Forty Shades of Ecumenism

Girl About Town. Toxic Tale. Heroine. Flat Out Fabulous. Sweet and Sour. Stunner.

Unchanging. Gospel. Zen Rose. Love Temple. Divine Choice.

Tribalist. No Faux Pas.

Up the Amp.

Lipstick colors at the Mac Cosmetic kiosk, where I watched my daughter try forty different shades.

Bored, I looked around, hoping to people watch. A middle-aged Woman About Town caught my eye, and said, “I have a Mac Gift card. Would you like to use it?”

Intrigued, I asked for more information. And heard a Toxic Tale. Just completed a Ph.D. $40,000 in debt. Received a gift card, but can’t justify expensive makeup. Since I was shopping at Mac, would I buy the card for cash?

Sure, I said – an easy way to be a Heroine.

I asked about her Ph.D. thesis, and sympathized with the long process.

“Are you an academic?” she asked. Yes, I’m a Jew teaching at a Christian seminary.

Did I know about Rabbi Shapira, a charismatic Israeli Messianic Jewish teacher? Hundreds come to hear him speak. After all, Jesus appears throughout the Old Testament, she said, referring to the Christian practice of “typology” — identifying veiled hints to Jesus in the Hebrew prophets.

Ah! She thought I was a Christian Jew.

For her, an awkward financial transaction had become a Flat Out Fabulous spiritual encounter.

And, though I am not Christian, I did not correct her, because I also liked the feeling of our encounter.

Even though, really, this was a Sweet and Sour moment. Sweet: because two spiritual seekers connected. Because she felt we reached towards the same God. Sour: because the language she chose assumed that her theology is the one we share. For her, all religions express a universally human hope for Christ’s kingdom on earth.

This was also a Stunner of a moment: because I realized that I make a similar assumption.

My theology is Kabbalistic. God is “Eyn Sof,” infinite Divine Energy, a single substance expressed in everything a person can experience: matter, emotions, and ideas. Religious ideas, too, express the one Infinite God. All religious ideas point to this One God. All religious people want only to feel God’s presence everywhere.

For me, interfaith encounters are easy to accept, as long as I can translate them into my theology.

Am I really a Girl About Town? Maybe not.

The next day, I sought help from the
Journal of Inter-religious Studies
(vol. 13, Feb. 2014). Nine articles list many ways interfaith dialogue can go wrong. People who know little about their own religion’s teachings can try to discuss, defend, and compare. Teachers with local religious education can misrepresent a living global tradition by presenting a single, official theology. Highly learned theologians might teach patriarchal views, ignoring the lived experience of women. Any person of good will can assume that all religions are fundamentally the same – the same as theirs, to be precise.

Yes, I’ve been guilty of them all. Limited knowledge, denominationalism, unwitting sexism, reductionism.

But now I get it. Forty shades of Mac, forty shades of religion. Don’t be a Tribalist. No Faux Pas, please.Up the Amp lipstick

The synchronicity is unbearable. Unchanging. Gospel. Zen Rose. Love Temple. Divine Choice. You can’t reduce these to a single colour. Even if you, personally, can only wear one.

My task is to be more like my shopping daughter. Note each colour. Put it in context. Observe carefully. Realize it takes time.

It’s time to Up the Amp on my ecumenism. Which, coincidentally, is the lipstick shade I bought.


Photo credits: Hillary Kaplan and Laura Duhan Kaplan

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