Sanctuary by Rabbi Aaron Spiegel

When considering this essay, I figured a rabbi should have religious places that hold special if not sacred value, so I thought of the synagogue of my childhood where I learned  (or at least they tried to teach me) the rich traditions of Judaism. I thought of the shul where I davened (prayed) with my grandfather. I thought of the synagogues I have been  privileged to serve. I thought of the myriad places in Israel that have historical and religious significance to Jews. And I thought of the synagogue where my children became bar and
bat mitzvah.
And while all these places brought fond memories, none felt inspiring. I panicked. How could I write an essay on inspiring places when, while important and meaningful, none  jumped out as truly inspiring? Then I realized all had a common trait that was inspiring —people. It wasn’t the synagogue of my childhood that was inspiring; it was Mr. Shapiro who taught me that learning Torah could move me to be a better person. It wasn’t davening in my grandfather’s shul that was inspiring; it was seeing my grandfather’s non-judgmental piety, in the face of so much personal tragedy, that inspired me. It wasn’t leading a congregation that inspired me; it was the privilege of being with people as they experienced the ups and downs of their lives that inspired me. It isn’t the synagogue where my children became full members of the Jewish community that is inspiring, it is their acceptance of their place in the community and the love of friends and family that  inspired me.
Jewish tradition holds that there are only two things holy in a synagogue—the Torah and the people. The building, while important, is just a building. Crossing the threshold into the synagogue does not take one from the world of the profane into the world of the sacred any more than crossing the threshold of an office building. What’s really important are the people whom we seek to inspire and who, in turn, will inspire us.
When the second Temple was destroyed in 79 ACE, the community faced a conundrum. How could they maintain a sense of Judaism without this thing, this structure, as the central focus of their faith? In their inimitable wisdom, the rabbis transferred the power of the Beit Hamikdash, house of sanctuary or holiness, to the home—the Mikdash Me’at or little temple. Parents became the new priests and children their charges. While synagogues became and remain important, they are so primarily because they offer a place to congregate, to be together as a community.
In his book Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Places, Lutheran theologian Jon Pahl writes that new institutions have usurped churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques as our revered spaces. For me as a Jew, it’s not that these places compete with synagogues for our souls; it’s that we have forgotten how to be in community. Instead of seeking inspiration from one another, we search for it in experiences. Life has taught me that the experience of inspiration is not found merely in congregating with others, but in forming relationships. Martin Buber was clear that it is when we acknowledge the humanity of others in our relationships that we experience God. Judaism says that it is loyalty to the teachings of the Torah that is the measure of the faith of the Jew, and not loyalty to an institution. Jewish spirituality centers on being inspired by others. Which is better: the focus on finding the spiritual in the synagogue or in life’s journey? I am not convinced that  either is better, but that personal spiritual growth requires both. It is our tradition to explore the Divine in places other than the synagogue, especially in the home. The concept of Mikdash Me’at, the sanctuary of home, is a cornerstone of Jewish spiritual practice.
However, it is also our tradition that prayer in a group is more powerful than alone. It is not happenstance that a quorum, minyan, is required to recite certain prayers, particularly those that are most personal. It is not that God hears better in groups, it is that we hear better in groups! Our connection to God is through our connection to each other.
Therefore, the synagogue provides the space where the sacred can congregate, where people can come together with Torah and live the experience of Judaism. After all, what are we worshiping? It’s not the building, the chairs, the walls, or the aron ha’kodesh;
we are worshiping our aliveness and our connection with the Divine.
Buber also said, “Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other.” That inspires me!
Aaron Spiegel Rabbi, Information Technology Director, Indianapolis Center for Congregations Sanctuary

Guest Post: At Home Everywhere on Earth

By Carol Johnston Carol.Johnston

CTS Director of Lifelong Theological Education

A few years ago I met an African American boy who had lived in a high-crime neighborhood all his life and whose home was hardly less chaotic than the streets. He was participating in a meeting at a large wealthy church where almost everyone present was white. A place far from his own “home.”  Yet, though in an alien place surrounded by white strangers, he was completely unintimidated.  He spoke without hesitation and asked some of the most insightful questions of anyone at the meeting.

This young man had been mentored at the Kheprw Institute where he had experienced a sense of “home” that was about being seen for the gifted human being he is. He had been encouraged to develop and share his gifts. He’d also been taught to view the earth as his home—a place to be embraced and cared for. As a consequence, he carried a sense of “home” inside him and could be “at home” wherever he went.

From a faith perspective, I would assert that this young man has been nurtured in a healthy spirituality—one that had helped him realize wherever he lives, it is infused with a divine presence and care that can be accessed.

When this experience of home is present, you discover divine care is present everywhere. Wherever life takes you, you can carry the sense of security of home inside you.

Most faith traditions affirm that the whole of creation is home because the world and everything in it, including each of us, is infused with the loving care of the Creator. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it, “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”

This is the reason people of every faith are trying to wake us up to the danger of environmental destruction, especially climate change. We believe that the Earth is our home, and that it is imperative for the sake of all life to care for it.

