TIME Religion

Israel’s Paradox: Powerful yet Imperiled

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Strength alone is not a guarantee of safety

The current anxiety over the recent Iran nuclear deal is a reminder that the Jews are in a paradoxical situation—they are a powerful, imperiled people.

In comparison, the Palestinians, the most familiar adversary of Jews, are a relatively powerless people, but not imperiled. Their population keep increasing, and no serious commentator thinks the Jews plan to or have ever committed any sort of genocide against them.

The Iranians, who have emerged as the most formidable foe of Israel in recent years, are powerful and not imperiled. Yes, sanctions have left their economy in tatters. Yes, they have fought some powerful regional enemies, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the growing power of ISIS. But no one has ever seriously suggested that a wrong step by the Iranian regime might find the world free of Iranians.

Yet Jews do have such fear. It begins in an historical legacy. Simon Rawidowicz, the late Jewish philosopher, once wrote an essay called Israel: The Ever Dying People. He recounts a parade of prominent Jewish voices throughout history who believed they would be the last generation of Jews. One Hebrew poet lamented that no more would people speak Hebrew and be able to read his verses. That was right before the modern state of Israel revived the language for an entire nation. The tone of the essay is essentially optimistic—after all, the predictions have thus far been proven wrong—yet Rawidowicz recognizes that in many, localized instances, the lament was true.

The book Synagogues Without Jews chronicles synagogues throughout the world where there are no longer Jewish congregations to sustain them. Most of those vanished communities were destroyed by the Holocaust. Many Jews from Arab lands were chased out and had their lands and goods confiscated (a historical injustice rarely mentioned in recounting the wars of 1948.) Others were so small that time, demography, and other factors—including voluntarily leaving for Israel where they could have a full Jewish life—ended once-living communities.

Few Jews today are at the whim of hostile governments. In the U.S., the Jewish community is powerful, thriving and free. Although it has concerns about dwindling numbers, that is a factor of choice and commitment, not persecution and expulsion. And Israel, of course, is a formidable regional power.

Nonetheless, that is but a part of the story. There are about 14 million Jews worldwide. They have still not fully recovered from the losses of 70 years ago, when a full third of all the Jews in the world were killed. And the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe reawakens old fears, as does the alarming rise in anti-Semitic stereotypes and hatred throughout the Muslim world.

So we are witness to a paradox known to a healthy person who has once been mortally ill. Such a person can never be in full denial again. He knows that the body can be vigorous and strong and succumb in an instant to a variety of ailments or accidents. Someone looking at the state of Israel might see a powerful army, high-tech weaponry, and a society ready to mobilize. But inside the state, the view is of one surrounded by nations who wish it gone, 17-year-olds patrolling the borders, and Iran strategizing to increase its influence as it eyes the possibility of a nuclear bomb.

It has been said that there are two great tribes, the sick and the well. Similarly among nations, there is sometimes a disconnect between the threatened and the secure. Strength alone is not a guarantee of safety. For America, surrounded by oceans and friendly neighbors, the extent of Israel’s fear may seem excessive. But for Israel, being powerful and being imperiled is the reality of living in a very dangerous neighborhood.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Katy Perry Isn’t the Only One Who Wants to Live in a Convent

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary property in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Singer Katy Perry sought to purchase the property.
Nick Ut—AP The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary property in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Singer Katy Perry sought to purchase the property.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Repurposing religious buildings should be done with sensitivity and purpose

I moved into a convent 10 years ago this summer.

My roommates were not Catholic sisters, but other recent college graduates, who sometimes acted a little too much as if we were still living in a college dorm. But most of our time was dedicated to service of our community—teaching, leading afterschool programs, counseling pregnant teens and gang members, working with the elderly—just as the sisters who preceded us in the convent had once done.

The news that pop star Katy Perry wants to buy a former convent in Los Feliz has me thinking about my days at Amate House, a full-time Catholic volunteer program in Chicago. The Los Angeles Times broke the story that two nuns are blocking the archdiocese from selling the estate to Perry, who wants to live there. Early coverage of the story centered on the sister’s disapproval of the “I Kissed A Girl” singer.

My fond memories of convent living, though, make me wonder if the question of whether Perry is a suitable successor to the sisters misses the point. As our society become less connected to religious institutions, it may be more important than ever for communities to think creatively and sensitively about how to make use of formerly religious spaces.

