Interfaith Zoom Life in Pandemic Times

I have always loved February. My parents had their interfaith wedding in a blizzard on February 13th. So I love the deep February snow when it comes. And I love the chocolate hearts, since the first day for my parents as a married interfaith couple was Valentine’s Day, a day devoted to love. During the six years of my life when I lived on the equator in Senegal and Brazil, I missed the snow (and Valentine’s Day). But in the Brazil years, the joy of Carnaval in February was the highlight of the cultural calendar, and a peak life experience for me, creating a new layer of love for February.

This year, February feels grey and icy cold indeed, as our isolation from each other goes on, and on. We are marking our first pandemic February, closing in on a full year living with masks, and distancing, and the loss of almost 2.5 million lives to COVID-19 worldwide (and almost half a million lives in the US). All of us are mourning. All of us are traumatized. And I wonder at times whether it is relevant, or appropriate, to carry on with my work making space for interfaith families and interfaith identities, or any other kind of “non-essential” work.

But the light is returning, more people are getting vaccinated, and we have hope that we will emerge eventually into a new normal. The story of my parents teaches me that love, combined with persistence and empathy, is essential. And so, I still get joy from supporting interfaith couples and families. So here is an update on what I’ve been up to during these pandemic times.

My work with interfaith families now takes place entirely on zoom, podcasts, telephone, and the internet, which has created the ability to support people anywhere, in any time zone. I have acted as a resource this year for undergraduate students, graduate students, and divinity students, all studying interfaith families, on several countries. This gives me great hope that there will be more academic literature soon, telling the diverse stories of interfaith families, across the globe.

I can zoom into religious studies classrooms anywhere now, without the travel expense. I am honored to be the guest this week, talking about interfaith families and interfaith identities, on Array of Faith. I am interviewed on this podcast by J. Dana Trent, who wrote The Saffron Cross, a book describing her own Christian and Hindu interfaith marriage. Now she has taken pandemic classroom guests to the next level. For the students in her Introduction to World Religions course, she and her husband created the Array of Faith podcast to host speakers with various religious identities.

And in honor of Valentine’s Day this week, I was invited back to State of Belief, the long-running radio show hosted by Rev. Welton Gaddy and the Interfaith Alliance. You can hear me there this week, chatting about interfaith love, interfaith families, and what has changed since I last appeared on the show eight years ago. Welton hosts the show from Monroe, Louisiana, which is one of the towns my rabbi great-grandfather served as he made his way up and down the Mississippi in the 19th century.

Another highlight of my professional year in the pandemic was a zoom keynote at The Guibord Center in LA, in conjunction with an expert on mixed race families, in which we addressed the intersection of these two rich and complex worlds. There is a significant overlap of interfaith families, interracial families, and LGBTQ+ families, and I hope to engage more with these synergies, going forward.

Meanwhile, the support networks I created online have become a refuge, where we can engage with each other without masks or fear of contagion. For interfaith families practicing two religions (any two or more religions or secular identities), join the private Network of Interfaith Family Groups (NIFG) on facebook. And for adult interfaith kids, I recently started up the People of Interfaith Family Heritage private group on facebook. More on that project soon!

Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

Successful Interfaith Marriage: In a Blizzard

Boston Snow, photo by Susan Katz Miller

I spent a lot of time worrying this week about my pioneering interfaith parents (88 and 82) braving the New England blizzard. More than two feet of snow covered their home, the house I grew up in. But miraculously, the power and heat stayed on. My mother, an artist, finds the snow thrilling, gorgeous. As the storm approached, I heard excitement, not fear, in her voice. I suppose there’s a reason she loves a February snowstorm.

Fifty-three years ago today, my parents got married in my mother’s hometown in upstate New York. A brave rabbi presided (few rabbis would perform an intermarriage in those days). My mother’s Episcopal minister from across the street said a blessing. And then, a blizzard descended and the guests got snowed in at the hotel. An epic pyjama party ensued.

The next morning, on Valentine’s Day, my parents consumed a giant chocolate heart for breakfast–a wedding gift sent by a friend. To this day, my parents are chocoholics. My father hides chocolate espresso beans and nonpareils in his sock drawer. And every year, my father sends all of his children and grandchildren heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, with handmade cards drawn on shirt cardboards.

I don’t usually give my parents anniversary or Valentine’s gifts. But exactly sixteen years ago this morning, I gave birth to their first grandson (in a hospital just a baseball’s throw away from Fenway Park). The next day, a nurse put a foil heart sticker on my son’s tiny hat for Valentine’s Day.

These are the themes of February in my family: snow, chocolate, love. The snow reminds us to slow down, experience awe, and snuggle. The chocolate represents the sweetness between grandparents and grandchildren. And the love of my parents for each other continues like a powerful blizzard, sweeping away all objections, blanketing our family, our world, with beauty.

 

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.