The blog of the Roaring Fork Valley (Reform) Jewish community
77 Meadowood Drive • Aspen, CO • 81611
Rabbi David Segal and Cantor Rollin Simmons

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Relational Community: the changing American religious landscape

I recently came across these two articles about religion in America and thought they were worth sharing.

First, Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote two weeks ago, in the wake of several studies and articles on religious Americans, that "Media Images of Religious Americans [are] Elitist, Condescending, and Wrong."  I recommend the full post, but I'll just highlight a few key points that relate to our Jewish world here in the Roaring Fork Valley:
Jews have always prescribed two paths to tradition: the path of the mind and the path of the heart. And both are essential to religious well-being...
How should we judge religion? We should judge it by what people know, but just as importantly, by what they do. And we should see religious belief, for all who are inclined to embrace it, as a virtue and a blessing. On this basis, there is no room for doubt: religion is a great asset for our country, one of those things that makes America great.
I sincerely hope that we continue to cultivate that kind of religious outlook in our community.  As Rabbi Hillel said 2,000 years ago, when asked to summarize the Torah "on one foot": Do not do to others what is hateful to you. The rest is commentary: go and learn it. 

Doing AND learning, acting AND knowing: these are both essential to being an authentic Jew.

Second, I highly recommend this fascinating article about what's really going on within American religious communities.  Entitled "Changing Faiths", the article's tagline reminds us that religious Americans are "far more diverse, tolerant, and compassionate than the image of an evangelist upsurge would suggest."
Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren
of Saddleback Church,
author of The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church
The article is a book review about Robert Putnam and David Campbell's new American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.  (You may remember Putnam from his earlier bestseller, Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community.)  What's most interesting to me about this article -- and it's integrally related to Putnam's earlier research -- is the implications for what makes for a vibrant religious community.  In the end, it's more about Cheers than about belief in God, Torah, or the soul, for example.  People want to go "where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came!"  In the author's words:
What makes religious folks collect clothes for the poor, donate to the United Way, and attend town meetings is not just theology or exhortations by the clergy; it is involvement in the life of the congregation, having family and friends there, talking about religion with them, and participating in small groups. "Devout people who sit alone in the pews are not much more neighborly than people who don't go to church at all," they find. "Statistics suggest that even an atheist who happened to become involved in the social life of a congregation (perhaps a spouse) is much more likely to volunteer in a soup kitchen than the most fervent believer who prays alone."
The point is, religious communities are strongest when they are relational communities.  Where people know each other's stories; where they care about what keeps their neighbors up at night, and they share  their hopes and dreams and help each other achieve them.  The particulars of belief and practice are, as Hillel said, commentary: go and learn them, and talk about them together.  But what counts most is whether we are connected to each other, whether we can look each other in the eyes, face to face, and say: I share your joy, I know your pain.  That's the foundation on which we can build a spiritually and morally fulfilling congregation that will bring light to our lives and to the world.  That's what will make us a true community.

We need your help as we continue to rethink how we can build such a relational community in Aspen and the Valley.  Won't you join us?

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