Interfaith dialogue is a "spiritual emergency," EL2010 leader says

January 21, 2010

When asked why interfaith dialogue is relevant today, Jhos Singer, a 2010 Earl Lectures workshop leader, points to history. “Looking back, it’s evident that death and destruction, hatred, vilification, a lot of pain, and suffering have come out of the path of spiritual chauvinism,” he says. “We can see in this day and age the importance and the spiritual emergency of feeling secure with our faith without having to ram it down someone else’s throat.”

Singer, a maggid (Jewish preacher) in Half Moon Bay, spent four months last fall as a “spiritual resident” in the UCC Congregational Church of San Mateo. The exchange was spearheaded by Penny Nixon, senior minister there, to encourage interfaith understanding and collaboration. Singer and Nixon will jointly lead a workshop at the Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference discussing their interfaith experiences.

During the months of classes, sermons, conversations, and epiphanies, Nixon, Singer, and their respective communities learned about the other’s faith—and their own. “It is my strong belief that the more we honor other traditions, the more we can go to the heart of our own as well,” Nixon says. “The wisdom of all traditions rises to the surface as we learn from one another, and it helps us see others in the light of God. We have to gather around people working through passion and justice, regardless of what faith tradition they’re from.”

The similarities between different faiths create an anchor for further discussions of differences, Singer explains. From the comfort zone of commonalities, “We can see we’re connected to same trunk, and what’s good for you is good for me,” he says. What’s more, Singer found that even though Jewish and Christian communities have often been at odds in the past, he had the unusual and sacred experience of practicing his faith with those of different backgrounds. “I had this beautiful moment in conversation with Penny and other congregants after a sermon I gave. We all realized that together we’ll produce a beautiful flow of spiritual information, understanding, engagement, and life,” he remembers. “When you’re chasing the divine with someone who runs in the opposite direction, you have to find a lane you can both run on and chase it together.”

Singer and Nixon will present the workshop “The Ring of Fire: Interfaith Dialogue with No Holds Barred” (January 27, 11 am-12:30 pm). Their conversation will explore the challenges, insights, and healing of interfaith relationships and invite questions from workshop participants. A varied selection of 20 workshops featuring leaders in theology, ministry, and education are offered through PSR’s annual Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference. Workshops are open to the general public, those in all walks of social change and ministry, and clergy. Registration at the door for the Leadership Conference workshops is $125. (There is no need to register to attend the lectures only, which are open to the public at no charge.)

Founded in 1866, Pacific School of Religion (PSR) is a multi-denominational Christian seminary in Berkeley, California. The school is committed to theological education for lay people and clergy alike and is a member of the Graduate Theological Union, the largest and most diverse partnership of seminaries and graduate schools in the United States. For more information, see psr.edu.