April 20, 2018

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

2018 Interfaith Ambassadors build bridges with dialogue

Fr. Rick GintherMy column in February spoke of the CIC (Center for Interfaith Cooperation). This column is composed mainly of the remarks of the CIC Interfaith Ambassadors of the Year at the 2018 CIC annual banquet in March.

Dennis and Sandy Sasso of Temple Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis were the first married rabbis in history. Forty years later, they recently were honored for their faithfulness to interfaith engagement.

I believe their words—which strive to echo their daily actions—reveal why they were honored. Following are excerpts from both honorees:

“When Dennis and I were studying religion in college, the primer for interfaith was Will Herberg’s seminal book Protestant, Catholic and Jew,” Rabbi Sandy said.

“Herberg wrote of ethnic divisions fading against a backdrop of three primary faith expressions, a ‘triple melting pot’ that made up the American landscape. That landscape is now more textured and complicated than ever.

“We are a country of multiple identities, of Christians and Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus and secularists,” she continued.

“Despite America being the most religiously diverse nation, we know little about each other. We live in a country where more and more people, when asked what their religion is, say ‘none.’

“For faith traditions to be a source of strength, a resource for values, we cannot simply agree to tolerate one another, but to understand each other, not only the ways we are alike but also how we are different,” Rabbi Sandy continued.

“In the mid-20th century, interfaith conversations were among the like-minded. We made important contributions, standing tougher in national crises, building Habitat for Humanity homes, forming alliances to feed the hungry and to welcome immigrants. We worked against discriminatory legislation, prayed and celebrated together.

“The interfaith gatherings of this century must build bridges that are far more complex and challenging than before.

“We must develop conversations between the ‘religious’ and the ‘nones.’ Progressives and conservatives have to figure out how to talk without demeaning the other,” Rabbi Sandy added. “We can’t say, either you agree with me on everything, or you’re against me. Extremism, on the left or the right, cannot be the religious standard bearer.”

“God is everyone’s pedigree! The supreme dignity of all humans implies both their equality and their distinctiveness,” Rabbi Dennis said. “Religious, cultural, national and racial differences are not merely to be tolerated, they are to be celebrated. One’s truth does not deny another’s. Heaven is not a gated community. There are no zoning restrictions!

“The ancient rabbis challenge us: ‘Do not be afraid of work that has no end.’ (Avot d’Raib Natan)

“We acknowledge that we may not here … from Indianapolis, solve all the world’s political, economic and social problems,” he continued. “But we cannot abdicate responsibility, beyond synagogue, church, mosque, temple, and gurdwara, to nurture a society wherein the dignity of each person and the equality of all are assured.

“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: ‘… [R]eligion is not sentimentality. Religion is a demand [and] God is a challenge speaking to us in the language of human situations. God’s voice is in the dimension of history.’

“I think of religions as languages, different ways through which the spirit speaks, individually and collectively, with their own vocabulary, grammar, rhythm and prosody,” Rabbi Dennis continued. “Languages are meant for dialogue, not monologue, and interfaith dialogue is the conversation among religions that expands the dictionary of faith, adds new understandings, explores and pushes the horizons of God’s love and justice for all.”

To read the full texts and for a link to Temple Beth-El Zedeck, go to www.centerforinterfaithcooperation.org.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis.)

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