I just spent an evening and a breakfast with two old friends who live in the country. He is a retired professor of literature and she is a retired nurse. They are young to be retired.
I was traveling back home and made plan to stay with them to get a little rest on a long drive. I’m glad I did. The conversation we had was healing and helped the three of us transcend mere existence for a few hours.
One of the great things about Jewish life (and the same could be said of Christian life) is conversation. Good conversation is an art form and a form of therapy as well. It is healing to the bones.
I like the way Judaism has taught me not to fret about disagreements and details, but to enjoy dialogue. I’m not talking about a full Beit Midrash style conversation where we argue points of Torah even to the point of raising our voices. I’m not comfortable with that level of debate. I’ve seen too many people hurt in such conversations. I think those very religious Jews who engage in Beit Midrash debates have grown into it and are able to sustain friendship because of a cultivated culture of dialogue. But for us more ordinary Americans red-faced debates generally produce pain.
No, the kind of conversation I mean does embrace differences, but not in a rude manner. It is simply an attitude that my opinion and your opinion are valuable and no one’s opinion is final. In fact, in a dialogue we should be comfortable taking on a perspective we’re unsure about, just to test it out and see if those we’re talking to can shoot it down. A good conversation has nothing to do with winning and losing. Its about experience and learning.
So, in the evening we started with some Manischewitz Cream White. Sure, it’s not the best of wines (I prefer Cabernet or a Sauvignon Blanc). But to a tired soul traveling and hoping for a good night’s sleep, the Manischewitz makes a good nightcap.
Over glasses of wine we talked for several hours, staying up later than any of us intended. But when we got to bed, I’d say we probably all fell asleep right away and slept better than on an average night.
The cool thing about these friends of mine is that all three of us have some differences of perspective. We all have our own worthy contributions to make to the discussion. Carol studies and reads about some very specific topics that interest her. Bob has the wisdom of a literature professor, able to appreciate many different ideas and to comprehend the complexity of religious and philosophical ideas. I brought to the table my rabbinical and biblical studies.
We talked about Torah and Yeshua. We talked about changing trends in American religion, the radical changes postmodern culture is bringing to brick and mortar churches and synagogues. I shared some concepts with Bob and Carol from Tony Jones The New Christians, a good read for anyone wanting to grasp what is going on. I suggested that this book would give them insight into their young adult children and they have probably already ordered it from amazon.com by now. We talked about eschatology, the hopes and promises for the future as the end of the age draws nearer.
Carol brought up many non-biblical stories she’s been reading from the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha (books like Enoch and Jubilees), and Midrash (rabbinic commentary that often makes up stories to fill in the gaps in the Bible’s stories). I explained that you don’t need to take Midrashic stories literally to appreciate the points the stories make or what they add to our understanding of the Bible. Robert related that to the idea of story and literature and was glad for Carol to hear a different way of reading. Carol fueled the conversation with questions and observations from her reading.
It was nice having someone who is a student of Jewish and Biblical literature dialoguing with a rabbi and a literature professor (even if he is her husband). I thought to myself, “It would be nice to always have a literature professor around to try out ideas on and to keep me on my toes in interpretation.”
This morning we spent an idyllic morning over coffee, looking out on the back forty acres (pretty much literally), and enjoying some farm fresh eggs.
I thought to myself, “This is about as close to the World to Come as it gets.”
Torah. Wine. Rest. Coffee. Conversation.
It’s not goal driven. Good conversation is about the process, enjoying the experience. And when it is done, it sticks in your mind. You want it again.