Thursday, February 16, 2006

I know what you did last weekend...

I went to a retreat with seminarians from Jewish and Catholic seminaries. I guess I was representing Protestantism, though I'm not really the best candidate for that.

I actually was kind of advanced for all of it - purely because I've spent so much time in real Inter-faith dialogue (I didn't really consider this group inter-FAITH) this year. The things that were amazing or difficult for others were things my kids taught me a long time ago. So it was all nice, but a little bit retread. And it kept bugging me how Christian/Jewish it was - no Eastern perspective, not even Muslim. It felt very exclusive. I mean, I guess it's cool if you've never met a Jewish person or a Catholic, but if you regularly dialogue with Swamis and Buddhist Monks, this group comes off as pretty tame - and very homogenous.

So anyway at one point I'm talking to this guy who's a catholic, and we're all about liturgy, and how great it is, and how much fun it is to be sacramental theologians. We're lightly ripping on the low church ideas about baptism, etc. - all in good fun, you know, just enjoying "our way" best.

At one point I said something about not being Catholic and working my way there, and he said Oh you're Anglican, you're close enough. Anglicans are fine.

But then somehow he made a distinction between Anglicans and American Episcopalians and I said well that's what I am and he stopped in his tracks.

You're Episcopal? You said you were Anglican!

I tried to explain, but from his body language and sudden change of tone I could see I had suddenly not become a Christian to him. He learned I was liberal and there went his opinion of me, down the toilet. He even chastised me for going to a conservative school like Fuller and told me I deserve whatever trouble I get there.

At one point, he even sneered, "Weren't you guys kicked out of the Anglican church?"

And I had to explain No, not the Episcopalians, the churches that split were kicked out because they voluntarily left the communion. Well they weren't even kicked out, they just left.

Which he argued with, telling me no, he was pretty sure we were kicked out.

And I said no, the Americans were chastised for moving forward with Robinson's ordination before the Communion was ready for it. And the Africans were chastised for taking our churches into their dioceses, which is against the rules of the communion. And both of us were asked to sit out of one meeting.

And we wrote a very well-done statement about why we did what we did.

But that interchange pretty much ruined the weekend for me. I already had enough trouble sleeping and was not in the best of moods. Then this little encounter happened and I just want to go home. Here's what I wrote in the throes of emoting:

I'm pretty much done with this whole experience. I feel crappy. I almost left the next session because I was on the verge of tears. Yet again, I don't belong, I'm not accepted, and my brand of Christianity doesn't count. When I tried to tell him that I care about the creeds and the Bible and I really wrestle to biblically explain my liberal social positions, he snorted: I'll bet you do.

What a jackass! He even said, rather sarcastically, "Well I guess I can still talk to you." This is not following the rules of civilized dialogue.

Well anyway thank God for the Jews, because they rescued the day. I had lunch with a great group of students from the University of Judaism, and they were so cool. I guess because they were, although from a conservative school, much closer to me politically and socially.

I don't think I'd go again, it just wasn't that valuable of an experience for me and would probably be better for someone else. That said, I'm really happy I met the people I did and I hope to stay in touch with them. It never hurts to have a rabbi in your pocket, right?


Sarah said...

I have butted up against this time and time again. Meet a neat new friend. Find out she's a Christian. Connect over some aspect of faith and/or parenting. Then find out she attends "New Vine Church" or other similarly named "non-denominational/community" church which is really just baptist/fundie at its roots.

I have a couple fundamentalist friends that I have maintained after such meetings and I have learned so much from them. I treasure their friendships. But I am ready to meet people that understand that there is a way to be a faithful Christian and take the Bible seriously but not always literally. I just want to read it how I think it was intended to be read. If that makes me a pro-gay liberal Episcopalisn, so be it.

I'm sorry you were so quickly judged and dismissed by that guy. But Jesus, too, was misunderstood and chastised for being outside the normal precepts of his faith. So you're in good company.

Anonymous said...

Staci!! glad to have found your site here.

Oy veh- please don't confuse Conservative Judaism with conservative politics or social outlooks. Our movement is called Conservative becaue it was named in reaction to Reform Judaism. The Reformers wanted to do a lot of reforming of the tradition. While other progressive Jews knew they didn't want to be Orthodox, they did know they wanted to conserve much more of the traditional ways of life and law, so they predictably called themselves Conservative. Too bad they didn't have a psychic in their pocket, to tell them that a century down the road the name of their movement would be the source of much tsuris (suffering, yiddish). There is a weak push in our movement to change the name to Covenental Judaism, referring to the covenant between us and God, us and fellow Jews, and us and the whole of creation. I personally like that name a lot better- it avoids the confusion about being politically/socially conservative while inventing a whole new confusion about what sort of covenant we're talking about.

