Reflections on a Pivotal Year

15 Jun

This post was written by Tanya D’Lima, a senior at Clark University in  Worcester, Massachusetts. She studies Political Science and International Development and Social Change. You can follow her on Twitter @Interfaithclark and her blog at interfaithclarku.wordpress.com


This last one-year has been instrumental in helping me define the person that I am, that I want to be as well as the ways that I can make impact in my community. I do believe that my personal emotions can be summed up when I saw a room full of people at the Fall Semester’s What If Speak In talking about faith, engaging in their differences and deliberating, dialoguing about how to reframe the conversation around faith. As I looked around the room, I felt with a sense of surety that this was the kind of work I wanted to be involved in even after college. It was fulfilling and it gave me hope that our generation can become known for dialogue and working on our shared values in challenging times that confounded the best of us and made us fear what we did not know and what was not us.

After a deeply stirring training in the beginning of the Fall Semester of 2011, I came back to Clark University eager to impress upon my peers and professors the importance of interfaith action. Inspirational leaders like Eboo Patel had said that the interfaith movement was building up slowly, especially in our multicultural universe to become one of civil rights movement proportions. I came back equipped with social media and my own personal story of why I chose to do interfaith Action. At the end of this year, I can honestly say that there have been some ups and downs. What I would count as our largest successes was the formation of the Interfaith Action group, one of Clark’s newest student groups. As the group flourished, conversations stared happening. People that were not religious, spiritual, had been raised religious or were merely culturally religious came forward and shared their stories. In unique and beautiful ways, we began to see that this was an important and intriguing conversation to have because it drew on people’s personal experiences and allowed each person the independence and power to deeply introspect and question themselves and others without a sense of being judged.

As some of my fellow Clarkie Interfaithers will testify the road to linking the powerful emotions we felt at the What If Speak in to the action whereby we tied common action to the common good was somewhat tenuous and not always smooth. We identified that we wanted to fundraise money for a school in Nepal. The project in Nepal was called Sambhav Nepal. It’s aim was to reform education in Nepal had been started by a recent Clark graduate. We figured that there was no better way to reach out to another Clarkie, making a difference halfway across the world and link it to how our  faith and philosophical traditions inspired action amongst us.

The Interfaith Better Together project has led us to some interesting and diverse trails. From reflecting on what our shared traditions teach us while volunteering at St. Peter’s Chair, to dialoguing on what faith meant to us as we munched on Wholly (no pun intended) Cannoli’s delicacies. From organizing a better together raffle to having Women as Faith Leaders deliver inspiring talks on Clark’ campus or even from having Clark students from diverse backgrounds express through art and posters why they thought we were Better Together, it has been inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. Over the course of the year we raised around 500 dollars but more importantly, we volunteered at a church, breaking trails in Worcester’s Arboretum to volunteering with Earn a Bike, Worcester. As a new group on campus, we were also fortunate to have our Difficult Dialogues Symposium conduct a meaningful symposium on Religion and Compassion. The symposium was extremely thought provoking given the work that we were doing and the questions we had begun to ask ourselves. The semester flew by, and I personally, felt all the richer for having watched TED talks from figures like the Dalai Lama and Swami Dayananda or discussed the uniting role that compassion based doctrines can foster.

The Better Together Campaign is over and so is the school year. In its wake, we have a campus that has students that are more aware of what brings us together than what drives us apart and also students that have discovered, that if we choose, Clark can become a place where we can talk about religion and invoke and express our own beliefs to make the world a better place.

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TCNJ is Better Together!

6 Jun

This post was written by Amtul Mussawir Mansoor, a junior at The College of New Jersey, studying biology and religious studies. You can follow her tweets @amtulmansoor. Follow TCNJ’s Interfaith Blog @InterfaithCouncilatTCNJ.

The school year of 2010-2011 at The College of New Jersey had started and come to an end as sun rises and sets during the day, and many goals were achieved and many lessons learned.  My training to be a Fellow at Interfaith Youth Core began  before the school year, when I was assigned to read Acts of Faith by Dr. Eboo Patel, and passages from A New Religious America by Diana Eck,  sources of inspiration for my interfaith work on campus this year.

