Sunday, December 27, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Now, four months later, we are a full-fledged (albeit very penniless) VSO, with a motivated core leadership team, and (way too many) exciting projects on the table. We have been featured in campus newspapers and national journals alike. We have already built partnerships with the tireless Faiths Act Fellows, Initiative Against Malaria, and Challah for Hunger; while quickly moving on to collaborative projects with MSAN, the Haas Center, and Teach for America. And we are operating on multiple levels at once: both organizing direct interfaith service opportunities on the ground, and working to institutionalize interfaith cooperation from the top.
The latter has become critical to the way we view our success over this year. Increasingly, our focus is on changing the very ecology of campus with regard to interfaith relations. We want to understand the mechanisms by which Stanford understands its religious diversity, and takes active measures to translate that diversity into pluralism. And we want to function both as instigators of and conduits for such change on campus: through the Office for Religious Life, Office of the Provost, Haas Center for Public Service, Residential Education, ASSU Diversity Chairs, Alumni Network, and New Student Orientation, among other institutional entities.
Most importantly, however, we want to insert the identity category of "interfaith leader" into the consciousness of all Stanford students. This year, for Ansaf and myself, can only be about planting seeds in as many corners of campus as possible. But these need to be nurtured by successive individuals who take ownership of that same identity category: who can read a story like the recent atrocious act of the Swiss government banning the presence of minarets, and instead of dividing it along traditional religious or secular lines, advocate for the rights of others through their own shared experience of marginality.
I think of people like my friend Joe Gettinger, president of the Jewish Students Association, who immediately after this news emerged, sent me this article on Jewish criticism of the ban. Joe's awareness, attitude, and actions demonstrate to me the fundamental characteristics of interfaith leadership: a clear vision of the faith line, a knowledge base of one's own tradition and those of others, and the skill to build positive relationships between different communities. A recent IFYC poll showed that while 70% of college students have heard derogatory comments about other religions, only 25% would have spoken out against them. What are these statistics at Stanford, and who will take the lead to change them? If Joe is any indication, we are beginning to receive answers to the latter.
The work ahead is considerable, but significant. We have the potential to make interfaith cooperation--like environmentalism, human rights, and other movements--a social norm and not just an anomaly. That "huge, foolish project," as Rumi would call it, is well underway at Stanford. Will we turn out like Noah? You tell us. Better: We'll tell each other.
May you all have a blessed winter break.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
My Lord, my guide, take me to that shore.
After all, you brought me this far;
Won't you take me from here?
I was also raised in a religious setting with an emphasis on worship of the Divine Mother: always compassionate, always giving. It would be our privilege, in this life, to attempt to return the favor; to make of our lives a continuous expression of gratitude. The Mother's grace was a constant presence in the way our values were shaped; we could not be angry with others, be cruel to others, when we were being forgiven at every moment. Rumi says: We are here to be a forgiveness door through which freedom comes.
Gratitude, humility, compassion, forgiveness--these form the core of my own religious vocabulary. But I am most thankful for the diverse people who share them with me, each in their own particular language, their own unique beauty. I remember them--all of you, and other friends yet to be made--in my prayers this Thanksgiving, alongside the poor and homeless and wartorn and unloved. May the efforts of our group the rest of this year continue to put our shared values into direct action.
Friday, November 13, 2009
“The only alternative to coexistence is codestruction.” –Jawaharlal Nehru
I feel it appropriate to remind ourselves that for an interfaith movement to be successful we must reach out to humans of all religious beliefs and to those who lack them. As an atheist I often feel caught between the spheres of belief and skepticism. On one hand I have such an immense appreciation for religious thought; it provides solace in times of loneliness, it promulgates human goodness, and is often incredibly selfless in the service it renders to the marginalized. These are all products of the sphere in which I don’t inhabit.
Or do I? My own set of morals, my set of beliefs, the very foundations of my identity are born from the sphere I do not claim as my own. My vegetarianism stems from my close friendship with a Jain. In high school I was highly involved in the Honor Code – a stance that directly reflects the 9th Commandment in Christianity, two branches of the Eightfold Path, and Allah’s forewarning for the Day of Judgment in the Quran (to name just a few). To say that my ethics are not influenced by a variety of faiths would be an ironic contradiction of my commitment to honesty. In this light, I am very much a religious man.
The reason I often find myself caught between these two spheres is the virulence these bodies emanate within and towards each other. Even in this increasingly globalized world, people of faith often go out of their way to hunt the differences between their faiths rather than relish in their similarities. So many core values are shared between religious groups – why do we not seek the beauty in this path? But it doesn’t stop here. Atheists can be just as guilty. The virulence with which some atheists attack religion can be equal or worse than their religious counterparts. Yet once again, I find that at the core of their being, in the depths of their heart, atheists are no different from theists.
