Being Both: 5th Birthday!

Being Both box of books

 

Five years ago today, Beacon Press published Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. For me, that publication day was the culmination of three generations of experience in my interfaith family. And it was the moment when I took a stand, after a lifetime of hearing that interfaith families are problematic, for a more objective journalistic and academic treatment of the benefits and challenges of being an interfaith family. I also hoped to shift the interfaith family narrative away from straight white Jewish/Christian couples choosing one religion, to encompass the kaleidoscopic interfaith family reality of many religions, many family configurations, and many interfaith family choices.

Today Show, Sue Hoda Ben Kathie
With Kathie Lee, Hoda, and my teenage son.

These five years have been exhilarating, and at times magical. Being Both made it to The Today Show, The New York Times, NPR, CBS, Time, Salon, and over 100 other media outlets including newspapers, blogs, and podcasts. I was invited to speak about my work at the venerable American Academy of Religion, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, as a keynote speaker at the Unitarian-Universalist General Assembly, at colleges and universities, to groups of rabbis, and at seminaries.

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I am so grateful to all of you who continue to buy the book, talk about it with friends and family, write online reviews, and invite me to speak and give workshops. As a result of your support, I believe that Being Both has made a difference in how religious institutions and clergy view interfaith families, and in how we as interfaith families think about ourselves.

Another goal, in writing Being Both, was to help spur a whole new interfaith family literature, making space for the voices of people from Muslim/Christian and Hindu/Sikh and Pagan/atheist families. Together, we are doing that. And Being Both is now cited in academic literature, and taught in universities and seminaries, helping to build a field of serious scholarship around the topics of interfaith families, multiple religious practice, and complex religious identities.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of interfaith couples and families began seeking me out as a consultant or coach. So, I founded the Network of Interfaith Family Groups (NIFG) on facebook, to help families celebrating more than one religion to find each other in regions across the country, and to meet up, or even form new interfaith family communities. And I helped to inspire a lively and growing Muslim/Christian interfaith family facebook group.

IFJ CoverEventually, I realized that I could not personally meet with every interfaith family, and that in order to help more interfaith couples and families, I needed to write another book. The Interfaith Family Journal (coming this March from Skinner House) is for any interfaith couple or family, living anywhere, with any two or more religions in the family tree. This workbook, filled with interactive exercises and creative activities, takes couples or families through a five-week process to help them figure out how to amplify the joys of being an interfaith family, and surf through the challenges with confidence.

I read once that five years is the perfect spacing between siblings, because each child gets the full attention of the parents. And we know that each child has unique needs and gifts. I think of Being Both as a lively and challenging child, filled with what my Jewish father would call chutzpah, and what my Protestant mother would have called “animal high spirits.” It’s a book that is hard to ignore, full of ideas and stories, daring to claim space in academia and in religious institutions for families celebrating more than one religion.

In contrast, I think of The Interfaith Family Journal as a highly sensitive and introverted child: observing, asking gentle but profound questions, reflecting back. Rather than staking out academic territory, the Journal is entirely devoted to meeting the needs of interfaith families who are desperately seeking an objective framework for moving forward, a practical resource based on my decades of experience.

And while this newborn Journal will be, in some sense, a younger sibling, it has a broader and more universal goal. It will serve the whole wide world of interfaith families, including any and all religions, single parents, adoptive parents, LGBTQ people in interfaith families, intercultural/interracial interfaith families, those who want to choose one religion, those who want to teach their children many religions, and religious nones.

Often, folks ask me, “What’s your next book about?”

This book, and the next, and the next, will be about interfaith families. I have an entire library of interfaith family books in my head, clamoring to be written. The interfaith family is my life’s work–the work I was born to do–and I intend to bring you as many of those books as I possibly can.

 

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of The Interfaith Family Journal, and Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.

Interfaith Families in the Jewish World

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Philadelphia Sukkah, Leslie Sudock

 

How are interfaith families creating a new Jewish reality in America? That was the theme at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit in Philadelphia this week, organized by InterfaithFamily. The summit was attended by some 350 Jewish leaders: rabbis, Jewish educators, leading academics who study Judaism in America, and Jewish funders. I was honored to be invited to speak there about interfaith families celebrating both family religions.