I had never imagined that I would live in a convent. Amate House operates three houses, two of which were convents, with both male and female volunteers, and it is part of the Chicago archdiocese. But I approached it more like Peace Corps or Teach for America: an opportunity to do something special, learn about life in the inner city and give back—not to live out my faith. I identified myself as a “practicing-but-not-believing Catholic.” I had volunteered with my high school youth group through college, but I was more interested in Buddhism than Christianity.

Though I defied typical categories—neither fully Catholic nor a religious “none”— my experience reflects the trend of young Americans disaffiliating from institutional religion and forming their own religious identities and understandings.

My grandmother, in contrast, grew up wanting to be a Catholic sister. Unfortunately for her (but thankfully for me), she lacked the education to join a religious congregation. Instead, she got married and raised my father and his four brothers.

Seeking to understand my recently deceased grandmother’s devotion—why would a woman voluntarily commit her life to a patriarchal church?—I wrote about Catholic sisters for a class in college. The nun in her nineties that I profiled couldn’t explain her vocation other than as a call from God.

Her order had once occupied a huge motherhouse in my hometown and sent teachers to schools throughout the Midwest. In northwest Iowa, she had taught art to a budding cartoonist who would go on to work for Disney and draw the genie in Aladdin. But by the time I visited, they had moved to a smaller house, essentially a nursing home for sisters.

Their grand old motherhouse became Loyola University Chicago’s education school. The sisters were happy that a Catholic institution was continuing their legacy, but then Loyola moved to sell the property to a developer that planned to raze the convent and put in single-family homes.

The city intervened, and the building still stands as senior housing. But the sale of convents and churches to developers is not unusual. Around the same time, my parents moved into a development in a neighboring suburb that had been built on the grounds of a former convent. And when I lived in a convent, my window looked out on a Protestant church that had been converted to condos.

Such examples will become more common as people move away from institutional religion. Places that once brought together a community become individual units, our architecture seeming to reflect our spiritual trends.

Yet, many still long for a sense of togetherness, even if in untraditional ways. My convent roommates and I were not all regular churchgoers, despite living above a chapel where daily mass was held. Our “church” came in the form of meals, reflection nights, and service to the broader community.

But buildings can’t be preserved just for community. In exchange for our service, our work sites paid Amate House small fees to cover our living expenses, including our convent housing. Another solution is to make churches into community arts centers, renting space out to nonprofits during the week. Both situations provide a win-win for religious institutions and nonprofit organizations.

A year or so ago, I met with two sisters in Chicago who were in the process of opening a migrant shelter in an old convent, supported by an interfaith organization. They told me what Pope Francis had recently said at Centro Astalli, a refugee center in Rome: “Empty convents are not for the church to transform into hotels and make money from them. Empty convents are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ: refugees.”

Intrigued by this tension between money and mission, I applied to and received an International Reporting Project fellowship to find out if Pope Francis had affected Italy’s welcome of migrants. Visiting Centro Astalli and other refugee centers around Rome, I met many migrants living on the street or in abandoned buildings, unable to find work or housing in their new country. Two men showed me how they survived while homeless in Rome, sleeping at Termini train station, passing their days in a park behind the Colosseum and seeking services at churches and convents.

For my last few days in Rome, I checked into a convent hotel along their daily path, a few blocks from Termini. Once again, I found myself in a spartan single.

My convent hotel was clean and comfortable, European beds being what they are. And for not much more than the price of a hostel, I had a private, quiet space.

Four sisters lived on the top floor, and one of them told me that they make themselves available to travelers for either logistical or spiritual concerns. Many orders consider hospitality to pilgrims as part of their mission. In addition to tourists, they host student groups and families of patients from a nearby hospital. And the hotel helps fund their work in the missions.

Yet, when I saw the generous breakfast spread for what seemed like a handful of guests, I couldn’t help but think of the homeless migrants I had met on the streets of Rome. If the government, churches, or nonprofits paid for even a few migrants’ room at this convent, I wondered, how would the tourists staying there react?

Some argue that the pope’s statement against convent hotels reflects the male hierarchy’s desire to control the hard-earned assets of women in religious orders. In Los Angeles, the Katy Perry story is more about who manages the proceeds of the sale— the nuns or the archbishop—than whether Perry or someone else is the next owner of the convent.