During the fall training at the IFYC headquarters, we began to understand the definition of religious pluralism, which consists of respect, mutual relationships, and common action for common good.  This is what we were going to promote on my campus and the many other campuses who were taking part in the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

As we began to implement what we had learned in training, many hurdles came up but my steering committee and I were persistent and dealt with them head-on.  One of them was picking an issue.  We went from hunger to religious education to finally raising money for the Japan disaster relief.  One of the reasons  we had trouble picking an issue is because we were passionate about all of them and wanted to make a difference in each one of them but at the end, decided on raising funds for the disaster relief in Japan because it was so pertinent.

There was no better way to introduce the new Interfaith Council on the TCNJ campus then by the ‘Better Together’ Campaign.  The name of the campaign speaks for itself and this is the essence of Interfaith Council.  No matter what race, color, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion, you belong too, one can overcome these minor differences that categorize and create differences in our big human family.  By working together on tackling an issue or problem in a community, there is hope for the future and hope for humanity.

Nowadays, it’s depressing to  watch or read about what’s going around the world.  It creates a sense of despair and hopelessness because one thinks that even if he/she decides to take action, it is not going to change the events for the better.  I have heard this from many college students and sadly, this is creating an apathy for the miserliness around the world.  It is creating a laziness to take action to change the condition for the better.  How many times have you heard someone say that ‘I wish I could do something about this or that’’ but by the next minute they have forgotten about it altogether.  I know I have been a victim to this kind of thinking, but if I learned one thing this year, it is to never underestimate the motivation and determination of just a few people.

The organization ‘Interfaith Council’ at TCNJ started from the efforts of only a few students, who were determined to make it an officially recognized organization on campus.  Do you think it was an easy path? Of course not.  There is always resistant to change.  We were rejected to become an official organization the first time we went in front of ‘Legal and Governmental Affairs Committee’ to seek approval for this organization.  But we persisted and presented again in front of ‘Legal and Governmental Affairs’ and became an official organization on Feb. 3rd, 2010.

Our issue for the ‘Better Together’ campaign this year was raising funds for the Japan disaster relief.  We set our goal for $500 but at the end, ended up raising $3,350! As Margaret Mead beautifully puts it,  “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Therefore,  one of the many lessons learned is that one needs to get rid of this apathy and laziness towards the problems of the world, and rather create a sense of urgency to make a difference, however small it may be.  Because you never know, that by your actions you may also inspire others to take action.

One of the major reasons for the creation of ‘Interfaith Council’ at TCNJ, and the ‘Better Together’ campaign at Interfaith Youth Core in the first place, was to show that religion does not have to be a source of division and to create a precedent, where students from various religious and philosophical backgrounds can work and interact together despite what’s going on in the world.  In addition, it helps portray how faiths and philosophies can be a source of goodness rather than a source of violence.  As a Muslim, I know that many equate Islam to violence due to the actions of a few, but what if I told them that Islam actually inspires me to do good in the world such as to feed the poor and the hungry?  This not only pertains to Islam but to many religions around the world.  No religion preaches the taking of a human life, rather they all encourage to be kind and do good.  And in this way the ‘Better Together’ campaign is making a difference and creating a solution to one of the many problems of the world.

Some members of the steering committee for the 'Better Together' campaign.

For every paper crane made, $2 was donated to 'Architecture for Humanity'

Highlights from Northwestern’s Better Together Campaign

27 May

Northwestern students often complain that Northwestern is a school of isolated pockets of people. The way it’s set up there seems to be so many ways the campus divides – North campus v. South Campus (which is pretty conveniently right brain v. left brain people. I mean duh, how can engineers ever be friends with humanities majors? Were, like, completely separate beings! ). The campus divides racially,ethnically, religiously (and then sub-ethnically), there are other divisions that we create too like “people who care” v. “people who don’t,” or “people who get it” v. “sorority girls.”  You can name any group of students (group A) and I promise you there’s another group (group B) who thinks they are so radically and irresolvably different. I’ve even heard SEED members complain about ECO’s existence- and they’re both environmental groups, it’s just that ECO is a faith-based initiative from Hillel and SEED is campus-wide!

Now, unlike some of my peers I don’t think this problem is unique to Northwestern. I think it’s pretty much human nature.

