Sunday, 28 October 2018

Pittsburgh – why?

Yesterday, Saturday 27 October 2018, one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in US history took place, according to CNN, when 11 persons were shot dead in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

US Attorney Scott W. Brady said:
The actions … represent the worst of humanity
It is appalling that the person who murdered the eleven people and wounded others have used bible quotations on social media to fuel his anti-Semitism. This is of course nothing new, which makes it even worse. We who confess ourselves to be Christians need to work even harder to stop this abuse of God’s name.

Late Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, Nobel Peace Prize
Laureate in 1930, looks down on the panel. I think he
would have been pleased with the conversation.
With this outrageous background it felt as a positive and constructive initiative that the Archbishop of Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, gathered a group of deacons and pastors on Friday around issues of dialogue between Jews, Muslims and Christians. We who are ordained and employed by Church of Sweden on national level stand under her oversight. Hence she gathers us twice every year for deliberations. This time the theme was
Learning and teaching in our different traditions
The panel consisted of Morton Narrowe, former Rabbi of the Stockholm Synagogue, Mohammad Fazlhashemi, professor of Islamic Theology and Philosophy at Uppsala University and Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Church of Sweden.
It is difficult to cover a one and a half hour long conversation in a blog post. Suffice it to say, most of the time they were in agreement. To me that in itself was a good thing. That religious leaders from different traditions meet in peace and understanding.

One thing I would like to comment, though. The moderator, Jakob Wiren, theological secretary at the Archbishop’s office, has published a book on Christian Education, where he also speaks about the way different religions teach faith. He claimed that textbooks in school often describe people of faith in a stereotype way. If there for instance is a photo of a Jew, he is often orthodox with ringlets. The same with Muslims and Christians. Always the extremes. He wished for the education of school teachers to take this into account and safeguard that they are aware of this risk. Religious people are often alienated or exoticized.

Right now my wife is studying religion at Mid Sweden University. She shares a lot with me and I am under the impression that her studies are taking this into account. The literature and the teacher portrays the different religious traditions with respect and in their web seminars they discuss exactly the issue that Jakob Wirén pointed to. That is reassuring to know.

The illustration shows Judaism as a Tree of Life.
My wife also showed me a report she and her study group produced while she studied at Sigtuna Folk High School in the early eighties. She trained to become a Parish Educator and this study had the title:
Judaism. What can the roots teach us?
She has been working with Christian Education since then. With every age – from infant to old aged. In Sweden and Southern Africa. This also belongs to the full picture. While we as preachers have struggled with our theology on the relation between Christianity and Judaism, the Parish Educators have known better. It is important to know that this challenge lies with every Christian. How to look at the other with respect and curiosity.

I am also happy to be part of the Preaching Blog named Tala väl. (Literally: Speak well - meaning that we have to talk about other people of faith in a benevolent manner. And especially about our Jewish siblings.)

Let us continue the good work and always avoid describing the other in a way that is untrue. The rules of late Bishop Krister Stendahl still stands:
1. When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
2. Don't compare your best to their worst.
3. Leave room for “holy envy.”

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