Thursday, August 06, 2009

Digging wells

On Monday night, Jacob and I went to a support group for interfaith couples who are not yet married.

I don't know how to sum it up.

I liked it in that way that I like humanity and I like it when people are vulnerable to each other. Many of the personalities that I got to observe were enjoyable. I felt like Jacob and I were super-advanced and my ego likes that while my soul hangs its head in premonition of the work its going to have to do to clean up that mess.

We're in a very peaceful place right now and I am reveling in it. The wedding still has to be implemented and a job still has to be found but we're no longing fighting and having quite so many discussions. My mom says she can hear a difference in my voice when she talks to me. There are still things to be worked out about how our interfaith life will look but, honestly, Jacob's doing most of that work right now, examining his insides. He recently read the book Nothing Sacred and I think it blew his mind a little. He keeps quoting it in different formats, like the interfaith group and at Torah study on Saturday morning. I am reading Common Prayers, even though I protested it for awhile since no one ever seems to recommend any inverse books by Jewish interfaith partners who find their spirituality deepened by their exposure to Christianity. After two different people responded sarcastically to my complaint with "Oh, wah. It's hard being part of the dominant culture, isn't it?" then I decided I should actually read it.

So, with all of this reading and the research we did before we got married, we are very prepared with answers to dilemmas that get brought up in a group like the one on Monday night, which I am glad about personally. However, in the context of the group, it really reinforced to me that every interfaith couple has to come to its own decisions; there is no template that works for everyone. One couple had been dating since high school with a long-distance interval during college and are starting this conversation now that they are considering marriage. It was interesting to listen to their concerns about baptism and conversion and their struggle since it is important to them both that children undergo these rituals and that both of them considered the rituals mutually exclusive. This isn't an issue for Jacob and I and so I had no wisdom to offer. I could only tell our story.

I also interjected at one point in the large-group discussion and commented on the repetition of the word, "belief." I didn't want to be too much of an evangelist for the emergent movement but did want to share the sense of liberation that I feel because I've stopped focusing so much on beliefs and shifted my attention to practice and transformation. So, I told my story.

I was attending a hip, young evangelic church in the city that emphasized social justice. To become a member of the church, you had to download a form from the website that had a list of 12 statements that you had to "believe." If you could agree with these statements, you signed on the line at the bottom, met with someone to discuss it and were then considered part of the club. I couldn't agree to all 12 and, in fact, outright disagreed with several points. I sat down with the pastor to discuss this and said that I believed in this community of people and what they were trying to accomplish. Could I still participate in community activities? I specifically mentioned continuing on the worship team and starting a nursery for all of the babies that were being born. To both he told me that he would be uncomfortable with me being involved because there was a fear of "wrong teaching." That hurt a lot because I was starting to feel like I was forming real relationships with some of the people at that church. To be pushed to the fringes because of "beliefs" seemed unfair and contrary to the truth of the bonds we were forming as fellow human beings. In attempt to heal this pain, I did research and found a movement of people who were trying to explore spirituality in a post-modern context that acknowledged that all of us see God differently because we're all looking through the lens of our individual experience. To expect everyone to believe the same things in counter-productive since it negates the commonality we have as humans in that most of us are all trying to move toward God in whatever way we can. I described this article that uses the metaphor of Australian cattle ranching versus American ranching. Americans build fences to keep cattle together since the boundless lushness lures them to wander. Since Australia has so little water, ranchers dig wells to keep cattle in one place. They never wander far from their source of life. This metaphor allows spiritual communities to redefine who is a member. Instead of those who have all come to the same conclusions banding together for safety and putting a fence (or numbered list) around those conclusions, a community can be defined as people walking toward the water. You can be part of the community if you are in the process of exploration and transformation because knowing that God is bigger than our vision means that you have no choice but to keep discovering new ways that we are wrong about what we believe. People on different paths can reach across the paths and hold hands while they walk.

This is incredible liberating to me and makes an interfaith relationship very easy to consider. My struggle is making sure that I keep my behavior with Jacob loving by making room for his struggles since he comes at this from a different place.

I wish that I could reach into the heads and hearts of all interfaith couples that are struggling and shift their spiritual paradigm in the same way that mine was shifted. Once beliefs become secondary to building community (while remaining primary for personal practice) discussions regarding rituals change and become less combative. Of course, I don't have the power of paradigm shifting, only the power of storytelling and storylistening. I tried my best at both.

I loved listening to another couple that described attending another young, hip, urban church. When there were a couple of sermons that made it clear that the Jewish partner wouldn't be welcome, the Christian partner immediately agreed to find a new church home but was still concerned about doing as God commands him in his practice. This kind of flexibility reflects how good Jacob has made me feels when he adopted my organic lifestyle, despite its increased costs and the intensification of his spiritual journey that he chose in order to accommodate my presence in his future.

We'll keep going back to the group after we're married. I'm curious to see the transformation in the lives and perspectives of these people and I like the atmosphere that affirms raising children in both religious traditions since, like being bi-lingual, this will only enhance their ability to communicate with God.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm so pleased you guys found a good interfaith community. I am still stinging that ours sucked so bad--such a missed opportunity. It sounds like you're having a really healthy dialogue about this tricky stuff!