It was great to meet you this weekend and I also hope that we stay in touch!

Stasi said...

Points noted. Thanks for clearing that up. I think it will be helpful to readers also. Most of us are probably still a bit confused about the Jewish denominations (worst of all, we probably are most inclined to compare them to Christian ones - oy veh, indeed).

Interesting the history of Conservative in Judaism - not unlike Evangelical, which started as a name for people working for social justice and has been grabbed and misused by fundamentalists (since their name is now out of fashion).

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, I am so sorry that guy treated you that way. I know how painful that kind of thing can be. Bah.

I'm glad the Jews who were there were congenial, though. Though it doesn't make much sense for me to kvell (er, feel pride) that they treated you well -- I mean, I've never met these folks, we probably come from different denominational backgrounds, yadda yadda -- it's still always nice when I hear about people who share my religious label (and my passion for our tradition) behaving well. :-)

Anonymous said...

I think it's terribly sad that at such a retreat - particularly given its aims and relatively homogenous nature - you would run across that kind of behavior. Not atypical, just very sad.

I've noticed a correlation between the actual closeness of degree of difference between denominations and the hostility between them. It might actually have been easier for this one to talk with a Sufi or Buddhist than with you - the exoticism of difference enables a glamour that doesn't exist in family squabbles.

Still - it might have been a chance to engage in just that kind of metadialogue. After comments like that, you could easily have thrown it back in his court by asking why he was participating if he felt that way, and what he hoped to glean from such non-dialogue...

Considering that you felt the conference was a bit retread, I'm surprised you let him throw you like that! It must have hit you in a sensitive spot.

Bill Gnade said...

I am sorry, too, that you were treated unfairly. I am bemused, however, that a Catholic would consider Fuller "conservative." Most Catholics consider Protestantism to be liberal; in fact, to Orthodox Catholics Fuller IS liberal.

I am an Episcopalian living in New Hampshire; I've had a face-to-face (90-minutes) with my bishop; his ex-wife and I used to work at the same place. He is, largely, an elegant man. But I will say this: He is very antagonistic, publicly, toward the Catholic Church and nearly all things evangelical. He is not a man whose language one might call "bridge-building;" his words are often rife with a political energy that stifles real dialogue. In this diocese, Catholics and evangelicals are not only flat out wrong, they are un-Christian in their lack of charity for not accepting Rev. Robinson's homosexuality.

My point is that your Catholic friend may have had something of a persecution complex, one arguably developed in the wake of many anti-Catholic sentiments voiced by American Episcopalians. Egads, we would be wildly dishonest here if we did not admit that many in the Episcopal Church are not only vociferously critical of Rome; they're Episcopalians in spite of Rome (there are few former RC Episcopalians who speak charitably of their RC backgrounds). Add to this that many conservative Evangelicals find RC foolishly pagan except in matters of abortion and sexuality; and that many liberal Evangelicals accept RC's social justice programs and yet snicker at papalism and its heirarchy, and you've got the makings of a Christian tradition that feels quite isolated and abused.

I am not defending your abrasive interlocuter; I am merely trying to frame his actions within the religious clime in which we find ourselves.

Peace be with you,


Stasi said...

To reveal a little more: the "interlocuter" was actually raised Baptist and switched to Ro Cath. Because he wanted to be more conservative than Southern Baptist. Also he definitely considers Fuller liberal. I consider it conservative. I didn't mean to imply that he did as well.

I think the reason I was bothered by this was because of the 180 degree turnaround in an extremely short manner of time, and the fact that we'd been bonding a bit and I felt really comfortable with him, then suddenly realized I had to put my guard up.

And actually, the interfaith dialogue I do is VERY civil and respectful. I have never once encountered someone so ignorant about the propriety of such speech. Clearly he had a visceral reaction to what he guessed I was. But I've never been in an interfaith situation that went to these extremes. They're actually really quite tolerant.

I think the answer lies in the closeness between us. We both came from the same school and somewhat expected to be on the same wavelength. But in fact we discovered we are at opposite extremes in a mostly middle-road seminary. And that, instead of being a place to laugh and learn, became something uncomfortable. For which I am grieved.

I was upset not because he hurt my feelings or something, but because the dialogue was cut off and the burgeoning connection lost. I thought I'd found a new friend - a sacramental one at that! which is a great rarity at Fuller - and I didn't. Which made me feel terrible. Simple as that.

Bill Gnade said...

I shall say a prayer for you and this angry man. I am all too familiar with the sudden turnaround, the 180-degree turn that whips the neck from side to side.

But I am also glad to hear that you have fairly thick skin. Yes, of course, our faith is often its most effective when we share our vulnerability and weakness, but there are times to turn heel, to really turn the other cheek (so to speak), and walk away, in love.

Peace be with you,