I, for one, would trust a group of sisters more than the archdiocese to put the millions earned from the sale to good use. Yet the sisters’ buyer, a driver of gentrification who is also currently refurbishing the former Pilgrim Church into a hotel and restaurant, is no more likely than Perry to transform the convent into a homeless shelter.

As religious institutions decline, not all religious buildings will survive. But as someone who enjoyed living in a convent—temporarily—I would hope that some could be transformed into shelters, art centers, homes for nonprofit or volunteer organizations or other projects that benefit the whole community.

With a little creativity, Catholic sisters’ spirit can live on in a very concrete way.

Megan Sweas is the editor at the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture, and a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. She is author of Putting Education to Work: How Cristo Rey High Schools are Transforming Urban Education. Reporting for this story was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Reminds the World To Care About Poverty

Pope Francis greets the attendees of a conference as part of the II Meeting of People's Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on on July 9, 2015.
Amanecer Tedesqui/CON—Getty Images Pope Francis greets the attendees of a conference as part of the II Meeting of People's Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on on July 9, 2015.

Jackson is a civil rights activist, and Kim is an associate professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion.

'It takes all of us to change systems that impoverish our sisters and brothers'

Jesus was born into poverty, he lived with people who were poor, and he was poor when he died. Sometimes it seems that the church has forgotten that.

Christianity seems to have become a religion of powerful white male leaders who are attentive to the interests of people who were financially rich. As a consequence, many Christians have lost sight of the gospel message that calls the followers of Jesus to have compassion for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and stand with the sick. Pope Francis is reminding them and the people of the world to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters who are poor, sick, lost, marginalized, and disenfranchised.

During a recent eight-day visit to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay, the pope emphasized our connection to those living in poverty. He made it a priority to point out the evils of leaders who take too much at the expense of people living in impoverished conditions. Pope Francis said that the poor are being sacrificed at the “altar of money,” as the rich worship a “golden calf.” This sacrifice costs lives and drives more people into slums.

In Paraguay, the Pope visited the residents of a slum village and said they reminded him of the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. This village has faced its share of difficulties, including floods caused by climate change, and economic hardship. The pope urged the poor to not let their struggles diminish their hope or their faith in God.

The pope’s words and actions pave the way for the Christian church to follow. In a world where leaders—Christian or not—fail to prioritize the plight of people who live in poverty, it is heartening to see the pope take a stand with the poor and against the evil uses of money. Leaders should not shy away from a critique of the evils of economic systems that favor the rich and oppress people living in poverty.

The pope has spoken against the colonialism that shattered the lives of Native Americans, apologizing for the actions of the church, which, in the name of God, supported efforts to conquer indigenous peoples and appropriate their land. Yet colonialism is not a thing of the past; it continues to emerge in new ways. Colonization is not limited to taking over land; it also occurs when large corporations and banks leave the people who are poor even poorer and further disadvantaged. The pope recognizes this new form of colonialism and is asking for change.

It takes all of us to change systems that impoverish our sisters and brothers. We are often confronted with such opportunities as we live in cities with homeless people, hungry people, and people without job opportunities or medical insurance. It is long overdue for us to act against poverty. We need to live out the gospel of Jesus.

One of the last initiatives that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized was the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. The campaign sought to address poverty and help all people gain access to the economic wealth of the U.S. It tried to live out the words of Jesus, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Jesus not only spoke these words, but he also lived them. The spirit of God’s love for people in poverty and the least of our sisters and brothers was embodied in the life of Jesus. There was absolutely no gap between what Jesus said and how Jesus lived. A devoted follower of Jesus, Pope Francis is proclaiming the word of God, living the word of God, and showing all of us how to do the same. As we hear the pope’s message and witness his life, we can either turn the other way and ignore his words and actions, or we can join him in the effort to embody the living word. The choice is ours.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Chattanooga Shooter Failed to See That True Islam Rejects Violence

True Islam champions a bloodless “jihad of the pen” to engage in dialogue regarding matters of faith

In America, Ramadan 2015 ended how it began—with preventable violence. The month began when an ignorant young man from a radicalized background used hate, easy access to guns and growing racial tensions to murder nine innocent Black Americans. Then, yesterday, as Ramadan neared its end, an ignorant young man from a radicalized background used hate, easy access to guns, and nationalistic tensions to murder four innocent U.S. Marines and wound three others.

