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Posts tagged ‘Eboo Patel’

Interfaith Encounters Day 4

Our day began with outdoor gardening work at the aptly-named urban oasis, Girarden, so named because of its location on Girard Ave. in West Philly.

Muneerah and Sue, our two wonderful hosts, walked us through the work to be done–weeding, trash detail, prep for planting.

The group got a lot done and we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine!

After that, we traveled to Interfaith Philadelphia to meet up with Andrew, Communications Director and overseer of the Alternative Break program. Andrew shared a bit about Interfaith Philadelphia and some upcoming programs, including Civil Conversations.

Then, I led a workshop about pluralism with the students. They had such great insights and shared some of the obstacles to embracing active engagement in interfaith work. We reflected on Eboo Patel’s passion for pluralism in place of tolerance and what we can do to truly know our neighbors and to work with them side by side.

Soon after, we journeyed to the NW suburbs of Philadelphia to
Bharatiya, a multi-deity Hindu and Jain temple.

We were incredibly fortunate to be there for the Holi Festival.

Holi Festival

The festival of colors is vibrant and considered one of the major festivals in India. It is celebrated in the month of Phalgun on full moon day according to the Hindu calendar. It takes place at the start of spring. This festival also celebrates the eternal love of Radha and Krishna. Holi teaches humankind to transcend above caste and creed. It is a festival to forget old grievances and to meet others with great warmth. Celebrants light a bonfire on Holi eve and then the next day, people greet each other with Happy Holi and the colors fly!

We were fortunate enough to experience this all in one night! What fun it was! Such an amazing experience! So much community and celebration!

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Do You Know Your H2O?

John 4:5-15

ebooA couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia’s Dare to Understand Awards event. The featured speaker was Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. I have met with Eboo various times and consider him to be one of my mentors. He inspired me in 2007 when I met him for the first time and read his memoir, Acts of Faith. There was so much in his story that I resonated with and since then, I have been committed to the work of interfaith cooperation and understanding. Eboo, a Muslim, teaches in Seminaries and other religious schools, often encountering American Evangelical Christians, who tend to be the most skeptical or even fearful of people from other faith traditions—especially Muslims. And yet, this is the challenging and important work that Eboo does. He is not afraid to reach across lines of difference. He embraces the most difficult questions and faces the various conflicts.

Recently, Eboo has been focusing on the need for people of faith backgrounds to live out their faith more honestly and publicly. The reason for that is because today many of the most open-minded Christians are mostly silent about their own faith tradition, fearing that they will offend someone or sensing the practice of the Christian faith has nothing positive to offer Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, secular humanists, etc. For example, Cassie Meyer, who works with Eboo at Interfaith Youth Core, says that most Christians have been conditioned to think that there are two ways to engage people of other faiths.

Liberal Christians feel they need to let go of any unique identity and affirm all religions as the same. Call it religious relativism.

Conservative Christians do the opposite. They hold on even tighter to their beliefs and sometimes see other religions as the enemy. Call it fundamentalism.

In both cases, this way of seeing the world does not lead to understanding and cooperation.

But there is another way. What about religious pluralism?  Pluralism claims that we are a diverse culture, worldwide. We have different truth claims. The real question is: how can we live together while being our true selves? The answer, at least, for Jesus of Nazareth, is to encounter the other, the one who others say is untouchable or unreachable. Enter the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus, though it is not often talked about, was one who did not shy away from engaging with diversity—religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic. He sought out those who were “untouchable” and on the margins. This is why he ended up in Samaria with a Samaritan woman at a well. Jews like Jesus were not supposed to go to Samaria. Just consider that Jesus, a Jew, and this woman, a Samaritan, should not have met. The Jews believed their sacred temple was in Jerusalem and the Samaritans that their sacred site was on Mount Gerizim. They read different scriptures. They had competing truth claims about G-d. And yet, Jesus seeks her out and breaks the rules—only to offer her living water.

In this case, living water is a new identity. For the Samaritan woman, this was being fully human. She had been told that her life didn’t matter and that she was lesser. Jesus, though he was of another religious and cultural background, sought her out to tell her that her life did indeed matter, and that she was full of living water. This is the narrative the Gospels tell about this Jesus—that Jesus seeks people out who feel lost, broken, devalued, marginalized, and forgotten.

That story is good news for all of us.

And yet, within that narrative I also hear another one—that we live in a world in which certain people of certain cultural, political, religious, or ethnic backgrounds cannot meet; they cannot talk to each other. Those meetups are even banned by governments and the rich and powerful. And many of us are conditioned [or at least jaded enough] to start believing this narrative. Christians cannot meet up with Muslims; materially poor people cannot meet up with the materially wealthy; a 16-year-old from West Philly cannot be friends with a 16-year-old from Warrington; a gender-fluid person can never meet up with someone who has no idea about alternative pronouns or even what transgender means; Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians—they cannot meet up.

These types of meetup groups are prohibited and even impossible, so we are told.

