Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Michael Asks The Question

Today, Dr. Art Shriberg gave a speaker introduction, and made a terrific joke that I will take liberty to share with you. He said that when he just started to work at Xavier University, he thought that SJ meant Slightly Jewish. What got to me is that he might be right. I know that SJ means Society of Jesus, but in a way we all are slightly Jewish, slightly Christian, slightly Muslim, slightly Buddhist. Probably some of the religious views that each of us has can be found in other religions. So are we all slightly interreligious? Then why is it so hard to engage in a dialogue, if most religions share the same values, teachings and have the same rights and wrongs?

As part of today’s session at the Northern American College there was an open floor discussion and anyone could get behind the podium and address the audience, and share their views. Listening to all these people I was amazed to see how much work all of them are doing to get people involved in a conversation. Maggie and I played it brave and took the stage. Below is a brief summary of our speech. Maggie also informed the audience about all the great programs and initiatives that are taking place on Xavier’s campus. I know that she will talk about this in her posting.

In between sessions, we shared a lunch with students at the Northern American College who are preparing to become priests. It was a great experience. Later in the evening we dropped coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure that we come back.

From today’s presentation...

We often talk about starting a dialogue, but what is dialogue and how often does it happen? I often think of dialogue in the same way I think of friends: you only have few great ones. We call a lot of people our friends, when in reality we hope to have 2-3 great friends through our life. We often say that we engaged in a dialogue all the time, when in reality the dialogue that has a life-changing experience takes place only a couple times. Often, when we talk, we just try to persuade the other side to adopt our views. What happened to the authentic dialogue that was cherished so much by the ancient philosophers - did it get lost in agendas? The dialogue is not about trying to change the other side, it is about challenging your own views, taking in what others have to offer and using it to become wiser, to become a stronger, better character.

The hardest part about a dialogue is admitting to yourself that you might be wrong. But if you can’t let go of your dogmas, of your agendas, then you are not ready to engage in a conversation.

Every dialogue starts with a question. That being said, most of the questions that are asked daily are boring and stereotypical. Let’s take for example one of the most popular questions in the U.S.: What do you do? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to ask: what is your gift to the society, what is your passion? But we do not want these questions, they are tough and we are not prepared to respond. The dialogue can start only when we learn to answer these questions or at least when we will not be afraid to approach them.

What question do you think would spark the dialogue worth having?

Thank you,
Michael

35 comments:

Jean Lim said...

Michael and Maggie,
My name is Jean Lim and I am a new Theology 111 instructor at XU. I am so happy that you are blogging your experiences and thoughts on your wonderful trip. We are currently studying interreligious dialogue and did a quick look at Judaism, so I am looking forward to inviting my classes to read and post comments to your blog. Many blessings in your important work!

Juan M. Hurtado said...

I strongly agree with what you have to say, and realize that before trying to change the world first we must change ourselves. Without engaging in a conversation by going in open minded it will be like the conversation didn't even occur, that may also be why one only has so many meaningful dialogues and a small amount of really good friends. We must be willing to be listeners and not just speakers.

casey selzer said...

I agree with Juan's comments. I think before we ask other people deep meaningful questions, we must be sure to ask ourselves those questions and come up with our own answers. If someone wants to ask another person why they are Jewish, that person should have already looked inward and figured out why they were a Christian.

XUniverse said...

Thanks for your comments to the blog folks. As I mention in today's posting, Michael and Maggie are en route home and may be just a tad exhausted. I am sure they will be thrilled to read your comments, if they have not already.
Why do you think people are so afraid of those not like themselves?

Amanda DeGraw said...

I don't believe that many humans like change. With change comes a stipulation for learning something new. Many people find it easier to just go along in life with a "routine," and never give any thought to how their lives could be different if they tried to do something new or look at things from someone elses perspective. If people were more accepting towards change, it would bring a lot of good to the world.

XUniverse said...

A number of years ago, a dear friend of mine died. He was Jewish and his family and friends gathered to read what I believe was the Kaddish service.

The rabbi, knowing we were not Jewish, took the time to explain each part of the service and why it was said. It was not in any way condescending or meant to single us out as the outsiders.

