The Center for Interfaith Cooperation has become an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of our city and state. We are honored to be designated the 2018 Interfaith Ambassadors of the Year.
Below are excerpts of the words we spoke on the significance of interfaith at a March 18 event at Newfields (the Indianapolis Museum of Art).
Sandy Sasso: When Dennis and I were studying religion in college, the primer for interfaith was Will Herberg’s seminal book, Protestant, Catholic and Jew. Herberg wrote of ethnic divisions fading against a backdrop of three primary faith expressions, a “triple melting pot” that made up the American landscape. That landscape is now more textured and complicated than ever before. We are a country of multiple identities, of Christians and Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus and secularists.
Despite America being the most religiously diverse nation, we know little about each other. We live in a country, where more and more people when asked what their religion is, say, “none.” For faith traditions to be a source of strength, a resource for values, we cannot simply agree to tolerate one another, but to understand each other, not only the ways we are alike but also how we are different.
In the mid-20th century, interfaith conversations were among the like-minded. We made important contributions, standing together in national crises, building Habitat for Humanity homes; forming alliances to feed the hungry and to welcome immigrants. We worked against discriminatory legislation, prayed and celebrated together.
The interfaith gatherings of this century must build bridges that are far more complex and challenging than before.
Interfaith is not just about getting to know one another; it is about figuring out how to be and work together even when we disagree.
Dennis Sasso: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “… [R]eligion is not sentimentality. Religion is a demand [and] God is a challenge speaking to us in the language of human situations. God’s voice is in the dimension of history.”
I think of religions as languages, different ways through which the spirit speaks, individually and collectively, with their own vocabulary, grammar, rhythm and prosody. Languages are meant for dialogue, not monologue; and interfaith dialogue is the conversation among religions that expands the dictionary of faith, adds new understandings, explores and pushes the horizons of God’s love and justice for all.
Religions are also traditions colored by history and culture, insight and blindness, wisdom and folly, altruism and selfishness. The world’s religions are collective journeys of the spirit to discern the call of the divine through history. In interfaith encounters, we are invited to participate in each other’s travelogue, to go together, to learn and grow from each other’s itineraries, and journey to new destinations.
We may not agree on details of doctrine; our customs and practices will differ; our holidays and life cycle observances will mirror the rhythms of our particular traditions. But in faithful encounter, we will love, care and honor one another. We build on hope, possibility and gratitude.
The rabbis taught: “The time is short; the task is great.” “It is not incumbent upon us to complete the task alone; but together, we are not free to abstain from it.” And, “If not now, when.” (Pirkei Avot)
Sandy Sasso is senior rabbi emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University. Dennis Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.