Thursday, September 29, 2011
Thankfully, being away from Omaha over the summer didn’t bring my internship with Project Interfaith to a halt. Instead, I took Project Interfaith with me to my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, conducting outreach work on behalf of the organization. This included networking and sharing Project Interfaith’s mission, as well as exploring what interfaith interactions have been taking place throughout the Lincoln community. After spending my spring semester as a Program Intern for Project Interfaith, I felt not only prepared to discuss interfaith with anyone, but also excited to actually do so. The conversations I experienced this summer reminded me of how much I love interfaith work and how truly important it is to communicate with one another.
Lincoln does not currently have a substantial interfaith presence, at least as far as any formal organization is concerned. An interfaith council was instrumental in past years, but unfortunately no longer exists. I spoke to clergy and many others active in the Lincoln community about the past and about their hopes for interfaith in the near future. All are so passionate about promoting interfaith in Lincoln, but either don’t know where to start an interfaith movement, or have tried but didn’t get the momentum they were aiming for. Project Interfaith wanted to build relationships with the Lincoln community, but we were not sure what that relationship would look like. Once we knew more about the atmosphere in Lincoln, it became clear that those passionate about interfaith will need to interact and communicate more with one another if they are to lead others in interfaith interaction.
I am currently taking a Small Group Communication class at UNO. According to the class textbook, communication is a transaction between two people or a group of people, often working together to achieve a common goal. It seems like a no brainer, but reminders never hurt anyone: communicating with one another is extremely important. If people are to come together to do anything, whether it is to play a game of flag football or to help grow an interfaith movement, they need to communicate. Communication between people has obvious benefits. These benefits are known as synergy, or the positive results of collective discussion and action between people. I personally have truly benefitted from the conversations I’ve had with other people. There is always new information to be learned, new ideas to be shared, and new relationships to be built.
The meetings I had with people in Lincoln this summer were definitely synergetic. Conversations among people who all have the same goal of developing a greater interfaith presence in Lincoln brought new ideas and renewed energy to the movement. What’s next for Lincoln? More conversations. There is even talk of a potential Project Interfaith-facilitated discussion between clergy and other active members of the Lincoln community, to engage one another in conversation about interfaith in Lincoln.
Once we begin communicating with each other, we may begin to truly interact. These interactions, like those I had with people this summer, can provide insights, learning experiences, and shared excitement, and we can begin to really experience what it is like to live respectfully and harmoniously with one another. And that is what interfaith work is all about.
Kaitlyn Hayes is a program intern for Project Interfaith. She is currently studying Sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and is also pursuing nonprofit certification through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. Kaitlyn is also involved with another nonprofit, Fine Lines, and is an officer for Circle K International (a community service organization). Through her time with Project Interfaith, Kaitlyn hopes to learn as much as she can about the nonprofit sector, as well as the diversity of our community. She enjoys people, learning, traveling (when she can), writing, and reading.
I have a question for you, “What will the world look like in 100 years?” Will the diseases that haunt us today be easily cured by new medicines? Will robots help us do all those chores and errands we hate? Will we finally get those flying cars they promised us all those years ago?
Personally, my first thought is a number: 10 billion. According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the world population will be more than 10 billion by 2100. We only have 6 billion people on the planet right now, and we already have a hard time getting along and providing for everybody.
Even though we have come so far in the last hundred years, many of our challenges have changed little over the last thousand. The causes of war, violence, and hate are still found in distrust, discrimination, and ignorance. Natural disasters still have the power to destroy communities and intervene in our lives without warning. The suffering brought about by loneliness and hopelessness is felt the same today as it was at the dawn of civilization.
This is why the mission of Project Interfaith is so important to me. As we try to build the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, it is more vital than ever to bring everyone into the discussion, to understand each other, and to grow the relationships that will allow us to make a better future.
Currently, in many parts of the world, differing religious, cultural, and philosophical traditions act as a source of division. But this is not the way it has to be. The religious and philosophical traditions of every civilization emerged as a way to face the challenges of the human condition. All have served as a source of inspiration, strength, and wisdom for people and all have something to contribute.
I have had the opportunity to experience the great variety of cultural, spiritual, and humanistic practices and philosophies in this world. Since I was a child, my interest in human diversity led me to constantly seek out new experiences that would allow me to learn and grow. This has led me to travel back and forth across the globe, endeavoring to discover and understand.
I have seen how my grandmother’s faith has given her the strength to overcome the many troubles she has faced in life. I have witnessed in Japan how religious communities can be inclusive without being meaningless, as people choose to celebrate births and festivals at the Shinto shrine, practice Confucian values in their daily life, get married in a Christian church, and mourn the passing of loved ones at Buddhist temples. I have learned from the Existentialist and Positivist philosophical traditions the responsibility of living in this world and the importance of understanding the world through human experience. And I have found, as I meet people from every corner of the globe, that the images, expectations, and feelings about different identities and communities I had developed as a child watching American TV were replaced by the faces of my friends and the memories of what we had shared.