However, it made the experience extremely moving and we were glad to have been included in such a way.

He did not expect us to suddenly convert; rather, he wanted to share this service with us.

I would hope many of us could share our faith in such a way.

Rich Leonardi said...

In order to dialogue with someone of another faith, you surely must know your own. A good start is Peter Kreeft's essay "The Uniqueness of Christianity," taken from his classic book Fundamentals of the Faith. Enjoy!

D. King said...

Michael’s comment about how true dialogue occurs rarely in our lives holds much truth. Too often our in-depth conversations are one-sided and lack listening. This occurs not only within our own daily lives, but also within 'religious dialogue' which sometimes fails to have good listeners. Moving away from the desire to be always a correct speaker, and more towards a true listener provides the right setting for true dialogue.

Matt Dulle said...

I really agree with what Juan said, the msot important thing for interreligious dialogue is for the people participating to have an open mind, but they also must be willing to listen to others opinions.

Courtney Lucas said...

First of all, I support all of your efforts Michael. I do agree with the genral concensus of everyone who has written so far- we cannot take the time to truly question other people about their beliefs and convictions until we know our own. But I also think when we ask someone why are they Jewish, or Islamic, or Christian we will all come to the realization that no matter what religion someone chooses to believe in, they believe in a religion for the same reasons. With this common ground established we can move forward knowing that in life, we all all seaking some sort of answer from the religion we have chosen- one not being any better than the next

kate baldwin said...

In response to the question, "why do you think that people are afraid of those not like themselves?" I would answer that people are afraid of what they do not understand. Often the fear generated by a difference in religion leads to persecution. As we see with this inter-religious dialogue, differences are not something to be feared, but rather embraces. There is so much that we can learn by looking at difference religion and different perspectives.

god said...

I possted a comment and it did not go through. Therefore, I am saying good luck to your learning and may this trip to Rome be a stepping stone to high levels of learning that is hidden within the viels of society.

joanna said...

Thank you for posting on here! I have found your words to be inspirational and true. The part of this blog that touched me the most was the very beginning when you talked about all religions having similar core beliefs. After studying world religions last year, i strongly agree with that statement. I feel that the religions of the world have more in common than people think, but that it is difficult for people to realize this because of the society we live in. Before we start a dialogue, I think we need to ask "What do we have in common?" Only then will we realize that we are not so different after all.

Michael said...

I was trying to respond to every post individually, but the system doesn't allow me to do so. Below are my responses, I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to contact me over e-mail at lobanm@xavier.edu Thank you Dr. Lim for encouraging your students to participate in this on-line discussion.
Juan,
It is a funny thing that most of the people do a lot more talking then listening. It seems like it should be the other way around. We have two ears and one mouth, so we need to listen twice as much. To be open minded is quite hard as our reactions are conditioned most of the time.
Casey,
After reading your comment I remembered the phrase from the movie "Anger Management" when Nicholson asks Sandler the question: "Who are you?" Sandler tried to give a satisfactory answer, but was not able to, and got very aggravated. What if somebody asked me this question? I could say that I am a senior at Xavier University majoring in business, 21 years old, Jewish. But this says almost nothing about who I am as a character; about what defines me as individual.
People tend to be afraid of those who are not like themselves simply because understanding them often requires some if not a lot of work and change.
Amanda,
Thank you for the comment. Change ultimately means one thing: it wipes out the old and brings out the new. Everyone is afraid to be wiped out.
xuniverse,
Thank you for sharing the story with us. A lot of religious leaders often focus more on recruitment and not education. I often hear people say why their religion is better than any other, it is sad in a way.
Rich,
Thank you for your recommendation. I often find people who speak with great affection about their religions, but when asked about some facts fail to give any descent answer. It seems like people believe but are not quite sure in what.
D.King,
Listening requires work and this is what a lot of people fail to understand. We are so focused on trying to be right that if we hear a distinct view, there is a mental block and the information doesn’t go through. But if we hear what we like and agree, then there is an instant feel of gratification.
Matt,
Listening is very important, but the person’s desire to listen often depends on who he/she is listening to. Some people are so awful in sharing their points that listening becomes a very hard work. Often a speaker is so boring that even great points do not register. On the other hand a speaker can be very energetic but very offensive and then you just resent listening. In a way this is a two way street.
Courtney,
What answer do you think we are trying to get from the religion of our choice? It seems that people often tend to be religious just to find some certainty in a very chaotic world.
Kate,
We obviously can learn a lot by looking at other religions and examining them. But do people want to spend their time doing it? It is so simple not to care and not to waste time understanding “the other one”. If I say that Confucianism is a very interesting religion that laid great stress on the cultivation of character, how many people would be tempted to go and research it? My guess is not a lot; as it comes down to the question of time. Lives of most of the people will not change after spending even an hour reading about this religion, so why bother?
Joanna,
Abraham Maslow has proposed a hierarchy of needs in 1945 in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation. If you look at it, it is clear to see that people have the same motivators in life. But what makes us different is what exactly does each of us need to feel safe or to feel self actualized. Religion tends to help people fulfill all these needs. Prayer often helps the person feel safe, religion gives a sense of belonging and purpose and believing in God often helps people understand their purpose. The needs that people want to satisfy are the same, but the things that satisfy these needs are very different.