I had just five minutes, and touched on these points:

  • 25% of Jewish parents in interfaith relationships are raising children both, or “partially Jewish.” That’s more than the 20% raising interfaith children “Jewish only” by religion (Pew 2013). So the number of Jewish parents who want interfaith education for their interfaith children is significant, and growing.
  • These “doing both” families want to engage with Judaism. So please engage with them, rather than excluding them from Jewish education because they also want interfaith education, or ignoring them with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about the other religion in their lives.
  • Interfaith families doing both already exist in many Jewish communities. So the question is not whether you should include them, but how to acknowledge their presence, engage with them, and learn from them.
  • Rather than always asking about the difficulties and challenges, be open to hearing about the joys in interfaith families. Think about how your community can benefit from interfaith families as highly skilled bridge-builders and peacemakers.
  • Jewish leaders would benefit from working hand-in-hand with clergy from other religions to support interfaith families, rather than competing for souls.
  • Nothing about us without us! We need more adult interfaith children involved in organizing these conferences, speaking on the panels, telling our own stories, and shifting the frame into the reality of the present. That means listening not only to adult interfaith children who claim “just Jewish” identities, but also to those who have complex, fluid, flexible, intersectional “Jewish and” identities, including people who are multiple religious practitioners.

These messages echo my New York Times Op-Ed, published when my book Being Both, and the Pew Report on Jewish Americans, came out simultaneously in 2013. What has changed three years later is that now I am in touch with Jewish leaders from across the country who are working with “doing both” families, who feel less conflicted about the idea, and who see the logic of including rather than excluding people who want to be part of the greater Jewish community.

Going forward, it is clear that interfaith parents who want interfaith education for their interfaith children are going to play a larger role in the Jewish world. The next question is which of the Jewish funding organizations at the summit will be visionary enough to invest in helping clergy, educators, seminaries, and Jewish communities to engage with this new reality. I stand ready to help, as a guide and interpreter, and as someone who has been thinking about these issues for a lifetime now.

(For more on the summit, see my tweets from the day on Storify here)

Susan Katz Miller is the author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, from Beacon Press. She works as an interfaith families consultant, speaker, and coach. Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

Jason Segel: Growing Up Interfaith, Then and Now

Kippah from Guatemala, photo Susan Katz Miller

This week, on his “WTF” podcast, comedian Marc Maron conducts a long and thoughtful interview with actor and screenwriter Jason Segel (Freaks and Geeks, How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five Year Engagement, The Muppets). Segel has taken on an ambitious role, playing writer David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour, a film opening in theaters today. Wallace wrote the iconic, postmodern novel Infinite Jest in 1996, and committed suicide in 2008.

In the first half of the interview, Segel speaks at length about his childhood growing up with a Jewish father and a Christian mother, and his education in both religions. His parents sent him to a Christian school during the day, and to Hebrew school at night. As he describes it, “At Christian school you’re the Jewish kid, and at Hebrew school you’re the Christian kid. I think that’s the nature of groups,” he said. “And so everyone wants to compartmentalize people. And I think I decided at that point, like OK, its just me versus the world kind of.” Segel questions the decision made by his parents: “Neither of them are religious. So they made this decision that they were going to let me decide, which is like the dumbest thing you can do for a kid.

I write a lot about the idea that there are both challenges and benefits to growing up as part of an interfaith family. And, I write about the linked idea that whether your parents choose one religion, or both, or none, or a third religion, or all religions, there are going to be both challenges and benefits to each of those pathways. For many of us who grew up in earlier generations, when interfaith marriage was less common, and less tolerated, the challenges sometimes seemed more obvious than the benefits. But there is a danger in projecting those negative experiences into the present and future, when our children are growing up in a very different, much more fluid and flexible religious landscape.

So, I was frustrated to see that Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, picked up the podcast story and ran a piece today, leading with the idea of Segel growing up “half-Jewish and complete outsider” (their words). Clearly, by leading with this idea, the intent was to use Segel’s story as a cautionary tale, warning parents away from dual-faith education, or from interfaith marriage in general. So, I would like to make a few points in response:

