Tag Archives: ICIC

President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge announced for second year

You are probably aware that both Cameron and I have been active with Illinois Interfaith Service, the initiative our campus started in response to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge this past year which organized  the first ever Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration. The White House Office on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships recently announced the second year of the challenge, and we are excited to see where this year takes us.

Check out the announcement on ED.gov: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/fbci/campus-challenge.html

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Quick thoughts after ICIC12

Cameron and I just finished with a long and exhausting weekend organizing and participating in the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration. I really enjoyed the chance to chat with Jim Wallis of Sojourners on Friday night, run another interfaith meal packaging event, see Chris Stedman (although meal-packaging clean-up kept me from attending his talk), and hear from Valarie Kaur this morning. All had very different backgrounds and perspectives but stimulated a lot of great conversation. We’ll follow-up in the coming days with some reflects and content from ICIC12.

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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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Reflecting on Faith Line Protestants

Over a year ago now, Greg Damhorst and I met in a coffee shop on campus to talk about how few Christians (esp. evangelical Christians) seemed interested in interfaith cooperation. What came out of that conversation was Faith Line Protestants, and the hope that we could use it to grow a platform. We set our goals high, and with a post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith,” we launched just after New Year’s Day, 2011. Since then, we’ve written hundreds of posts, been involved in our first (and only) blog spat to date, and led a few discussions on college campuses about interfaith cooperation from a Christian perspective.

We’ve both been– and continue to be– rather busy. (Read Greg’s “State of FLP” address from last month here.)

I must admit my relationship with the interfaith movement has shifted over time, and I am not the same person I was when I first started writing posts for FLP. The sheen of idealism has faded a bit as I continue to shape my own theological persuasion and carve my own niche in the denomination which I recently aligned (the Episcopal Church). And as I step further and further along the path toward ordination, I begin to conceptualize interfaith cooperation in different ways through the lens of a minister. This process has changed in some ways the dynamics of the movement for me.

I still believe in the movement, and still believe it is important that the Christian community learn how to live alongside other religious groups without adopting the all-too-common “shore up our defenses and fight” mentality that has cropped up at various points throughout history. Yet I’ve also found that one has to be quite careful, or discussions of “shared values” can quickly degenerate into “shared theologies.” Or, on the opposite end, I’ve found many persons with sensibilities that find sharing your faith– in any capacity, no matter how gracefully or non-confrontational– as invasive and effrontery behavior, even at the interfaith table. I’ve found non-religious persons interested in the movement that still regard religion as ridiculous, marring many of the efforts with a mud of insincerity as they wink to their comrades in online circles, while treating faith with deference in public.

And most distressingly of all, I’ve found fellow self-proclaimed Christians who seem interested in fostering peace because, to them, the gospels present us with nothing more than good stories worth emulating, but not a real Christ worth following. Unfortunately, I think Greg and I get associated with this last camp, and it ends up hindering our efforts to reach more mainstream Christians.

Additionally, we’ve seen an explosion of discourse surrounding faith and its place in public life over the past year. Whether it be the cadre of GOP candidates winnowing down as we get closer to the 2012 election, or high-profile sports figures who wear their faith publicly with their success like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, it’s clear that interfaith discussions will continue to be important and that we still haven’t worked all the kinks out yet.

Despite these frustrations, however, we’ve seen some encouraging signs. More people than ever seem interested in interfaith cooperation and what it has to offer society. Even some members of Christian groups on campus– previously difficult for Greg and I to reach– have gotten involved of their own volition. We’re starting to see evangelical groups on campus expressing a genuine interest in and desire for interfaith cooperation, collaboration, and education.

As Greg and I look toward this next year, some big things lie ahead of us. There’s the ICIC (if you want to know what that means, click here), which will bring Eboo Patel, Jim Wallis, and our friend Chris Steadman to campus, and will provide an excellent opportunity for Greg and I to get campus Christian organizations even more interested in interfaith service and cooperation.

This year promises to be a good one.

We hope to refine our vision, to edit our pages, to expand our contributors, and provide more content more often. Join us as we look forward to another year!

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