Category Archives: World

Interfaith from Across the Pond: My Time With the Three Faiths Forum

Copyright © Three Faiths Forum 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by David Fraccaro of the IFYC if I could travel to London for an event put on by the Three Faiths Forum, a UK-based organization similar in mission to IFYC who was trying to launch campus interfaith initiatives at universities across London. Not surprisingly, I agreed.

When the day finally came, I hopped on a train and arrived in London just after lunch. A quick jaunt through the Underground on the Northern Line, and I emerged in the quiet neighborhood of Belsize Park, where the event was taking place. I checked in to the retreat center, met briefly with David, and then headed inside to sit in on some of the training sessions to get a feel for the conference’s trajectory.

I met some really great people—everyone welcomed me warmly and graciously allowed me to hang around. I participated in a few of the group challenges, like when we sorted through a pile of questions and phrases, teasing out those we felt demonstrated the greatest and least respect before discussing those we felt floated on the margins of either category. It was an eye-opening experience to see the myriad assumptions that go into even our most simple questions.

I found it interesting that the Three Faiths Forum not only works to promote interfaith cooperation amongst religious groups on university campuses, but also runs programs in London-area secondary schools (among other things). These programs bring speakers from various faith traditions into classrooms, where they share their stories and spend time teaching the value of mutual civility and the art of asking respectful questions. The aim is to get the students thinking about what they say and how they view people other than themselves. I thought it was a great, though albeit rather bold, thing to do, as I can’t imagine doing something similar in American high schools.

I gave a brief address during an informal panel discussion—a story about how I became involved in interfaith work and where I hoped to go with it in the future—and fielded a few questions regarding the pragmatics of mobilizing campus and community groups to engage in large-scale service projects.

After our sessions ended for the day, we headed to dinner, and I had a chance to get to know everyone better. The next day (and the last day of their conference), everyone shared their ideas for reaching out to their campus communities and demonstrating the power of interfaith cooperation. Their ideas were incredible and original, inspiring me to consider implementing a few of them at U of I when I return next semester.

My favorite idea was one that involved making t-shirts emblazoned with the symbol of your faith tradition on it and then building a full-size archway out of cardboard bricks (or something similar) in a prominent campus location, the display of unity coming from the concerted effort to build an object that requires all of its parts to stand (as an arch does). I imagine this could be a pretty powerful demonstration on the quad at University of Illinois.

My time with the Three Faiths Forum reminded me that interfaith is also international. It isn’t a movement consigned to American university campuses or even London secondary schools, but is something that involves the entire world. (I think the recent stories of Muslims and Christians standing together in the Middle East proves this.) And I know that we talk about it as being a global movement all the time, but I must admit that it didn’t quite hit me until I sat in a room with students from another country who shared the same values as I do about interfaith cooperation.

When we as Christians participate in interfaith work, we participate in an international discussion. Our efforts to form relationships with those of other religious and non-religious traditions may not seem like much at first, but once the example has been set in one place, it can be followed in another. Just think of Martin Luther King Jr following the example set by Gandhi; one individual’s witness for their faith can resonate throughout the world.

You can find more information on The Three Faiths Forum at their website here, as well as watch some great and informative videos on their YouTube channel.

 

 

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It’s a Small World After All: Why the Importance of Interfaith Grows with the Population

(Photo courtesy of the NOAA.)

Seven billion. That’s the number that our population will hit at some point this year. And afterward, it will continue to grow. That’s seven billion lives, seven billion stories, and seven billion beliefs about the world in which we will all inhabit. With rapid communication and fast travel, our world has already grown smaller, just as the population has ballooned larger. Apart from being an ecological concern for the population-at-large, this expansion of the world’s citizens carries quite a bit of significance specifically for the interfaith community. What do we do as the world becomes more crowded, when differing opinions and ideologies come closer and closer to one another than ever before? What do we do when clashing viewpoints meet in the public spheres of our society–not just the physical ones, but also the electronic spaces frequented by an ever-expanding percent of the global populace?

This is where interfaith cooperation becomes crucial. Sociological pluralism of the sort we advocate at FLP (and that you will find outlined in our pages above) will become a social necessity if humanity is to live and work and grow together as we move into the future. Why not get a head start? Greg and I have outlined a few reasons why we think interfaith work worthwhile– from our call as Christians to live as ambassadors of Christ, to the simple practical benefits of service– and this one perhaps encompasses them all.

As a prominent faith community– the Christian community– we should begin considering these challenges that the future poses. The population increase, expected by some sources to reach nearly ten billion by 2050, will bring with it a host of new issues, many of them ecological. We will have to be better stewards of our resources, and we will have to look to our moral rubrics for guidance. In our case, that means turning to Scripture and discussing what Christ’s example can teach us about a Christian ethic on an enormous (and enormously diverse) planet. We will have to decide what the church looks like in a dynamic world.

To solve these issues and truly progress into a better age than those that came before, we cannot continue to fight and oppose one another. Dissidence breeds only more problems. In his last entry, Greg talked about the incredible outpouring of support surrounding UIUC’s “Million Meals for Haiti” event, which saw people from every walk of life come together to solve a problem, to right a wrong and better the world in which we live. To flourish, we will need more of these events. I believe that acts of service like this must become normal rather than exceptional for us to powerfully transform our world.

