Many of us have been raised to understand that there are a few topics that should be left out of conversation, in order not to “stir the pot,” “be questioned or persuaded,” or “be taken the wrong way.” Based on the daily news, I am going to argue that not talking about something hasn’t made it better, but rather made it more volatile. It is from this perspective that I volunteer with Project Interfaith here in Omaha, and find that it has changed not only how I consider the world and those in it, but it has made me comfortable with one such taboo topic - that of religion, faith, and choices without faith.
Project Interfaith is based on the goal of respectful dialogue, learning, and respect between people of all faiths; and rather than avoiding such a deeply rooted value in all people…we recognize it, name it, ask about it, and try to understand how one’s beliefs and values influence what they do, what they say, and how they see the world. Their community programming is balanced from many angles, with the goal of more dialogue and questions, not anyone having all the answers and expecting the entire world to believe exactly as they do.
I have experienced the richness of this dialogue first-hand, and I have also introduced the methods and concepts to students from middle schools through colleges, as well as other adults. What I find is that people are hungry for honest sharing, hearing others’ stories, and understanding how one’s view of the world impacts their decisions and reactions. If this type of programming which has a goal of respect (not an agenda of coercion), were more widely used and contemplated, I would argue that the religious misunderstandings we see on the news every day would gradually dissipate. Why would we take something that is so rooted into who we are and hide it from our daily conversation? Why wouldn’t we be willing to explore, ask, and learn, knowing that all people have their own journey and that life isn’t a competition?
I believe that Omaha and the Midwest are the perfect place for this non-profit to have been birthed. The Midwest is known for being more accepting and less judgmental, more concerned with neighborliness and willingness to lend a hand than what a person does in their own home and own place of worship. It is with pride that I boast about Project Interfaith in Omaha and how it is such an amazing organization in our midst. If you are new to learning about Project Interfaith, I encourage you to get involved further!
Monica White is an Assistant Professor at Clarkson College in Omaha, Nebraska. Ms. White brings ten years of teaching in higher education, eight years in medical social work, and continues to maintain licensure as a clinical social worker which help inform her teaching. She believes in the power of service-learning and community engagement as a means of education that helps students connect course relevancy and build skills for the twenty-first century. Teaching in the undergraduate common core curriculum, Ms. White has established a service-learning program. She currently leads the Core faculty in service-learning partnerships with 18 agencies each semester and coordinates service projects for approximately 400 students, with an average of 4000 completed service hours per year. Ms. White is an award-winning instructor, with honors of Excellence in Teaching, Faculty of the Year, and the Nebraska Governor’s First Lady’s Award for Outstanding Community Partnership in Education.