Transdenominationalism in the Jewish Community
Interview With Rabbi Wayne Dosick
Image credit: Leslie Goldman
Rabbi Wayne Dosick is a spiritual teacher and counselor, author, and the founder and spiritual guide of The Elijah Minyan in San Diego, California. He is a radical advocate for diversity and transdenominationalism in the Jewish community.
Rabbi Wayne Dosick is a spiritual teacher and counselor, author, and the founder and spiritual guide of The Elijah Minyan in San Diego, California. He is a radical advocate for diversity and transdenominationalism in the Jewish community. His upcoming book, Radical Loving: One God, One World, One People hits shelves April 2, 2021 and can be pre-ordered today.
S&H: How would you define “spiritual radical”? And is that even a relevant topic? Is spiritual radicalism a new thing or has it always been happening?
Dosick: Well, yeah. I taught for 17 years, Jewish faith and practice at the University of San Diego, which is a diocesan Catholic University here in San Diego. So the only courses in Jewish studies at the Catholic University and in the Department of Religion and Theology and my closest friend there is a Jesuit priest. Actually, he's moved back to his province in Milwaukee. Now, Father James O’Leary, J J O’Leary, and the kids on campus used to call us the stodgy radicals. Stodgy because we were both deeply committed to our own faith in our own practices and at the same time, we were considered to be innovative thinkers and innovators actors each in our faith communities. So for me, it has always been taking a look at the Judaism in which I was reared and grew up and saying What works? What works for me and what works for my people?
When I see things that don't work, I sit and I think, and I contemplate and I ask for guidance and I download. I come to new thinking and new practices and certainly new ideas. And I've been doing that basically my entire career.
Have you ever felt like an outsider in your faith? How has that influenced you and how have you navigated that?
Well, look at it this way. Judaism is like every other religion. It's a pathway to God, right? And Judaism got caught up in certainly post war American Judaism. Got caught up in, building community and building buildings and building institutions and collecting money and part of creating carpools for Hebrew school and selling raffle tickets for the sisterhood bizarre. And we were very, very good at all of that. But we were very bad at doing what people with religion and faith practices are supposed to do best, which is help each person create a deep, personal, intimate relationship with God. We're good at the communal relationship, we could say. Blessed are you O God. We could say the blessings and we can mouth the prayers. But the reality is that we weren't touching people's hearts and spirits.
So we watched as all our young people went off to the Buddhist retreats of silence and the meditation centers and the gurus seeking everything that is right in Judaism, but nobody ever told them. I've written a number of books over the years, specifically Jewish books, telling folks that everything they're looking for is right here. If we only put God at the center and spend our resources in time and and hearts and souls, trying to help each person create that deep, personal, intimate, loving relationship with God. And so everything that I've done over the last at least 30 of the 50 years of my career, and probably more because it was all brewing all those years, boiling up, bubbling up, has been that way.
My latest, my second to the not the new book put the one right before I called The Real Name of God, says that all this time we haven't done the real name of God. If we don't know the real name of God, how could you possibly begin to know God? So I searched and I searched and I found what I think is the real name of God hiding in the Bible all these years, just waiting for the right energetic moment in time to be discovered and acknowledged. And at the same time then, over the years, I've created sort of, if you will, programming that says, Okay, the old programming was very nice to create community and to be together, and it's all very, very important and to bring us to action because faith without action is empty as well. But how do we create? How do we reframe? Reframe the rituals, the practices, in order to make them God centered?
I'll give you an example. So the tradition is that to begin the Sabbath on Friday night we light candles, right? So everybody says, Why do we light the Sabbath candles? Well, there are all kinds of reasons. because we're not allowed to light fire on the Sabbath, and we've taken it to mean electricity. And so in the old days, it was to create the light that would be in the house when it was dark and you couldn't have any other fires in the house or oil lamps or anything. And today it became a symbol of lighting of the Sabbath candles, which is all very fine. It's good. It's a wonderful touchstone. It brings us into the Sabbath. It has the family collect around the family dinner. It's a beautiful ritual for those synagogues who do it in the beginning of the worship service. But candle gazing is not for Buddhists alone.
I teach people the following: What was the very first act of creation? God said, Let there be light. What we're doing is we're imitating God. We who are created in the image of God, are imitating God and creating light. We're lighting the candles. And so if we stare into that candle flame for 15 or 30 or 60 seconds, that’s all it takes, very possibly we can get in touch with that primordial moment of creation. And if we can get in touch with the moment of creation, we may be able to get in touch with the primordial creator, God.
