Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
October 22, 2001
Priest, rabbi share their stories
Pair tell how they have learned from each other's faith
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
CALGARY — Each morning when Father Michael Duggan was a teenager, his father dropped him off at St. Mary's High School, located directly across the street from the former Beth Israel Synagogue.
Duggan recalls gazing through the opaque windows that adorned the Jewish house of worship and seeing the shadowy outlines of men praying inside.
"This is the way men should begin their day," Duggan recalls thinking.
Duggan related the anecdote to about 160 people attending a Jewish-Christian dialogue on Oct. 14. The dialogue was sponsored by the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews-Alberta region and held at Beth Tzedec Synagogue. A Conservative Jewish congregation, it is the largest synagogue in Alberta.
Duggan, along with Beth Tzedec Rabbi Moshe Saks, delivered the opening remarks for the dialogue.
While waving goodbye to his dad as he set off to work, Duggan often glanced at the synagogue sign with its Hebrew lettering reading "House of Israel."
Looking at the script and its unpronounceable words, Duggan decided he would one day study Hebrew.
"That's where a love for the Hebrew Bible came to me," said Duggan, who has a doctorate in biblical studies, went on to study it in Rome and Washington. He is currently assistant professor of theology and coordinator of religious education at St. Mary's College.
Duggan related another childhood memory. He recalled how his baseball team lost every Friday evening because their best pitcher was absent. The pitcher, who was Jewish, missed Friday games because he was observing the Sabbath.
Duggan used those anecdotes to talk about how, in order to be human together, people must grow together.
He urged the multi-faith audience that when it comes to the relationship between church and synagogue, to pay attention to their intuitions and feelings rather than doctrine and historic facts; to pay attention to how it feels to be together - and to be apart.
While Christians often regard Judaism as legalistic, Duggan pointed to the creative, intuitive, often imaginative discourses of learned rabbis down through the centuries.
Conversely, he noted how Christianity began life "in the Spirit" only to become extremely legalistic over the course of its history. That's why there are 2,600 Christian denominations, Duggan said. In that regard, there's something to be learned from the Jewish community, which is far less fragmented.
Further, Christians need people outside their own tradition to better understand it, he said. For example, Christianity is only beginning to understand the Crusades, the Inquisition and Anti-Semitism because of what people of other faiths are saying about those periods.
Duggan also noted that the Jewish and Christian communities have only begun to examine the role of women in society during the past century. "The challenge is how to balance the feminine and masculine and appreciate the full breadth and depth of the traditions," he said.
Finally, Duggan suggested that deeply rooted in the idea of prayer is the importance of study and asking questions. "Adventuresome inquiry is essential," he said.
Living religious traditions require a combination of faithfulness and questioning, he said. Fossilized traditions function by demanding loyalty and exercising control through shame and fear - fear of being discarded or made irrelevant.
"We need each to be free of the demons of fundamentalism and be a witness to the faithfulness of fidelity," he said.
For his part, Saks also related some childhood experiences with Christianity. In fact, there were only a couple of Christians in his Philadelphia neighbourhood.
His first direct encounter with Christians occurred when he was bused to an elementary school where four-fifths of the students were Roman Catholic.
Then, in his final year of high school, he was involved in an inter-faith discussion where a young girl asked some innocent, albeit bigoted, questions about him. "Right then I knew it was crucial to do some outreach from the Jewish community," said Saks, who has been involved in inter-faith activities ever since.
At the time, his mission was to educate others about Judaism. But, as fate would have it Saks, in turn, learned about the faith of others, particularly Christians.
It wasn't easy. At one point, Gert, his secretary of six months who was an evangelical Christian, resigned. Gert told him she cried daily because, although he was a wonderful man, Saks was doomed to hell because he didn't believe in Jesus. While Saks' wife was furious, Saks himself cried because he understood her pain.
That said, Saks noted that Jews have a large chip on their shoulder from centuries of persecution. "It's very difficult being in a minority," he said.
Then reflecting on events of Sept. 11, Saks believes the only way people can live peacefully together is in a pluralistic world. He rejects any philosophy or ideology that says their way is the only way.
"We need to understand we can be true to our faith without co-opting someone else's faith," he said. "We can treasure our way to God and be humble enough to recognize others' way to God."
Uncovering stereotypes and finding points of commonality doesn't mean that everyone ends up the same, he said.
Furthermore, there needs to be similar dialogues with Muslims and people of other traditions so that all can understand what they believe and shed the stereotypes, he said. "That's our task and I relish it."
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