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!