So we take a ritual that's been brought to us for millennia and reframe it to help us get closer to that intimate relationship with God.
Organized religion can sometimes have a very polarizing effect for some people. How do you think that could be changed?
You know what I always say ... If you don't like organized religion, come to my place. We're so disorganized, you'll love it. Anyways, that's the issue. The issue is what do you find when you go there? And if you find only the same kind of things that you could find in the secular world just with a showering, smattering of religiosity to it, then you know there are other people and other places that do things better than we do. You go to the gym for exercise, and you go to the library for more books than we have in our library, and you can go anywhere for better stuff.
But what's our unique role? Our unique role is to be a God-centered, faith-centered place that leads us to holy action or the name of my new book to Radical Loving, through radical, loving and awesome Holiness.
What would your advice be to someone who wants to explore faith in some way, but just doesn't know where to even start?
Listen. Listen to people in your community. Find out where the best new things are going on. Find out where the best practices are. Find out where the best rabbis, priests, ministers, gurus, roshis are. The people who are touching souls instead of just touching pocketbooks and wallets.
Instead of just asking for money for the building fund or having a secular book report, find out where people like you are going to enhance and enrich their inner life, their inner journeys, and you will probably find what are the kinds of outer practices and activities that are there and have been created, informed, and discerned to help with your energy journey with your soul journey.
A lot of people differentiate between religion and spirituality. They may say, “I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual.” How do you see that? What's your own distinction between the two, if any?
The goal of organized religion and of every religious practice is from God to God. And so religions were formed, created by human beings. They're not dictated by God. They're not, they didn't come down at Sinai and say, Here's the charter for your religious group. Each religion is a path way, and people create different pathways based on geography and culture and ethnicity and social beings.
And each one is beautiful and each one is unique, and at the same time, each one has exactly the same goals. So some pathways you go with great joy and singing and dancing. And some you go with quiet, contemplative meditation and some there's a combination of both. Each one works for persons who is either born into it or who finds it as the most worthy and meaningful pathway for her or him in this lifetime.
So, for example, my friend Father Larry, whom I mentioned earlier, doesn't want me to be Catholic, and I don't want him to be Jewish, but there's far, far more that unites us than divides us. What divides us is the outer shell. What unites us is the inner being. And so I would say to somebody, religion can help you enhance your spirituality. Your pathway to God, your path away to inner happiness and peace, if you find the pathway that works for you. That's what we call organized religion. The goal of religion should be and has to be enhancing your spirituality. And if you don't find that in the particular religion, then go looking somewhere else. That's why so many kids went to the the Buddhists and the meditation centers and even yoga and all the kinds of spiritual activities that weren't bogged down with all the negativity of religion.
Judaism has always been a very happy religion. It’s said, the greatest mitzvah is to be happy always. But we haven't had hellfire and brimstone preaching at us, so that we haven't made anybody afraid or not welcome. But each pathway is different. Each beautiful, each pathway, is the same in its origins, its sources, and its goals. Find the one that works for you, or keep doing your own thing. The only problem with doing your own thing is eventually it may fade out.
Because within religion there is sort of a commitment to be part of a community that counts on you to be part of the energy of that community and the responsibility in that community and the power that comes from that community. Let's just take it in terms of a social action. If we want to feed the hungry, you'll bring 10 cans of food. 10 cans of food are very, very important to your local food bank. But if we all do it together, as a community we’ll bring 1000 cans of food and that's going to help the food bank even more. So there is that sense of power and energy and responsibility in community that sometimes we just can't get sitting at the top of a mountain or standing at the sea shore.
What would you say your own greatest hurdle has been in relation to your own faith?
I grew up in the Jewish suburban synagogues in the inner city synagogues of the late forties, the fifties, and the early sixties. It was the golden age of Judaism. Everything was hunky dory. Peachy keen. The synagogues were jammed full and the Hebrew schools were jam full. It was the social center of the community. It's where our parents did all their things and where we went to youth group and met people from.
But it began to fall apart. Part of it was the sixties “do your own thing” and the lack of authority. It took a lifetime of unfolding and God and the universe continually hitting me on the head to say, look, look, look, look at all the things that aren't on the page. Look at the white spaces between the black letters. Look at all the things that are there to see. And to hear what you don't see in here all the time, open yourself to prophecy, open yourself to being in that personal relationship with God. The more and more I learned that, the more and more I was able to teach that.