  1. I agree that it is not good to put pressure on interfaith children and make them feel they are uniquely burdened with the task of deciding on a religion. Those of us in interfaith families communities dedicated to raising children with both religions teach our children that they are interfaith, because they are born into interfaith families. And we teach them that all human beings grow up to decide on their own religious beliefs, practices, and affiliations.
  2. Yes, it is a problem when religious communities exclude or marginalize interfaith kids. We need to continue to work on changing these attitudes and policies if we want interfaith families to remain engaged with religion, and to find supportive communities. And in an era when we have interfaith families are everywhere, parents and teachers need to be educating all children in order to eradicate religious bullying and put more emphasis on compassion and the Golden Rule.
  3. Yes, it is a problem when interfaith kids grow up without any interfaith peers. But today, 25% of intermarried Jewish parents are raising children “partly Jewish and partly something else.” Progressive Jewish communities are filled with interfaith kids, many of them getting interfaith educations. So these kids look around and see a lot of other interfaith kids just like them. They don’t necessarily feel marginalized anymore. So those of us, like Segel, like me, who grew up in earlier generations, may find our experiences are not that relevant to parents making decisions about children born today.
  4. Yes, it is essential for interfaith children to have support for integrating two (or more) cultures in their families, rather than bouncing back and forth between two separate religious worlds. Interfaith family communities provide that opportunity, in a context where all the kids are being raised with both religions. Going forward, we need clergy to work together, across religious boundaries, to share in collaborative support of interfaith families, rather than competing for souls and bodies in the pews. And this collaborative support is important, no matter what decisions those families make about religious labeling or religious education.
  5. Segel tells the tragicomic story of being asked to stand up at his Christian school and explain his bar mitzvah, and then getting beat up the next day. In contrast, in Being Both, I tell the more recent story of Jared McGrath, an interfaith child raised in an interfaith families community, who attended Catholic school, and invited his classmates to hear him read from the Torah when he turned thirteen. It was a moving and educational experience for his classmates, and his extended family, and for Jared. No one got beat up.
  6. Haaretz neglects to mention that in the interview, Segel speaks with great affection and appreciation about the fact that his parents are still together, that they have family get-togethers, that they are coming to his movie premiere. In my book, this is a successful interfaith family.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

A Millennial Perspective on Interfaith Marriage: When Unchurched Meets Unmosqued

Frank and Medina
Frank and Medina

 

 

(Note: Today I’m pleased to share this space with guest blogger Frank Fredericks.)

I recently read Susan Katz Miller’s Being Both, which is a practical, story-based guide on the many options interfaith couples have, with a particular focus on the feasibility of raising children in more than one faith tradition.

Being in an interfaith marriage of my own as a Millennial, I was fascinated by the different approaches offered, but at times felt like the discourse within its pages was for Gen X’ers, who are now raising children, whether toddlers or teens, and Boomers, the generation before them.  The challenges presented to them as interfaith couples include communal acceptance, birth and coming of age rituals, and ultimately identity in adulthood.  I believe Millennials will be facing slightly different challenges.

While reading, I reflected on my own marriage with Medina, who is a Muslim of Afghan and Mexican descent, and grew up in an interfaith household.  We are Millennials, both practicing in our respective faith traditions, but not particularly tied to specific congregations.  We believe, but our community of social interaction is wider than our religious community.  We both strongly identify with our religious communities, I as an evangelical Christian and Medina as a Muslim, but we are both extremely wary of institutions who claim to represent us.  We’re thus taking stock of what we want to give to our children when we begin, and what we’ll leave behind.

Reflecting on our own childhoods, I attended church, Christian schools, and even played guitar on worship team for both, while Medina attended mosque with her mother, and went to Islamic school after the regular school-day.  We both grew up fairly entrenched in our own traditions, but as adults no longer seek congregational life to experience the fruits of our religious traditions.

And it appears that Medina and I are representative of a larger trend of Millennials and religious practice. While the headlines often highlight the trend towards the growing non-religious identity among Millennials, there’s something else that’s equally telling: While two-thirds of Millennials identify with a religious tradition, only 22% of millennials actually attend weekly religious services.  In other words, the majority of Millennials religiously identify but do not belong to or regularly attend services with a congregation.  This has been referred to as the “unchurched” or the “unmosqued” movements, with a similar parallel for young Jews as well (granted, with a completely different construct for religious identity).

As a result, we’re not troubled by the same things Gen X interfaith and Boomer interfaith couples are.  We really don’t care at all about congregational acceptance. And like many people outside mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations, birth and coming of age rituals are simply not a part of our religious traditions.  Granted, some of this is denominational, but as interfaith relationships become more widespread, Millennials in interfaith couples will be much more likely to come from communities beyond Jews, Catholics and mainline Protestants, including my own evangelical tradition, which although the largest religious group in America, has historically been more insular.

But one can argue, all this non-institutional Millennial hogwash might simply be a phase.  Perhaps we too as a generation will return to the pews and prayer rugs when our firstborns shock us with the life-changing initiation to parenthood.  Interestingly, the research hints that some of us may never do so. In American Grace, by Robert Putnam and Joseph Campbell, they outline how not only are Millennials attending weekly religious services less than those belonging to older generations, but they are also attending at a lower rate than those generations did at the same age. Essentially, this means that though one’s likelihood to attend a house of worship increases as you get older, each subsequent generation is attending less frequently, even when adjusted for age. The big question is how close to the pattern Millennials will stay, once they become parents.

