Archive for May, 2011

So, I just sat in a room of 140 people doing interfaith dialogue. For those of you who know me even a little I think you can understand how exciting I find that. This group was racially, sexually, religiously diverse, as well as diverse in age and gender. At my table in particular were two chaplains, a bishop, the chair of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago AND Judy Valente who is a religion reporter for PBS and NPR (my dream job). So there I was – in a room filled with people I respect and hope to grow up to be – with people I love (my closest friends and roommates were all there) doing the thing I love to do most (interfaith!) – and that’s not even what made my night great.

No, the best part was actually the breakdown. I’d been DREADING breaking the event down. Do you know how hard it is to roll large round tables across Parkes 122? Do you know how heavy stacks of chairs get?

(Okay, so here i'm only handling two chairs and it doesn't look so intimidating but i swear those stacks get big!)

AND THEN you have to somehow put those heavy stacks of chairs on these God-forsaken rollie things that always seem to elude you and your chair stack the first few times around. When the Better Together Campaign kicked off in the fall, I was doing most of this with only a small group of dedicated helpers. But this time around, after a year of building relationships and getting to know people, I had a ton of help! Interfaith help! And instead of being frustrated, we laughed.

Ala - my new friend!!! And one of NUii's co-chairs for next year!

I raced, Ala, a new Palestinian Muslim friend I’ve made through doing this work, down the banquet hall rolling our tables until we both nearly lost control of them. My roommate (though we prefer the term “domestic partner”) Shireen and I took pictures of ourselves and made faces as we cleared tables and folded table cloths.

Me + Shireen!

Then, when it came time to figure out what to do with the left over food, Rehan, another new friend through Better Together this year, offered to drive it to the YMCA — I hadn’t even known they took leftovers! Turns out, they do. We drove down there together and dropped the food off.  The YMCA was thrilled.

I was thrilled. It finally dawned on me at that moment that Better Together has really worked at Northwestern. I’m so much more together with all these people than I was before. It’s awesome.

So, here are some snapshots of our night. Take a look at the committed interfaith players on this campus — these kids are great! If you don’t know them, you’re missing out.

Hanan and Soad!

Zack Sanderson - "Go Jesus!"

Nebiu - Interfaith Hall's new president!Sofia and Paco (future resident of Interfaith Hall)

I "seduced" Leah over to interfaith during a Sex Week event! #winning!

Hana! A future IFYC employee.

Zach - NUii's newest co-chair and mastermind of "Holy Wars: Interfaith Dodgeball"

It is said that Evanston is the “City of Churches.” In a sense I have come to know the truth of such a statement because over the last few weeks I have been interviewing pastors and worshipping with their congregations as part of my research for a journalism project I’m working on. But, I have also been interviewing non-Christian spiritual communities, like Udumbara Zen Center which is just one of many Buddhist and Zen meditation groups in town. Additionally, there’re Jewish Reform synagogues, Conservative Jewish temples, Orthodox and Reconstructionist communities. A mosque is in the works and store-front churches  of all denominations crop up on every corner. There’s not one but two Mennonite communities in Evanston, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a Quaker meetinghouse.

Evanston might still be the City of Churches and it’s a wonderful city at that – but there is also a rich multi-faith community developing here and I could not be more pleased. As Diana Eck and her Pluralism Project can attest, Evanston is hardly unique in this respect. The religious landscape of the U.S. is ever-changing and becoming more diverse than we have ever before known it to be. But, it is up to us to create pluralism out of our rapidly increasing diversity. We have to turn a fact: “Evanston is religiously diverse” into an intentional mission that incorporates a desire to understand our neighbors and to utilize that understanding toward social justice goals. The first step is to arm yourself with the relational experience and the religious literacy to truly benefit from this new situation.

Throughout this month I have contacted, communicated with and attended worship with many of Evanston’s diverse religious communities and I have to say that I was utterly unprepared for this undertaking. The unique richness of each service is almost too much to take in. From the sparse, contemplative Quaker Meetinghouse to the embodied Reba Place to Shabbat at Beth Emet, there are so many differences in the way these people express their faith but I’ve noticed there is also a core emotion that unites them. Each community has heartily welcomed me to join them and offered all the benefits and conveniences they possibly could. I keep feeling like each one is kinder than the last only to realize that it’s simply impossible not to exceptionalize the radical hospitality each one shows me in that moment. I really wish other people would try something like this because you really can’t imagine how beneficial it is, even to an atheist like me. I only advise that instead of doing it in the marathon my strict journalism deadline requires, you take it at a manageable pace to truly reflect on the wonder that is religious diversity.

Last week our dinner topic was “Jesus: The Man, The Myth, the Legend.” Since I am the person who often chooses the topics for our meetings I have to admit that I’m rarely caught off-guard by the direction a discussion goes but that Tuesday was different.

It was meant to be a discussion of Jesus across different faiths. In attendance that night we had Jewish students, Christian students, Muslim students, non-religious students and a Hare Krishna student. Even I was a bit surprised to learn that everyone had something to say about Jesus. And that something was uniformly positive.

I was shocked to discover that in the Quran, baby Jesus (pbuh) speaks to defend his mother’s chastity, announce his future importance and predict his resurrection. In the Christian tradition Mary’s chastity is announced and protected by the angel Gabriel whose message is then spread by her fiancé, Joseph. It seemed almost feminist to have the child whose legitimacy was in question defend his mother’s honor as opposed to her husband.

I then learned that in the Hare Krishna tradition Jesus is considered a great guru whose example should be followed. I didn’t know much about Hare Krishna’s before some of their members got involved with our initiative but am quickly coming to see that the goals of these students align very well with the goals of the Northwestern Interfaith Initiative and the IFYC’s Better Together Campaign.

And of course I got to provide insight I had from my bible studies and Christianity classes as to the Jesus I try to emulate in my life – the stories of the Sermon on the Mount (which many of the Muslims had never heard told before) and the story of Jesus’ insistence on pacifism even at the time of his arrest. While I don’t believe in Jesus’ divinity I do my best to live my life by his example in many ways. These stories are some of the big reasons I do interfaith work so it was nice to share them with the people I do that work with.

While I certainly can’t say I fully comprehend the entirety of Jesus: The Man, the Myth, the Legend I definitely think I benefited from hearing others’ descriptions of him.  I think something as big as Jesus requires a few second opinions and while you don’t have to accept every story you hear as truth, it certainly never hurts to expand your knowledge of what other’s believe and say.

Better Together: Interfaith Unity Banquet
  Thursday, May 26 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm
President Schapiro will be there too!
122 Parkes Hall
1870 Sheridan Road
Given that the popular face of our faith is often a product of media,
how can we reframe perceptions of faith through social action? Join us for discussion, fun and Pita Inn! All for free!
President Schapiro will be there too!
The banquet is an annual celebration of an interfaith agreement signed by The Northern Illinois Conference United Methodist Church & The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. But since Northwestern also had a really great year of interfaith cooperation we’re expanding it beyond Muslims and Methodists to everyone!
This year’s theme is Face of Our Faith with special speaker Judith Valente.
About the speaker:
Judith Valente began her career in journalism reporter for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Since 1998, she has been correspondent for PBS-TV news program Religion & Ethics News Weekly. Ms. Valente is a commentator for National Public Radio and Chicago Public Radio, where she covers religion.