, representative of a ‘domestic church’ surely taught, nurtured and inspired Mary in the sacred ways of faith, worship and offering, including offerings to God and of self to others.

    The homily inspired further discernment of last Tuesday evening’s prayer and reflection of Susan’s post, Gratitude or Entitlement, and design sketching that was interrupted by the cable coverage of the police raids in Saint Denis, France – cable coverage that initiated (EWTN) bringing Wednesday morning Mass celebrating the dedication of Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul into my studio (sleep deprived I was) – along with a homily describing how the elegance of Basilica’s like St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s outside-the-walls in Rome are to make us awestruck, elevate our worship and bring us closer to God.

    Mary’s Jewish roots inspire much more than the grandeur of churches and temples – the irony, as my profession has afforded invitation to consult and design places for liturgy. Although, my thoughts immediately returned to tiny St. Panteleimon (Holy Great-Martyr and Healer of the Eastern Faith) and tiny Faith Lutheran in tiny Hoyt Lakes, MN. Both very small and modest churches where the presence of Christ overwhelms my heart with each visit, at times even more than many Catholic Masses I regularly attend.

    It was on this blog that I first mentioned attending a Protestant Sunday Service (without first having attended early Mass) on December 9, 2012 (my 3,009th. Sunday since attending Mass regularly in first grade). It often appears the encouraged, sequestered and almost cloistered faith life Catholics are frequently called to live speaks to a genuine concern to protect which can often be construed as cloaked in an entitlement birthed in Easter, conferred with Baptism, and commissioned with Confirmation.

    What are Catholics commissioned for, what are God’s children commissioned for, what are all children commissioned for? Like Mary are we all not called, called to a deeper understanding of our faith, and our personal relationship with God (to many, their personal relationships with god, with Spirit or spirit, or with an unnamed higher or inner power). . .

    Entering seventh grade I began to serve Mass each Sunday, and each day during the next two summers – summer days, often serving alone when a dearest friend was not available. Our parish priest was later revealed to be a sexual predator (though at the time, unbeknownst to our parish, my parents or me) whose most desirable conquest would have been me . . . Each of his advances and invitations produced similar replies, “Father, I am here early each morning, do (almost) everything to prepare for Mass, stay late to prepare for tomorrow and you spend more time with me than anyone. My friends will be waiting.”

    It was during my bike rides home, while passing by tiny Faith Lutheran, for breakfast and soon to join in with my friends that I began to offer my prayers, ‘God thank you so much for allowing me to be born into a Catholic family and allowing me to receive the Eucharist each Sunday and each day during the summer. Please allow my Lutheran friends to receive the Eucharist more than once a month, (each Sunday) like I do.’

    When returning to visit, I make every effort to attend Saturday Mass officiated by Father Steve, inquiring later Saturday evening of friends, “Who am I going to church with tomorrow?” It is my Lutheran friends that attend church more regularly.

    Due to all those years of attending only Mass, I know not when prayers first offered as a 13 year-old to have the Eucharist celebrated each Sunday at Faith Lutheran were answered. Though each opportunity to celebrate with them is a blessing and continues to bring tears to many eyes and touch many hearts – touching my heart, from a Christian perspective, as if we are all truly ‘One Body of Christ’ celebrating the Eucharist with St. Perpetua in her home church of Carthage. To knee at the communion railing in Faith Lutheran in gratitude offered to God is near impossible to put into words. At the moment the Eucharist is received you can feel each heart and each soul joined to ‘One God’ similar to during each Catholic Mass. Are not all Christians called to the Eucharist? “Do this in remembrance of Me?”

    If homes (our domestic ‘churches’) are the foundation of most every faith tradition, were breaking bread together, sharing meals prepared often from diverse cultural origins, is celebration encouraged by all – faithful and non-faithful alike – why does my Catholic faith continue to cling so tightly to salvation through ‘One True Church’, professing a ‘New Evangelism,’ while many of its shepherds continue to pay ‘lip service’ to ecumenical reconciliation among Christian faiths and inter-faith dialogue with other Faiths and beliefs? Is there any hypocrisy that further drives youth and adults away from their faith?

    My heart remains broken, for I am not allowed to share the Eucharist with my friends in the parish church of my high school and college years. Will I live to see the day when the Eucharistic is offered to all Christians who celebrate a (the) Sacred Liturgy?

    While I wait, my prayers of reconciliation continue to expand.

    Donation of my CAD services for Father Antoniy’s renovation and expansion of tiny (old and aging) St. Panteleimon Russian Orthodox Church (donated because the architect recommended by Olga, a member of the parish, was not trained in CAD) has become another blessing, another thread stitching together the faithful, beliefs, and Eucharistic celebrations in churches like Perpetua’s in Carthage (at the turn into the 3rd. century) with the early years and traditions of the Orthodox faith established by St. Peter’s brother, St. Andrew – and my blessing of gratitude to the parish upon my dismissal from providing the CAD services supporting the architect originally retained. Protest mine, brought about my dismissal.

    A cozy relationship between the lead architect and general contractor fostered an ‘entitlement’ to elevate both their design vision and project costs far beyond the means of this small, though emerging, congregation. Upon my dismissal, my apology to father was responded with, “Christine, your outspoken concerns are depriving them of money.” Father and his building committee replaced the architect and contractor, turned the project over to me and we have already ‘designed out’ more than $500,000 of construction costs while improving the design and function-ability of the interior spaces and exterior form.

