Day In, Day Out
Directing two programs, even when not in the midst of a restructure, takes a bit of coordination. The two areas under my direct supervision – Faith & Order (or inter-Christian theological dialogue) and Interfaith Relations – are at the center of the NCC’s life. Certainly education is also at the center – did you know that the NCC holds the copyright to the RSV and NRSV translations of the Bible, the most-cited in academia? – as is advocacy. But as an organization that exists primarily to build relationships, and heal divisions, among the churches, the organization’s reason for being is primarily theological in nature. And recognizing that we do this work in an increasingly pluralistic society means that theological dialogue and collaboration with other faith communities is key to who we are as well.
So, as my kids often ask me, what do I do? First I coordinate the Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations tables. The churches send representatives to these tables – mostly theologians to the first, mostly practitioners and academics to the second – so that they, on behalf of their communities, can wrestle together with colleagues from other communities on issues of common concern. The work done at these tables, often academic-level texts or congregational resources, then have to get published or otherwise produced, something that I facilitate. (This part of the job dovetails closest with the restructure currently in process: we are now in the midst of soliciting the churches to name representatives to the redesigned tables.)
Next, I write. Like this blog this week, I write theological reflections for internet distribution, on topics that can range from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to the situation of Christians in Syria. I also write articles on less timely, but no less important, themes. For example, just a few weeks ago I finished an article for a book on Jewish-Christian relations over the last half-century. What made this article a particularly meaningful task for me was that it was written in the midst of the current tensions between the Jewish and Christian communities caused by a disagreement over an advocacy matter related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so it gave me the chance to affirm the importance of this relationship. As a theologian, I find the opportunity to publish especially helpful.
I also facilitate interfaith dialogue and collaboration. Despite the current tensions in Jewish-Christian relations, groundwork has to be laid for the resumption of dialogue, on both the Mideast situation and pastoral issues here at home. As for Muslim-Christian relations, much of this is currently done around issues of Islamophobia in this country, though plans are also in the works to increase dialogue on theological and pastoral issues as well.
Also, I talk…a lot. I do public speaking, give academic lectures, and interview with media outlets. I meet with policymakers, serve on government and non-government committees, and attend conferences. This week is pretty slow in terms of the latter, but next week I start with the annual meeting with the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations on Sunday, a New York University conference on religion and the public sphere on Monday and Tuesday, and a meeting at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary to go over their strategic plan (which I coordinated) with the Association of Theological Schools as part of the seminary’s reaccreditation process on Wednesday.
And I travel. Most of my travel these days is domestic, when I host meetings of the two tables I direct. But I also travel internationally. Next month I will be attending the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Vienna. Engaging with interfaith partners globally has always been a fascinating part of my job; when I directed international affairs for the NCC, I used to lead or participate in delegations all over the world to meet with interfaith and political leaders on critical issues in their local contexts. It was one such delegation to Rwanda in 2004, for a theological consultation on human dignity and reconciliation, that compelled me to take an active role in trying to end the genocide in Darfur. Indeed, it turned out that my subsequent tenure as chair of the Save Darfur Coalition, now United to End Genocide after the merger with the Genocide Intervention Network, was one of the most gratifying highlights of my professional career.
Interspersed throughout my days are staff meetings, budget discussions, and committee conference calls, like the one tomorrow with the board development committee chair. Then there are the communications issues to resolve with colleagues, like how to rebuild listserves lost when a server was damaged during a recent office consolidation. And then there are the usual administrative duties, like the next expense report I have to do. When is that flight to Vienna?
Tomorrow, we will get to some motivating factors.