Thinking Out Loud

October 2, 2018

Parallel Trends in Other Faiths

Not realizing the direction my life would take, I regret to say that I only took one Religious Studies course at the University of Toronto. It was a rather broad survey course, probably used as an elective for Nursing students or Engineering students who needed a “soft” course to round out their program.

The professor said something that has continued to captivate me to this day. In the previous decade, a hot topic in Christianity had been The Charismatic Movement, a movement marked by instances whereby the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ were turning up in places not normally considered Pentecostal in theology; not the least of which was the gift of speaking in tongues, or what is known as glossolalia. The teacher said that this was not exclusive to Christianity but that glossolalia was turning up in other faith streams as well, and had longstanding expressions in religions not at all affiliated with Christianity.

That rocked my world. To my mind at the time, anyone not following Jesus was pagan, so how could pagans speak in tongues? Or did this confirm the suspicions of conservative cessationists (though I didn’t know that word then) that all of this was of Satan, not of God?

The idea of elements of movement having parallels in other faiths brings me to today’s topic…

…We had walked down Toronto’s Brunswick Avenue following a sign for a yard sale, that turned out to be rather misleading. She had things on sale. And they were in her front yard. But not enough to warrant the block we had walked. As we were about to take a shortcut through a small park, a small building, not much more than the size of one housing lot, caught my eye.

As it turned out it was the First Narayever Synagogue. I peered through the window, and someone inside saw me and opened the door. A few minutes later, we were standing in the lobby looking at the inside. It was Sukkot and downstairs there was a crowd of people sharing a meal together in celebration of the high holy day.

It was then that the person who had opened the door told us that it was “an egalitarian Orthodox synagogue.”  Wait, what? You can do that? It was confirmed that the women — at least the two we saw — were wearing a head covering, one of which was the familiar kippah (or what we sometimes call a yarmulke) normally worn by men.

Again, my world rocked. My brain is still trying to wrap itself on the idea of being egalitarian and being Orthodox at the same time.

Critics of egalitarianism in Protestant circles argue that this is simply the church capitulating to the broader culture. An echo of the feminist movement of decades gone by, perhaps. But it does mean that the same cultural pressures apply equally in other faiths.

The website states, “Our shul follows the traditional Hebrew liturgy, with changes made for the purposes of gender egalitarianism.” That would seem to imply inclusive language. And yet, in matters of theology and practice, still Orthodox. The page also states clearly that their services are what Evangelicals would term “seeker friendly,” and again with no hint of theological compromise; the charge often levied at Christian groups who structure their service to welcome guests.

…In another way what we saw reminded me of Next a church in downtown Kingston, Ontario which is characterized by its lack of parking. This is a neighborhood congregation, though again, being Orthodox, many would live within walking distance of the synagogue, since driving a car would constitute doing work on Shabbat.

As is taking pictures. We were told that wasn’t possible. The one above is from their Facebook page. The one below we took outside after leaving. I’ve always wanted to sit through an entire service in a synagogue, but assumed that if I did, it would be one of the major ones in Toronto’s large Jewish community.

Now I think I’d rather it were this one!

 

 

 

 

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