Four Worlds of Interfaith Dialogue

 

1024px-Concert_%22Flamenco_et_Soufisme%22_(IMA)_(4431396219)Does interfaith dialogue work?

I ask this question often, in one form or another. And often, people answer with a cynical “No.”

A business leader exclaimed: “How can groups of different religions dialogue, when denominations within the same religion won’t talk to each other!”

A good will ambassador said sadly: “I’ve been attacked many times for my views.”

An activist declared: “Talking about our views and doing nothing together is a waste of time.”

A rabbi complained: “Usually, we just talk about our commonalities, and gloss over the important differences.”

A holocaust survivor said with a heavy heart:  “The ones who want to dialogue aren’t the ones we need to worry about.”

Call me idealistic, but I think interfaith dialogue can save lives.

My favorite example comes from the memoir of Zivia Lubetkin, the only woman on the command staff of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 1940, Lubetkin and fellow youth leaders took in the orphaned teens arriving in the Warsaw ghetto. In response to dehumanization of Jews, they organized underground schools for their teens. In response to scarcity, they organized work permits. When scarcity progressed to starvation, they put the teens to work in soup kitchens. When they learned of the death camps, they armed the teens, fought alongside them, and helped survivors escape. At every step on the way, they worked with contacts outside the ghetto: their friends from interfaith summer camp.

Why am I so idealistic when others are so cynical? Why do I hold out high hopes when others lose faith in dialogue? Perhaps it’s partly my open-ended view of what counts as interfaith “dialogue.” Dialogue is conversation, communication, an exchange of speech. Speech comes in many forms, some nonverbal; communication can come simply through shared experience.

Reflecting on the many modes of dialogue, I am reminded of the Kabbalistic concept of four worlds of consciousness. Simultaneously, we live in worlds of action, feeling, thought, and being. Under the rubric of interfaith dialogue, I have participated in projects touching all four worlds.

In the world of action, Ahavat Olam, a Vancouver havurah, has organized a Muslim-Jewish Feed the Hungry project. Together, Jews and Muslims serve meals at a Christian-sponsored homeless shelter. Discussion of religious differences is not the point. Instead, participants focus on the familiar comfort of working with the same people month after month. Communication about shared values happens in the doing.

In the world of feeling, our regional Christian seminary, Vancouver School of Theology, hosts an annual concert “Musical and Sonic Landscapes in Islam.” Contemporary Islamic composers lead the students in exploring the role of sound in spirituality. Students move, sing, speak – and are surprised by their own confusion, laughter, and mixed feelings. Emotions are aroused, and their meanings discussed. Music communicates by stimulating emotion, which in turn stimulates conversation. This, too, is dialogue.

In the world of intellect…Continue reading at Rabbis Without Borders…

0 Comments
  1. Yes! “The ones who want to dialogue aren’t the ones we need to worry about.” We obviously need to worry about the others who won’t dialogue or even listen silently, or absorb what another faith tradition has to offer.

  2. Laura,
    Hope you are enjoying a restful and contemplative Memorial Day. I would suggest the work and writings of Mirabai Starr who recently spoke/taught at the SDI Conference in April in Santa Fe, NM. She is the author of “God of Love,” a wonderful book.
    With gratitude,
    Art
    rabbiwithoutwalls.org

    1. Art,

      Thank you so much for reaching out with this suggestion. I look forward to learning from the book.

      Laura

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