K.Cabelka said...

I absolutely agree with what you said when you stated that in our lives we really only have a few life changing dialouges. I feel however, that more often than not these life changing dialouges involve religion in some aspect. Since religion is obviously so prevelent in our lives it is a wonder why people try to choose one religion that is right for everyone in the world. To be able to dialouge about religions, people must be open minded and willing to listen to others, despite if they feel that the other's religious views are not right for them.

hngu412 said...

Hi Maggie and Michael,
I really like this post, especially the last paragraph of the post. Life would be much more interesting, if people stop asking boring questions. I really like the suggested questions from Michael. These questions make people think about what they have done, and should do. Great Job.

Nathan said...

Thank you for representing Xavier University in such a splendid way. I admire the courage it takes to get up on stage and speak in front of a massive group of people. Your speech inspired me to speak out about what I am, but more important, to listen to who everyone else is. I know that you can grow from experiences and that others have gone through experiences that we could all learn from. As for a question to spark a conversation... "Why are you pursuing your major and do think it is for the right reasons?"

mcgraile said...

I very much agree with all that you have to say, Michael. One idea of yours that I feel strongly about is that the hardest part about a dialogue is admitting to yourself that you might be wrong. I feel that more oten than not people don't go into conversations with an open mind and it is that single-mindedness that prevents any meaningful dialogue from occurring. Once people are able to admit that they're wrong, they will be more open to accepting other's beliefs.

Rachael said...

Just wanted to say that I really admire the whole concept of your trip. It's very inspiring and encouraging to see XU students working to facilitate and contribute to interreligious dialogue. So glad to be able to get a glimpse into your oppurtunity of a lifetime and to learn from your experiences. Your trip is proof that we all have something to learn from one another. Be it religious or everyday dialogue, I am seeing that my ability to listen and be receptive to other ideas is making me a stronger and well rounded person. I hope that the two of you have come to similar conclusions. Congrats on your accomplishments!

Mike Gordon said...

I agree with your statement in that we must be open and able to change ourselves before we try to change others, and eventually change the world so to speak. I often find myself in arguments trying to get my point across, and if I don't get my point across then it was just a waste of time...I now, after reading this need to realize I need to go along with St. Ignatius' (a companion with St. Francis Xavier) motto of being open to growth. I need to be open to others' opinions before I try to push my point across...Thanks Michael and Maggie, and God Bless!

K. Reilly said...

I agree with Michael about how when we talk, we just try to persuade the other side to adopt our views. This is not what our religious dialogue should consist of. whether than deciding who's right and who's wrong, we need to understand eachothers beliefs. I believe that in doing this, we will see many simularities between our religious beliefs. We need to be open minded and listen to what other religions have to say.

K. Reilly said...

I agree with Michael when he said that when we talk, we just try to persuade the other side to adopt our views. This is not what religious dialogue should consist of. Rather than deciding who's right and who's wrong, we should simply understand other religions beliefs. in doing this i believe that we would come to realize our simularites between other religions. we need to be open minded and listen to other religions.