Let me say that certainly for people who are marginalized or discriminated against, they have every right to be skeptical about such meetings. If as a transgender person you have been told more than once that your “new” pronouns aren’t real and even that your gender identification or expression is invalid or unnatural—well, you should not be subjected to that harsh treatment. If you’re Black in America and have experienced both the subtle and not-so-subtle racism and tokenism on many occasions—you have every right to disengage from those who have treated you like this. If you are Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or Jain and have been mistreated or misrepresented when you encountered Christians, you have every right to walk away from those encounters.

Let me be clear—just because there are nice stories about Jesus encountering and meeting marginalized people as they are and where they are does not mean that it’s easy and happens all the time in society. It doesn’t, and that’s the point. What Jesus did was radical, considered dangerous, and counter-culture. Also, Jesus was the one reaching out. He wasn’t the marginalized. He looked for and befriended those on the margins.

And that’s where the narrative can be beautiful and powerful. As a Christian [and as a human being] I have committed to befriending Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and others from marginalized religious communities. It is up to me to do that. Likewise, I have made a commitment to be a friend and a student when I am with my LGBTQIA friends, colleagues, and family—to learn from them, because there is so much I do not know.

Friends, as people with H20 in our DNA, we can be water for each other in these encounters. We can make a positive social impact in society if those of us not on the margins seek out those on the margins and listen to their stories, honor and accept them, value their lives, and then join them on the journey. In life, you will encounter people who are worried, who carry way too heavy burdens, and they feel like their life doesn’t matter. You can decide to be water by being a listening ear, a helping hand, a ship out in the middle of the ocean, a glass of water in the middle of desert sand. There will be times when all of our own wells will run dry, and in those moments we will need someone to offer us a refreshing drink and to remind us that our life has value. Whether on the margin or not, water is in your physical and spiritual DNA. Let us be water for each other and refresh and heal the community.

Being

Matthew 5:1-12

hatenohomeWhat do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

Pertinent and difficult questions.

You see, I can only imagine what it was like for the more than half a million people who participated in the women’s march on Washington D.C. last Saturday, January, 21st, 2017. I can only imagine what it was like to have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and 200,000 others on August 28, 1963, for the rally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I can only imagine what it was like for people to give up their careers, religious practice, and in some cases, their families—to follow Jesus of Nazareth. I am not being overly dramatic. Sometimes we forget the privileges we have. I have never experienced war. No one has come to my house, telling me that I am now relocated and must leave at that very moment. I have never been told that my gender identification or expression is not acceptable at the workplace or that it is not “right” or not “of god.” And I have never been denied the right to marry a person I love, just because I’m gay. I have not been told that because I’m from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen or Mexico that I’m not welcome here, and that I may be a terrorist or a criminal or a “job stealer.” I have never been told what I can or cannot do with my body, as women are.

What do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

This is what I am asking right now, today, in this very moment.

I’m not alone and nor are you. Others are asking these questions. So much of what we see, read, and hear is negative, heavy, and divisive. Some of it is even fake. How much is positive, uplifting, and bridge-building? As I reflected on the amazingly under-quoted beatitudes of Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew’s Gospel, I wondered:

What do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

You see, author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote:

“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. ‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”

It’s true, you know. Where are these “attitudes” of “being” in our lives?

Let’s remove the spiritual veil from them. In Matthew’s story, Jesus goes up a mountain, just like Moses would when he spoke with Yahweh. So what is to follow is big. But it wasn’t really a mountain probably, but a plain–a raised hill, and there were not 200,000 or half a million people as at famous D.C. marches. Those gathered were Jesus’ closest disciples and they needed to hear Jesus’ urgent plea for how they would be in the world.

What were they to do now?
How could they be kind, loving, and authentic people in that moment?

You see, remember that this story in Matthew was written after the fact. Those who wrote this already knew what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. He was arrested, tortured, and killed. They wrote that with this in mind.

What were they to do now?
How could they be kind, loving, and authentic people in that moment?

What follows is beauty, at least I think so. Jesus says that there are certain people who are “blessed” or better yet, “risk-takers and well-traveled, and favored by Yahweh.” But notice that they are not the rich, or the religious, or successful, or the strong, or the full, or the powerful, or the loud voices or the war-seekers and makers. In the beatitudes according to Jesus, you don’t have to be famous, rich, or powerful to be blessed. In fact, no. You don’t have to be born in a prosperous country to be blessed. You don’t have to be considered “normal” or even “American” to be blessed. In God’s eyes, those who are blessed and favored are those who are on the margins.

And those who love those on the margins are following Jesus.

I know it is a critical time. I realize that for many this is a scary and uncertain time. But we cannot give into fear or apathy. Today we must ask:

What do I do now?
How can I be a kind, loving, and authentic person in this moment?

This matters to your family, your school, your church, your community, the world.

Those of us who identify as followers of this Jesus, we are called to BE people who love our neighbors even when our government says they are not welcome; we are called to be with the vulnerable and to welcome the stranger, regardless of which country they come from, what religion they practice, or what is the popular sentiment at the time. As my colleague and mentor, the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel recently wrote:

“It’s the time for us. It’s the moment for us. How we respond to it is how this story turns out.”

 What will we do now? How will be kind, loving, and authentic people in this moment?

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