On September 20, 2015 over 100 women and men gathered to participate in the symposium entitled: “Why We Stay: The Changing Role of Women in our Faith Communities.” The four-hour event filled the Sunday afternoon with meaningful and inspiring interfaith dialogue.
At “Why We Stay,” participants listened to six brilliant panelists describe their faith background, their feminist identities, and the challenges they face. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Judith Plaskow, Amy Levin, Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair, and Amina Wadud represented the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths well in their learned, passionate dialogue from the panel. Participants were able to engage in Q&A sessions with the panelists. The highlight of participation occurred in the table-based discussion groups. Attendees sat in dialogue in one session with members of their own faith group, then later, in interfaith groups. Each group pondered prompts such as: can you be a feminist and an observant Christian, Muslim, or Jew; What are your struggles and strengths concerning observance within your own community; what is being done to overcome challenges and move forward?
The panelists were featured in the event because of their participation in the book Faithfully Feminist, a compilation of writings by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women about their individual experiences. To learn more about the book and the event panelists, go to www.faithfullyfeminist.com.
Thoughts from Judie Kuhlman and Leslee Estrada on "Why We Stay:"
Interfaith Cincy website managers and fellows at the Brueggeman Center for Interfaith Dialogue at Xavier University
When I think about my faith, I have to start back to when I was a teenager and when I realized that God was not off in a far away, untouchable place. As a teenager going through many struggles, I once prayed to see a shooting star. For on that same night, I was awaken in the middle of the night and told to go to the window. I opened the curtains and saw a beautiful shooting star reaching across the midnight sky. For some reason, through the spirit within me, I made a wish. Why? Maybe…because I was a hopeful teenager? I made a wish and asked God for someone to love me the rest of my life. I felt so silly that I made that wish because I was not interested in dating anyone. I tried to forget about it. But a few years later when I was in college at Notre Dame, I met a guy. He just so happened to share the same Chemistry lab drawer with me. He was my lab partner. He was silly and goofy looking, so we became friends. A little while later, he asked me out to one of the dorm dances (actually it was his roommate that asked for him because he was too nervous). When he walked me back to my dorm, we had our first kiss that night. And above his head, was a shooting star! I felt so sick that I wanted to vomit. I could not believe it because by that time I had forgotten all about that wish I had made back in high school. I knew, seeing this star, that there was a beautiful mystery of God that knew my thoughts, hopes, and dreams. A few years later, my husband proposed to me by the lake where we would always talk. After he proposed to me, looking up at him, again, there was that beautiful shooting star reaching across the sky. It was the shooting third star. There was no doubt in my mind what I had seen. My stars represent Faith, Hope and forever Love. This was the beginning of my dance with the Lord. This is why I stay.
For me Catholic spirituality has led me deeper into my dance with the Lord. I have learned a rich spirituality through the lives of saints and mystics like Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross and St. Francis Assisi. Though praying the rosary and meditation on scripture, I have found a deepening sense of self and found a deeper calling to justice and service towards others. Being able to over come doubt, shame, fear and so many other life illnesses was through my faith in sacraments like the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. This is why I stay.
I found my true love through the gateway of my religion. My faith is what I hold on to when there is nothing under my feet. My faith is that confidence in asking to see that shooting star, or recognizing God that surrounds me in that gentle soft breeze across my face, or when I call upon God’s love and that white butterfly dances around me when I mourn my father’s death.
My faith has led me to be a better mother to my children. My faith has helped me to navigate through the pressures of our culture. My faith has led me to be more compassionate and understanding through my reflections of Christ. My religion has taught me love and mercy. My faith has given me the ears to hear what those around me are saying. My faith has led me to be a more open and loving person towards others. My faith has allowed me to see the beauty of others in their own faith journeys. This is why I stay.
There are times that I must confront my faith and ask the deeper question of why I stay. I am challenged when I see my faith community cause harm by our words and actions or when we turn the other way when their brother is in need. These are the scars on my heart and the cross that I carry. Yet, I do dream of a church without a ceiling and the pews facing forward with my three shooting stars above my head and my neighbor and husband sitting on either side of me. God loves and calls for us to love one another. The God I know is one that keeps me awake at night then sends me out in the morning to serve others. The God I know hears the hurt, the shamed, and the marginalized and calls us to action. My God challenges me to show others why we should stay and to seek peace and justice while transforming those around me. I hear that voice asking me - Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see? Do you know what I know? This is why I Stay.
As I study to become a rabbi in the Reform Jewish tradition, I spend a lot of time navigating the space into which I fit my spirituality, culture, values, and feminism – all of which intertwine as I continue to form my identity as an adult. My growth in identity has been greatly aided by the study of Jewish texts. The wisdom of my forebears guides me toward my own wisdom.
“Why We Stay” reminded me of an excerpt from Talmud, Sanhedrin 17a:
‘Rabbi. Johanan said: None are to be appointed members of the Sanhedrin [court made up of leaders of the community], but men of stature, wisdom, good appearance, mature age, with a knowledge of sorcery [so as to be able to detect those who seduce and pervert by means of witchcraft, cf. Rashi], and who are conversant with all the seventy languages of mankind, in order that the court should have no need of an interpreter.’
This text, dating to sometime around 500 CE, highlights several key characteristics that the rabbis thought would make for a better leader. With a critical modern eye, I glean from this text several important lessons that parallel my experience at “Why We Stay”:
· “Men” are mentioned as a given in the text, but not as a defining characteristic. The defining characteristics of the leader begin in the text with the word “stature.” I often struggle with the androcentric language of my tradition, and of the world around me today, but I find that there is space for women, for me, in the language. Sometimes the space is easier to find; sometimes, I have to read the word “men” as “people.” At “Why We Stay,” being able to use the term “women” over and over again (especially in a positive light) was a refreshing change of pace.
· Wisdom, good judgment (my interpretation of “stature”), maturity, and experience are traits that the panelists of “Why We Stay” embodied. So too did the participants that I spoke with at the event embody these traits. I was very grateful to engage in conversation with several special women and men at the event, whose stories and ideas expressed to me that wisdom, good judgment, maturity, and experience are accessible to all. Indeed, these special people have inspired me in my growth of these characteristics.
· The “knowledge of sorcery” and ability to speak seventy languages are not to be understood as literal characteristics, even within the context of the original writers. Rather, both characteristics speak to the ability to intrapersonal intelligence. We should value the insight it takes to communicate effectively with others, to understand the motives behind their words and actions, to model honesty and transparency. “Why We Stay” gave the participants access to space unfettered by social pressures and ‘niceties’ that block free communication. Open, frank, heartfelt dialogue flowed at the discussion tables across the religious, cultural, socioeconomic, etc. boundaries that usually divide us. Women and men spoke; women and men were heard.
As I read to the end of the passage from Talmud, the same question sprang to my mind as did from many of the participants who filled out surveys at the end of “Why We Stay.” We ask: what now? We have this experience and this insight – what can we do with it? My colleague Judie and I have tossed around ideas for how we can utilize this website to answer such a question. We would like to dedicate a section of this website for interfaith peoples to discuss the reasons why they stay. What are your thoughts on such an endeavor? Please leave comments, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.