Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From the Intern Files: Like a Lomneth to a Flame

by Project Interfaith Intern, Philip Lomneth

I’m not sure whether I found Project Interfaith or Project Interfaith found me. I do know, however, that when we collided, my passion for interfaith burst aflame and has not died down since.

In the fall of 2007, I was a Central High senior looking for where to go next in life. Groups such as the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and Conference for Inclusive Communities (now Inclusive Communities) stimulated a desire for social justice and sparked an interest in understanding people’s identities. While participating in programs or working with these organizations, I realized I sought something more, something different. We occasionally spoke about religious identity at these organizations but I remember always wishing to spend more time exploring those issues. Though my faith meant a great deal to me, I knew little about the beliefs of others and sought to learn more. Mentioning this to a friend and mentor at the ADL, he encouraged me to attend a program put on by a young interfaith group.

I can’t remember whether it was the lure of the topic of Islam, a religion I knew nothing about, or the excitement of going to my first interfaith event (again, something I knew nothing about), but on a November night, I headed to my first Project Interfaith program with great eagerness and a considerable amount of trepidation.

And I was blown away. Not only did I find the speaker engaging, but I felt amazed at the people who came. In that church, you could find Jews, Muslims, and Christians, people of all different persuasions sitting together listening to a man speak about Islam. This was something I wanted to be part of.

As I finished up my senior year, I kept looking ahead, kept focused on the day that I would leave Omaha. But. But I kept attending Project Interfaith programs, at least once missing school to hear a speaker and spending a Saturday touring a Hindu Temple and Greek Orthodox Church. Not only did I learn about different faiths from these programs, but Project Interfaith helped inspire me to create dialogue among the students at my school and truly promote the diversity we touted. While I felt glad to be leaving Omaha in the fall, already something began drawing me back.

The summer before I left, the Project Interfaith connection grew deeper. After a little push, I began volunteering at Project Interfaith, and though I didn’t feel I was saving the world as I worked there, I definitely felt something was happening. Everything was said in hushed tones with a sense of anticipation, as if people tried holding back their enthusiasm, for if they released, someone might take an opportunity away. Perhaps I remember this inaccurately, but I know with certainty that I felt we were doing something important, something that would grow.

Fast forward through the years as I study religion at school, returning to Omaha for breaks, occasionally attending a Project Interfaith event or volunteering in the summer, and always seeking advice on how to grow interfaith relations at my school. Though I valued all Project Interfaith did for me, a desire to be elsewhere, to go explore the world, learn about things I knew nothing about, and be challenged by what makes me uncomfortable kept me from dedicating more time to Project Interfaith.

Until now. Before leaving for a spring semester in Northern Ireland to study conflict and social change, Beth Katz, the Executive Director, mentioned Project Interfaith could use a few interns in the summer and encouraged me to apply when I returned. I had no idea where I would be, much less what I would feel like doing after a semester in Northern Ireland, but I now realize after immersing myself in learning about conflict and social change, peace and reconciliation, that I could not work with a better group than this. Why? Take a look at all Project Interfaith does in our community to build peace and make this a more welcoming place for everyone.

Philip Lomneth is a Roman Catholic who grew up in Omaha, attended parochial and public schools, and attends a private Lutheran college in Minnesota. He currently interns for Project Interfaith. He is fascinated with issues of identity: the way we shape it, how it shapes us, and how people use identities in interactions with others. He's not sure where he's headed in life, but knows he has passions for interfaith engagement and social justice which have been fueled in part by groups like Project Interfaith.

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