Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Interseminary Retreat

So, last week, I met 3 others from my seminary, and we, plus our dean (my calls-himself-a-conservative-Christian-but-acts-like-a-liberal-theologian professor and advisor) drove three hours to an interseminary retreat. In attendance there, were conservative rabbinical students, Muslim seminary students, Catholic seminarians, and an assortment of liberal to mainstream Christian seminarians.

Yeah baby!

I have to back up and admit that I was quite nervous before we left. Why? I guess just because I didn't know what to expect -- there were no clear schedules or agendas sent out beforehand. Which caused me to remember that really, we need to be SO CLEAR on our websites about what people can expect Sunday morning, because I'm not a particularly anxious person, so surely there must be other folks who look at our sites, and make plans to come, but then chicken out at the last minute. But that's a sermon for another day.

But back to the retreat ... my suitemates included a young rabbinical student, an about-to-graduate Methodist from a Presbyterian seminarian who is my age, and my roommate (Baptist), from my own seminary.

That she and I were put together was intriguing, because we have a mutual friend who tried to match us up a couple of years ago. It was right after Obama's speech on racism. My roommate is a pastor at an African-American church close to my church. Our friend and I had the idea of putting together interracial dialogue groups. But then Little Warrior was diagnosed with the recurrence, so that went to the wayside.

But now, she was my roommate.

Tuesday night, the Jewish scholar gave a presentation on Abraham's angels, and what hospitality means within conservative Judaism. We chatted afterwards, found we had some similar experiences and clicked. Dontcha just love it when that happens?

The Jewish scholar, hereafter referred to as "The Kick-Butt Rabbi" (a name she has already been given by others, but that I wholeheartedly endorse), was also in my small group. I'm so glad, because she made things real interesting.

The next morning, there was a presentation by the Christian scholar (UCC) on the symbolism of Abraham's angels from a trinitarian perspective.

Afterwards, in our small group, the about-to-graduate Methodist from a Presbyterian seminarian asked the Rabbi what her thoughts were on the presentation. "Do you really want to know?" she responded. The seminarian answered in the affirmative.

The K-BR pulled no punches. "I was completely offended," she said. She went on to explain her feelings about Christians appropriating the Jewish Bible. "It's not the 'Old Testament,' it was not superseded by the New Testament, and Judaism did not end with Jesus," she explained. "You have your own scripture, use it!"

The Methodist seminarian and a Baptist from my seminary (not my roommate) were hurt and confused. This was their first time to run into this. "But, we're grafted from the same root," protested the Methodist.

"That is not what we believe," said the K-BR.

The conversation went back and forth. It was interesting to watch, but at a certain point, a bit frustrating, like watching people speaking two different languages. The Christians just genuinely could not relate to this idea of appropriation. So I jumped in, thinking of Garrison Keillor's recent essay about Christmas. I believe I even quoted his "buzz off" part.

"You know how some Christians feel about Christmas? 'Keep the Christ in Christmas' and that sort of thing?"

They nodded. They felt the same way.

"Okay, I believe that's how the Rabbi feels about her holy books." K-BR nodded assent.

"Now, how do you feel about the Tanakh being studied with forward, not backward motion?" I asked her. (Or something like that.) "Not using Christian theology to interpret it, but to give an understanding to the Judaism that informed Christianity?" K-BR endorsed that.

This, of course, didn't fully answer the wants of the Christians, who protest that they cannot interpret the Hebrew Bible without applying their Christian interpretations to it. It is their holy text, they believe, so for someone to say "Hands off" just doesn't connect. (Although I talked to my Methodist suitemate later, bringing in "Revelation is sealed," vs. Mormonism ... she got the point.)

But it was great to both witness the honest exchange and to come up with an example that seemed to resonate.

More later ...


Lilylou said...

Wow, that must have been exciting! Thanks for sharing it.

Julianne Lepp she/her said...

Sounds like a great retreat. I also conduct the Hebrew Bible vs. Old Testament battle in conversations. It can also be a similiar conversation that can also occur regarding whether we are Unitarian Universalist congregations or churches.

kimc said...

"Revelation is sealed," vs. Mormonism

I'm not sure what this is, but I am guessing that it's about the Mormons, in their view, adding on to the Christian bible. Right?
My sister has become Baha'i (sp?), and it appears that they, also, have added to present scripture. As I understand it from my sister, their Prophet said that all the others prophets who went before were valid prophets, but he (I don't know how to spell Baha'ullah at all....) is the last prophet. Now nothing will ever change again, he has the last word.
Personally, I could never believe anyone who can say that is even wise let alone divine... but that's just me. Or, maybe it's just an unfair assumption that anyone divine must also be wise?