So, what will the world look like in 100 years? I can’t answer this question alone. I need your help. This is why I choose to work for Project Interfaith and why I will continue to work to create to a community where all feel welcome - no matter what they believe or do not believe - and where we can all share and learn from one another. I hope you will join me in this adventure.
Joshua graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2011 with a degree in International Studies and Political Science. After studying abroad in Japan and South Korea, he volunteered extensively with the UNO international community. During this time he earned Nonprofit Leadership Alliance's National Certification in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. With a passion for nonprofit work and a dedication to engaging issues concerning cultural and religious diversity, Joshua felt Project Interfaith was a natural place to start his career and help the community.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
I was told recently that Project Interfaith is a front organization for a fundamental Islamist group that wants to impose Shari’ah law on America. “Why am I the last to know?” I asked with a smile. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. Being involved with Project Interfaith has given me plenty of opportunities to learn about and become comfortable with other faiths, as well as my own. Especially my own. When people would ask if I was a Muslim, I used to answer “yes”, but then follow that with “albeit an unconventional one”. I always felt a bit strange calling myself a Muslim, especially in front of other Muslims. Why? Because I didn’t know everything I thought I needed to know to be a real Muslim. However, I’ve found that with my blond hair and blue eyes, I provide a very non-threatening persona and people are very willing to ask me the questions that have been worrying them. And I’ve found that there are many people who are worried about Islam and Muslims, in general.
I think Islamaphobia and fears of Islamization are both new issues facing our nation. We fear what we don’t know. That’s natural. And most people just don’t know very much about Islam. Why? Because until 9/11 there was never really a need. If you’re not a Muslim, why would you read about or learn about Islam? We learn first what’s necessary to our own lives, our own religion, and our own history, but I think it’s time we started to learn about who Muslims are. I know it’s easier to let the news tell us. We are a sound-bite nation, for sure, but we really need to check those facts.
There is as much disinformation as there is information floating around. In addition, we all have a tendency to believe what we want to believe anyway. Why? Because it makes sense to us and fits our view of the world. I had a friend say to me a while back, “Wouldn’t you admit that Islam has a fundamentally violent theology?” Yikes! No! Not even close! While this friend is very intelligent and well read, she is also is a devout Christian and finds it perfectly reasonable to believe that Islam is inherently violent. The few Muslims she knows aren’t violent, but she still assumes that…maybe…probably…the rest of them could be.
Yes, there are violent terrorists who are Muslim, but we’re not all that way. Not even remotely violent! Most of us are too concerned with the same day-to-day concerns that everyone else has: work, kids, bills, etc. But what about the mysterious Muslims overseas? What do they do all day? They do the very same things. Except sometimes, in less fortunate countries, the daily concerns of surviving are way too consuming to even contemplate anything else. God Bless America for safe and secure daily living! There is not one single Muslim I know who doesn’t appreciate that. We like a free market economy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. We like living here. Many say that the terrorists hate America because of these very freedoms. That’s not entirely true. The truth is much too complicated, and the history supporting the truth way too long, to fit into such a tidy sound-bite. Nevertheless, whatever that “truth” is, it doesn’t justify their actions or tactics. And all the Muslims I know would agree. Terrorism and inflicting pain and violence on innocent people is never okay in Islam. Never!
There is a small, vocal group of fundamental radicals who are giving Islam a bad name. Likewise, there’s a small, vocal group of Americans helping them by using this threat to incite fear of all Muslims. Muslims, in general, are not the enemy. The religion is not theologically violent. Unsolicited violence is not okay. Moreover, there is no compulsion in our religion. We can’t make you be Muslim if you don’t want to.
Now, I realize that I am really not that unconventional. I know some Muslims who wear hijabs (head coverings) all the time and I know a lot who don’t. I know some who are religiously conservative and some who aren’t. I know some who are politically conservative, some who are quite liberal, and many who fall somewhere in between. I know some who take the Quran literally and some who read it metaphorically. In this way, Muslims are no different from any other group of people. Think about all the people you know in your own faith. I would bet that for every one of those people, there is a Muslim with a similar personality and preferences somewhere in the world.
Having had an interest in faith, religion, and the reconciliation of her own beliefs with those of others since her teenage years, the opportunity to be involved with Project Interfaith seems like divine intervention. Though most of this "reconciliation" has been both private and personal, Kael has spent the last 5 years speaking to people, groups and individuals alike, in order to help them understand the similarities and differences between the Abrahamic faiths. As an educator, she have seen firsthand the ignorance, and consequent importance of fostering mutual understanding and respect, in the areas of faith and religion. To borrow the words of her father, "A true multiculturalist keeps both eyes open: one to the see the similarities, the other to see the differences." It is her hope that through Project Interfaith she can help others become thoughtful, discerning multiculturalists, too.