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7 Life-Giving Things that Happened at Sinai & Synapses

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

I just spent two invigorating days in NYC at a Sinai and Synapses fellowship meeting. I am so thankful for the experience—for the people, the conversations, and for the profound sense of renewal I'm now feeling.

While there is so much I could share, here are 7 not-so-small things that lifted me up:

1. The hugs - I'm not sure why all the hugs happened (because I've only met most of these folks face to face once, and we're such a diverse group of people —atheists, agnostics, people of faith (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian)) but they did! Several times I felt an embrace that said, "I remember you... and I am so glad to see you... and I appreciate you." It felt so real and so good—to be a peer, to be myself, to belong that much.

2. The humility - I could hear and see it in each of the breakout sessions I attended; real human beings with real stories that gave birth to a deep interest in the topic they were presenting. One scientist was wanting to help their non-science embracing family appreciate the eloquence of evolution (with such gentleness and love). A generous and brilliant maths scholar was searching for a way for the universal language of mathematics to help us structure how we engage difficult questions. So many people sharing their wisdom over a coffee. Taking in all of this humility, I kept thinking how rare this must be—all of this knowledge carried so lightly.

3. A synergy born out of diversity - There is a creative synergy that comes with cross-discipline conversations. An AI expert informing a pastor's understanding of people's loneliness (lonely people are using AI as a companion and this is a problem because "AI often makes things up"—it's in its nature—and offers unwise counsel). An atheist PhD student shares practical developmental psychology wisdom in response to a pastor's idea for a children's book. These kinds of synergies must have played out a dozen times for me and there were even moments where I felt I was that voice for others—free enough to be myself and able to bring a bit of my greatest strength to another.

4. Avowed atheists - One of the most beautiful gifts of being a part of the Sinai and Synapses fellowship is seeing the beauty, brilliance, and humanity of people who see the world different from me—especially those who self-identify as atheists. As a pretty committed theist, I found myself stretched. In order for me to hold my awareness of these differences, alongside a huge sense of appreciation and respect for the person I'm listening to, learning from, and then sharing lunch with, I had to become a bigger person. There is a largesse that is borne out of making space for those who are different from us. This gathering was filled with big people in this regard.

5. NYC - Stepping outside of the meetings for a second, I found that there was something about being in NYC (with all of its diversity, synergy, and brilliance) that made it the perfect setting for all that I experienced. Walking to and from the gathering, I was surrounded by a diversity that prepared me for our group's diversity. New sights and sounds readied me for the new cognitive sights and sounds I would encounter. Being just one person in a city of 8.5 million readied me to be just one person in the meeting's conversations. For me, all of this felt like it was bringing clarity to some vocational discernment I'm engaging. As I now dream about a new vocational direction—perhaps becoming a community theologian in the public sphere—all of this diversity training feels like preparation. I need to become a bigger (and smaller) person to find my voice and place.

6. A fellow dad of a child with a disability - When you meet another parent of a disabled child there's always a knowing glance. They get it—the challenges, the profound sense of meaning that comes with this kind of life, the wholeness and the tears. Talking with one dad several times, and just appreciating how he uniquely embodied the thoughtfulness of being a science professor alongside his life filled with care for his daughter, I felt a different kind of belonging... a deeper sense of being known. That's the unexpected upside of interacting with 'differently abled' individuals (be they dis-abled kids or uniquely-abled Sinai and Synapses fellows)—you get to be known from so many different angles, and you really do end up knowing yourself more.

7. A loving Rabbi - When our host, Rabbi Geoff Mitelman first welcomed us to the meeting, his joyful energy and tone were infectious—like that of a proud father with his kids. This was an

alumni meeting that included several years worth of Sinai and Synapses fellows and Geoff couldn't help but feel the fullness of the moment. Later that same day (with a bit of reticence regarding the quality of his voice) he also sang a blessing of peace over us. There is something about these kinds of moments—where a person values love for the community over personal discomfort or vulnerability—that is deeply impactful. Geoff's song reminded me of a God who sings over his children (Zeph. 3:17)—all of his children. That's what diverse gatherings like this do... they redefine 'all' for us. Gatherings like this, marked by patient love and mutual respect, remind me of the kind of world God created and loves.

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Sounds like a wonderful experience, John! I grew up where the often heard sentiment was, "If you're not Dutch..." You know the rest. And one was even less so if not of some Reformed persuasion. What a blessing it must have been to be around so many diverse and inquisitive minds. We can learn so much from one another! And we know God weaves wonders and wisdom in mysterious ways that are far beyond our wildest imaginings! So cool that He has led you there to NYC to be blessed and to be a blessing!

Nov 11, 2023
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Thanks C. It really did feel like an affirmation of the new direction I'm being called into.

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