Category Archives: Interfaith Movement

Headed to D.C. for President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge gathering

I’ll be representing the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with one other student and one staff member at the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge 2012 Summer Gathering this Monday and Tuesday in Washington D.C.

We’re excited to join over 300 college presidents, administrators, chaplains and students at this gathering which features special guests from the Department of Education, the Interfaith Youth Core and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

While we’re there to network and talk about our work at Illinois (namely Illinois Interfaith Service and the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration), I’ll be keeping an eye out for private Christian colleges and universities to hear about how explicitly Christian campuses have engaged interfaith work on their campuses. (For a great example, check back to our guest post from Kyleen Burke From Gordon College: Loving Our Religious Neighbors).

I’ll be bringing the FLP video camera and I hope to have a chance to do some informal video blogs along the way, so check back here next week for more about the President’s Challenge Summer Gathering!

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Jim Wallis at ICIC12

We were thrilled to have Jim Wallis as a featured keynote speaker at the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration back in April. Cameron and Greg were both involved in organizing the first-of-its-kind event.

Jim’s keynote address was intended to be a conversation with IFYC founder Eboo Patel, but Eboo’s flight out of New York earlier that morning was delayed and he missed the connection to Champaign-Urbana.

Enjoy what Jim Wallis has to say about interfaith collaboration:

Note: We’d like to thank the Interfaith Youth Core for their support of Faith Line Protestants. This video includes some of the first footage taken with a new HD camera purchased with a grant from the IFYC alumni fund. We’re looking forward to producing more video content for this site in the coming weeks.

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A spiritual calling to interfaith work

This piece was originally published on the Interfaith Youth Core blog at http://www.ifyc.org/content/spiritual-calling-interfaith-work.

Last Thursday night I found myself at the largest interfaith dialogue the University of Illinois has ever seen. Directly north of the iconic Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium on campus, 600 people packed into a multipurpose room at our beautiful Activities and Recreation Center – the same room where we’ll kick off the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration in just under a month.

The event, a Muslim-Christian dialogue between academics Zeki Saritoprak and Peter Kreeft, was well-attended by people from many traditions, but I’m willing to bet that just about every Christian fellowship on campus was represented. So while I stood in the back waiting to meet some friends from Interfaith in Action, the relatively high density of Cru, InterVarsity (IV) and Navigators shirts inspired some reflection.

As a Christian, I value the sort of community that a Christian fellowship provides. However, I also value the opportunity to share the message of my faith with others. In reflecting, I thought back to my days as a Bible study leader with IV – my struggle to balance over-commitment to academics and extracurricular activities and an evangelism seminar my junior year that convicted me not to renew my time-consuming commitments to leadership with IV.

Why? Because the take-home message of the seminar was simple: stop doing so many things with just Christians and start doing things with people from a different background. It’s through those relationships that you will show others who Jesus is.

That seminar confirmed my spiritual calling to interfaith work.

I thought about where I have come since then. One year after that retreat, I attended an IFYC conference at Northwestern University. Six months later, we organized more than 5,000 people in packaging 1,000,000 meals for earthquake victims in Haiti, Champaign-Urbana’s largest ever interfaith service project. Six months after that, I found myself in front of the White House with 200 other student leaders at the first ever Interfaith Leadership Institute.

As a student speaker in the opening session of that ILI, I remember the excitement of telling my parents – both of whom are Christians and great supporters of my involvement in interfaith work – about how I knew that I had heard God’s call correctly: I had been given the opportunity to go to the White House to tell 200 hundred other students about the ways that Jesus inspires me to serve others.

But I realize now that the real indicators of God’s desire come in less obvious, but more meaningful forms. Like those of the friends I was meeting at that dialogue last Thursday night.

They are people like Adam, an atheist and an inspiring leader with whom I get to work closely on a regular basis. Or Gautam, an old friend from my hometown with Jain and Hindu heritage – and now a colleague in interfaith work on our campus. Or Adham, an American Muslim of Syrian descent who is one of the University of Illinois’ emerging young interfaith leaders. But that’s just a few – there are innumerable others who I have met through interfaith work – some in just short conversations, others as collaborators and friends in long-term projects.

What I realized while waiting in the back of that multipurpose room last Thursday night was that these relationships are the real reason I know my spiritual calling to do interfaith work is true. Because I’m doing something that I wasn’t doing before, something that my faith was instructing me to do all along – I’m building inspiring relationships with people of different backgrounds.