I wish to live in conflict no more. I don’t want to join a sphere; rather, I want the spheres to join in a pluralistic, peaceful coexistence. On this day we must remember the caution offered by Nehru: that we must live in a peaceful coexistence or, as Martin Luther King said, “perish together as fools”. It comes with little surprise to me that an atheist and a Baptist minister share, quite literally, an identical worldview.
I leave you with the 14 Precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh, a source of great inspiration to me.
I remain optimistic about our ability to reconcile our similarities and appreciate rather than oppose our differences. I am hopeful because I know that intrinsically we are overwhelmingly similar – we belong together in a single, loving sphere.
Happy Jawaharlal Nehru Day!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
It was this dual ethic of love and service which I was fortunate to share with ten other religiously diverse young people on Saturday, during our Day of Interfaith Youth Service (DIYS). We volunteered in various capacities at Sacred Heart Community Service in Downtown San Jose, as part of their annual program to register the homeless and low income families to receive food and toy boxes for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After a little over three hours of sharing in the lives of Sacred Heart's clients--whose disenfranchisement spans ethnicities and languages, genders and ages--we returned to the Stanford campus for a brief reflective dialogue. There were a whole host of things we could have discussed: why the richest nation in the world allows for scandalous disparities in income, what systemic injustices cast people into poverty, how disproportionate numbers of those in the lines to register were women and children. But over sugar cookies and muffins at Hillel, in the fading light of evening, we spoke instead of ourselves, and learned of one another.
What inspires us to serve? What draws six freshmen, from Bangladesh to Kenya to San Francisco, to spend a day working together with total strangers to help the disadvantaged? For some it was an ethic embedded from a young age to repair the world, symbolized as pieces of shattered glass. For some it was a spiritual leader, advocating for the marginalized and the oppressed. For some it was our grandmothers: so generous, so compassionate, with never a thought for themselves. Everyone had a tradition; a tradition enriched by the stories of others.
In the wake of the recent attacks on Fort Hood, I'd been hearing a lot of the rhetoric flowing over the airwaves. But for a few poignant reminders of the tragedy's immediate victims, the attacker's religious identity was the only thing on everyone's mind. And the implications were not just about Muslims; the implications were: if you know someone who is devout, or who takes their religious identity seriously, you'd better watch out. I have a different vision of the world: a world in which a murderer is a murderer, and "does not deserve," as Eboo Patel says, "the honor of a religious label." That world was in front of me on Saturday. Our small gathering may not be on the evening news any time soon, but I sure hope people are paying attention. We were Hindus and Muslims and secularists, volunteering at a Catholic organization, and sharing a meal in a Jewish house.
For another take on this event, check out this post from our good friend Tim Brauhn of the Faiths Act Fellows. Please join us for the next meeting of Stanford F.A.I.T.H on Wednesday, Nov. 11th, at 7:30 PM in the Common Room (CIRCLE). Come and watch a video compilation and more pictures from the DIYS! Our meetings will now be weekly affairs, open to everyone to share their ideas, projects, and hopes for a future of consistent interfaith service on campus. The agenda for this meeting will be sent out soon. Please do forward the story of this event far and wide; we hope to see many of you on Wednesday!
Monday, November 2, 2009
Has been described as a call “for an open-minded, intellectual, and tolerant ‘Christian fellowship.’”
Thankfully, my studies often resonate with my genuine interests because I am able to pursue a major (Religious Studies) that I enjoy (regardless of next year’s job opportunities, or lack thereof). This week’s assignment “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” sparked something unusual in me – enough so that I felt inspired to write about it for the Stanford Interfaith Blog. I read Fosdick’s sermon this weekend because it was assigned as homework for my History class about Religion in America (HISTORY 154A) but as I was reading through the short document (only 8 pages!) I couldn’t help thinking how the sermon is a wonderful defense of the interfaith movement as I see it.
Fosdick makes the claim that Fundamentalism jeopardizes not only Christian unity and fellowship, but also tolerance and peaceful solutions to problem-solving in general. In this blog post, I want to share with you some of the quotes that I found most relevant to our mission as interfaith activists and discuss the reasons why I find his sermon inspirational. Its still difficult for me to comprehend how a sermon over eighty years old can still be relevant today. Have we progressed at all since then? How can we win the fight in the future?
1. “We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant.”
This sermon sets out from the very beginning to identify the particular group of Christians with whom Fosdick has problems: the Fundamentalists – who are conservative in nature, but unique in that they are “essentially illiberal and intolerant.” I consider myself to be a liberal and tolerant person, and therefore flatter myself by imagining Fosdick on my side. But my identity aside, I am very glad that Fosdick makes the distinction between conservatives in general and the particular brand of conservatives that are Fundamentalist – since we often wrongly equate the two still today.