Enter the Better Together Campaign

Humanity’s propensity to separate from others and then simplify their outlook or beliefs is precisely what the Better Together campaign is designed to combat. The campaign’s method, to unite students at each campus around a common goal unique to that campus created a positive social results. People at Northwestern left their social silos and united around affordable housing and homeless issues and additionally came out to learn about each other and how they do things. I think the best way to convey the power and success of BT at Northwestern is to share fliers and photos of our events throughout the year. I think the events and their fliers really show how the focus, professionalism, diversity of skill and community involvement of the campaign grew over the year.

With each event and service project we tried to bring together at least two groups who hadn’t worked together before. We met with members of their exec boards and tried to encourage them to plan more events together. The idea of togetherness spread out like a web from each partnership, influencing more and more groups as time went on. Click on each flier for media coverage or more information.

Looking forward, I think it’s hard to measure the full impact of that web. It’s working backstage and I really believe results will crop up little by little. But, on the horizon for next year are also tangible service projects. We’re working on getting a Habitat for Humanity build date next spring (you have to book those early in Chicago where the snow-free building season and the school year only line up for a few precious weeks!) and a campaign that allows student athletes to donate the shampoo bottles etc. that they can collect from hotels while on the road.

So, it is with pride that I share this timeline of our work through the year in photo form:

The first Better Together event arose because NU wouldn't allow a Sukka to be built outside the Kosher dining hall. My church, University Christian Ministry, meets in a privately owned house that happens to be right next door to the Kosher dining hall. UCMers and Hillel kids built a Sukka one Saturday on the UCM lawn and throughout Sukkot Jewish students ate visited by UCM students. We also had a fireside where we shared scripture about hospitality.

The NU Interfaith Initiative joined the International Students Association to discuss freedom of religion over dinner.

The Interfaith Potluck served as the official kick-off to BT and had over 70 participants. We met to discuss the shared value of service over dinner.

Since our issue was affordable housing and homeless issues we participated in the Statewide Call-In organized by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The Faces of Homelessness Panel united UCM, In Technicolor, a social justice orientated LGBT group, the Living Wage Campaign and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. We brought rehabilitated formerly homeless people to campus to share their stories and advocate for the programs they relied on. The event was attended by over 30 students.

A BT partnership between the Secular Humanists and Interfaith with Chris Stedman!!!

Radical Faith was a partnership between NUii, ME-IV and the black student union. Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil talked about how MLK's radical faith fought economic injustice.

From Tel Aviv to Ramallah: The Beat Boxing of Yuri Lane

Soul Sounds brought more people together than ever before to share the way they use music to worship/express spirituality.

College Feminists and the Christian Science Organization teamed up to talk about Mary Baker Eddy!

A discussion of Chinese religions

A whimsical celebration of the relationships we have made - Dodgeball.

Better Together: A Look at Food and Faith

23 May

This post was written by Anu Gorukanti, a junior at Saint Louis University studying Neuroscience, Pre-medicine. You can follow her tweets @sluifa. Follow SLU’s Interfaith Blog @Sluinterfaithalliance.

The Better Together Campaign at Saint Louis University started out as a mere brainstorm amongst a group of six or seven students. We had a basic template, an idea of our social action issue, but we knew little else. I am so proud to look to back at our year of work to see what the Better Together Campaign has become and how many people it has brought together for the purpose of reflecting on our personal call to service and building relationships with people of other faith traditions.

Our first major event of the year was the What-If Speak-In. In order to put a new spin on interfaith and service, we turned into a poetry slam and invited different goups ranging from a capella groups to poetry readings to raps about the intersection of art, food,  and faith. It was a great way to kick-off the Better Together campaign since it brought people who wouldn’t ordinarily make the connection between their passions and coming together for service.

Throughout the rest of the year, the steering committee members of the SLU Better Together campaign worked hard to organize educational events for the SLU community, service projects with local community gardens, and to plan for our end of the year banquet. Each of these events challenged SLU students to reexamine the way they viewed their faith and how it relates to food. Our service projects with local community gardens were some of my favorites since we had the chance to work with community members to see how they were taking action to change the unfair allocation of resources within Saint Louis.

