I wrote a book.
Technically speaking, I wrote half a book. My co-author is that esteemable rouser of rabble, Anthony Le Donne. Anthony is Christian and I am Jewish, and we share a love of talking that often exceeds our love of listening. When our conversation gets going, the interruptions fly faster than at a Chris Matthews interview, assuming Chris is late for a train.
The book is titled Sacred Dissonance: The Blessing of Difference in Jewish-Christian Dialogue. The heart of the book contains paired chapters on single subjects, like the Holocaust, and Jewish-Christian borders. Anthony wrote one chapter, and I wrote the other, and each chapter pair is followed by a transcribed discussion between the two of us on the chapter subject. So, the book is about Jewish-Christian dialogue, and it features Jewish-Christian dialogue. The kids would call this “meta.”
Some of our talk is deadly serious—the Jewish-Christian conversation has only turned friendly relatively recently, and we needed to take into account the whole of this history. But the book is not always solemn. For example: thanks to Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, who wrote the introduction to our book, you’ll find out how Gilligan’s Island is something of a parable for 1960s Jewish-Christian relations.
If you read the book, and I hope you do, then I’d ask that you read it with a question in mind: why do Anthony and I see a sacred quality in Jewish-Christian dialogue? Anthony and I each devoted the final chapters of the book to this question, and I can’t say we came up with a satisfactory answer, though I’m particularly proud of the work we both did in trying to find an answer. There is something to say for talking, particularly when the conversation is difficult and the conversation partners are historic “others.” In my final chapter, I quoted a passage from the Quran to the effect that G-d created us differently so that we might get to know each other. That’s an interesting passage to contemplate, particularly in The Age of Trump, when we seem so poorly equipped to engage in difficult conversations, and so likely to talk exclusively to people mostly like ourselves.
I argue in the book that conversations across religious boundaries (or at least, the right kind of conversations) do more than increase mutual understanding and lead to peace, though those two things would be more than enough to recommend these conversations. I argue that these kinds of conversations work on our insides. They change us. And the change has a quality to it, a quality we described as “sacred,” but that you might describe instead as spiritual, or by some other word that gets at a quality you seek in meditation or prayer.
But the book is far from devotional. If the quality I find in dialogue is a bit esoteric, the dialogue itself is grounded in the real world. Read to find out what Charlie Brown taught me about Christianity, and how Mel Gibson made me a better Jew. Read to see how Anthony’s seminary taught him the Jewishness of Jesus while at the same time excluding Jews from the faculty. If you’re looking for a book of guidance on how Jews can talk to Christians and vice-versa, we’ve included that, too.
I think this book may mean different things to different people. For me, the book is in part a paean to friendship. It’s in part my best attempt to describe what it means to me to be Jewish, and how conversation with Christianity is now an integral part of this meaning. But it’s also my effort to get us talking to people we don’t normally talk to, about subjects we might think are impossible to talk about.
Dr. Levine ended her Foreword to our book with this:
Larry and Anthony open the conversation, they invite us—they even compel us—to join in. Let the schmoozing continue.
Nicer words were never said.