Legacy Feature: Indiana Jones meets Interfaith Peacebuilding

Written by SA-Worker18 student
September 30, 2015

About the Feature: We are excited to share a new series of stories, featuring individuals that have significantly contributed to the work we do day-in and day-out ?for a more just and humane world? here at Seattle University and its School of Theology and Ministry. We are calling this a ?legacy? feature, as we believe that we can learn not only from individuals and communities that are paving the way for the future, but also learn from the legacy of those that paved the way to get us where we are today. We hope that these stories will, in some small way, encourage and inspire those who read them as they work to bridge what IS to what CAN BE.??

Story by Tina Alvarado, Current Student
MA in Relationship & Pastoral Therapy, a couples & family therapy program?

Each of us holds a unique set of interests, experiences, passions and gifts that shape our identity. If we listen well to the stirrings within us, we activate those elements of who we are into meaningful work--to ultimately make a difference in the world around us. Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, ?Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world?s greatest need.? Rev. Jack Olive was a man who let his greatest passion lead him to meaningful work. In a world where we often feel so disconnected from ourselves and the needs of others, Jack?s life example reminds us that it is possible to live into that idea of ?vocation.? It is my privilege to pen some words about his legacy. It also happens that Jack served Seattle University?s School of Theology and Ministry as Assistant Dean for Ecumenical & Interreligious Dialogue from 2007-2012, and greatly contributed to the school?s work in its formative years. ?

As a student in the school?s couples and family therapy program, I?ve come to understand that who we are is revealed in the way we connect with others. As I have learned through conversations over the past few months with people close to Jack, there was no shortage of meaningful connections in the life of Rev. Jack Olive. As a Methodist pastor, biblical scholar, an archaeologist, father, friend, colleague, partner, and mentor he embodied a vision for unity and peace across religious divides in every avenue of his life.?

Stemming from his biblical archaeological work in the Middle East, Jack saw relationships across seeming barriers and divides as a way of life. As he was digging at the sites of ancient Jewish temples, he witnessed first-hand the pain, anger, and suffering that had been caused by the longstanding feud between Christians and Muslims in Palestine and Israel. However, he also noticed the moments of peace and kinship happening between individuals from both sides. He brought this insight to his home of Seattle with the help of some key Jewish friends through a special panel that brought together Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, two peacebuilders whom Jack befriended during his time in the Middle East. (Unbeknownst to Jack, these two men had actually been meeting in secret for years to develop a peace plan!). Imagine that: a Methodist pastor urged by Jewish community members to shine the spotlight on Middle Eastern peacebuilding. Interreligious work for the common good was in his bones?it permeated every corner of his life, including his family life. Whenever he could, he brought his wife and three kids?two daughters and a son?to accompany him on digs in places like Nazareth and Galilea. His son Kyle shared that when he was 12, he had one of the most formative and rare experiences a child his age could have?living on a Jewish kibbutz (also known as ?collective?), in the midst of an archeological dig in Lower Nazareth. Later on, the father and son got a chance to collaborate in a different way. By the time Jack brought the peacebuilding panel with Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh to Seattle University, Kyle was a young adult attending Seattle University Law School. As Jack spearheaded a project that represented his life?s work and passion, Kyle? who was just beginning to understand his life?s work? covered the event for the Law School?s social justice journal. Meaningful work had become a way of life, not just for Jack, but for his family.

After nearly 40 years of work in archaeology and on issues of ecumenical and interfaith connection, Jack joined Seattle University?s School of Theology and Ministry as the first Assistant Dean of Ecumenical & Interreligious Dialogue. Jack?s assuming that position was a culmination of all of his passions fitting together. Jack contributed to the heart of the interreligious conversation in the Pacific Northwest?with people of faith working together towards peace and harmony, and in partnership with the school. ?