Tyler said...

I agree with your feelings that we need to be open to growth and be willing to change ourselves before changing others. Having graduated from a Jesuit high school that always emphasized the need to be open to growth, I can definitely relate with that message.

sarah mayer said...

I have to agree with micheal's comments about dialogue. Many people don't want to listen to what others have to say and don't want to change their views. It is very hard for a person who has strong views on a perticular point to want to change them. I think in having a dialogue that questions a certain point is a good thing it makes you think about your own views and helps you realize what is important in life.

sarah mayer said...

I agree with what michael had to say. i think people don't want to change therefore they don't want to have a serious dialogue. I think people should have a serious dialogue becasue it helps make your view points stronger on a certain subject or it helps you better understand the view point of someone else. You then getter a better understnading of the other person as well as learn more about yourself.

Scott M said...

I just want to comment on something Michael said about not dialoguing very often, because we don't know what a real dialogue is. It reminds of what the chaplin in Catch 22 said, 'everyone talks to me, but no one ever says anything to me.' Dialogue is not simple conversation. It involoves puting ourselves out on the line, willing to accept the fact you might be wrong. However, in a real dialogue you must truly believe what you share in a dialogue. You can not just agree for agreement's sake.

Will said...

Michael you bring up many good points. We all must start to learn from eachother and the only way to achieve that is through open honest dialogue. It would provide us with a better understanding of one another which would lead to less conflict. Good Luck in your travels.

Matt Kessler said...

It has been interesting to read the blogs of your trip to Rome and everyone's comments on this. I think you have made many interesting points regarding inter-religious dialogue and people's view of their own faith. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to help us all here at Xavier benefit from your experience in Rome.

Matthew Clayton said...

In a todays world, where there is much violence due to religious beliefs, it is good to see that people are trying to do something about it. Working out our differences with open conversation is, in my opinion, the best way to solve problems and I am glad to see that Xavier students are taking the initiative to do so and to try to make the world a better place. Thank you Michael and Maggie.

Thomas said...

Dear Micheal and Maggie,
I am currently in Mrs. Lim Theology 111 class. We have been discussing your trip and we agreed that what you guys are doing is wonderful for not only the school but the world. I also agree with Mr. Hurtado's comments and that we really must change ourselves first before we can change the world. This dialogue will hoefully open up many doors and oppurtunities to come for all religions and people. Keep up the good work!

Thomas said...

Dear Micheal and Maggie,
I am currently in Mrs. Lim Theology 111 class. We have been discussing your trip and we agreed that what you guys are doing is wonderful for not only the school but the world. I also agree with Mr. Hurtado's comments and that we really must change ourselves first before we can change the world. This dialogue will hoefully open up many doors and oppurtunities to come for all religions and people. Keep up the good work!

Seton Rowe said...

I agree a lot with all that you have said. I agree with the statement that we must go into a conversation with an open mind and not force views on others. I believe that we need to learn about others and be willing to accept change before our dialogue will get anywhere. To go along with this we must be sure to listen to others opinions and not ignoring them.

Kylara said...

Your trip sounds like it was quite an adventure! After you gave your speech did you get any feedback from the audience? Was there anything that came up in the dialogue that you didn't expect to hear? Thank you for representing Xavier so well!

Tyler said...

Michael and Maggie,

I strongly agree with you and your beliefs. We need better dialogue between the religions. We all share this earth why can't we discuss our beliefs and share in the enjoyment of each other's company. Our beliefs are not truly that different, we believe in a god who cares for his people and has provided his people with scriptures to guide their journey. These scriptures are very similar, we share the same beginning to our scripture with the Jewish community. The subtleties in our religious practice can actually work to give us a new found respect for these other religions.

Thank you for all you are doing to better inter-religious relations.

jimmy meyer said...

I think it is great that you guys went out and explored different parts of the world in order to better understand other peoples religions besides your own. People need to know that there is much more to religion than just how one culture interprets it and just learning from one religion. Hopefully you have inspired more people to go out and search around the world for different views about religion and generally about life because we all need to do it sometime so we don't stereotype everyone else without a good reason behind it.