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Issue Date:  February 27, 2004

Inside the Editor's Desk

Wisdom of an educator

A few weeks ago I had the chance to spend some time with Rabbi A. James Rudin, a longtime friend from my New York days. He was in town to deliver a lecture at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., a suburban city that hugs the state line with Missouri. Ironically, Jim spent his early years as a rabbi, fresh out of the Navy at the time, in Kansas City.

Rudin currently is interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee and is past chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. He has traveled the world in relentless pursuit of building bridges, particularly between the Jewish and Christian communities. He’s met with Pope John Paul II 10 times and has seen more versions of passion plays than an average congregation of Catholics. He was a principal in negotiating the ugliness and the stereotypes of Jews out of the once notorious passion play in Oberammergau Germany.

Rudin holds John Paul II in high esteem and says Jews will always remember what this pope has done in the area of Christian-Jewish relations. Jim also knows his Christian scripture and Christian history. He is an engaging teacher and was speaking to a packed house in Overland Park Feb. 11 on two topics: “Vatican II and How Catholics Changed Their Views of Jews” and “The Gibson Movie and the Jewish View of the Passion Story.”

Most of the discussion was about the latter. He has seen the movie twice, once with several thousand evangelical pastors, he said, in a megachurch in Florida.

He explained that passion plays have historically misrepresented not only Jews but the reality of the Roman occupation and the historical brutality of Pontius Pilate, and he said that disagreement over Mel Gibson’s depiction of things in “The Passion of the Christ” does not necessarily occur along a Christian-Jewish divide.

Rudin objects to the film for what he sees as perpetuations of stereotypes that have, in the past, led to persecution of Jews. He said he knows Jews who think the film is not that bad and evangelicals who say they wouldn’t recommend it for a number of reasons, chief among them excessive violence.

When he was asked by a Jewish woman what she should do to help her children understand the controversy, he replied with the wisdom of an educator. Teach them about the Christian scriptures so that they understand the truth of the matter, he said. Educate the children.

Along that line, religious educators are telling us the guide we published last week provides a handy and easy way to direct meaningful discussion based on the film. If you’re interested in purchasing extra copies of the guide for religion classes or small group meetings, contact Jo Ann Schierhoff at (816) 968-2239.

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The seemingly endless fallout from the sex abuse crisis; bishops who refuse to be accountable for their actions; forces who want to return the liturgy to pre-Vatican II practices; increasingly harsh church language about gays and lesbians; orders from on high that certain topics not be discussed. If you’re feeling the church is becoming a place where selfless love and compassion are being replaced by salvation by rules and exclusion, here’s some hope: Thomas Groome’s What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life. It’s reviewed by NCR publisher Tom Fox (see story). Groome’s return to an essential Catholic imagination and wholeness injects a much-needed dose of healthful optimism onto this pallid, aching landscape. I’ve given a copy of it to all my grown children.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004

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