Relationships like this are built at events like the IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institutes, which are this summer in Chicago (June 18-21, 2012) and Philadelphia (July 16-19). Also, consider joining us at the University of Illinois April 20th-22nd for the inaugural Illinois Conference on Interfaith Cooperation. We have some special guests including Eboo PatelJim WallisChris Stedman and Valarie Kaur.

And you might even get to meet Adam, Gautam or Adham…

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Kicking off a new year… two months late

I opened up an e-mail last night that has been sitting in my inbox for a while, waiting for a reply. I was shocked when I realized it was dated from January 22nd. If you know me, you know that I usually keep up with these things, but on this particular incident I dropped the ball. So where did the last month go?

For me it’s been a whirlwind of the usual mixed with a little unusual. I returned from Ghana over a month ago after leading a group of 18 other graduate students and faculty on an observational trip as part of the University of Illinois’ new Global Health Initiative. It turned out to be a perspective-shifting experience for me as I started to think about God’s calling for my life – but more on that later.

As far as I can tell, Cameron is currently occupied with the undergraduates’ greatest stressor: the Senior Thesis. Add a side of part-time job and applying to seminary for dessert and you have a complete meal with more than your daily recommended value of stress, writer’s block and sleepless nights.

Yet as busy as we have been, the time has never been more crucial for our attention to the interfaith movement.

And it’s not just because Tebow-Mania gave way to Linsanity before I really noticed that the NFL season was over or because we’re starting to feel the heat of an election year and faith identity continues to be a central issue. Instead, it’s because of the things that are happening on college campuses right now that are going to shape the way we talk about devout athletes and presidential candidates in 5, 10, 15 years.

While I was sweating away the hours between clinics and hospitals in a cramped van on dirt roads in southern Ghana, hundreds of undergraduate student leaders gathered at Emory University in Atlanta for another Interfaith Leadership Institute – learning to lead a conversation about cooperation on their campuses, suggesting that people of diverse faith backgrounds are Better Together when we gather around issues that we all care about, like fighting hunger or speaking out against human trafficking.

As an evangelical Christian watching the discourse around Jeremy Lin take place, I realized that I am not interested in a popular culture where being passionate about Jesus just adds spectacle to an already bizarre situation, like stepping up from bench-warmer to break-out star in a matter of days. But the student leaders who gathered in Atlanta this winter are having a different kind of conversation, where they are talking about building respect and understanding, and talking about similarities and differences in a way that better enables us to address great human need.

And I’ve heard from some of those young leaders, including a student at North Park University and another at Gordon College. While both institutions are rooted in Christian traditions, their students are diverse and I am excited to see the ways that the interfaith movement takes hold on those campuses.

Of course Cameron and I have ambitious plans to build on the conversation on FLP this semester including featuring some new voices and perspectives. But what’s got us really excited is where all these inspiring student leaders are going to be at the end of this semester, more specifically April 20-22nd.

They’re going to be here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the first ever Illinois Conference on Interfaith Cooperation. And so will Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, as well as several other special guests here to talk about interfaith cooperation on college campuses, best practices, challenges and successes in the work we’ve been a part of.

So you can look forward to that as well. Actually, you could even be there. Check out www.illinoisinterfaithservice.org to register.

There is good stuff coming, so stay tuned –

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Atheists and Evangelicals in Dialogue, Garden Plots, and Things to Come…

Okay, I know I said there would be some reading material over here, and I’ll admit that Greg and I have not been the most diligent about making that a reality. And for that, I apologize. (Sound familiar? Guess that’s what happens once the semester starts up and you have two students running a blog.) Anyway, I’m here now to provide an update on some of the things Greg and I have been doing.

First, I would like to say that the lunchtime discussion addressing relations between atheists and evangelicals went rather well. Held in the Women’s Resource Center at the U of I, attendees were treated with free lunch, which probably helped the 35 or so people in the room stand Greg’s explanation of interfaith and evangelical identity (just kidding, Greg). Adam Garner and Emily Ansusinha, our fellow Interfaith in Action exec. board members rounded out the panel, and provided some friendly back-and-forth about the atheist/agnostic experience with the evangelical community.

My personal takeaway from the talk was this: I discovered that I still can’t really wrap up a statement well, and could stand to do better than simply trailing off and saying, “But yeah, anyway…” before looking at my fellow panel members to take over. Again, I mentioned we had free lunch, right?

