Yet another example of how our stories transform us and the world

The second lecture of the 2012 Advent Series at Christ Church Cathedral was given by a notable Cincinnatian, Rabbi Abie Ingber, under the title: From Tolerance to Celebration. It turned out to be a powerful story of how to build a bridge, literally and figuratively, that connected communities of different faiths, and in so doing, transform lives and the world.

Rabbi Abie Ingber is very well-known in the interfaith community at the local, national and international levels. He is founding director of the Interfaith Community Engagement Center at Xavier University, an initiative that epitomizes his life story.

His parents were holocaust survivors from Poland. His father and the man who would later become Pope John Paul II were teenage “buddies” in their native Poland and his mother was saved from the Nazis by four different Christian families who hid her in an attic. It is this background that transformed him into believing that “living in solidarity with others is not just an option in this global, pluralistic society, and especially not as part of a community that worships a God of all people”.

Using engineering analogies from Cincinnati’s Suspension Bridge, the Brooklyn, and the Niagara Falls bridges, Rabbi Ingber stressed that the most important part of the bridge is the structure on both sides of the river. They must be built on firm foundations. By analogy, it is important that those in interfaith dialogue be grounded firmly in their own faiths.

The second analogy from bridge building is the bridge’s ability to support its own weight – or the dynamic load equation. This includes weather conditions and traffic. Communities too need to be able to withstand varying and variable factors from within and without.

In the course of his passion to build bridges between people of different faiths, and through the Interfaith Community Engagement Center, Rabbi Ingber has experienced first hand what it means to be a refugee in Darfur and in Little Mogadishu (in Nairobi). He was invited to the Cameroon Muslim Students Association where he got to engage with thousands of Muslim students. He has had audiences with both the late Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI.

Again, it was a powerful – and even emotional – presentation. The larger context of the Advent Series this year is the significance of Immanuel, “God with us”. It is an exploration of how the celebration of the coming of Christ can unite rather than divide us.

Rabbi Ingber’s task was to “challenge us to move from tolerance of the other to celebration of otherness, that we might engage the world around us with integrity in our own tradition and compassion for others’ beliefs”. To that end, perhaps nobody could have done it better. He did it with a personal story that only he could tell.

The final lecture in the series will be given by Arthur J. Dewey, professor of theology at Xavier University.

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