by Rabbi Rami Shapiro: Sitting among a young, diverse, and collegial group of ministers and rabbis, I listened attentively as
they shared their various and innovative efforts to bring people back to church and synagogue: changes in music, changes in seating, more contemporary readings and less traditional ones, shorter sermons or the elimination of sermons altogether. Noticing that I had remained silent during the discussion, one pastor turned to me and asked, “What’s your take on why people are leaving church?”
“I left synagogue life almost 20 years ago,” I said, “so, really, I haven’t anything of value to offer.”
“But you must have an opinion.”
I smiled. “Of course, I have an opinion. I make my living having and sharing opinions. But let’s be clear that what I am about to say is just that: my opinion. And in my opinion people leave church and synagogue because they find attending church and synagogue a meaningless exercise.
“I only care about one thing: awakening in, with, and as God understood as the nondual source and substance of all reality. I value tradition only if it promotes awakening. I value community only if its supports awakening and the ethical principles of justice and compassion that arise naturally from awakening. I left synagogue life because it did neither. I suspect I would leave church life for the same reason. Synagogue is all about being a Jew, church is all about being a Christian, I am all about being a human awake to God manifesting as all life. While I applaud your passion and creativity, I respectfully suggest you are tinkering with the delivery system when the problem is the product being delivered.”
“You were right,” the pastor said. “That isn’t helpful”
I smiled, shrugged, and waited for the conversation to change.
Someone else asked, “Mysticism aside, how might we go beyond tinkering with our delivery system?”
“Here’s my fantasy. If I could, I would find a local minister and a local imam who shared my passion for God and the mystical side of our respective religions. Together we would incorporate as something tentatively calling itself “ASH House.” ASH would stand for Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. We would buy a building that could accommodate three separate spaces for worship: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim; offices for a rabbi, minister, and imam; and our respective music leaders and educators, and a school for Jews, Christians, and Muslims—kids and adults—rooted in our shared mystical passion for awakening in, with, and as God, and honoring our unique ways of achieving that awakening and living the ethical demands that awakening contains.”
“Why three worship spaces? Why not just one?”
“As an Air Force Chaplain, I saw the limitations of sharing worship space: mainly the necessity to keep the space as generic as possible so that the specific artifacts of each faith could be moved in and out easily. I’d rather see separate spaces that allowed for a deeper experience of the mysticism and magic each religion offers. Three spaces would also erase scheduling problems when holy days overlap. All three spaces would, of course, be open to all ASH House participants.”
“And you really think this would bring people back to religion?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. But, given how cool this venture would be, I don’t care. It is worth trying regardless of its success or failure.”
Sadly, that was the last word and our gathering dispersed. Still, I love the idea. If anyone wants to give it go, let me know.