interfaith youth core
Imagine receiving this message on your voicemail: “Dear Mr. Gonzalez, we regret to inform you that your heart surgery has been canceled. The medical professionals scheduled to perform it, Doctors Sarna and Latif, have discovered that they have serious disagreements about Middle East politics. Consequently, they are refusing to work together. We will do our best to find you other doctors, before your condition becomes fatal.”
Seem far-fetched? In my mind, it is the logical outcome of the manner in which many Jewish and Muslim groups have chosen to engage each other in recent years. Or, rather, not engage.
“WE CAN'T PUT cheese on all of the hamburgers for dinner, and can you please say ‘Dear God’ not ‘Dear Jesus’ when you pray?” These were instructions I gave to my dad before a birthday party in elementary school, worried that my new Jewish friends would not feel comfortable in our Christian home. Because I grew up in a religiously diverse area, I was cognizant of differences in religious practice before I knew the beliefs behind my own Christian rituals.
This is how my journey of interfaith learning and leadership began: by inviting my friends from school over to play and making sure they had something to eat. In his book Interfaith Leadership, Eboo Patel defines interfaith experiences as those “where people with diverse faiths interact, and their faith identities are somehow involved.” We weren’t just religiously diverse students sitting next to each other at school sharing our crayons—we were in each other’s homes, and that meant our faith identities were exposed and explored.
Interfaith Leadership outlines three questions that come up in interactions with people different from you: Who am I? Who are you? How do we relate to each other? Through stories of his experiences and those of friends from different faiths, Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core and a Sojourners columnist, shows us the process of becoming an interfaith leader who builds bridges and strengthens communities. He explains theories behind interfaith work in a way that is easy to understand, applying them directly to daily interactions and conflicts. For a short primer, Interfaith Leadership could be the most helpful tool for anyone striving to develop “positive, constructive, warm, caring, cooperative engagement” (aka “relationship”) with others.
Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?
Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?
Of course not.
The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.
I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.
Ten years on, I'm remembering the literature I read and the music that kept me going in the days and months after 9/11. I had Rumi and Whitman on my bedside table, reading them back to back, alternating between selections of the Mathnawi and poems from Leaves of Grass, sometimes feeling like the two were one, the soul of America, and that the soul of Islam were intersecting at some point beyond where the eye could see:
Whoever you are!, motion and reflection are especially for you, The divine ship sails the divine sea for you. -- Walt Whitman
Come, come, whoever you are, Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, Ours is not a caravan of despair. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times It doesn't matter Come, come yet again, come. -- Rumi
Until then, the Quran for me was a book of personal spiritual guidance, a convening symbol for my religious community. But after 9/11, I viewed it as a balm for my country's pain, especially lines from Ayat al-Kursi: "His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them."