We are working to help shift ways of life that work against nature’s creativity and endanger all life to ways of life that learn from the divine wisdom embedded in nature and work with it for the benefit of all. My Christian faith affirms that the whole Earth is the sacred realm of divine creativity and love, and that we are all loved, gifted, and interrelated in this web of life.

Whenever and wherever any of us can experience this love and affirmation of our gifts, and affirm the same for others, we are doing the work of creating home for each other. This fThen we can be at home everywhere, and join in the work of healing and repairing “this fragile earth, our island home,” as an Episcopal prayer puts it.

Before I die . . .


I want to travel to Southeast Asia.

I want to know I’ve made a positive impact in my community.

I want to finally learn how to poach an egg properly.

Let’s be honest, if we’re going to think and talk about death, daydreaming about all the things we’d like to do be we die isn’t so rough and scary. Talking about wills, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, advance directives, hospice care, and other end-of-life topics can be rough and scary though.

Although difficult, these are important conversations and Spirit & Place is proud to partner with the IU School of Nursing for Indy’s first ever Before I Die Festival (April 15—17, 2016) as a way to spark dialogue around end-of-life care.

Modeled off of past events in Wales and England, Indy’s Before I Die Festival (the first one to occur in the United States), will feature book discussions, cemetery tours, genealogy workshops, art exhibits, death cafes, and more at locations across the city. A little bit like the Spirit & Place Festival itself, the Before I Die Festival taps into the creative and thoughtful power of several arts, humanities, and faith-based organizations to help us talk about our end-of-life wishes.

At Spirit & Place, we believe in the power of meaningful conversation and in the vital role the arts, humanities, and religion play in helping us make sense of the world and our place in it. This community is filled with talented, smart, and caring people who are eager to help us explore tough issues, including death and dying.

Learn more at the Before I Die website and Facebook page.

By Erin Kelleyerin


Becoming the Phoenix: Life and faith after an abusive marriage

By Andrea Feaster

Early in our marriage my husband and I had a terrible fight. He grabbed my hair; a glass top table got broken. Later, after things were calm and we apologized to one another, I told him I had called our church to ask for help. He was outraged, saying I had dishonored him. I hadn’t meant to harm him, so I called back and apologized, assuring a member of the pastoral staff that everything was fine. She comforted me, told me it was okay, that marriage is sometimes hard and I needn’t worry about having damaged my husband’s reputation. That was the end of the conversation.

During subsequent arguments over the next 11 years, my husband spat in my face, pushed me, told me I acted like a whore. I desperately wanted to provide an intact family for my children. I wanted to stay married, to keep my promise, to please my husband whom I loved. So each time I forgave him, admitted and apologized for my part in triggering his anger, and resolved to do better.

“I desperately wanted to provide an intact family for my children.”

Then one day my husband threw one of our sons across a room. When I told him not to hit the boy, he pushed me out into the hallway, slammed the door, and returned to “disciplining.” I panicked, kicking and shoving the door until it came off its hinges. He turned away from our son and came after me. Face against mine, he yelled at me to leave. He pulled back his arm, elbow at chin height, and made a fist to strike me. I looked at the floor.

He put his arm down, picked up his Bible, pressed it against my cheek and shoved. He told me I needed to read it more. Told me the man is the head of the family. That I had no family. As he yelled, he held his Bible with one hand and slapped his bare chest with the other until his skin blazed red. He put his face against mine and blew hard, spitting.

“Each time I forgave him, admitted and apologized for my part in triggering his anger, and resolved to do better.”

Taking off his wedding band as he stormed away, he spun and threw it at my face. He told me to get out of his house. I told him I would not leave my family. “Who is your family?!” he screamed. I finally choked out, “My children are my family.” My heart broke.

Throughout that day and night, I pretended everything was fine as I quietly contacted my parents to get us out. They never questioned me. The next day my sons and I boarded a tiny plane that took us away from him, away from our home, school, friends, pets, photographs. Family took us in. I was ashamed. I felt like a Judas.


When I met with an intake counselor at Families First a few weeks later, she handed me a checklist of behaviors and asked me to mark the ones I had done to my husband. Then she gave me a second copy of the list and asked me to mark the ones he had done to me. (It was not lost on me that a checklist existed of the many behaviors that happened in our household that I thought were private, that people didn’t know about, that I had never told anyone.) The counselor put the two lists side by side, looked me in the eyes, and said slowly as she tapped his list, “There is nothing you could have done that would justify someone treating you this way.”

"Journey" was the best way I could describe the file of communications and legal documents I gathered as we left my now ex-husband.

“Journey” was the best way I could describe the file of communications and legal documents I gathered as we left my now ex-husband.

I have a file of the communications and court documents pertaining to our departure labeled “April 2012 Journey.” That journey continues for me and for my children, even though we are in a good place now.

“It is not an easy journey – not easy to begin, not easy to continue.”