Our year ended with the Better Together Banquet, an event intended to commerate the hard work of the Better Together campaign committee members, stakeholders, faculty members and SLU students in targeting the issues of food justice in Saint Louis. However, our banquet was pretty different than most guests expected. Our last event of the year was intended to be a challenge to the SLU community to continue their work with food justice as members of faith and philosophical tradition; we did this by creating an interfaith hunger banquet, modeled off the Oxfam Hunger Banquet. Guests were seated in low, middle, or high income classes randomly and it was staggered to represent how resources are distributed on an international level. Guests in the low income classes only received a bowl of rice, middle income guests received rice and beans, and high income guests received a three course meal. I was unsure how students would receive this type of event but the reflections by students put me at ease. During one of the reflections, a student in the low-income class stood up an spoke about her frustration at being separated from her friends but as the event went on, she started to understand why they were separated in that way and she felt challenged, as a person of her faith tradition, to act on the issue of food justice.

Her testimony made an entire year’s worth of hard work for the Better Together campaign completely worth it.

Evanston Houses of Worship

23 May

It is said that Evanston is the “City of Churches.” In a sense I have come to know the truth of such a statement because over the last few weeks because I have been interviewing pastors and worshipping with their congregations as part of my research for a journalism project I’m working on. But, I have also been interviewing non-Christian spiritual communities, like Udumbara Zen Center which is just one of many Buddhist and Zen meditation groups in town. Additionally, there’re Jewish Reform synagogues, Conservative Jewish temples, Orthodox and Reconstructionist communities. A mosque is in the works and store-front churches  of all denominations crop up on every corner. There’s not one but two Mennonite communities in Evanston, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a Quaker meetinghouse.

Evanston might still be the City of Churches and it’s a wonderful city at that – but there is also a rich multi-faith community developing here and I could not be more pleased. As Diana Eck and her Pluralism Project can attest, Evanston is hardly unique in this respect. The religious landscape of the U.S. is ever-changing and becoming more diverse than we have ever before known it to be. But, it is up to us to create pluralism out of our rapidly increasing diversity. We have to turn a fact: “Evanston is religiously diverse” into an intentional mission that incorporates a desire to understand our neighbors and to utilize that understanding toward social justice goals. The first step is to arm yourself with the relational experience and the religious literacy to truly benefit from this new situation.

Throughout this month I have contacted, communicated with and attended worship with many of Evanston’s diverse religious communities and I have to say that I was utterly unprepared for this undertaking. The unique richness of each service is almost too much to take in. From the sparse, contemplative Quaker Meetinghouse to the embodied Reba Place to Shabbat at Beth Emet, there are so many differences in the way these people express their faith but I’ve noticed there is also a core emotion that unites them. Each community has heartily welcomed me to join them and offered all the benefits and conveniences they possibly could. I keep feeling like each one is kinder than the last only to realize that it’s simply impossible not to exceptionalize the radical hospitality each one shows me in that moment. I really wish other people would try something like this because you really can’t imagine how beneficial it is, even to an atheist like me. I only advise that instead of doing it in the marathon my strict journalism deadline requires, you take it at a manageable pace to truly reflect on the wonder that is religious diversity.

Reflections on Better Together: Wellesley’s Year on Sustainability

18 May

This post was written by Vivian Secaida, a senior at Wellesley College studying Political Science and Peace and Justice Studies. You can follow her tweets @IFWellesley. Follow Wellesley’s Interfaith Blog @InterFaithWellesley.

Recycling bins, farming, fun times, orange bins, and important life changing discussions….yep. This pretty much sums up the Better Together Campaign at Wellesley. Looking back now…this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. To see everyone coming together on the common principle of environmental sustainability at Wellesley is something you don’t see everyday. Whatever a woman’s faith or philosophical tradition here, students from all backgrounds jumped on board to see a positive change happen at Wellesley. Let’s take a trip down memory lane…

Walking into a space that usually felt distant but now felt welcoming was the beginning of an evening that would change Wellesley’s consciousness. The chapel was remodeled by a big dining table with chairs on both the inside and the outside waiting for students to occupy them and converse. As soon as everyone piled up together, we gave a Quaker prayer of silence in gratitude for the food we had. Then we went to serve dinner and sit around the biggest dining circle that Wellesley has ever seen. It all started with the question “What If students from different religious backgrounds gathered together and worked for Sustainability on campus?”

