“Hine mah tov…”

When you are studying protestant theology in Germany you have to learn Latin, Ancient Greek and Hebrew. Fortunately for me I had learned Latin and Ancient Greek in school, so I had to learn “only” Hebrew when I started my studies. It was definitely not very easy to learn the language of the Hebrew Bible but in the second attempt I managed to pass the exam. When we learned the language, we not only learned how to read the alphabet and from the right to the left and not only vocabulary and grammar, but we also learned some traditional Hebrew songs. One of those songs has the text

“Hine mah tov uMah-Nayim shevet achim gam yachad“ and it quotes the beginning of Psalm 133. The verse means “Behold how good and how pleasing if brothers (people) could sit together in unity“. The song was also sung at the National Holocaust Memorial Day event, which I reflected about last week.

But it came much more to my mind after I visited a Shabbat service at Glasgow Reform Synagogue last Saturday. To be guest in this service was a very special experience for me. Not only because it was a remembrance service for Holocaust Memorial Day and not only because of the difficult history between Christians and Jews – especially in Germany. The experience was special because I felt welcomed and in a way “at home” that is unusual for visits in places of worship of other faith tradition than my own. Of course it helped a lot, that I was able to follow the Hebrew texts of the liturgy but also the texts itself and the setting of the service felt very familiar. That was of course because Christians and Jews share not only a lot of history, but also a large part of their Holy Scriptures. Probably because of that I had the feeling, that I could truly participate in the prayers say “Amen” to what was said in the service. The differences to my own tradition, which I definitely experienced as well, did not feel larger than when visiting a service in a different Christian denomination. Of course that does not mean that Jews should be seen as just another Christian denomination – that would be wrong and dangerous, but it shows the brother- and sisterhood between Christians and Jews.

Up till now I had the feeling that people stressing the “Christian-Jewish heritage of the Western World” do this mainly to support Anti-Muslim tunes in society, and I think very often this is the case. But during this service, listening together the story how god saved the Israelites on their way through the dessert, singing psalms, praying and remembering the Holocaust I really had the feeling: “Yes we are brothers and sisters. And there is a deep understanding between us. And besides all the differences that should not be denied, we share much more than we ourselves might think.”

If I could have a wish, I would wish that this deep understanding I experienced in this Shabbat Service is possible between believers of all the different religions. I would wish that Jews can pray with Muslims and Muslims with Christians and Buddhists with Hindus and Hindus with Sikhs and Skihs with Baha’I and Baha’I with Jews and so on. That would really be “good and pleasing”!

“Hine mah tov uMah-Nayim shevet achim gam yachad“


List of wishes

December is a month when many people are thinking about wishes. Children might write letters to Santa Claus with their wishes for Christmas and adults might think about what they wish for the new year.

The following is my personal list of seven wishes for the interfaith work in 2018.

  1. No religious violence anymore.

No person should suffer from violence and religions should in no way support people suffering. Politics, society, religious leaders and every believer all over the world should do everything possible to support the peaceful streams in the different religions.

  1. More dialogue

The dialogue that is happening here in Scotland is very good, but there can always be more. And in other places in the world there is less or no dialogue between different religions.

  1. More young people in dialogue

When I visit local interfaith groups this is the wish I hear most often. 2018 will be the official “year of young people” in Scotland. For Interfaith Scotland the work with young people will be one of the most important parts of its work this year, for example by organising a national youth conference in St Andrews in April. Even the UK Interfaith Network is putting much effort in the work with young people (I can tell you more about this another time).

  1. More funding for interfaith work

As everything successful interfaith work depends on funding. Not everything can be done by volunteers and staff needs to be paid, as well as travel expanses and food at events. So hopefully governments as well as private funders and donators will increase the amount of money they give for interfaith work.

  1. More publicity for successful interfaith dialogue

The media seems to talk about religion mainly if there are things going wrong. I would like to see a greater awareness of the benefits of interfaith work in local, national and international media.

  1. More “professional” interfaith work

In Scotland I can experience the benefits of a very good organised interfaith work, run by special interfaith charities like Interfaith Scotland, Interfaith Glasgow, Edinburgh Interfaith Association and the UK Interfaith Network. I wish that many more countries would organize (and fund!) interfaith work in a similar way – not least my homecountry Germany.

  1. More “theological” dialogue

Something popping up in my blog articles from time to time. From my point of view an interfaith dialogue is only complete, if the theological questions are included. That doesn’t mean every single dialogue event needs to deal with those questions. There is definitely a huge benefit in “just” bringing people together and letting them learn more about each other – but from my personal theological point of view the different religions can (and must) also learn from each other in theological questions, but there seem to be very little opportunities for this kind of dialogue.

Good dialogue – Good Neighbourhood

Today I want to share an impressive interfaith story with you and reflect a bit about what good dialogue means.

Two weeks ago, I visited Aberdeen and one person I met there was a local imam. The place of the mosque where we met is very special, because it’s build on the same property as a church. Already this is not very usual and interesting because most congregations probably would not accept to build a mosque on their ground. But the story gets even more interesting. Not only that there have been common projects between the two faith communities on their shared ground but even more.

When the number of people attending the prayers in the mosque grew more and more the building was to small so people started to pray outside the building. When the people from the church realised this, they invited the Muslims to pray inside the church. In the following times the mosque building was enlarged is now directly connected to the church building, and so one side part of the church building became a part of the mosque and there are common shared rooms for example for celebrations or meetings as well.

Here are some pictures of the building:

Mosque and Church Aberdeen
Mosque and Church – outside
Mosque Aberdeen - Inside
One of the prayer rooms in the mosque – still with the church windows

If you want to know more about the story with the church and the mosque have a look here.

The chat with the imam was very interesting, because he told us this story in detail and then a real interfaith dialogue was developed. My colleague Frances from Interfaith Scotland – she is a Christian as well – and I had the feeling we could ask the imam everything and he could ask us everything as well. There was a foundation of trust for our talk and there was also a good general knowledge about the two religions on both sides. Because of that we could really go deep into the discussion about similarities and differences between Christian and Muslim faith. When we had to leave, because it was time for the next meeting, I would have liked to stay longer and to continue the interesting chat.

From my point of view the story of the mosque and the church in Aberdeen show a lot about good dialogue. Good dialogue is like a good neighbourhood – In the beginning you don’t know much about each other and have maybe just some ideas and prejudice about the other. The important step in this phase is to meet each other and to get each other from face to face. Only in personal meetings you can overcome your prejudice or explore the “true core” of them. Getting to know each other in personal meetings is an important step for a better understanding of each other it’s the foundation for every kind of deeper dialogue. This kind of dialogue should be important for everyone – even if someone is not interested in a deeper kind of dialogue – because it prevents people from misunderstandings and conflicts.

The next step of dialogue is building trust. This can be very difficult, but it’s important. Only if you trust each other you can endure different opinions between you and your dialogue partner. And only if there is trust between dialogue partners you can have real discussions – even about controversy topics. On this level of dialogue, you realise what the dialogue partners have in common and which views they share.

The third (and maybe last) step of dialogue is from my point of view the most interesting, but also most difficult one. On this level you can discuss the theological difficult topics between religions. And in my opinion, it is important not to skip these topics because it might feel uncomfortable to talk about differences, whether they might be real differences between faith communities or they can be solved during a deep discussion.

What is the goal of these three steps and of Interfaith dialogue? Well in the end that’s for the dialogue partners to decide. But from my point of view it’s about getting to know each other as good as possible and – where possible – to learn from each other.

Do you think dialogue might work in this way or do you have a different opinion? Feel free to contact me and to tell me your opinion!