An Interfaith Child in the World: Rise Up Joyful
My children have grown up in an interfaith utopia: a shimmering bubble of Judaism, Catholicism, Unitarianism, Protestantism and Buddhism swirling around them, creating gorgeous patterns. As interfaith couples raising children with more than one family religion, we created a community for our children, to show that interfaith families can be successful and happy while celebrating their full heritage.
Now comes the moment when my daughter, my first-born, must emerge from the beauty of this bubble, or so they say. In a few days, she leaves for a college that is thousands of miles away. She will encounter religious institutions still attempting to assign binary religious labels: Jewish or Christian, Muslim or Hindu, never both. She will hear that interfaith families must choose, interfaith children must fit into one religious box.
And yet, I expect my daughter to change the world as much as the world will change her. I have spent the past year interviewing grown children raised in interfaith family communities for my forthcoming book (Beacon Press, 2013). Based on the experiences of this new generation, I have great optimism that the gifts we have given our children in intentional interfaith communities will serve them well as interfaith activists and as ambassadors for religious peace.
My daughter is literate in two religions, and hungry to learn about others. She stands ready to defend both Judaism and Christianity, and to explain their interconnections. She can ponder the mystery of the universe in two languages. She is primed for deep empathy, building bridges, resisting intolerance.
For my daughter, interfaithness has never been incidental. Her confidence is bolstered by the presence and support of a beloved pastor, and a beloved rabbi. Since graduating from the interfaith Coming of Age program in eighth grade, she has taught in Sunday School classes for four years, getting up on Sunday mornings all through high school to teach interfaith kindergarteners.
At the final gathering of our interfaith community before the summer break, Our daughter stood at the front of the room, so that we could sing a parting blessing for her: an adaptation of a verse from the poem “Prayers and Sayings of a Mad Farmer” by our favorite farmer and poet Wendell Berry:
When I rise up let me rise up joyful, like a bird.
When I fall let me fall without regret, like a leaf.
We also said our weekly interfaith responsive reading, including a Benediction and Charge written by Cantor Oscar Rosenbloom, from the interfaith families community in Palo Alto, California. On the eve of my daughter’s departure, these words took on new resonance:
May we go out into the world carrying with each of us the love and blessing of this Interfaith Community.
May we continue to hold on to what is good
and to stand as beacons of light and understanding for all people.
Demographics are on my daughter’s side. There is no stopping the formation of families across the lines of race, culture, religion and tribe. Some of us will choose one religion, one tribe. Some of us will not. I send my daughter out as a messenger bringing the good news that interfaith children raised with both religions can, not just survive, but truly thrive.
In my mind, my daughter does not exit, vulnerable, from our bubble into some harsh climate. Instead, I imagine that she is breaking off into a smaller bubble, rising on an updraft, taking the beauty of religious fluidity with her, floating out into the world for all to admire. Rather than leaving behind the idea of interfaith community, she will take it with her, gathering the interfaith children of her generation–Buddhist and Jewish, Wiccan and Quaker, Sikh and Catholic—and inviting them into this new reality.