Both young men had blogs, replete with confusing, violent, sometimes frightening statements. And many questions need answering—questions we’re not yet asking loudly enough or consistently enough: How did these young men get such easy access to guns? Who or what turned these young men to violence? And perhaps most importantly, how can we learn from these atrocities to prevent them from happening again?

Dylann Roof’s blog shows his struggle to understand race relations. Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez’s blog shows his struggle to understand Islam. Roof’s history shows a confused, violence-prone personality. Abdulazeez’s lone two entries, published on the same day, did not cite any extremist groups, but his April 20, 2015, arrest for DUI indicates a confused, destructive history. Roof’s motivation was self-admitted—he wanted to start a race war. And yet his act of terrorism triggered the removal of the Confederate Flag. While we can so far only speculate Abdulazeez’s motives, one thing is clear: we cannot let his actions instigate any more violence, on any level.

Abdulazeez puts forth in his blog that Muslims need to see that the bigger picture of Islam involves war. He writes about three blind men who each touch a different part of an elephant and try to describe the whole elephant based only on the part they touched. In a cruel foreshadowing of his own end, he used violence with the meritless thinking it was any part of Islam.

Abdulazeez shamelessly tries to reason that Prophet Muhammad’s companions were generals at some point, and therefore Muslims today should also take up this mantle. His tunnel vision did not let him see that Muhammad’s companions were army generals in self-defense only. They defended against aggressors who advanced to wipe Muslims off the face of the Earth.

True Islam rejects violent jihad, whether it be against Muslims or non-Muslims. The Holy Quran 22:40-41 explains that Muslims should fight only in specific situations: “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged,” and to do so to protect “churches, synagogues, cloisters, and mosques,” from attack. True Islam recognizes those generals fought in self-defense for universal freedom of conscience.

Just as Dylann Roof missed that we live in a nation of laws, with courts, based on racial equality, Abdulazeez missed that instead of violent jihad, true Islam champions a bloodless “jihad of the pen” to engage in dialogue regarding matters of faith. The Holy Prophet Muhammad’s life illustrates this belief. When he became the ruler of Mecca, he forgave his former persecutors on the condition that they respect freedom of religion for all faiths—paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Just as white supremacists ignorantly miss the beauties this nation affords them to peacefully educate themselves, Abdulazeez’s tunnel vision made him miss countless Quranic verses which condemn those who create disorder in the land. Abdulazeez not only fought during the sacred month of Ramadan, when fighting is prohibited, but also created a ripple of disorder amongst countless lives. Just as white supremacists like Roof adhere to the “us vs. them” mirage, extremists like Abdulazeez continue to overlook the Quranic verse that the killing of an innocent is like the destruction of humanity.

But there’s hope, and the answer rests in dialogue and service to humanity.

Muslims are only as good as their leader. ISIS’s so-called “caliph” is a bloodthirsty leader. He is a “scholar” who calls for the blood of martyrs and everybody else, including the massacre of innocents and enslavement of women. On the other side, we see His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Under this Khalifa, tens of millions of Muslims in 206 nations are united into one community of Muslims and are dedicated to observing justice, engaging in dialogue, and maintaining involvement and service to local communities.

Just as it will take time to root out the Roofs of the world, so too will it take time to root out the Abdulazeezes. At least in the latter’s case, the Khalifa of Islam presents the true Islam that has a proven history of conquering radicalism with peace. Once wayward, disgruntled youth are guided to see the bigger picture, then they will no longer have to guess at what the elephant looks like. We missed the chance with Roof and Abdulazeez. Let’s prevent this from happening to others.

TIME Islam

See How Muslims Around the World Celebrate Eid al-Fitr

The holiday is celebrated differently around the world

With large-scale prayer services and family gatherings, Muslims around the world began celebrating Eid al-Fitr on Friday morning. The three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan is a time of gratitude and festivity, when many observe the holiday in their own ways across the globe.

The holiday is celebrated in many ways by Muslim cultures all over the word. Take a look at these photos compiled of Friday’s celebrations to see how Muslims in Afghanistan, India, China and elsewhere celebrated the holy day.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Laments That the Poor Are Sacrificed at the ‘Altar of Money’

The Pontiff slams the modern "dictatorship of an impersonal economy"

Pope Francis continued his anti-poverty campaign in Paraguay on Saturday, delivering some choice words for what capitalism has meant for the poor.

