PROJECT UBUNTU Founder, Daniel Becton.
I'm currently visiting Project Interfaith in Week 40 of 51 of a
nationwide tour. Over one year, I am celebrating and supporting one
organization in every state and Washington, D.C. that mobilizes people
to help other people. I am celebrating and supporting a wide variety of
service work while exploring how we can transcend the "us vs. them"
divisions that inevitably emerge in societies and communities.Growing up with mixed Jewish and Christian heritage, I was often frustrated at the exaggeration of differences between the faiths. When I moved to England and discovered Islam, I was even more annoyed -- come on, we're all reading pretty much the same scriptures!
But a "reductionist" mentality doesn't move us forward. There are important nuances to every faith which define interfaith conflict but also grant a glimpse of each faith's brilliance.
For thousands of years, people in every part of the world have been asking the big questions, and building philosophically and culturally unique traditions. How foolish we would be to ignore all that work, or to dismiss the powerful vehicle of faith as "just" a code of moral conduct, or the will to power, or anything else. In the same way, no person is "merely" one of their identities, but is a wonderfully complex collection of everything they've experienced.
Inside faith traditions -- and through meaningful, intercultural, interfaith experience -- lies the key to elevating humanity. Quality does not come in spite of diversity, but through diversity.
As Americans, we often create religious "us vs. them" dichotomies like "believer/non-believer," "Christian/other," or even "religious/spiritual." The "us" is always mutually exclusive from and superior to the "them." Most importantly, we falsely tend to think "we" come from a place of love but "they" are hateful.
Faith identities are constructed by everyone -- "Christians" represent Christianity but "non-Christians" also contribute to that identity's reality through their own words and actions. When those are condescending, we can't move forward.
My dad notes that if God is Love, then Love is God. I spent Week 15 of my current journey in Atlanta with men who are homeless and recovering from addiction, and there I started to contemplate what happened when I substituted the word "Love" for "God."
On my trip so far I have traveled nearly 33,000 miles, have been hosted by 51 families and have been welcomed into 40 communities, often ones where I am in some way "the only one in the room." The reason it's working is because love works, and love multiplies, so I have a lot of confidence -- and faith -- in love, and I want to serve love.
Yet as I travel through the US, I frequently notice how "othered" people of faith or people who are atheist or agnostic feel. This leads to building a community dependent on walls, and we shut out and dehumanize "them," seemingly out of necessity to preserve our own community's power.
However, all the power we need will come through love. And unlike money, love has an infinite return on investment: Our great task is to mobilize it. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice."
As a community, we have to respond to those demands for everyone, not just "people like us." I believe "us and them" needn't be eliminated, but is transcended when we challenge groups to define themselves as open, inclusive, hospitable, loving people. Love demands we go past tolerance and open ourselves to understanding another person's "map of the world." It demands we realize how amazing each person is, how dynamic they are and how much they can contribute to what I feel is our collective purpose -- to multiply the presence of love.
Daniel is on the road with Project Ubuntu (www.projectubuntu.info). He previously spent three years with non-profit City Year after studying Philosophy and Music at the University of North Carolina and Gender Studies at the London School of Economics.