Thursday, November 20, 2008

Testing our interfaith understandings...

can be a challenge when we don't know very much about another religion. Recently, our congregation had hoped to rent our facility to the tiny local Jewish community for one of their holiday gatherings but it turned out that several of their members refuse to attend anything in a church. (They have no facility of their own and must rent space for services and events.)

When we received the word that they were canceling their reservation, we were stunned and dismayed. Had we done anything to offend? Did they realize how much UUs have done over the years to be supportive of Jews? Did they know that we hardly even call our building a church, but rather a sanctuary, a meeting house? Why on earth would they choose not to rent from us?

So at the gym this morning, I asked H., who has been part of the local Jewish community to share her thoughts and she explained that there are Jews who, as a matter of religious principle, do not want to enter other religions' sacred spaces. It has more to do with principle and custom than with ancient wounds, there's nothing personal about it, and nothing we do is likely to change minds.

I realized as I thought more about this, this morning, that my own reaction was of intolerance for another's religious principle. I'm glad I had a chance to talk to H., for her calm explanation of a different religious way of life helped me see that my original reaction was a bit self-righteous and intolerant.

It's interesting to me that we are fine with religious principles that make sense to us, but when we encounter a principle that seems illogical, we are apt to assume the worst rather than the best. We struggle to make sense of ancient customs that don't fit our modern culture and are more likely to dismiss them rather than respect them.

I am learning gradually not to leap to conclusions without investigating further. I've re-learned that lesson today.


Ms. Theologian said...

I try to remind myself of this when I encounter folks from that church that many of us consider a cult (and that shall remain nameless, but involves aliens and a volcano). I am much more "tolerant" when I agree.

ms. kitty said...

Boy, aren't we all, Ms. T? Thanks.

LinguistFriend said...

In the odd way in which I grew up, I spent much more time at the Jewish Community Center (Newport News) than at any Christian churches, and was much more comfortable there. That was partly because the minister at the Christian church which I was most likely to have reason to visit (weddings, etc.) was an outspoken racist who did not refrain from expressing his views at such occasions. But your experience reminds me how important it was that the JCC provided a place, not involved with formal religious services, and not only active in cultural activity (the main draw for me then), where Jews and us goyim could interact comfortably.
I was not one of the group, but I was not an enemy, as I was made to feel at times at that Christian church. You apparently do not have a large enough Jewish group for such things to happen.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LF. It's interesting to me that we UUs occasionally run into the same kind of thing as our Jews here have: folks whose personal religious journey has caused them to have strictures that they are not comfortable stretching. In my congregation, I have people who are so uncomfortable with crosses, crucifixes, God-language, etc., that they will not use them or attend a service where these are used.

With us it's not a religious principle so much as a desire not to be tagged as a user of these symbols.