As a part of the interfaith conversation in Seattle, Rabbi Weiner, Senior Rabbi of Temple De Hirsch Sinai and Jack?s friend and colleague says he thought Jack was the perfect candidate as the school was evolving and expanding its scope because he melded thoughtful scholarly rootedness in faith traditions with very practical application. Rabbi Weiner realized that this work could only be done through meaningful relationships with others?relationships that involved care, concern, humility and mercy for one another.

As I spoke to Jack?s family, friends, and colleagues, each readily described him as a man of deep faith, intuition, care, humility, integrity, intelligence and grit. Jack had a profound impact on those he connected with?and not just with the insight and experience he brought to the community, but the playfulness too. Jack?s humor reminded those around him to stop for a chuckle. Catherine Smith, a Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry staff member, shares a light-hearted moment:

??One day he came to the door of my office as he headed out for the day, threw his arms open and sang the Mighty Mouse song:

?When there is a wrong to right,
Mighty Mouse will join the fight
?Here I come to save the day!?
That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way!

When it came to opportunities for connection and learning with others, Jack had the ability to see things that most couldn?t. Time and again I heard about his gift for forming lasting, meaningful, and sometimes unlikely relationships that bridged differences while still honoring individuals? gifts and experiences. As Dr. Michael Trice, current Assistant Dean of Ecumenical & Interreligious Dialogue, shared, ?I?ve met very few people who could live into relationship the way he did and so selflessly?he did it because he believed in an intentionally ecumenical program that he saw as students centered and necessary for the future formation of tomorrow?s clergy.? ?

Through his example, Jack challenged those around him to work with, and not against, those who may not share the same beliefs, but strive for the common goal of peace. He was a fundamental part of our school?s growth from being inclusively Christian (ecumenical) to also including individuals and communities of other faiths in dialogue (interfaith)?intentionally and carefully expanding the scope of our school?s work to all people of faith and beyond. Without losing sight of the school?s rootedness in Jesuit Catholic values, this greatly respected Methodist Pastor showed what it looked like to think outside of divisions and lines, and to truly listen to one another. In a world that pits differences against one another, he found a way to hold complex and sometimes ancient conflicts in a way that few people can?a way that honors the humanity of everyone involved. Rabbi Weiner says: ?Jack really embodied something that?s sorely missing now (in our world)?the ability to have a conversation with opposing viewpoints without becoming so polarized that we are unable to hear one another.?

?There is no doubt that Jack?s life ended too soon. After a long and painful battle with illness, a struggle he handled with grace and humor, Jack died on January 9, 2012?working up until the day he died. As Catherine Smith shared, even his funeral encapsulated the life he lived for others. Planned by his wife Glynn and himself, it began with an overture of music for his beloved friends. Catherine said:?

??The music was the most beautiful exquisite music I have ever heard. In the sanctuary of the church was this little mini orchestra and they gave a concert before the ceremony. It was like Jack was saying, ?I have a gift for you. I love music and I want you to love it too, so here?s the best of the best?enjoy it.? It was absolutely awesome.?

Despite the void felt by his absence in the school and the community, his work lives on through the vision and dedication of people like our very own Doctor of Ministry students who are doing research and building projects to bridge differences in their communities and beyond. And the list of those who are consciously advancing the work Jack began continues on. Though I did not have the opportunity to meet Jack, I have been touched by his steadfast commitment to building lasting peace among people of faith, and I was drawn to the school to be a part of that very work.?

Learning about Jack?s legacy has stirred me to ask a few questions of myself. How do I think creatively about my vocation, and imagine new possibilities for meaningful work? How do I trust my own experiences to guide me to the place ?where my passion meets the deep need of the world?? How can I live into my role as a couples and family therapist in a way that is wholly authentic?bringing the vitality of who I am to the relationships I develop, as Jack did?

Many thanks to Jack?s wife Glynn and son Kyle, Rabbi Daniel Weiner, Dr. Michael Reid Trice, Catherine Smith and others who contributed to this special legacy tribute of which I was honored to pen.?

In loving memory of Rev. Jack Olive?s legacy??