    In mid-October, evening prayer and the Holy Spirit inspired a design solution that may allow St. Panteleimon to commence and complete half of the expansion and renovation before the remaining funds can be donated and secured to build their new nave and sanctuary. The city of Minneapolis is considering our request to build the new lower level fellowship hall, stairways, accessible elevator and restrooms by creating an outdoor ‘Seasonal Terrace’ (the terrace will be the floor of the future new nave and sanctuary). An outdoor terrace with decorative railings, lighting fixtures supporting seasonal banners, flowering hangings, and more – all to be relocated later throughout the site upon the project’s final completion.

    The Holy Spirit inspired an outdoor terrace that will bring the congregation, its Sacred Liturgy, cultural events and more into the ‘light’ – more visibly introducing the congregation and their faith to their neighbors – Providing new opportunities to share a new space with God’s family, with their brothers and sisters, with all of our brothers and sisters . . .

    Later Wednesday afternoon, during a design review meeting in Uptown with a most brilliant CEO [Chinese immigrant referred by Father Antoniy – joint venturing with the U of M a new early and relevant disease detection biosensor system (GMR ‘Giant Magnetoresistance’) well suited for low concentrations below the noise threshold of other systems, and with reflections of the recent terrorist events affecting Jewish, Islamic, Christian communities, and the Syrian immigrants continuing to swirl within my mind], I (born in Canada) couldn’t resist an opportunity to inquire of the young Muslim woman and U of M Psychology student and home health care volunteer (Afghanistan), the Hispanic couple and their Hispanic real-estate agent (Mexico), the Jewish general contractor I work most closely with, and my new client Yongyong (China, and Russian Orthodox) as to what drinks were contained within the identically looking and similarly fabricated Caribou cups held or resting near each of us – no two drinks were the same. . .

    For the next twenty minutes we discussed what joins us one to the other (what is contained within our hearts) from the perspective of our differing family, cultural, faith beliefs, education and professional pursuits and more.

    Caribou cups inspiring world events, cultural, and inter-faith dialogue? The (Holy) Spirit inspires in the most unusual of ways . . .

  2. Susan, I thank and applaud you and Rabbi Cohen for your thoughtful and challenging discussion (your unedited text is well composed . . . and your previous invitations to listen to Rabbi Cohen speak have been rewarding and I look forward to his current writing project when published).

    Reflecting upon my late Wednesday afternoon encounter and conversation with the young Muslim student, the three Hispanic young adults, George (who lives out his Jewish faith, and whom I apologize referring to as a Jewish general contractor), and Yongyong my Chinese friend and client (Russian Orthodox) – it amazes me with how much [of the ‘Golden Rule’ or from many ‘foundational’ (faith) beliefs] we share in common during our daily interactions with each other.

    Architecture allows an opportunity to interact with so many individuals from so many diverse disciplines, places, positions, stations, and talents in life [where ‘moment’ often invites a different individual to step forward (to lead) for a ‘solo performance’ as the project naturally unfolds] – where embracing every individual with respect and dignity more, and more often than not overcomes most every challenge a project presents.

    To compose (design or create) is a most wonderful gift of opportunity – though it is nothing, nothing, nothing compared to the opportunity to conduct [to discuss, discern and direct (most often mutually) the construction process] – the evolutionary process of achievement . . .

    There has never been a compliment for a design or completed project that approaches the compliments voiced of how ‘they’ (contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers) can not wait to work on another project. Is not bringing a diverse ensemble of talented individuals together in common cause, not similar to our calling to bring together (bring about) the Kingdom of God?

    It occurs each day in the work place, it occurs each day through the laity of most congregations, and sadly from many a pulpit (daily or weekly) messages professed often tug at the unity the work place and laity devote to weaving together.

    From a Judeo-Christian perspective, is the beginning foundation of faith (Genesis) as much, if not more, metaphor than scientific fact? Who has reconciled the concepts of – or not – of original sin? Is there a Catholic alive who’ truly’ believes new life (made in the image and likeness of God) is a blackened, stained soul until cleansed through Baptism? Will not truth be found when the two sides (of the coin) are melded into one anew. . .

    The gift and blessing of life conjoined to faith beliefs (and a promise of eternity shared) is a celebratory invitation to live life as brothers and sisters, as the brothers and sisters we are all called to be. Who is most responsible for fostering the ‘evolutionary’ doctrines and tenants that separate? God’s children, or His shepherds?

    As delusional as I may often be, I can not erase from my mind Perpetua’s and my encounter with the ‘Master’ in his orchard in Carthage – the most comforting vision, a message of his ‘Father’ who planted all the world’s orchards and vineyards – orchards and vineyards each uniquely different though each nourishing the life supported above through ancestral roots added to with each passing generation, roots themselves (below the soil intended to be entangled as one) nourished by ‘One Living Water’ – the water of life. . .

    Orchard next to orchard, vineyard next to vineyard, as if each represents a faith tradition with a name above the entrance all nourished by ‘One Living Water’ and warmed by one common source – God’s Love. . .

    This earth we are blessed to steward during our short visit is gift to all – a ‘Gift’ to be shared – our ‘gifts’ of life to be shared.

    For many a faith(s) that proclaims a God who seeks not domination, a God who seeks dominion, a God who seeks to liberate through truth – obedience to ‘faith’ often continues to cull, categorize, and separate – often unraveling what the faithful continue and remain comitted to weaving together. . .

    Is it ‘Faith’ that is under attack, or the “New Relationships (attempting to be) Forged?”

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