Day 5 of Elijah Interfaith Summer School

Thursday 6th August 2020 — Hosted in Jerusalem, participants zoomed-in from around the world

Jerusalem 2019 / gjphoto

This was the last day of the first week. While we seriously engaged with the theme of the Summer School we laughed a lot at least I did. Alon, the founder and director of Elijah has what we would say in England, ‘a wicked sense of humour’. He is a serious guy and world-renowned scholar but he also makes me laugh. That is a wonderful combination of gifts in any human.

We ranged from 15 to 20 participants throughout the week and although from across the globe and from various religions we created Community.

Please note what I write is what I heard it may be incorrect

The day began with a conversation between Rabbi Ian Pear and Acharya Shri Shrivatsa Goswami moderated by Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Ian grew up in the United States and attended a Jesuit college. One of the Jesuits challenged him to look into his own faith tradition for the answers that he was seeking. This instruction by another to rediscover your faith I have heard several times over the years and each time it had a life-changing effect. In Ian’s case, he trained as a Rabbi and relocated to Israel.

He spoke of the Biblical vision of the nation of Israel as a model to the world in serving the interests of its citizens both those who are part of the Jewish faith and those who are not. We didn’t have the time to explore further but it has remained an interest in my mind.

Today we were looking at the statement, ‘Religion provides community and identity’

The question of individuality versus community remained throughout the discussion. It came up in relation to how singlehood is viewed by Jewish Communities. Ian made reference to a teacher who was not given the status of Rabbi because he was not married. He did, however, mention that there was a caveat within the Talmud (it may not have been the Talmud to which he referred) that allowed a person to be called a Rabbi if it were judged that they were in love with the Torah.

Shrivatsa also commented that if someone renounces the community within the Vaishnava tradition to live as a ‘Holy man’ they lose the right to perform rituals. It seems that part of the renouncing of the world includes the religious community.

Yet we know that in other religious traditions singlehood is revered such as in the Christian Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions as well as Buddism and perhaps other branches of Hinduism

What we see is that our religious communities signal to what they view as the most correct way to live the faith.

It is true as Rabbi Ian said families are messy and in them, our faith is being developed yet it also true that each of us has to find our expression of faith whether single or partnered.

Ian commented, “We live in history.” I had never quite seen history as present but of course, how we are today is based on yesterday.

Shrivatsa talked about, “Not being able to escape your community” yet also that we, “Outgrow our community”

I noted that many religions lay hold of land claiming that it is integral to their religious identity.

The first Thursday of the month there is a Praying for Jerusalem (PFJ) event at 4 pm British Summer Time (BST). The Summer School merged with PFJ as they are both hosted by Elijah.

Sally King is Professor of Buddhist Studies, Department of Theology, Georgetown University (Washington, DC). She continued on the theme of our earlier session highlighting the negative effect of nationalism on Buddhism citing Burma and Sri Lanka as two examples. She also spoke about how Buddhism in the US is attempting to reach out to Black people recognising that few of its adherents are from the Black community.

Prof. Dr Dirk Martin gave a Protestant Christian view on Community. He stayed on for the ‘Wrap up’ for Summer School participants and made the comment, “Truth is made in Community’. Here lies the challenge for us as people of faith, ‘How are we contributing and leading the way to create Community whereby truth can emerge?’

The Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric gave the Muslim perspective. His reach was to the world, ‘We are all on a voyage to God and ‘we can’t go to one station before we have done what is required at the station we are at’.

He stated that COVID 19 does not recognise the walls we have built and in our response neither can we.

I noted his words, “ Unshaped by religion and theology”. I think as I try to recall he was speaking of ‘the one’ who seeks God.

I have come to look forward to what I call the evening ‘Wrap up’. By 6 pm BST are minds have been greatly exercised and we need to reflect with one another.

I have noticed what is emerging for me over the week is the thought and feeling that for as long as religion serves its purpose of leading us to God it is good but once it becomes overburdened with trappings of culture and identity it loses its power and becomes negative. 2 Timothy verse 5 comes to mind,

“………having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

I shared my own experience as an ethnic Northern Irish Protestant. That I had the religion and it gave me a pathway to God for which I am grateful however there came a time when I had to choose whether my ethnicity was more important than a living relationship with God who was calling me to grow beyond what I knew. Indeed being at this Summer School is calling me beyond what labels I may have tied myself as I recognise that God is beyond all.

It is for this reason that I believe that wherever there is nationhood it must be separated from religion in order to afford equal rights to all its citizens.

The current news on Hagia Sophia gives us a present example of this question on a number of points including the state involving itself in a religious decision and also whether as people of faith we should concern ourselves with temporal matters.

I was reminded that here we are on Zoom a place that can’t really be defined other than by the spirits present.

Best day,

g

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Gordie Jackson

Gordie Jackson

Speaks with a Northern Irish accent, lives in Hertfordshire, England.