Prominent interfaith student leaders shared reflections of gratitude that came from their respective faith traditions, like excerpts from the Koran, Bible, Torah, E.E. Cummings Poem, and the Secular Manifesto. Each student shared by getting into the middle of the circle and then went back down to sit and conversed. Then a bell chimed every 7 minutes to introduce the students to share in the middle of the circle. Towards the end of the event, it was my turn. As an IFYC fellow I introduced the purpose of the community dinner and explained the Better Together campaign and that this event was the beginning of a momentum for us as inter-faith students to come together and work on sustainability issues at Wellesley College.

We began the campaign by posting fliers and posters all around campus on how to recycle properly. We partnered with WEED, Wellesley’s Environmental and Energy Defense, on campus and set out to educate the Wellesley community about recycling. Although it took a several hours out of students schedules it was nonetheless a worthwhile experience. Students from different backgrounds bonded  over their views on the environment and how that related to their faith/philosophical tradition. The next event was to set up recycling bins throughout all of the dorms at Wellesley.

Distributing recycling bins was also a time consuming task. In the above picture you see Sophia (Muslim), Alexandra (Christian, and Sarina (Muslim), all reminiscing on the times we set out as group of 25 girls distributing 600 bins all over campus, around 24 each. We all convened together with WEED, who generously provided the recycling bins and set out to help students recycle on campus! Next year we hope to have more recycling bins and to hand them out at the beginning of the semester. =)

Wellesley girls are some of the most ambitious people I know. While planning for the bash, many girls commented on how they wanted to end the campaign with some action. Through our planning, we came up with farming at Powissat farms. We believed this would be a great grand finale to our social action component because it would be a reflection of all of us connecting to the Earth. As April 30th  approached us, we got to planning transportation, food, and reflections.

Once at the farm, we inhaled the fresh air and realized our long day ahead. During the first 20 minutes, many were complaining about their nails getting dirty, backs hurting, and clothes staining. As time went on however, many of us got into meaningful discussion on why we serve and how it relates back to our faith or philosophical tradition. By the end of the day, we planted 5,000 scallions, 900 beets, and pulled weeds for 3 hours. Our moods completely shifted to a more composed, relaxed and peaceful manner. Looking down six fields of planted crops, we all felt accomplished. Although it was not easy, we all felt united. We thanked the farm for hosting us and had a celebratory lunch reflecting on this past years Campaign. This final piece brought it all together. We all came to realize that alone we could not have done what we did. Getting our hands dirty in unison made us realize that we are in fact better together.

We are now working with WEED again to promote a Sustainable Moveout Campaign for the Better Together Campaign! =)

It also doesn’t end there! We are now working together on to answer Obama’s Interfaith Challenge to come up with a proposal by June!

Movement Vs. Campaign: Reflections on The Purpose and Promise of Better Together

17 May

This blog was written by Nic Cable, IFYC Fellow at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. Read Nic’s blog here. Follow Nic on Twitter at Nic_Cable.

The Better Together Campaign is not about feeding or clothing homeless people; it’s not about raising money to help Haiti or other developing countries; it is and always will be a method of igniting the spirit of humanity, awakening our minds to the deep and limitless potential we share, if and when we choose to recognize it, come together, and work to spread justice and peace throughout the world.

This three steps process is purposefully chronological and it is journeyed with patience. After a year leading the Better Together Campaign at DePaul University, I reflect with greater understanding about the importance of patience and process when mobilizing students and other segments of a higher educational institution. Laying out the nuances of my three step understanding of the campaign will help shed light into where I stand today looking back at this year.

Beginning with my opening jab that decentralizes the action oriented purpose of the campaign, I think it is of critical importance to suggest that this is a secondary goal of the way I viewed the BTC at DePaul. We began instead by discussing the concept of interfaith engagement, including the purpose and the promise, as well as the potential challenges of this venture. I requested that everyone at the What IF? Speak-In not think about the idea of “What IF?” as a question, but rather to think of it as an invitation to dream, a path that we may travel forward on together imagining the world as it will one day be.

So, we dreamed. We saw a world where religious identity, racial and gender lines, and all other lines became elegant, unique brush strokes that added rich color and character to this painting we were creating of our shared existence. It was a beautiful sight, and it was at that moment that I knew that our spirits were all lighting up, catching the warmth of this possibility before us; collectively, we desired that this hope would become a reality.