2. “This is a free country and anybody has a right to hold these opinions or any others if he is sincerely convinced of them. The question is—Has anybody a right to deny the Christian name to those who differ with him on such points and to shut against them the doors of the Christian fellowship? The Fundamentalists say that this must be done.”
Great point! How can we really look someone in the eye and say “Well, I don’t think you’re a Christian because you don’t believe x, y, and z! Stop calling yourself a Christian! Only people like me are real Christians!” How is it our place to judge others so harshly and shut them out from our brotherhood? [I believe same argument can be made for many other religions, by the way.]
3. “Here in the Christian churches are these two groups of people and the question which the Fundamentalists raise is this—Shall one of them throw the other out? ... Is not the Christian Church large enough to hold within her hospitable fellowship people who differ on points like this and agree to differ until the fuller truth be manifested? The Fundamentalists say not.”
Why can’t they just “agree to disagree” about the small points until the “fuller truth” is revealed? I guess one objection is that the Fundamentalist groups consider these “small points” to actually be “big points” deserving of such hatred and animosity. However, it would take a lot of arguing to convince me that anything is worth this kind of judgment and conviction. But if even one side of the debate sees it in terms of “who will win and get to throw the loser out of the ‘church’ officially”… then there will be a lot of ‘churches’ in existence. Too bad unity is so hard!
4. “The first element that is necessary is a spirit of tolerance and Christian liberty. When will the world learn that intolerance solves no problems?”
Genius: “intolerance solves no problems.” I agree. Enough said.
5. “…there is one thing I am sure of: courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right. Opinions may be mistaken; love never is.”
Another touching line: love is never mistaken. Why can’t we all love each other and get along? Boo reality; w00t idealists.
6. “Science treats a young man’s mind as though it were really important. A scientist says to a young man, “Here is the universe challenging our investigation. Here are the truths which we have seen, so far. Come, study with us! See what we already have seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth.” Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, ‘Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions. These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results.’”
This part of the sermon was extremely moving for me because I very much enjoyed Fosdick’s portrait of Science vs. Fundamentalist Religion. In this story, science is portrayed as a welcoming and challenging field of study with open-ended results. On the other side, Fundamentalist religion is portrayed as a confining and prescribed set of beliefs that minimize actual thinking. No wonder one is more attractive than the other (to me, at least, who likes to use my mind).
7. “The second element which is needed if we are to reach a happy solution of this problem is a clear insight into the main issues of modern Christianity and a sense of penitent shame that the Christian Church should be quarreling over little matters when the world is dying of great needs.”
I think that these lines will be particularly inspiring to those people who feel the call of social action and want to solve the world’s great problems together instead of arguing over each other’s minute differences. This quote forces me to broaden my perspective and realize that the little debates between sects are just the small problems in this world; and that instead we should focus our energy on solving the big problems --> like Malaria! (that one’s for you, Anand!)
8. “God keep us always so and ever increasing areas of the Christian fellowship; intellectually hospitable, open-minded, liberty-loving, fair, tolerant, not with the tolerance of indifference, as though we did not care about the faith, but because always our major emphasis is upon the weightier matters of the law.”
What a great ending note: let us be tolerant in a caring way.
Feel free to comment on the blog :-)
Sunday, November 1, 2009
How do we stimulate hope in our lives? This was a central question of a class I took last year called "Hope and Prophetic Politics: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr." To hear them re-appropriate that prophetic narrative of love and justice, as emerging from the worst depths of the worst indignity and degradation, shining out in the thick of the traumatic and the catastrophic, challenged me deeply. Their hope was, as Cornel West would say, "a blues-inflected, jazz-saturated, tragicomic hope." I came to realize slowly that my own hope was grounded in a specific context: namely, that religiously motivated violence can end through interfaith cooperation for social justice; and moreover, that I myself represented the potential and the proof.
Our identities are fluid things, whether or not we consider ourselves religious. They constantly fall outside the rigid roles we are taught—these sad, meaningless assignations of societies and civilizations. Young people of our generation are forever on the borders of things; the question for us is: can we of multiple narratives, while acknowledging that they are not juxtaposed equally (for the legacies of white supremacy, patriarchy, and other power structures remain strong), still find them in mutual enrichment? Eboo Patel dares to say Yes, as does President Obama. My heart agrees. I understand the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita better because I have read Kierkegaard's Works of Love, but I understand Kierkegaard precisely because I have studied the Bhagavad Gita.
These happy encounters are part of what gives me hope: the hope that our history is still being written, and is for us to redeem. Hope is unapologetic, once wrote a dear friend of mine. We should try to be more like hope.
