On Monday, my day off, I met my good friend Rabbi Birnham for a refreshing beverage. Rabbi Birnham, raised in a secular-Jewish family, was ordained in the Conservative branch of Judaism. “Conservative” means much attention is given to the practice of faith (e.g. keeping the Sabbath holy) and much room is given for religious exploration. Except for Jesus, he and I share an understanding of God, how to read scripture, how to put our faith into practice. You might say we’re spiritual brothers from different Mothers. I cherish his friendship.
Rabbi Birnham was keen to hear of my experience in the Holy Land. I spoke, he listened. He spoke, I listened. We often laughed, sometimes shook our heads in shared frustration with the ongoing conflict in that land. He raised again the possibility of he and I leading a Jewish/Christian tour of the Holy Land as a powerful way to learn more about and experience the progressive Jewish/Christian faith.
It was, needless to say, a wonderfully rich conversation punctuated by friendship and trust.
As we rose to leave, a couple next to us caught our eye. He politely asked Rabbi Birnham, “Are you a Messianic Rabbi?”
“A Rabbi who believes in Jesus as the Messiah?
A brief conversation ensued that involved Rabbi Birnham being told that, without Jesus, he would be lost to God.
Naturally, Rabbi Birnham didn’t let this go. He spoke about the importance of people accepting each other without judgment. For good theological spice, he added his belief that God longs for people to learn how to live together with respect and in peace.
“But that’s not Biblical,” we heard.
That was not the time to push the conversation further. I felt embarrassed for my Christian tradition, but Rabbi Birnham, probably used to such responses, left feeling exhilarated. “Wasn’t that perfect?! You couldn’t have scripted it any better. What a perfect example of why the world needs people of different faiths to come together, learn from each other and work together rather than against.”
Once again, I wholeheartedly agree.
Mary Oliver, Evidence
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.