2 Doing Effective Dialogue-And Loving It

By Winter, Miriam Therese | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

2 Doing Effective Dialogue-And Loving It


Winter, Miriam Therese, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


The phone rang on New Year's Day. It was Chana calling from Jerusalem, an annual interfaith tradition we have been privileged to carry on for over thirty years. During our lengthy conversation we caught up with the essentials of one another's lives, tapped into the wellspring of one another's spirit, and felt and affirmed yet again the strength of our bond.

Chana and I had met at H.O.P.E. Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem in 1974 where, for three consecutive summers, we helped facilitate cross-cultural and interreligious experiences during a six-week interfaith seminar comprised of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, women and men, conservative and liberal, from local contexts and from abroad. I learned much from her about what it meant to be a Jewish woman in Israel at that time. I learned how to keep a kosher kitchen, what prayers to say at various times, and how it feels to be part of a loving family's Friday evening Shabbat celebration. Because I had experienced these things firsthand, I was able to talk about them afterwards and felt comfortable in Jewish settings. Chana, a Sabra, a native of Israel, also learned something from me, an American and a Christian. In the intervening years, this Jewish scholar has held prominent positions in significant Christian contexts beyond her immediate world. Although we approach things differently, on a level that lies beyond words, we are of one accord. I believe our relationship has helped both of us to bring the fullness of our diversity to a variety of conversation circles in a way that is not divisive. It is at this point of conversation, I am convinced, that real dialogue begins.

The Context for Doing Dialogue

What is it? Why do it? Why is it so difficult? How do we begin? How can we make it work? The following pages will address the questions that accompany a decision to dialogue, making specific application to dialogue that is interreligious or interfaith.

Interreligious or interfaith dialogue, at the periphery for decades, has surfaced once again in religious life and in the academy. Today, having achieved widespread relevance and a sense of urgency, it is at the very top of our proposed agendas. Most people are aware we live in a world of difference. This different world is no longer "over there" but in our neighborhoods and often in our living rooms. Our global society is irrevocably linked by networks of communication and economic realities. In an age of instant messaging, distance is irrelevant. Suddenly, everything is right here. Just as swiftly, we are out there confronted by the unfamiliar, catapulted into crosscultural situations our ancestors could never have imagined. This shift in relationship between here and there has brought us to the tipping point. We seem more willing now to face our differences rather than obliterate them, more inclined to seek an understanding beneficial to all.

The "other," the unfamiliar person, lives next door, has married one of our children, is essential to our workforce, and has become an integral part of our American way of life. As a nation of both immigrant and indigenous diversity, we are accustomed to the stranger. What is happening today, however, is different. Previous to this historical moment, those who came to America in order to start a new life left one world for another. Today a vast number of worlds are colliding in our midst, buttressed by media images indicating how, for better or for worse, our nation is inseparably joined to other nations an ocean or more away. The jobs that used to support our families now belong to people on the other side of the planet. So much of what we use and own--the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our electronic equipment, our cars, and the fuel to meet our insatiable energy needs-has come from somewhere else, while citizens in diaspora are establishing an American presence all around the world.

An emerging global society profoundly impacts the way we live our lives, challenging our basic premises, predicting a future radically different from the social/political landscape reminiscent of the way we were. …

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