How a rabbi found a Methodist publisher

April 2nd, 2015

When he hosted the first White House Passover seder in 2009, President Obama was reflected a growing trend: Christians hosting a Passover celebration. Soon thereafter, I began to receive invitations to speak at local churches about Passover. I realized a book was needed. What was written was either overly-simplistic, unnecessarily complex or just plain wrong.

Having already built a decent platform, I worked with an agent to find a publisher. The most attractive offer came from Abingdon Press, also known as The United Methodist Publishing House. I'm not sure this dry church knew that the Passover meal involved four glasses of wine! Yet, the match was a good one from the start.

Seeing why it works gives us insight into how the spiritual landscape has changed, and highlights new ways we can grow spiritually. Here's what I learned:

1. We look for inspiration from many sources: Gone are the days when a Baptist wouldn't read a book by a Catholic, or a Jew wouldn't read a book by Presbyterian. Two of the most popular religious voices of the last century are Father Thomas Merton and Rabbi Harold Kushner.

Many of us might agree with an eloquent prayer included in the Jewish prayerbook, "Open our eyes, that we may see and welcome all truth — whether shining through the wisdom of ancient revelations, or reaching us though the Prophets of our own time ... for You, God of love, of justice and of peace, continue to shed Your light on every generation that yearns for You and seeks Your guidance."

2. Christians are open to the Jewish roots of their faith: In speaking and teaching at churches, I have seen an unprecedented openness — even eagerness — among many Christians to explore the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Knowledge of Jewish texts and traditions can bring Christians closer to their faith. It can deepen the experience of prayer, expand the meanings of biblical passages, and open our eyes wider to the role of God in our lives.

3. Jews no longer speak only to themselves: For many generations Jews wrote and studied primarily with other Jews. We let profound wisdom remain hidden in texts accessible only to those who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. That wisdom, however, can speak to people of all faiths.

The last few decades have witnessed attempts to make that wisdom more inviting and accessible. The Talmud has been translated into English. Hebrew is taught at many universities. Simply put, Judaism is not only for Jews.

This change does not mean all religions are the same. The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, is credited as the first person to use the phrase "agree to disagree." As people of faith, we will not always agree, but we can agree to disagree. And we can continue to learn from one another.

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