Putting Love First in Interfaith Relationships

The other night I had dinner with a remarkable young couple. Each comes from very serious, beautiful families of different religious origins. He has an Ethical Culture and Quaker background, embodying what I call a secular spirituality. Meanwhile, it was her Jewish parents who arranged our get-together. Both are smart, good, responsible people with whom I’ve worked on creative projects in Jewish life for years.

Our meeting surely (if not overtly) sprang from the unarticulated hope that a trusted rabbi would engage, connect, “draw in” the young man toward a Jewish perspective. But within five minutes, I was reminded how very different our world is than that of our parents and grandparents.

His starting point: A genuine and carefully reasoned position that religion divides and obscures. On the other hand, hers is a belief that religion is valuable and positive, if too often bound by dogmatic and outdated idioms. As a couple, they long to find common ground, and?neither is satisfied to ignore the issues, nor to accept pat answers. Yet, remarkably, this couple feels little anxiety about having to create new boundaries, about customizing and blending their inherited traditions.

As I listened to them, I realized that they represent the very best of what is coming down the pike in religion in America.

Both in their 20’s, they’re much more evolved than I was at their age – able to hear each other, and appreciate nuance in what they believe and value, how they relate to their past, and how they practice. As I listened to them, I realized that they represent the very best of what is coming down the pike in religion in America.

For this couple, love trumps any tension around their particular tribal or dogma loyalties. Their question is how to live a meaningful spiritual life while fusing what they value from their cultural and religious backgrounds. These are mixers, blenders, and benders of traditions – and their metrics are whether the inherited wisdom and practices they are bringing to the relationship actually do the job they’re supposed to do: Help them flourish.

In a matter of an hour or so, discussing what flourishing really means, they arrived at these basic shared values:

– To take care of the less fortunate,

– To cultivate a sense of presence or connection with a power much greater than ourselves,

– To soften the heart so we care about others beyond our own communities,

– To appreciate difference while realizing we’re infinitely more similar than we are different,

– To forgive, and

– To love.

Not bad metrics to determine what we should take from ancient religions for the next era, and not a bad recipe for building a meaningful life together.


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