Today I had the opportunity to go to the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center. I wasn't the only one! It was very crowded and full of people seeking out ways of growing their faith and the faith of those around them.
The first lecture I went to was by Rabbi Michael Lokter speaking on the topic "What every serious Christian should know about Judaism". I found his lecture very interesting and informative and was able to purchase his book A Christian's Guide to Judaism. If the book is half as good as his lecture it will be an excellent read. I think so often that we as Christians take for granted Jewish beliefs. We read the Old Testament and get some basic instruction on what "Jewish Practice" was like before Christ and we scratch our heads wondering why the Jews missed Jesus as the Messiah.
Rabbi Lokter did a great job explaining to us why that is and it seems to ultimately come down to two ideas. First, who God is and Second who the Messiah is. Apparently both of these questions are not satisfactorily or even coherently answered by Christianity in the Jewish mind. I also learned that while Christianity is interested primarily with the afterlife, Judaism is interested primarily with what we have here on earth now and what we are to do to better the world around us for God. The afterlife in Judaism is not focused on much. Differences like this, once understood, can really lead to some fruitful discussions between our faith traditions, and is far better than understanding a mere caricature of each other.
The second lecture I attended was by Fr. Joe Kempf speaking on the topic "What do you See in the Mirror". I was able to first hear Fr. Joe speak last year about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and I was very impressed with his pastoral nature and this lecture today did not disappoint either. Fr. Joe has a "pal" named Big Al that is a puppet he uses to teach children and make children's videos with. Apparently he has been doing this for some time as everyone seems to know all about it. Since I was a convert just last year to Catholicism I had no idea who this "Big Al" was and it was pretty comical to see all the middle aged folks get so excited to see Big Al and take pictures of him! The little I saw of Big Al and Fr Joe though makes it clear why people love him so much, he touches on heart issues and real world struggles and helps people figure out how to get through the hard times of life and how much God loves us. I picked up a book and DVD and am hoping to introduce my own kids to Big Al now!
My third workshop was a sobering one related to the atrocities of human trafficking. Theresa Flores spoke about her own experience being trafficked as a teenager and has written a book of her story titled "The Slave Across the Street". Theresa gave a lot of statistics and examples, but the biggest thing I think to take away was that Trafficking can happen to anyone anywhere and recognizing when someone may need help (even if they don't ask or admit it) is key to helping people gain freedom from their traffickers.
The day closed out with a choice of masses and I attended the "Black Culture Liturgy". It was a beautiful mass and the priest gave a wonderful homily about loving others even when they don't love us back or when it is difficult. I was lucky enough to sit next to a group of religious brothers from Hawaii and they were super friendly and we had a good time. I think if they had an extra habit and ticket to Hawaii, they may have offered it to me......maybe I would have accepted!
As happened last year, I now have a huge pile of books from the exposition floor to get through over the next few months!
I am very excited for tomorrow and the insights and faith formation to be gained by the lectures and liturgies tomorrow. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will be giving the keynote and so I am very excited to hear from someone of my former tradition as an Evangelical speak to this huge Catholic audience.