P.S. If you would like to post to this blog, or link it to other websites, please contact Jenny Wolochow (email@example.com).
Friday, October 30, 2009
WHAT: Sign up homeless and low-income families to receive food and toy boxes for holiday distribution. The Days of Interfaith Youth Service (DIYS) is a campaign that pairs community service and interfaith dialogue.
WHERE: Sacred Heart Community Service, San Jose
* Transportation provided to/from campus!
WHEN: November 7, 2009 MEET: 11:15am at Haas Center RETURN: by 4:30pm for short discussion
CONTACT: Doria Charlson: firstname.lastname@example.org RSVP required before November 5th.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Welcome to the first blog for Stanford F.A.I.T.H: the virtual extension of our community we hope will give new and vital shape to the way we engage religiously and non-religiously on campus and beyond. This is YOUR space. Share with us relevant news items, public events, stories, poems, bits of rapture. We hope you will extend the invitation to post on this blog to your own communities; feel free to link this space to your websites, councils, and organizations. Here's a direct way to participate in the interfaith youth movement's quest to change conventional discourse on religious passion, pluralism, and the young.
There's a great line in the poem “Doubletake” by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, that “once in a lifetime...hope and history rhyme.” I can't think of a better way to describe the Interfaith Youth Core's Conference on Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World in Chicago this past week. There were over six hundred young interfaith activists, policy leaders, scholars, professors, university chaplains, foundational representatives, public intellectuals, and many more—all of whom had a vision of the world in which people of different faith backgrounds built bridges of cooperation by serving those in need and acting in solidarity with the oppressed. This is the vision that Stanford F.A.I.T.H. is trying to bring to campus.
We heard the Reverend Jim Wallis, evangelical Christian activist for social justice, and founder of Sojourners, speak of interfaith cooperation in these terms: “Get arrested for your faith, and talk theology in jail.” We heard Rabbi David Saperstein, one of the most prominent voices for Jewish social action in America, give a fiery sermon on the urgency of our cooperation in a fragile world riddled with injustice and indifference. We heard Dr. Eboo Patel, just named one of America's Best Leaders of 2009 by U.S. News and World Report, articulate what it means to institutionalize on our campuses the narratives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of Mahatma Gandhi and Badshah Khan, of Dorothy Day and Thich Nhat Hanh,. The IFYC's recent surveys showed that while 70% of students on college campuses have heard derogatory comments about the religious or secular traditions of others, less than 25% would have stood up and spoken out. When we have taken such critical steps to ensure that bigotry on racial, class, gender, ethnic, or sexual grounds is a moral violation, our exclusion of religion from the conversation has allowed others to appropriate that discourse. And when that discourse is one of violence, vanquish, and vitriol, our ignorance of the Other makes us silent accomplices to a totalitarian agenda.
But I have to tell you: Stanford is in the spotlight. When I spoke about the impact I felt we could have on campus at a VIP reception with Eboo Patel and Jim Wallis, there were dozens of people who approached us having already heard of our efforts. It felt a little like prematurely winning the Nobel Peace Prize, especially when someone like Jim Wallis shakes your hand and says in that deep voice: “That was very compelling.” The truth is, interfaith cooperation for social justice is a BIG DEAL. People are taking serious notice, from inner-city activists to state representatives, from AmeriCorps to Teach for America, from Offices of Religious Life to the Oval Office. They recognize how organizing meaningful social action events, and infusing them with a conscious engagement of faith identities and personal inspirations, can shape the discourse not only between religions, but on religion itself. And they are looking at Stanford as a model for interfaith leadership.
So Number One: Get pumped! This is a social movement; it's unique in that it goes to the very heart of our identity, and takes on our most pressing social issues explicitly from that inspirational source. And Number Two: There's no “feeling good” about interfaith. Jim Wallis spoke about three characteristics of an interfaith leader: remove prejudice about your identity and those of others; be humbled by your tradition; and draw on its deep wells to become socially engaged. Our heart's deep gladness is nothing if it doesn't meet the world's deep need. What we're creating is an identity category: a category which has always existed within our religious and secular traditions, but which we are merely defining. That is, the very measure of my identity is the extent to which I can connect with the suffering of a people beyond my borders, and outside my tribe. We want this category to be on every student's lips, both as a historical reality and as a contemporary movement.
Our first event to make interfaith action a reality on campus life is a Day of Interfaith Youth Service, on Saturday, Nov. 7th. Join 25 religiously diverse young people to volunteer at Sacred Heart Community Service, taking on poverty and homelessness in Downtown San Jose. Details are available on the flyer we are sending out to the lists. Help us make this a successful and meaningful event, to set the tone for the rest of the year!