A small group of individuals, unique and sacred pieces of the whole, were in that room back in November for the What IF? Speak-In. We saw the painting, we felt the warmth, but what about those who were not there that night, who could not make it or chose to simply not attend? Therefore, logically, mobilization was the next step, the goal of which was to find people interested in making this world we dreamt of a little more real. Upon entering this next stage, a concern often followed, namely that people agreed in theory, but were unsure how this would actually be achieved. More so, many individuals felt they were already doing this work in other ways, and subsequently felt no need to join the Better Together Campaign.

And here’s the rub. What I didn’t realize before, but I do know today is that there are no prerequisites to joining the campaign, there are no boundaries or hurdles like attaining citizenship in a country or admission to a university. All people working for justice and peace are a part of the Better Together Movement. I choose to say movement because I think it characterizes the Better Together mission more correctly and strategically. We are in a movement with justice and social action being achieved in countless ways and in countless directions throughout the country. There is no epicenter, there is no headquarters for this like a governmental campaign might have; instead, the center is in every heart that takes the leap and dreams of what the world may be like one day. The center of this movement is in each of us, growing like a beautiful, unique flower reaching out into the world in a different way.

The Better Together Movement is growing. It is growing faster than we are able to monitor it. The reason why this is happening is because this spirit of dreaming, recognizing, and acting to build a justice and peace oriented world has been coursing through humanity for millennia. This is not a new thing. New branding, perhaps, but nothing new to this world. As a result, the effects of the Better Together Movement can be seen in this country within the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and so on, and so on. Each were moments when people stood up and worked for justice and equality where it was due.

Now, we have arrived now at this moment. Today, we have many problems in the world: extreme poverty, global warming, wars, violence against women, etc. We also have a lot of potential and promise in young people who are growing up in a post 9/11 world with a hope of reuniting our global family one step at a time. Students at DePaul University are doing this every day in countless ways. We do it for many reasons, but all with the hope of building that Beloved Community, peace on earth and justice for all.

Better Together is not a campaign; it is a movement and it is picking up speed like a snowball rushing down a mountain. We are in store for some amazing things in this century. I am excited and blessed to be able to participate in this movement and hope many more people will begin to dream, recognize and act along with all of us who are involved in this global movement.

Fighting On to be Better Together

16 May

Jem Jebbia is a junior attending the University of Southern California, studying religion, business, and Japanese. You can follow USC’s Interfaith happenings (@uscifaith). You can also learn more by checking out USC’s Interfaith Blog, at uscifaith.blogspot.com.

Last Sunday I attended a first communion party for my cousin Jack who is in second grade. In the Catholic tradition, the first communion is one of the seven sacraments, along with baptism, first reconciliation, and marriage. It is a rite of passage for children to receive the Eucharist at church. At the party after the ceremony, I started remembering my experience attending a Catholic school and my first communion. If I think about my experience with the Fellows Alliance this year, it is just the same as my first communion: a rite of passage, a mark of a new chapter and an opportunity to grow. This year, I grew both as an interfaith leader and as an activist.
USC is a unique campus in that it is situated in the heart of one of the most multicultural, religiously diverse cities in the world. We have so many opportunities to learn about a myriad of cultures and traditions, and yet, sometimes we tend to stay clustered in our campus bubble. This year as part of the Better Together campaign, we committed to educating both our campus and the community about religious pluralism and the opportunities available to us to learn about different faith traditions. Our social issue focused on educating high school students about religious pluralism and what interfaith work means. We engaged three different high schools and spoke to over 100 students over the course of the spring semester. We have decided to continue the project next year as part of the Obama Interfaith Initiative so that we may expand our reach even further.
During the fall semester, our campaign culminated in an Interfaith Speak-In and Open House that brought over 50 students and staff members together for interfaith dialogue and some fun ice breaker activities. Each member of the Steering Committee and Interfaith Council brought 3 of their friends, and everyone felt enriched by the deep learning and fun environment.
Recently, we culminated our year of launching the Better Together Campaign with our Better Together Bash, which we held in front of a campus landmark, Tommy Trojan. Over 250 students, faculty, staff, and administration members passed by and noticed the celebration. We had 10 religious and spiritual groups perform songs, recite sacred poetry, and perform a call to prayer. This was an opportunity to both celebrate the religious diversity on our campus and our successful campaign both on campus and in our community.
What’s next? In conjunction with the Obama Interfaith Initiative, we will continue to expand the Better Together Campaign to educate our campus and our community about the urgency of multifaith cooperation in our neighborhood. We hope to create more cohesion between our campus and community initiatives by bringing more students into local schools and hopefully holding a one-day conference for high school students on USC’s campus. The conference will focus on developing interfaith leaders by empowering them to form interfaith groups in their schools.
For me, this year has specifically helped me develop as a leader in a couple of areas. First, I have improved my ability to delegate tasks and trust others to complete their work. I also feel more comfortable asking for help and asking for participation. I still hope to improve these areas, as well as making an impact with social media and my story bank, in the coming year.

