Two new books focus on an interfaith world

March 23, 2011

NEW YORK

With the arrival of spring and the marking of Passover, Lent and Easter come two new and very different books that chronicle the pleasures and challenges of an interfaith world.

In Our Haggadah, published by Harper Collins, Washington journalists Cokie Roberts, who is Roman Catholic, and Steve Roberts, who is Jewish, provide advice to couples who share different religious faiths.

In Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, author James Carroll, a former Roman Catholic priest who has written extensively on themes of religion and violence, reflects on the meaning and history of the ancient city and its hold on the religious imagination of Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.

In appearances at New York’s Interchurch Center, Cokie and Steve Roberts, speaking March 8, and Carroll, speaking March 9, spoke of a world changing, where people are aware of religion’s many hazards. But they also realize that religious practice and reverence can, as Carroll said, “be a profound source of healing in the world.”

The book by the Robertses is based on the Haggadah — a text used during the ritual Passover meal, and something of a family “handbook” used by the couple during Passover in their 40+ years of marriage.

The book also contains advice to couples navigating the sometimes-rocky shores of an interfaith union ― something that was once more difficult for couples in the mid-1960s, when they were married, than it is now.

Then, the “religion part” could be “fraught,” Cokie Roberts recalled. Of their wedding in 1966, Cokie Roberts said: “That could be a minefield. But we navigated it.” And very well, according to her husband, who said that his wife was committed to family observances of both sets of religious traditions.

“The family joke is that Cokie is the best Jew in the family,” said Steve Roberts, who grew up in a secular Jewish family. He credited his wife’s embrace of religious practice in deepening his own religious faith. “Marrying a Catholic made me a better Jew,” he said.

For his part, Carroll said his book acknowledges Jerusalem’s anxious and often violent history, where clashes between those of different faiths have troubled the peace of the holy city ― a place where “the tectonic plates” of religion and violence are always shifting, and where a double vision of “life and death” is a norm.

Yet the wise followers within the three Abrahamic faiths know that “no one owns God,” Carroll said. “Jerusalem, the eye of the storm,” he said, “remains the best reason to keep an eye not on fear but on hope.”

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