We have the ability to write the story of our future; we can choose to promote peace or allow violence. It’s up to us. Interfaith cooperation provides an opportunity to forge strong relationships with those different from you. If enough people did this, then the bonds of the global community would be much stronger than they are now. Perhaps things like “Million Meals” could seem commonplace. From within our Christian identity we can pull together to make this seven billion strong–seven billion united in our differences–instead of seven billion reasons to disagree. So what do you think the world will look like? How will the Christian community respond to the issues faced in this growing world, and what are some ways to join people of different beliefs and traditions together to address them?

As an aside, here’s an excellent video put together by National Geographic as part of their series “Seven Billion”:7 Billion, National Geographic Magazine

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A Love Like Christ, a Reflection: What We Can Learn From Egypt’s Uprising

originally posted by @NevineZaki on Twitter.

The media has swollen with stories about the protests in Egypt—millions marching for freedom and peace, the internet being shut down, and, most recently, Anderson Cooper bludgeoned by angry Mubarak-supporters. Even to a reader who likes to keep abreast of world affairs, I must admit that I still don’t fully understand the complex cultural workings that led to this enormous protest, being admittedly rather ignorant to Egyptian political life. It seems that every five minutes, a new take on the whole affair appears on the news sites I follow.

But, while skimming through my Twitter feed a couple of days ago, I caught the image above sent in a link by one of my friends at the IFYC, and it had a profound impact on me. It was an image of poignant truth, yet simple to understand. Regardless of the political motivations behind the movement, the implication of US diplomacy, or the expected outcome of all that has occurred, I could not help but be moved.

Greg’s post on this photo mentioned his great appreciation for Jesus’ exhortation to “Love your neighbor.” These words come from Luke 10:27, in which Jesus says that the two most important commandments from God are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Later, St. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, echoes love’s importance when he describes its qualities, saying:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

It was Jesus who loved us so deeply that he died for our sins—the demonstration of a love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In the outstretched arms of these young Egyptian Christians I see the same kind of love. And, in a way, they stand in imitation of Christ, bearing their hearts to the world.

What is more profound than this—Christians mimicking the sacrificial love of Christ in such a poignant way?

The people in this photo look my age. As I reflected on what they were doing, I had to ask myself: would I do that, too? Faced with the threat of violence and death, would I link arms with my fellow believers in order to let those of another faith pray to their god? Though I fear my cowardice, I should hope I would rise to the occasion, and I would hope they would do the same. In fact, as Greg mentioned in his post, they already did, back at Christmas when Muslims stood as human shields outside of an Alexandrian church in solidarity against militant extremists.

The love demonstrated in this photograph is a powerful one, one that moves me and motivates me. The bonds of such a love are strong, elemental, transcendent. What compelled the Muslims to defend their Christian neighbors later compelled Christians to reciprocate. How does this motivate you? Does it cause you to reflect on your faith as it did me?

Paul continues in his letter to the Corinthians. His words ring powerfully in my mind as I consider the photograph above:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

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Reflections on a Snapshot of Religious Cooperation in Egypt

originally posted by @NevineZaki on Twitter

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t pay enough attention to what is going on in the world around me.  Typically, my eyes are fixed on a pair of computer screens: coding a problem for class on one, a half-composed e-mail sitting open on the other.  Or I’m wrapped up in a textbook, trying to stay awake, note cards scattered around me, studying for that next exam.  I’m an MD/PhD student, so perhaps I have an excuse.  But then again, maybe I don’t.

I do what I can to catch glimpses of the reality beyond my routine.  Which, at best, means grabbing my phone during a free minute or a boring lecture to skim a series of RSS feeds, tweets, and headlines.  This week, one tweet in particular caught my eye and caused me to sit back for a moment to reflect.

At the church where I grew up, there were a few older gentleman who consistently reminded us to be praying for our troops.  It gave me the impression that these fellas sat around all day with nothing else to do, so they made a hobby of following the men and women serving our country and risking their lives outside the States, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But I think that they were actually on to something.  There are bigger things going on in the world – things that, at the very least, deserve our prayerful attention.

Amidst the unrest in Egypt, a picture was tweeted across the globe this week, often with an #interfaith hash tag, showing Christians joining arms to protect Muslims during prayer.  This almost seemed to reciprocate the human shield formed around a Coptic Christmas mass just a few weeks ago by Egyptian Muslims as a protest against Islamic militants.

As I paused for another “what would Jesus do?” reflection, I began to realize what this act represented.  In a society where order is crumbling to the ground and protests are escalating to violence, what is more profound than a bold reminder that many Egyptians dream of a country where people of diverse backgrounds work together to preserve freedom?

As we’ve started to build Faith Line Protestants over the past few weeks, one theme has remained persistent in my thoughts: love your neighbor.  To me, defending another’s freedom to practice their faith – even when that faith is not your own – is an act of love.  As a citizen of a nation built on ideas like religious freedom, I realize the significance of this notion which, depicted in the picture above, inspires me as I pray for safety and peace in Egypt during the days ahead.

How does this inspire you?  Let us know by commenting here or sharing with us on our Facebook page.

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