mission

Four Questions for Beth Katz

Photo by Dana Damewood

Bio: Beth Latz is founder and executive director of Project Interfaith.
Website: projectinterfaith.org 

1. Why did you decide to launch Project Interfaith?
There are a couple experiences in my life that led me to found PI. One would be that my grandparents immigrated to this country after experiencing harsh persecution as a result of their Jewish identity. Another would be growing up as a religious and ethnic minority and encountering a lot of people making assumptions about what that means. I didn’t always feel welcome or free to be who I am. But growing up and hearing about my grandparents’ experiences in other countries, I realized how lucky we are to have certain rights in this country. So I wanted to make sure people understand these rights and freedoms.

2. What is Project Interfaith’s mission and approach to interfaith work?
Our mission is to grow understanding, respect, and relationships among people of all beliefs and cultures—not to force agreement. And we don’t try to make everything run through PI, but rather we create different educational resources and digital tools that people can then take and use in their own communities and contexts. Some people think we’re trying to replace face-to-face gatherings with online experiences, but we’re not. Rather, we use digital media as a tool to enhance what happens when people come together.

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Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

ORTHODOXY AND orthopraxy—strange theological words from Sojourners’ past.  But I was recently thinking back to the theology with which Sojourners began—43 years ago—and how it is still so central and fundamental to me today.

I remember the word that we so often used back in our formative days: “and.” As young Christians, we said our fledgling little movement was committed to evangelism and social justice, prayer and peacemaking, spirituality and politics, personal and public transformation, contemplation and activism, real salvation and real social change, orthodoxy and orthopraxy—which means starting with a biblical and Christ-centered personal faith and then living and practicing that faith in the world—in ways that changed both our own lives and public life. “And” was our big word in a church that was so divided and polarized. Another way we expressed it was calling for a “third way” beyond conservative and liberal, evangelical and mainline.

I want to refer back to some of the earliest expressions of our critique of both the conservative and liberal theologies of the time. Please forgive some of the passionate and movement language from the later 1960s and early ’70s (and the generic “male” language), but this was written when I was 23, in 1971! Yet the heart of the editorial commitment expressed so long ago remains true of Sojourners today:

We contend that the new vision that is necessary is to be found in radical Christian faith that is grounded in commitment to Jesus Christ. ... The offense of established religion is the proclamation and practice of a caricature of Christianity so enculturated, domesticated, and lifeless that our generation easily and naturally rejects it as ethically insensitive, hypocritical, and irrelevant to the needs of our times.

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Engaging a Generation for Justice

One of the most gaping absences in church community often is a point of entry or transition for young adults. We do great with kids, and of course most congregations pant after the coveted “parents with kids” demographic. But what about after high school? How do we serve young adults as they transition to independence for the first time? How do we help them navigate the complexities of adult life, while helping forge in them a sense of character and mission informed by the Christian faith?

One organization taking on these difficult challenges in real, transformative ways is Mission Year. I sat down with Shawn Casselberry, Executive Director of Mission Year, to find out more about how they empower young adults to live out their values in the context of church, community, and even daily life.

Radical Ruptures and Rhetorical Questions

Shattered dancer image, markos86 / Shutterstock.com

Shattered dancer image, markos86 / Shutterstock.com

For me, action had become a way to look good and gain respect — but it obscured the more important inner work. It anesthetized the throbbing nerves of my aching interiority. And I needed it because my insides were bleeding so bad and hurting so raw from so many years of neglect that if I allowed myself to get off the action pill, it might just all catch up with me. An addiction to avoidance sanctioned by the church. Radical ruptures, indeed.

What I have asked myself in the days since those passionate experiences have left deafness and dryness in their wake is about the hard work of the Kingdom that has nothing to do with revolutionary activism. What about the work that is only done in the privacy of the human heart? Where are the voices encouraging people that they indeed can hear God speak within them — and that that is the Voice for which they ought to be straining? In all my followings, I rarely encountered a Christian leader who dared to enact Augustine's famous words and turn the Truth loose, trusting that it will defend itself.

Why Wild Goose Matters

Photo by Nate Baker-Lutz, used by permission of InterVarsity Press

Photo via Wild Goose Festival Facebook page, Photo by Nate Baker-Lutz, used by permission of InterVarsity Press

I just got back a few days ago from a campsite outside of Asheville, N.C., the site of the third annual Wild Goose Festival. For those who are unfamiliar with the event, imagine and old-fashioned days-long outdoor revival, combined with Bonaroo and a traveling circus. For several days, authors, activists, artisans, musicians, and seekers converge to engage in spontaneous community, share ideas and to inspire one another.

It's not every day that you can walk by a makeshift tent and listen to Phyllis Tickle succinctly summarize the history of Christendom in 45 minutes, and then wander over and pick up a vegetarian pita sandwich while on your way to hear the Indigo Girls perform. Impassioned conversations emerge all on your walk about everything from child trafficking to the state of the institutional church in the 21st century. And you're only momentarily distracted by the guy on stilts, wearing a hat covered in goose feathers who wanders by for no apparent reason.

Welcome to Wild Goose.

On Religious Deserts and the Canaanite Woman

Portland skyline, JPL Designs / Shutterstock.com

Portland skyline, JPL Designs / Shutterstock.com

A friend of mine forwarded a link to a recent Huffington Post article about the most and least religious cities in the United States. Interestingly – but hardly surprising – you have to scroll waaaay down the list to find my current city of Portland, Ore.

“Looks like you have your work cut out for you,” he said. He’s right; I’ve met folks here who work in churches that tell people they work at a nonprofit when asked what they do, leaving the bit about the nonprofit being a church until they get to know each other better. And of course, we knew this when we came to the Pacific Northwest.

In fact, that’s part of what made me want to be here.

For some, there is great appeal in coming to an “unchurched” community, mainly because of the notion that this means there are that many more people in need of saving. And while this may or may not be true, there’s a lot of presumption that goes into saving those without religion, while assuming those who claim a faith are the ones to do the “saving.”

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