My (sometimes poor) panel-discussion skills aside, Greg and I enjoyed ourselves, and afterward had a few audience members come up to us and ask questions.

The following weekend, I served with Adam (mentioned above) and a few other members of Interfaith in Action to build community garden plots for the Champaign Health District as part of the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Challenge in remembrance of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. After the service project, we were able to have a dialogue with those who worked on the project, discussing how one’s faith can influence and inspire service. Our discussion and reflections proved a powerful reminder that religio-cultural difference does not have to cause the violence and strife of the events we remembered that day, but can instead act as a catalyst for tremendous good.

This evening (Thursday, 22 September), I will host an Interfaith in Action “Speedfaithing” event at the University YMCA, where anyone interested can come and learn about the basic beliefs of the Hindu tradition. Dharma, the University of Illinois student Hindu group, is helping us with the event. If you’re on the U of I campus, don’t miss it!

Look for Greg’s Gabe Lyons’ posts to appear here soon, as well as more information on our upcoming “Evangelical Identity and Interfaith Cooperation” First Tuesday Talk given at the University YMCA on October 4th. We are also in the process of developing that media content we promised, which should also make its debut in the near future. Until then…

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The Anglican Church Goes After the New Atheists

Archbishop John Sentamu (Left) w/ Archbishop Rowan Williams (Right) Photo courtesy the Telegraph UK (http://tgr.ph/pAPSCB)

This post comes out of this article from the Telegraph, which discusses a new report endorsed by both the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu that encourages clergy in the Church of England to “to be more vocal in countering the arguments put forward by a more hard-line group of atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have campaigned for a less tolerant attitude towards religion.”

So, some of you may be asking, why should we care? After all, we don’t live in Britain, nor are we Anglican. (Well, I am. But I’d expect many of our readers aren’t.)

One should care, I think, because at the root of this article lies a much more fundamental question regarding the relationship between the religious and non-religious in modern society. What I find most interesting is that the CofE’s report seems to locate the issue not only between Christians and atheists, but between all religious groups and atheists. The author writes:

“One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith,” says the report, called Challenges for the New Quinquennium.

The Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem,” it says.

[…]

The Church is keen to address the rise of new atheism, which has grown over recent years with the publication of bestselling books arguing against religion.

However, the document says that this intolerance is becoming more widespread and can be seen in public bodies, which it says must be challenged over attitudes of “suspicion or hostility towards churches and other faith groups”.

In recent years, a number of Christians have taken legal action against local councils and hospital trusts after being disciplined for expressing their faith by wearing crosses or refusing to act against their orthodox beliefs.

“There is still work to be done to counter the prevailing tendency of treating faith as a private matter which should not impact on what happens in the public realm.

“This is a challenge for all churches and faiths, but especially for the Church of England.”

As the report frames it, this isn’t just about Christianity– it’s “for all churches and faiths“. While things are a bit different here in the States– religion, for instance, is not marginalized as the author claims for Britain, and I find many claims made by Christians warning of impending threats of secularization dubious– I still find this deliberate “calling out” of one group worthy of watching.

If I’m not mistaken, the Vatican issued a similar exhortation to engage with secular society earlier this year (or a bit before), that sought to host dialogues and educational events in prominent cathedrals (I believe the article I read specifically named churches in Paris) between atheists and Christians. Such formal imperatives to get involved in the predominantly secular cultures in Europe could speak rather loudly as a bold step to save face, or it could represent a genuine attempt at peace and understanding divorced from mere proselytizing.

I’m all for engaging with atheists on notions of faith in public life– I’m even happy to debate theological/ethical/philosophical issues with the non-religious community; I believe a healthy debate is good, and can build bridges of mutual understanding if done well. However, what I hope does not happen is that the engagement turns into argument, rendering as lost any hope for understanding. Already many in the New Atheist movement have fervently spoken out against religion, calling it force for evil in the world and a gross suspension of reason. And here in the States, many in the more fundamentalist sects of the Christian faith refuse to deal with atheists, dismissing them all as immoral heathens bound for an eternity in hell. Painting in such broad strokes doesn’t strike me as productive, and so I hope that the CofE does a good job in countering New Atheism’s barbed critiques by promoting peace and a reasonable approach to faith.