“Certainly every culture needs economic growth and the creation of wealth,” the Pope told a gathering of civic leaders, in remarks reported by CNN. But he harshly criticized the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, saying: “I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”

Pope Francis did not mince words, CNN reports, comparing corrupt governments who persecuted political opponents to Hitler and Stalin. He went so far as to compare capitalism to an ancient practice in paganism of worshipping golden calves, saying the practice had “returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy.”

MORE What the Pope’s Left Hook in Bolivia Really Means

The Pope’s message continued from his previous stop in Bolivia, where he advocated for a revolution against the “new colonialism” of austerity programs, citing their inordinate effect on the poor and their “sacred rights” of housing, work, and land.

“Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education, these are essential for human dignity,” he said.


TIME Religion

How Christians Get Interfaith Marriage Wrong

Wedding cake figurines
Getty Images

The rise of interfaith marriage might indicate shift towards a more open and progressive American spirituality

While Christianity is American’s most popular religion (70% of people in the U.S. identify as such), pastors and scholars all let out a collective gasp at the latest findings from the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Study. According to Pew, 2015 might be the year of the religious “nones,” as those who do not identify or affiliate with any faith tradition are on the rise, while the number those who call themselves “Christian” is declining. With an eight percentage point drop in just eight years, we are all wondering what American Christianity will look like in two or three generations.

The bright (or bleak, according to some) spot in the latest Pew report? Since 2010, interfaith marriages have increased, and now four-in-ten Americans marry a spouse of a different religious group. This is a 20% increase since those who were wed prior to 1960.

Trends in the decline of Christianity’s dominance and the rise of interfaith marriage might indicate shift towards a more open and progressive American spirituality. But, it doesn’t take much Googling to uncover advice against the modern paradigm of the “nones” and blended faith families. Naomi Schaefer Riley, journalist and author of ‘Til Faith Do Us Part, ignited the contemporary interfaith marriage conversation in 2013 with the publication of her research of such partnerships. Schaefer Riley is herself a willing participant in the interfaith marriage movement (she’s Jewish; her husband is a former Jehovah’s Witness), but still outlines the perils of such unions.

For decades, pastors and rabbis have contributed to the cacophony of concern: “divided” households lead to the confused religious lives of future children, and then there’s the age-old, much-debated Christian argument of being “unequally yoked,”with another, a phrase attributed to Paul the Apostle.

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NRSV)

But, how does a Biblical warning allegedly issued by a 1st century theologian bode for the would-be interfaith couples of 2015?

I was raised in rural North Carolina as a Southern Baptist who took the Bible literally. It was my infallible guide for life, and a simple yet unwavering faith marked my adolescence. I assumed that everyone who lived both in and outside of my tiny tobacco town was as steeped in Baptist beliefs as I was. I didn’t awaken to the possibility that folks practiced anything besides baptism by immersion until attended a Moravian women’s college for my undergraduate studies, and Duke University for seminary.

At school, I learned that the Bible is a complex, layered manuscript written over time whose canon took centuries to develop. There was far more to this book than the poetic King James sound bites that had rolled effortlessly off my 13-year-old tongue.

Armed with my deconstructed assumptions, I joined a progressive Baptist church whose members comprised mostly of retired university faculty. There were only a handful of already-married 20 and 30-somethings in our parish, and while my new faith community was intellectually and spiritually fulfilling, I was lonely. So, I did what many female Millennials raised in South do to a find “godly, Christian man”: I went online.

I took an intense eHarmony questionnaire which forced me to decide: was I open to dating someone of another faith? I checked all the “Big 5” of the world’s religions, certain I wouldn’t end up with anyone outside the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). But, as luck—or providence—would have it, I was matched with a devout Hindu who lived as a monk and priest for five years.

Because my now-husband and I are each ordained in our respective Christian and Hindu traditions, our first dates consisted of theological talk, and we became serious students of one another’s religions. But the nay-sayers were already warning against our courtship, and so we tackled 2 Corinthians 6:14 head on, digging and wondering. The result was surprising.

An ancient scripture meant to deter us from getting involved with each other actually brought us together. Our core beliefs in God became the focus of our study and relationship, not the issues that divided us.

And, like good clergy, we consulted Biblical experts. A local scholar explained that, for the vulnerable and fledgling Christian faith of the first century, the chief concern was to spread the Gospel, not to impede it. The Greek for word “marriage” is not even used in this text, even though modern readings apply it to interfaith marriage. Rather, “yoked” signifies “work,” as one would yoke oxen together to plow or haul. Therefore a more effective way of interpreting 2 Corinthians 6:14 might be to consider the essence of what the author meant by “working” with unbeliever.

