Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Challenge to Your Comfort Zone

by Project Interfaith Executive Director Beth Katz

Recently, I received an email from one of the pastors at a local megachurch. The two of us struck up a friendship after meeting at a conference on social media last spring. Shortly after the conference, we got coffee together to share more about our work in the community and realized that we were working toward many of the same goals for our community. We both tweeted about this initial meeting and that’s when things got sticky. Some people at his church saw our tweets and took the fact that he had met with me, a Jewish woman who runs an interfaith organization, as a sign that he was having doubts about his faith and identity as a Christian.

Since our initial meeting, we have been getting together periodically for coffee. The conversations we have had have been some of the most thoughtful and illuminating ones I’ve had and have given me a better insight into the faith community of which he is a part. In his most recent email, he told me that he continued to receive strong pushback from some members at his church about our friendship and about his support for interfaith work.

But despite the intense pressure he is receiving from some of his peers, he continues to attend our programs, meet with me and be engaged. And I thought “Wow- that takes some serious guts.” To risk your standing and credibility in your faith community and workplace to challenge the status quo, now that’s courageous.

And then I had to ask myself “What am I doing to really challenge the status quo even at Project Interfaith?” It’s pretty easy to get into your comfort bubble no matter who you are or what you do and interfaith work is no exception. I realize that if I am asking community members to step out of or at least stick a toe out of their comfort zones, I better be willing to do the same.

So I am setting a challenge for myself- just in time for the upcoming secular New Year. I am challenging myself beginning in January and through the rest of 2011 to each month meet with one person that I normally may have just assumed I would have little to nothing in common with or would be totally disinterested in interfaith work. This would include those I would conveniently label as “fundamentalists.” (Gasp! Yes, I’ll fess up- I, too, am guilty of labeling. Hi, my name is Beth and I am a human.) My goal is not to meet with these individuals to “convert” them to interfaith work. My goal is to meet with them to get to know them and to stretch my horizons- to really hear what makes them tick and to better understand their perspectives.

Naturally, to satisfy my dorkiness, I had to give this challenge a name. So I am calling it the “Go with Your Guts” Challenge because, let’s face it, it is going to take guts for me to meet with people outside my comfort zone. I’ll be sharing what I take away from these experiences each month on the Project Interfaith blog so be sure to check in.

I invite you to join me in the “Go with Your Guts” Challenge. Push yourself to meet with one person each month of 2011 who you might normally write off as having little or nothing in common with. And let me know how it goes by sharing your story on our blog. Who knows- if enough of us go with our guts, maybe we’ll find that the space beyond our comfort zones is actually a place worth spending some time in.

Beth Katz is the founder and Executive Director of Project Interfaith. Beth got bitten by the interfaith bug in college, where she first got involved in interfaith work as the co-founder of a student interfaith group. Her passion for creating a world where people of all faiths beliefs and cultures are valued and included led her to come back to her hometown of Omaha after graduate school to start Project Interfaith.

Beth frequently speaks and writes on interfaith issues and work, including writing a monthly column "The Accidental Theist" on the blog She presents on Project Interfaith’s mission and work at local, national, and international events including at the Istanbul Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, and at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Beth is an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where she has taught courses on international conflict resolution for the Political Science department and religious diversity issues in the schools for the College of Education. She is on the board of the newly-formed Center for Catholic Thought at Creighton University and is a member of the Nebraska Medical Center's Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Consultation Committee. She also has served on the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Board in Omaha since being appointed in 2008.

Beth holds a Master of Public Policy and a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan as well as a Bachelor of Science in Education from Creighton University.

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