Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a really unique event, a gathering of emergent Jewish and Christian leaders, sponsored by a wonderful organization called Synagogue 3000. It was a wonderful gathering. I was both educated and inspired there. You can go to S3K's site for a list of folks brighter and more articulate than myself who have already blogged about this conversation. But here are some of my own thoughts and feelings:
- I came away with a renewed commitment to and appreciation for robust pluralism. This isn't the sort of pluralism advocated by liberal protestantism, a kind of bland "i'm o.k., you're o.k." ideology which ignores real difference in the interest of creating what winds up to be a synthetic hegemony, grounded in what George Lindbeck calls an "experiential expressivist" theology. None of the folks I spent time with at this gathering were rank relativists of any sort. Everyone was thoroughly rooted in the particularity of their own tradition. But this commitment in no way precluded the ability to delight in listening to another passionately committed to a different tradition. During one small group discussion time some Christians and Jews went for a walk and wound up stopping and opening up the Scriptures, sharing reflections on texts together. There are some traditionalist and progressive Christians who simply won't be able to appreciate or engage this sort of pluralistic conversation, but if one takes the work of sociologists of religion like Wade Clark Roof or Steven Cohen seriously (both of whom were present last week), this sort pluralism will characterize the religious ethos of committed Christians and Jews in the coming decades. It will be unavoidable. Steven Cohen pointed out that the present emerging Jewish generation is unique in that they want to be Jewish publically with non-Jews. This was certainly true during last week's gathering.
- The distinctively theological character of Emergent came out during this time. The tired critique of the movement, that it's simply about flirting with candles and maybe some other ancient practices, was once again proved to be terribly thin. Christianity is a pretty doctrinal faith. I was reminded at many points along the way. There is a tight connection between believing and belonging in Christianity. Enthusiastically ascribing to some constellation of theological convictions is usually is intrinsically bound up with full participation in many Christian communities. The tie between believing and belonging doesn't strike me as being so tight in Judaism. The emphasis seems to be on belonging. Believing is by no means trivialized, but it is to some degree relativized in that one need not sign on the dotted doctrinal line to be a good Jew. This isn't the case with Christianity. So Emergent as a movement has to define itself theologically because it is emerging from the context of Christian communities that identify themsevles that way. The Jews in the conversation seemed more interested in practice than theology. This isn't a criticism, just an observation. For many Christians communities the question of whether you belong is closely tied up with a particular set of beliefs. This just didn't seem to be that case with many of the Jews with whom I spoke.
- On a related note, I was envious of the ability of different sorts of Jews (Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) to identify with common liturgical practices. The prayer services seemed to be a uniting factor throughout our time together. At the opening of our time together Rabbi Jeremy Morrison was called on to share some devotional thoughts. He seemed to naturally refer to where everyone was in the Torah cycle, which was at the end of Genesis. It was remarkable to me that he could assume that everyone shared this common frame of liturgical reference. Later Lauren Grabelle Hermann shared with me that as a rabbi she feels that at any meeting she goes to she ought to be able to offer some reflective thoughts on the daily Torah reading. When the prayer book was opened at different points in our time together, all the Jews in the room seemed to know what they were doing and why. This kind of common liturgical culture seems to be invaluable. It's something we Christians didn't bring to the table, and I think that's not to our credit. The common point of contact seemed to me to create connection without hegemony, offering solidarity amidst difference. I hope that SK3's desire to take contextualization seriously doesn't jeoporadize this valuable asset.
- On a more personal note, the most moving time for me was a prayer service led by Rabbi Ed Feinstein. In the midst of it he encouraged us to envision a young rabbi and his students. The Christians in the room were to imagine the rabbi to be Jesus with his disciples. The picture Rabbi Feinstein went on to paint of Rabbi Jesus was incredibly compelling. This was one I wanted to know more deeply and follow more faithfully. All theological differences aside, Ed Feinstein was my rabbi that day and I bless the Lord the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting for the gift of his teaching. Truly Rabbi Feinstein knows something of the Master, and I'm glad he was able to share that with us.
- On a real personal and hedonist note, the Simi Valley is awesome!