In first century, an “unbeliever” would have been anyone exposed to but was not faithful to Christ’s teachings—someone not characterized by devotion, love, peace, mercy, and forgiveness. In the context of the early Church, it’s easy to understand why Paul might caution those first generations of “believers” against being “yoked” with someone for whom Christ was not relevant. If the goal was the spread the Gospel, “working” with an unbeliever might have impaired it.

Today, my husband’s deep Hindu faith has taught me to dig deeper into what Jesus would have me do. Perhaps Paul might have even considered me an “unbeliever,” as I claimed to be a baptized Christian, but my life did not inwardly and outwardly reflect the Gospel. Since marrying Fred, I re-attuned my life to Christian spiritual practices: spending more time in contemplative prayer, practicing non-violence through a vegetarian diet, limiting my consumption, and increasing my service to others.

Much to many Christians’ dismay, it took a person of another faith—a seemingly “unequally yoked” partner, to strengthen my Christian walk.

The concerns over the tenacity it takes to be yoked to a partner of a different faith are certainly valid. But perhaps the more important question to pose is how each partner’s individual spiritual journey strengthens their collective faith and results in their passion to share God’s love.

Fred and I have found that it’s not so much about having the same faith as it is about having deep faith.

Om and alleluia.

J. Dana Trent is an author and teacher. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she is ordained in the Southern Baptist tradition. Her awarded winning book, Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk tells the story of her eHarmony-born interfaith marriage. Dana blogs at jdanatrent.com and tweets@jdanatrent.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Live Life With the GPS Off

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You never know where that journey may take you

When is the last time you got lost? I don’t mean you missed a turn that you should have taken and you experienced a short inconvenience. I mean genuinely seriously lost, as in stuck on a back mountain road with no idea where you were and the sun was quickly setting.

I can remember the last time I got lost.

I was on my way to visit my then fiancee, now wife. She was working for the summer in a camp near some small town in Pennsylvania. I was working at an internship in Chicago. I printed out all the directions I thought I would need and began the drive east. Most of the drive was easy of course. All I needed to do was stick to the highways. It was when I finally got off the main roads, only a few miles from the camp, that I got really lost. The directions at that point started telling me to do things like “look for dirt road three houses after the the wooden sign in the road for the general store.” It took me a bit of going back and forth, asking a few people for help and stopping frequently to find various points along the way but eventually I made it.

As I began just another routine car trip this past week to a destination not far from my home but somewhere I had not been before, it dawned upon me that the summer of visiting my now wife was the last time I ever got lost while driving. It is practically impossible to get lost now. We don’t even need those clunky GPS devices anymore. All we need is our phone and a good battery, or at least a good charger. So it was that as I started my short trip last week to another place I had not visited before I drove there like I was a local.

What have we lost though in always having a GPS nearby? While our travel times have been greatly reduced, is there something we have lost in the process?

Along with that last time I got lost on the road those many years ago, it was also the last time I pulled down my window and asked another random passerby for help. It was one of the last times I intentionally stopped to take in the scenery all around me. It was a time when I needed to focus on the details of the landscape, of the small town surrounding me and of the type of roads I was driving on. I can still remember the winding road right before entering the town and the small locals bar and homemade ice cream shop not far from each other. I can remember the rockiness of that last dirt road leading to the camp and the smell of farmland around me. I can visualize the Amish family that lived not too far from the place where hundreds of young city kids came to experience the outdoors.

In the beginning of the Jewish people’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land they come upon a fork in the road. They can go straight, the most direct route or they can take a winding path through the desert. The quickest route posed the immediate danger of the Philistines but the long path also posed another type of danger: the unknown. The simplest way of understanding the decision of God in that moment was to choose the danger of a more distant unknown than the immediate and pressing danger of the Philistines. A people just freed from years of slavery only a moment ago would not be able to persevere against such a mighty and early threat to their existence.

However, if you parse the words carefully, something truly interesting happens. The Torah in Exodus 13:17 says “God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, ‘Lest the people think again when they see war and go back to Egypt.’” The language of “for it was near” should strike us as an odd choice of words. Could it not have said “even though it was near,” thereby fitting in with the meaning of the verse in a much simpler fashion?

