Monday, November 9, 2009

Of Sacrifice and Service

When I was growing up in a predominantly Hindu community in the South Bay Area, the spiritual organization in which I was most deeply engaged would have a weekly Sunday school, much like other religious communities around us. We would learn various hymns, stories, rituals, and songs in our individual classes; but in the large assembly, before everyone dispersed in a flurry of gossip and sports scores, we would recite our organization's Pledge. It began: We stand as one family, bound to each other with love and respect, and went on to affirm: We live a life of sacrifice and service, producing more than what we consume and giving more than what we take.

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!


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