Friday, March 7, 2014

Pope Francis Flips the Conversation – A Model for All

There has been a lot of conversation in the Catholic world as of late. Pope Francis is being toted as a Pope like none other. He is speaking about the foundational value of Christian love and grace for all members of the Church. He is applying those core concepts of his Catholic faith heritage and community to conversations about women’s roles, same sex couples and other topics that have long been fodder for great conflict and consternation in the church. He is what one commentator called “flipping the conversation,” that is focusing on individuals and their rights and well being within the rubric of the Church and its standards. Conversations are now about commitment ceremonies and rights for same-sex couples, not about marriage per se. His supporters applaud his forward and compassionate thinking and approach while his detractors say he is too vague and obtuse and not going far and fast enough with changes! As I see it, he is appropriately negotiating the tenuous balance beam both maintaining the integrity of the Church while applying the values of the Church to life in the real lane. The change that he is looking to make will hopefully be well planted within the Church and lasting. In order for this to happen, as I always say, we cannot change in five minutes what took years, decades, even centuries to evolve into our present reality.

I think it is important to note that what he is doing is so consistent with core Jewish principles of Halacha as well in showing compassion and caring for each other regardless of, even in spite of, our differences in beliefs, levels of inclusion and such. I know that I am sometimes so disappointed and sad with the conflation of so many different elements in critical concerns connected to Pikuach Nefesh – saving and preserving the sanctity of life of all members of our entire community – that conversations too often are about politics, personal sensibilities and everything BUT this well being and sanctity of life we are to value above all else. I have personally been accused by some in Orthodox circles of going against Halacha in supporting and teaching this position.

I love the notion that Halacha (Jewish Law) and Halicha (the way we go and move and walk) come from and are the same Hebrew root and word. This conveys a very important message to me -- that Halacha and Halicha move together in a symbiotic manner, maintaining both the standards of Law and the reality of human nature of those living by its dictates. It is this dialectic that I witness daily during my study of Gemara. I am consistently heartened by the argumentation in our Talmud over precisely this point, jockeying between stringent and more lenient decisions on so many manners out of concern for the individuals who are observing the law. Further, so often these discussions end with TEKU, meaning – Let the argument, and the various practices represented stand. We will move on! What a great sentiment, why can’t we all continue to use that thinking today?

Many times in the Tanach, G-d is frustrated with the Israelites and calls them on the carpet, so to speak, for exactly that – being so wrapped up with the specifics of the place, the sacrifices, the worship rites and other details of the laws, that they forget the needs of the people right in front of them, and in the words of the prophet, “will sell the poor for a pair of shoes.” G-d is quite clear through the mouthpiece of these Prophets of Social Justice. DO NOT BOTHER WITH THE RITUAL UNTIL YOU WORK ON YOURSELVES AND HOW YOU TREAT AND SHOW CONCERN FOR EACH OTHER.

Maybe Pope Francis is responding to so much history in our world where this has been lost. Maybe he is trying to remind us of this basic religious tenet of Catholicism. That is the purpose of grace and compassion.

And for us as Jews … we are often reminded that one of G-d’s many names is RACHMANAH, Compassionate One. Let us continue to flip our own conversation and learn to follow G-d’s lead, showing this compassion for each other; the rest will follow!

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