The Midrash Mekhilta in contemplating this language choice offers a number of possible interpretations. One of them struck me this week as I reflected on how many years it has been since I’ve truly been lost. Why did God have the people avoid the closest route home? Why not take them the shortest way? The Midrash reflects that God was concerned that if they went into the land right away they would become so self-confident in the homes they would have built and the agriculture they would have cultivated that they would have forgotten the Torah almost immediately. They would have forgotten their purpose. Therefore, God takes them through a 40-year journey through the wilderness of Sinai to imprint the Torah in their DNA so it could never easily be forgotten.

What an incredible insight! God purposefully took us the long way so we would learn to pay attention, to see the details, to not lose sight of the world around us and the bigger picture. Ultimately, the people were not actually lost. There were sign posts along the way and God guiding them along the path. Yet, in choosing the road not yet taken, we are taught the value of turning our GPS off once in a while. Taking our time. Letting the journey sink in. Not only do some of our most lasting memories get made this way but some of our biggest insights are developed while lost as well.

The next time I head for a trip to a place I have not yet been before immediately turning on my GPS app, I’ll start the journey. You never know where that journey may take you.

Rabbi Ben Greenberg is Planning Executive of SYNERGY Manhattan at UJA-Federation of New York. Previously Rabbi Greenberg was a community organizer in Chicago, the Orthodox Jewish Chaplain of Harvard University and the Orthodox Rabbi of Harvard Hillel and also served as Senior Rabbi of an Orthodox Union affiliated congregation in Colorado. While at Harvard he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Harvard Chaplains and was appointed to an advisory committee by University President Drew Faust. During his time in Colorado, Rabbi Greenberg was a member of the Board of Directors of Hillel of Colorado and of the Executive Committee of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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TIME Religion

Pope Francis Isn’t Holding Back—And U.S. Politicians Should Watch Out

Here are the four foundations of his revolution

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: Pope Francis is no moderate. In what some are calling a “nearly revolutionary” speech, Francis gave a 55-minute papal tour de force in Bolivia Thursday night calling for a “structural change” to a global economy that runs “counter to the plan of Jesus.”

Francis and his predecessors have issued strong calls for global economic structural reforms before, but Thursday night’s address to the poor of Bolivia went above and beyond. “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites,” he said. “It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you.”

If his September address to the U.S. Congress looks anything similar, House Speaker John Boehner and leaders of both parties might regret their invitation to the 78-year-old Jesuit pontiff. Here are the four foundations of his revolution.

1. Land, lodging, and labor are “sacred rights.” In what is perhaps his boldest claim to date, Pope Francis argued that everyone has a God-given right to have a job, to own land, and to have a home. This, of course, is neither the promise nor goal of current economic systems established in the U.S. and around the globe. This also goes well beyond the traditional social teaching of the Catholic Church, which argues for the dignity of work, but doesn’t go as far to say that everyone has a God-given right to have a job.

2. People—not profits—must be the center of the global economy. Lambasting unbridled capitalism as a “subtle dictatorship” and the “dung of the devil,” Francis argued that when the “unfettered pursuit of money rules,” that “the service of the common good is left behind.” Francis called on the people to counter this: “Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”

3. We can’t wait for change. In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis said that, “doomsday predictions” about the environment “can no longer be met with irony or disdain.” On Thursday, he argued the same could be said of economic injustices: “Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home.” To address this economic situation, Francis argued that people must not be afraid to say “we want change.”

4. Lasting change must begin from below. The pope argued that structural change won’t be the “result from any one political decision.” Change from below works, the pope said, because when people get “caught up in the storms of people’s lives,” they are deeply moved and compelled to act.

Pope Francis’s speech didn’t reek of socialism, communism, or Marxism, but of a radical commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy,” the pope said. “It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right.”

If Pope Francis can sway Congress on this idea, then perhaps the world will begin to believe what so many of the poor already know: Francis truly is the vicar of that poor man who came two millennia ago to save his people.

Read next: Here’s a Picture of the Pope Being Given a Really Weird Crucifix

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TIME faith

Bienvenido Francisco! Scenes from the Pope’s Visit to Latin America

The Pope addressed a million people in Ecuador, sipped coca leaf tea in Bolivia, and is also set to visit Paraguay on his tour of Latin America. Here, a look at how the region's Catholics have welcomed "Papa Francisco"

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