Even if Millennials in interfaith relationships stay out of congregations even after entering parenthood, we still face plenty of challenges. Like the generations before us, we must grapple with identity, family acceptance, and family tradition. In fact, in the absence of congregational liturgy, the challenge of feeling “authentic” in individual worship, balanced with shared family ritual, may be even more difficult to navigate.

So when Medina and I have our first child, we may not be able to take wholesale all of the wisdom from the interfaith generations before us. But we can learn from how they created new religious responses to a changing landscape, to forge the religious practices of the 21st Century. I’m sure more of Being Both will become relevant as those of us in my generation become parents. And I pray that our children will find our innovations on religious life applicable for them, when they too face a changing religious landscape, just as we learned from the generations before us.

 

Frank Fredericks is the founder of World Faith, a global interfaith development organization, and Mean Communications, a digital strategy firm. He’s the shockingly fortunate spouse of the wildly intelligent and beautiful Medina Fredericks. He tweets at @frankiefreds

Being Both: The Paperback

Opening the first box of paperbacks. Random House pattern echoed in my grandfather's Persian carpet.
Opening my first box of paperbacks.

 

Today, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family comes out in paperback. For me, the paperback release also marks one full year on the road with Being Both. In DC, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and California, I have entered into deep interfaith family conversations, with Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, Bahai’s, Mormons, Unitarians, Pagans, Hindus, and those with complex religious identities, with theologians, seminarians, religious studies professors, ministers, rabbis, parents, grandparents, and interfaith children.

One of my goals in writing this book has been to encourage adult interfaith children to speak out about their own experiences in interfaith families, and to encourage those from interfaith families to bring their skills to interfaith activism. I see that happening now. Whether we are Hindu and Muslim, atheist and Buddhist, or Jewish and Christian, we’re here. And we have our own stories to tell. This is the end of the era when people could write or lecture about us, without us.

For delivering this book to the world, and for supporting Being Both through a very successful first year, I must again thank agents May Wuthrich and Rob Weisbach, and my visionary Beacon Press team, starting with Amy Caldwell, Will Myers, Travis Dagenais, Tom Hallock, Pam MacColl, Jessie Bennett, Jenah Blitz-Stoehr, Alyssa Hassan, Rob Arnold, Daniel Barks, and extraordinary cover designer Gabi Anderson. Beacon Press publishes books that leap across traditional boundaries and challenge readers to think (and live) outside the traditional boxes. I am profoundly grateful that they took a chance on Being Both, and that the readers of the world have endorsed that leap of faith(s). I also must thank Gabi in particular for the fact that this book (whether in hardcover or paperback) glows with warmth and beauty. Yes, it’s available as an eBook, but I think you will find the physical object very pleasing.

And now, on to year two of traveling, speaking, and sharing interfaith conversations with all of you. I’m planning California and Oregon, Philadelphia and New York. Contact me about a Being Both event in your community.

Reminder, Upcoming Events:

Chicago, Friday October 24 at 8pm, Kol Hadash Humanistic Jewish Congregation, at North Shore Unitarian Church, in Deerfield IL. All are welcome!

Baltimore, MD, Wednesday November 5 at 6:30pm, Book Talk and Signing, Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral Street.

Frederick, MD, Sunday November 9, Adult Education talk at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick (10am) and Book Talk and Signing, Curious Iguana Bookstore (4pm)  RSVP on Facebook.

Takoma Park, MD, Sunday November 16 2014 1-3pm, Book Signing and Paperback Release Celebration, at Now & Then. Refreshments, including Being Both M&Ms! RSVP on Facebook.

Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press. Please support local brick-and-mortar bookstores!

Video: An Interfaith Boy, an Interfaith Community

 

When my mother, an interfaith families pioneer, watched this video, she said, “Well Sue, you don’t need to go out on speaking tours anymore–just have everyone watch this video instead.” I think she was kidding. I mean I hope so. But she has a point, because this charming and thoughtful credo, in the voice and words of a 13-year-old, makes the case for interfaith education, in under five minutes. So please do watch “The Interfaith Musings of Raphael B.”

I have known Raphael since he was a small boy with deep questions: questions that drove his parents to seek out an interfaith community. This spring, Raphael completed eighth grade, and the Coming of Age curriculum at the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington (IFFP). As part of that program, he spent a year reflecting on his interfaith education with psychologist Dan Griffin, his official mentor from the IFFP community. One result was this thought-provoking video, first screened at our group Coming of Age ceremony earlier this month. (And Rapha, thanks for the shout-out to my book, Being Both!).