Though sympathetic to the atheist’s position– and seeing it as a perfectly valid one– I personally  don’t appreciate the so-called New Atheist movement. I find it rather counterproductive and often results in the two sides (religious and non-religious) talking past each other. If the CofE can improve the public discourse surrounding the religious/non-religious divide, then I support the Archbishops’ effort; if this becomes another dialogic train wreck, however, I won’t think so highly of it. Much of this depends on how their initiative manifests itself in church life: will this be simply an increase in polemical apologetics, or a genuine attempt at providing quality lay-education programs on the subjects in question? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the announcement of this report comes just before Greg and I are set to participate in a lunch-time panel discussion on Friday (tomorrow!) about Evangelicals and their (rarely peaceful) relationship to the atheist community. We will post more information on this event later.

We want to hear your thoughts. Do you think the church should engage so specifically with the so-called “New Atheists” and their criticisms?

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Interfaith at U of I: A Brief Look at Upcoming Interfaith Events and Initiatives

Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Logo

 

We said we’d keep you updated, so here’s attempt number one. In addition to planning new things for FLP, this is how Greg and I spend our free time…

This year is an exciting year for interfaith service work at the University of Illinois. With our campus interfaith organization, Interfaith in Action, working with and alongside university administration to implement the President’s Challenge (mentioned in Greg’s earlier post here), interfaith programming has easily tripled over previous years; not only are we reaching out to other campus organizations, but our community presence has increased as well.

For the President’s Challenge, Greg has been fulfilling his duties as co-leader of the Communication Committee, while I have served as part of the Education Committee working to plan a steady schedule of events focused on religious literacy and understanding. Our first event–  a panel discussion for part of our unofficially dubbed “First Tuesday Talks” series– happens just next week.  I will be on the panel as a Christian representative answering the question, “Why do you serve?”along with four others from different backgrounds and traditions.

For Interfaith in Action, Greg continues his work as Treasurer, finding ways to raise funds and launch various service initiatives. Meanwhile, as Religious Literacy Chair, I do basically the same things as I do for the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service initiative– planning educational events that promote religious literacy. Earlier this week, I gave a brief talk about the importance of interfaith cooperation, explaining the function of Interfaith in Action to a small but interested group of new (for us) students.

All of this activity is drumming up more support and exposure for our programs, and presents Greg and I with a plethora of opportunities to represent Christ to those who may know very little about the Christian faith.

In fact, next month’s First Tuesday Talk (Oct. 4th) will be on the subject of evangelicals and interfaith cooperation, and will be hosted by Greg and me. But we’ll share more about that– and about our upcoming September 11th service projects– later on! For now, check out both Interfaith in Action’s website and the site for the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. Like them (and us!) on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter for more updates!

 

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FLP- The Vision of Things to Come

As the new school year kicks off, Greg and I have finally been able to meet physically (no more Skype!) and discuss plans for the future of FLP. Out of these conversations have come many exciting ideas, and I will share a few of them with you now!

In attempt to provide quality content, Greg and I often spend a few hours per post, shooting each one back and forth at least once or twice for proofreading before formatting it and queuing it up to go on the site. This makes publishing new content a rather lengthy process, and thus whenever either of our schedules become even the least bit hectic, things fall silent around here.

To combat this, Greg and I have agreed to operate this a bit more like a conventional blog, posting shorter, less formal pieces while continuing to post the more in-depth pieces we have been posting since day one.

Greg and I maintain active leadership roles in the University of Illinois’ student interfaith group, Interfaith in Action, where we both serve as executive board members, as well as serve on the leadership team charged with implementing the President’s Interfaith Service Challenge issued earlier this year. All this, in addition to being full-time students, leaves us at times with precious little in the way of free time. Despite this, our passion for, and devotion to, the mission of FLP remains strong and steadfast; we just have to get better at balancing this blog with our day-to-day lives.

We will update ya’ll with news about our activities, both in Interfaith in Action and in our work implementing the President’s Challenge. After all, this blog is about Christians engaging in interfaith work, and that means practicing what we preach!

So, here’s what you can expect:

  • More Tweets! Messages from myself will be signed “-C.” and messages from Greg will be signed “-G.”
  • Frequent updates to the blog, including less ‘formal’ posts
  • More guest posts (hopefully expanding to a rotation of other regular contributors)
  • New media content, such as videos, talks, etc.

In the meantime, look for Greg’s posts on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians.

Please follow us on Twitter, “like” us on Facebook, tell your friends, and continue to check back regularly for new content! We look forward to stepping into the future of FLP with all of you!

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