Why do you think spiritual radicals are necessary, especially in the context of today?
Without a spiritual faith and without a practice to go with it. Eventually, everything in life becomes empty and hollow. How much? How many diplomas can you put on your wall? How many cars can you put in your driveway? How many pairs of pants can you wear? Once all the things that we think mean achievement—I mean, every time I have prayed with someone in a hospital who has been dying no one has ever said to me “Oh, I wish I'd spend more time on my business,” “Oh, I wish I had gotten another degree,” “Oh, I wish I had had more golf clubs.”
Everybody's always said I wish I had spent more time with my spouse, with my children, with my grandchildren. I wish I'd spent more time helping out in my community. I wish I'd spend more time getting a reputation as a compassionate, loving human being instead of a ruthless businessman. So the question is, for each individual human being, who do you wanna be? And it's not what you wanna do, but it's who do you want to be? And it's very achievable without a formula to it. But the formula is in finding out and achieving, discovering, and making happen what you wanna be.
God is at center and everything we do is to help each person create a deep personal, intimate relationship with God at the same time, being in a faith community that is faith and action. You know, in a practical sense and Zoom has shown us, this virus is an amazing thing.
I don't want to do my own horn here, but if you want to know more, go to Amazon and check out the new books. Radical Loving, one god, one world, one people. That's what I talk about. One god, one world, one people, and each pathway is a different pathway, but it's all the same goal. It means that for everybody, synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, everybody, everybody, this pandemic has changed everything.
Sometimes a pandemic is just a pandemic. God forbid. But sometimes it is the end of an old world and the beginning of a new world. And that's exactly what's happening. Everything is breaking down. Government education, financing the economy. The family is being redefined, the community is being redefined, education is being redefined. And certainly religion is being redefined.
So right now there's a great deal of uncertainty. But there's some things that we know, and that is that a new world's gonna grow out of all of this. A new world that is going to take us—to use a spiritual term—from the third dimension to the fifth dimension.
We are heading toward a world that we've never seen before, that will be different from anything we've ever seen in the world that we have been longing for from the days of Eden, to use a figurative metaphor. But for the entirety of the human experience on this Earth, and so everything's going to be the same, and everything is going to be totally different. Human relationships are human relationships. But we are called to greater loving. We're called to Greater Holiness. We were called to greater sense of responsibility to and for each other. We are called at this moment, away from the me, me, me world into a world of the common good, the greatest good, the highest good. Because if we don't we will crack and fail.
Either you say I'm going to wear a mask because it's for the highest and common good of the entire community that I don't expose somebody to my germs or my virus. And I don't be exposed to somebody else's or you say it's my constitutional right not to wear a mask. Well, in the places that people are doing that, what's the result? The result is that there's a higher spread of the virus and more people are getting sick.
I believe that religion is a helpful tool, a helpful methodology for saying to the world the highest good, the greatest good, the common good, the best that we can be. The Children of God, have a responsibility to each other. It's not a question of random acts of kindness. It's a question of obligated acts of kindness. We are obligated, one human being to care for another. And that's what this pandemic is teaching us. And that's probably why you're writing this article, because that's what's bubbling up all over the place.
What would you say is your most radical idea, religious or otherwise?
I think my most radical idea is that we need each one of us to create a deep, personal, intimate, loving relationship and to turn our faith into action, and to create a deep sense of responsibility within our community. That we have to go beyond. This is what I call love beyond love. It is. And that's why I title the book Radical Loving.
One god, one world, one people, now one people. Please understand, “one people” does not mean sameness. This would mean that Father O'Leary and I want to be the same religion. It's not. There's beauty in every approach, but one people means that we all have the same goal. We're not racist, and we're not misogynist, and we're not homophobic, and we're not Islamophobic, and we are not anti-Semites, not sexist. We are human beings, all the same who love each other, who care about each other, who take care of each other, all under the relationship that we each and all have with God.
And that's the goal of my new book. That's the goal that my life has been leading to. Because in many, many ways, this book is a summary of everything that I've been teaching for my whole life.
If that's radical, so be it. I think it is because so many people haven't listened so far. But I hope that more and more people will listen and know that it's our only chance. It's our only chance, because everything, everything, everything we have done so far hasn't gotten us anywhere. It's gotten us into wars and greed and arrogance and hubris. And it's filled the cemeteries of all our countries with the best treasures of our youth, because you human beings simply can't get along.
Read more full interviews with Spiritual Radicals here.