Oh what a year…at Elmhurst College

15 May

Rachel (“Rae”) Nelson is a junior at Elmhurst College, pursuing a major in Political-Religious Justice Studies. You can follow Rae on Twitter at (@PhosphrescntRae) where she posts about faith, gender and sexuality, and American Indian issues in addition to interfaith matters. To see more of Rae, please visit the Elmhurst College Interfaith blog at ecinterfaith.wordpress.com.

I have been honored to work with IFYC at Elmhurst this year, organizing my peers and community to make a difference in the world using our shared faith and philosophical values, beyond doing physical service work at the People’s Resource Center throughout the spring semester’s Better Together Campaign, we also built relationships through conversation about and exploration of one another’s values and faith and philosophical traditions at the What If…? Speak In last fall. I especially loved that, this year, my college was able to interact with the larger Elmhurst Community around faith and interfaith issues through the Still Speaking: Conversations on Faith lecture series of the College.

The year has been full of social events, like Western Night, during Orientation, and the Bon Fire in October, events around education, like Got Faith? Week, many SLC meetings, and the What If…? Speak In. The fall of 2010 was all about asking questions, while the spring was focused on service and action work, like Dr. Ray suggested to us at the opening SLC meeting of the school year.

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Jesus: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

15 May

One of the Initiative's regulars offered to make a flier for the event. As one student said "Leave it a Muslim to make non-descript depictions of prophets."

This post was written by Kelsey Sheridan, IFYC Fellow at Northwestern UniversityRead Kelsey’s blog here. Follow Kelsey at @NUinterfaith

Last week our dinner topic was “Jesus: The Man, The Myth, the Legend.” Since I am the person who often chooses the topics for our meetings I have to admit that I’m rarely caught off-guard by the direction a discussion goes but that Tuesday was different.

It was meant to be a discussion of Jesus across different faiths. In attendance that night we had Jewish students, Christian students, Muslim students, non-religious students and a Hare Krishna student. Even I was a bit surprised to learn that everyone had something to say about Jesus. And that something was uniformly positive.

I was shocked to discover that in the Quran, baby Jesus (pbuh) speaks to defend his mother’s chastity, announce his future importance and predict his resurrection. In the Christian tradition Mary’s chastity is announced and protected by the angel Gabriel whose message is then spread by her fiancé, Joseph. It seemed almost feminist to have the child whose legitimacy was in question defend his mother’s honor as opposed to her husband.

I then learned that in the Hare Krishna tradition Jesus is considered a great guru whose example should be followed. I didn’t know much about Hare Krishna’s before some of their members got involved with our initiative but am quickly coming to see that the goals of these students align very well with the goals of the Northwestern Interfaith Initiative and the IFYC’s Better Together Campaign.

And of course I got to provide insight I had from my bible studies and Christianity classes as to the Jesus I try to emulate in my life – the stories of the Sermon on the Mount (which many of the Muslims had never heard told before) and the story of Jesus’ insistence on pacifism even at the time of his arrest. While I don’t believe in Jesus’ divinity I do my best to live my life by his example in many ways. These stories are some of the big reasons I do interfaith work so it was nice to share them with the people I do that work with.

While I certainly can’t say I fully comprehend the entirety of Jesus: The Man, the Myth, the Legend I definitely think I benefited from hearing others’ descriptions of him.  I think something as big as Jesus requires a few second opinions and while you don’t have to accept every story you hear as truth, it certainly never hurts to expand your knowledge of what other’s believe and say.