However, when I think about women who don’t have the support system I had – college education; work history; good credit; family who bought plane tickets on the spot; a former employer who re-hired me; friends who gave us dishes, clothes, toys, dignity – when I think about women who are lacking any of those things, I’m right back in that hallway, staring at that fist, trying to gather the courage to leave.

It is not an easy journey – not easy to begin, not easy to continue. This is the 19th year of the Spirit & Place Festival and the festival will explore JOURNEY with events from November 7-16, 2014. Perhaps the conversation could include how our community can be one that listens supportively, gives generously without hesitation or judgment, and actively builds a foundation of encouragement on which we each can journey safely.


About the author

Andrea Feaster is a market research analyst who lives and works just north of Indianapolis. She now attends Church for the Nations, blogs sporadically at, and tweets at @a_feaster.

Risk Revisited

Sleeping-BabyBy Joe Dudeck

A baby sleeps upon my lap right now…a 12-hour-old, eight-pound little man, swaddled tightly in the hospital’s finest linens. His chest rises and falls in short, erratic repetitions. His arms rise and swat the air. His face tells the story of a magical dream unfolding in his tiny head.

He has no idea of the risk it took for me to be here…nor should he.

“Lots of tears, anger, yelling, counseling, growing, falling, kicking, screaming, and surrendering.”

Presently, he’s not my child. Not yet. Not until adoption paperwork gets signed in another five hours. My wife and I are simply caring for him as his birthmom sleeps on another floor of this same hospital. And so all we do is hold, hug, burp, kiss, snuggle, sing, and cry.

We’ve been here before.

Three years ago, we spent a night in a hospital with a birthmom and her newborn, only to discover the next morning there would be no adoption on that day. She’d decided, perfectly within her rights, to retain custody—making it an arduous drive home with an empty car seat staring at me from the back seat.

It took a long time to get back here again.

Lots of tears, anger, yelling, counseling, growing, falling, kicking, screaming, and surrendering. I didn’t always want to return to this place. Some days I wanted to run away from the pain of that moment altogether. And many nights I tossed—wondering if I’d ever be a dad, and, if not, asking myself who I’d even be then?

But for me, it eventually came down to faith and hope…my antidotes to fear and risk.

“It eventually came down to faith and hope…my antidotes to fear and risk.”

I rediscovered a faith in my God who I now fully believe wants a real, honest, unpolished relationship and lifelong conversation with me. And I realized I’m not defined by being a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, a photographer, a writer…or even a father. Rather, my purpose here gets perpetually defined in every moment my life crosses paths with another.

And so, four months ago, I found the courage to step back toward the risk of this moment, fully hoping the door to parenthood would swing open this time.

We’ll see in five hours.

Joe Dudeck owns two Indianapolis-based businesses: Joetography and Keyhole Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at either @Joetography or @KeyholeMktg.

Hearts of hate to hearts of love

Kent%20Headshot%20DigitalBy Dr. Kent Millard

In March, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started a voting rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama to change U.S. laws so that African American citizens could register and vote.

Dr. King asked pastors, priests, rabbis, nuns, and lay people from all over the nation to come to Selma to march for voting rights.

Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister in Boston, responded to Dr. King’s invitation.   Rev. Reeb went into a Selma café, and, when he came out, he was hit over the head with a club by segregationists and died from brain injuries.

“We would be doing what another minister from Boston had been killed for doing the previous week.”

Dr. King called Boston University School of Theology and asked seminary students to come to Selma and join him in this struggle for voting rights.

I was one such seminary student and joined my fellow students on a trip to Selma to participate in the marches.

I was well aware of the risk, since we would be doing what another minister from Boston had been killed for doing the previous week.

For me it was a question of faith.  I thought “how can I ever ask lay people to take a risk for their faith, if I can’t do it myself?”

“My experience in Selma taught me to take risks for my faith, and that God can change hearts through the power of prayer”

I went to Selma, was trained in non-violent resistance, and marched from a Baptist Church to the Selma courthouse amid the hatred and shouts of segregationists.

At the courthouse, a Black pastor prayed for all the people who were shouting ugly words at us that God would change their hearts of hate to hearts of love.

Forty years later in 2005, I spoke to a United Methodist ministers’ retreat in Alabama.  I shared my Selma experience with them, and afterwards a pastor came up and told me that he was also in Selma in March, 1965, but he was one of those shouting hateful words at the marchers.

I asked him, “What changed you?”  He explained that he went to a church service where he knelt in prayer, confessed his sin of hatred, and God came into his life and changed his heart.  Then he decided to become a United Methodist minister to try to build bridges of love rather than walls of hatred.  I thought about how the prayer of the Black pastor 40 years earlier had been answered: a heart of hate had been changed to a heart of love.

My experience in Selma taught me to take risks for my faith, and that God can change hearts through the power of prayer.


Dr. Kent Millard served as Senior Pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis for 18 years and retired in 2011.  Dr. Millard is President of the Indianapolis Interfaith Hunger Initiative, member of Downtown Rotary, serves on the Gleaners board and is a co-author of Lead Like Butler.