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Mochas, midrash and mysteries: An interfaith dialogue

“I have to meet this man!” I exclaimed after reading a July, 2012 feature story about the incoming spiritual leader at Ashland’s Temple Emek Shalom, Rabbi Joshua Boettiger. Writer John Darling captured the essence of Rabbi Joshua’s spirit and approach by quoting him: “You can build a fence and decide who’s in and who’s out; or, you can build a fire and see who comes.”

That image of a warm campfire that attracts, warms and creates a space for real human encounter and conversation compelled me. Powerfully. Mysteriously. Now, over two years later, I (a parishioner of Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Parish) have experienced the warmth, the light and the spirit of inquiry that mark Temple Emek Shalom under Rabbi Joshua’s humanistic and faith-guided leadership.

How did we start our commitment to dialogue and what’s our method?

We started our intentional dialogue with a fundamental text, "On Heaven and Earth," an account of the friendship and conversations between Argentinians Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis). The book captures conversations on 29 topics, ranging from “On God” to “On the Future of Religion”. Last summer, my wife handed me the book, the last copy available at Bloomsbury Books, suggesting that “you and Rabbi Joshua should try this.”

Each of our conversations is spurred by a favorite mocha from a different cafe, moves through a process of respect-based exchange and exploration (“midrash” it’s called in the Jewish tradition), and covers personal, pastoral, and existential questions (“mysteries”).

Why are we writing this series?

We decided to extend our inquiry to you, inviting you to join in our conversations. If you’re so inclined, grab a mocha (or another thought-stimulating drink) and reflect with us, as we co-create with you a deepening sense of what’s at the heart of “life itself”— the mystery of being and becoming more fully human through intentional living, active inquiry and sincere conversation.

We will alternate writing the monthly installments in this series, so that our individual “voices” emerge — always, with the other in view.

Rabbi Skorka on dialogue

Rabbi Skorka opens "On Heaven and Earth" with “How We Experience Dialogue.” “And G-d said to them ... “ (Genesis 1:28) shocks us with the awareness that G-d actually talks to us, person-to-person, and has made us for relationships, in which truthful and loving communication is central.

“True dialogue is at the heart of the thinking person’s life and demands that each person tries to get to know and understand the person with whom they are conversing.” Skorka’s words frame and illuminate the experience I have in dialogue with Rabbi Joshua: Thought is required; we get to know each other through sharing our questions and insights; we come to understand each other better and better through this regular and on-going exchange.

Rabbi Skorka also reminds us that true, heart-to-heart, respect-based dialogue reveals and illuminates the participants to themselves. Each person in the dialogue, by sharing her/his truth, elicits a comparable truth in the other. Each “sees” herself/himself more fully, more clearly.

Like Rabbi Skorka and Cardinal Bergoglio, we believe that earnest dialogue is “the only way for us to understand what it means to be a human being moving ever closer to G-d.”

Thank you for journeying with us. Why not invite someone from a different spiritual tradition to have coffee or tea — and conversation? You’ll move closer to G-d, together.

Daniel Murphy attends Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Parish and encourages “human flourishing” through Integrity of Life Services.