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A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Minister Walk into a Performance Hall...

A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Minister Walk into a Performance Hall...

I've been ruminating on something that happened late last month.

I was on stage at an interfaith concert in Toronto on a Saturday night. Multiple faith groups were represented in a community gathering to honor an incredible rabbi (Larry Englander of Solel Congregation in Mississauga) who has given blessing upon blessing to the larger Toronto community.

We were about to sing the finale. A gospel choir, amongst other groups, joined us at the stage. I took a moment to address the crowd.

I'm not sure what I said, but I do know that I spoke different words than expected. In hindsight, I believe I was inspired by the outwardly demonstrative faith of the choir. If you've spent any time in church (AME or otherwise), you may be aware of the incredible freedom with which folks express their faith. They affirm as one speaks. They nod, and vocally add their support to thoughts, sentiments and statements.

Most importantly, they do not fear acknowledgement of their relationship with a higher power. Whether you connect with the One or the Three (or any other number, for that matter), there is incredible inspiration to be found in a fearlessly outpoured sentiment of belief. 

I'm used to experiencing God as a euphemism - a burning bush, perhaps. Jews typically beat around this bush (pun very much intended), simply acknowledging that we all acknowledge

The choir's relationship with their faith did not stop at simple acknowledgment. Words that inspired them were met with vocal affirmation. They gave themselves to the moment, really listening, really affirming. They brought the room together because they were not afraid.

I long for this in my own life, in my own spiritual community. I wish for that freedom to be found again. I believe we once knew it well; at Sinai, at the Red Sea, we exclaimed our faith. 

Truth: I'm not opposed to your beliefs differing from mine. I actually support it. (Read: I do not simply tolerate it. I support it). 

Monochromatic faith is like tossing a baseball in the air and catching it yourself. Sure, you are technically throwing and catching, but it's ultimately a poor substitute for tossing the ball around with another person. You learn, you adjust, you see more clearly when another person plays catch with you. You appreciate how the ball approaches you in different ways, and you enjoy throwing it back and forth. It builds camaraderie. It creates relationship. It puts us all on the same field. 

I want to live in a world where everyone gets to play catch.

The choir, by being present in the moment and affirming my words, invited me to toss the ball around.

And I am grateful.

אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ.
God, open my lips, that I might declare Your praise.

Josh Nelson is one of the most popular performers and producers in modern Jewish music. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Josh's music is celebrated and integrated into the repertoire of congregations, camps and communities around the world. Josh is the music director for the URJ Biennial convention, a faculty member of Hava Nashira, and an artist in residence for the JCC Maccabi Artsfest. Learn more at

Josh Nelson
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