So if you are worried that interfaith children raised with both religions will end up confused or disengaged, you could read my book for reassurance. Or, you could spend five minutes listening to Raphael as he describes how he feels, right now, about being an interfaith kid in an interfaith community.

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

 

Listen, Include, Engage: Progress for Interfaith Families

 

My parents, interfaith family pioneers, still kicking and strumming at 83 and 89
My parents, interfaith family pioneers, still kicking and strumming at 83 and 89

 

A couple of years back, the venerable Jewish Daily Forward published a blogpost in the form of a letter attacking my family for celebrating Christmas. I waited several days before responding. Meanwhile, readers and bloggers rushed in to decry the “snide” “condescending” “offensive” “anti-interfaith family” tone of the original post. One wrote that it “paints a scary picture for interfaith families in the Jewish community.”

But in the six months since the publication of Being Both, I have witnessed a different picture emerging. I have been honored to give talks sponsored by synagogues, Hillels, Jewish Community Centers, and a group of rabbis. I was invited onto an interfaith family task force by my local Jewish Federation. And The Forward chose my beloved rabbi, Harold M. White, the Jewish Spiritual leader of my interfaith families community, when I nominated him as one of the most inspiring rabbis in America for 2014.

Granted, progress comes in fits and starts. Sometimes a leader from a synagogue discussion group calls asking me to speak: these congregants are worried about intermarried children and grandchildren who are often “doing nothing.” They wonder if “doing both” might not be a richer experience for their grandchildren, and a better bet for Jewish continuity. Whenever I receive one of these invitations, I have to ask if they have checked with the rabbi. More than once, I have received a call back from a frustrated and embarrassed congregant dis-inviting me, and explaining that the rabbi sees my mission as counter to the mission of institutional Judaism.

And yet, everywhere I do speak, I see the religious landscape shifting, with extended families and religious institutions far more willing now to support interfaith couples and children, even when they must “share” them with another religion. And that means that interfaith families have many more good options for finding community than they did a generation ago, whether that community is Jewish, Christian, Unitarian-Universalist, secular humanist, or (like my own Interfaith Families Project) intentionally interfaith.

Just this spring, I realized once again how far we have all come when The Forward, the same media outlet that published that scathing letter addressed to me two years ago, asked me to join the roster of experts for their new interfaith relationship advice column, The Seesaw. The expert panel includes an Orthodox Jew living in Israel, a Christian spouse, and Rabbi James Ponet (Chelsea Clinton’s rabbi). I am the only panel member raising children with any formal religious education beyond Judaism.

If I were to design my own roster of experts to give advice to interfaith families, I would of course choose people raising children on many different religious and non-religious pathways. But given the chance to represent something other than the “you must raise kids exclusively Jewish” perspective,  I said yes. The comment section on The Seesaw is at times filled with sarcasm and intolerance, and at least one of my fellow respondents regularly despairs over my responses. But over all, I enjoy seeing how the respondents reflect diverse Jewish viewpoints, often displaying a deep sensitivity to the nuances and complexity of interfaith family life.

I advocate for the Jewish community (and all religious communities) to engage with, rather than exclude, parents who expose their children to more than one family religion. Given that Pew Research has found that 25% of intermarried Jews are raising children with more than one religion, the logic of including rather than spurning these families seems very compelling to me, even when viewed through the lens of preserving Jewish institutions. And this spring, I see a flowering of support for the idea of providing Jewish content to all families who want it, creating meaningful Jewish experiences for them, and allowing children to grow Jewish roots, even if they are putting down roots in more than one family tradition.

I celebrated my birthday this week, in my childhood home, with my pioneering interfaith parents (who are 83 and almost 90). It seemed like a fitting moment to look back on an exhilarating six months of public interfaith conversations. If you are in the Washington DC area, I hope you will join me for my final interfaith talk of the season, at the MLK branch of the DC public library this Wednesday at 7:30pm.

And if you haven’t been able to get to a live Being Both talk, you can watch two new videos. One is a webinar posted by Religions for Peace USA, in which I chat with Aaron Stauffer of Religions for Peace USA, and adult interfaith child Samantha Gonzalez-Block. The other is a video of an event at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University, in which I appeared with Georgetown’s Erika Seamon, author of the excellent academic book, Interfaith Marriage in America. Erika’s history of interfaith marriage at the beginning of the program is fascinating, and don’t miss our lively Q&A with students and faculty at the end.

I already have plans for talks in Chicago and New York next fall. Let me know if your community wants to be included in either of those visits, or if you want to host a talk elsewhere in the country. I look forward to a conversation that will continue with all of you, growing deeper and wider and more complex, next year, and into the years ahead.

 

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.