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Posts tagged ‘Interfaith Philadelphia’

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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Interfaith Encounters Day 3

Our third day began with service-learning at SHARE Food Program in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Share Food Program

The SHARE Food Program is a nonprofit organization serving a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. SHARE promotes healthy living by providing affordable wholesome food to those willing to contribute through volunteerism.

SHARE relies on volunteers and donations to help pack boxes and organize the tons of food that arrive at their warehouse so they may distribute the food to the thousands of food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens in the region.  Sadly, malnutrition and food insecurity are serious problems in Philadelphia.

The students from Messiah College joined a student group from Lincoln HS in Philly and a group from the University of Connecticut.

And…don’t underestimate the satisfaction that comes from using the box crushing machine…

Thanks, SHARE, for all you do! Thanks, Messiah students, for giving your time and energy!


Tuesday night ended with a wonderful experience at Won Buddhist Temple.

Won Buddhism is considered a reformed Buddhism in that it embraces the original Buddha’s teachings and make them relevant and suitable to contemporary society. It revitalizes and modernizes Buddhism, so that an ever increasing number of people can use Buddha’s teaching for practical and useful purposes.

The name Won Buddhism (Won-bul-kyo in Korean) is a compound word meaning the universal truth, enlightenment, and teaching. Won means unitary circle, which symbolizes the ultimate truth; Bul means enlighten to the Truth; and Kyo means to teach the Truth. Won Buddhism is a religion that teaches the ultimate Truth so that people can awaken to this Truth and carry it out in their daily life.

The members of the Won Buddhist community embrace and accept those of other faiths and have made a lot of effort in inter-religious dialogue.
Strikingly, Won Buddhist temples do not have a statue of the Buddha inside the prayer space. Instead, they have, at the center of the temple, the Il-Won-Sang, a circular symbol representing the origin of all beings in the universe, the truth that all buddhas and sages enlighten to, and the original nature of all living beings.

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Upon entering the temple, we participated in chanting for 5 minutes, seated and silent meditation for 25 minutes, and then walking meditation. A leader of the sangha then gave a dharma talk about fear and mindfulness and then there was a Q & A time.

Looking forward to Day 4!

Interfaith Encounters Day 2

On Monday, we journeyed to Bartram’s Garden in West Philly to work with City Harvest at Sankofa Community Farm.

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Our service-learning session was organized and led by Repair the World.

Repair the World
The PA Horticultural Society City Harvest program taps into the skills and energy of urban gardeners and entrepreneurial growers to make fresh, nutritious produce more widely available to neighbors in need.

The program is creating an infrastructure of agricultural supply and education centers, as well as expanding fresh food production, distribution, and consumption in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, thereby creating a healthier future for thousands of city residents.

First, Alex led us through a walk-thru of the outdoor space around us, asking us to listen to the sounds we heard and to experience the place.

He then connected gardening work and the natural world to expressions of faith traditions like Judaism and Christianity. He shared about this week marking the start of Purim for Jews, a time of costumes and the story of Esther and when many Jewish people reflect on the revelation of what is hidden–discovering new things that have always been there, even the discovery of the presence of Yahweh. Alex did a great job of also connecting the natural world and the experience of the seasons of winter and spring to the Christian season of Lent. He asked the students from Messiah to reflect on what Lent means to them. Then, we headed into the greenhouse to start prepping the seeds that City Harvest folks had planted in pots to germinate; now they had grown into small, green vegetable plants.

Great attitude and enthusiasm on the part of the students! Looking forward to a packed but amazing day 3!

Interfaith Encounters Day 1

This week I am facilitating an alternative break program with students from Messiah College students through Interfaith Philadelphia. During the week the students and I will visit five faith communities, participate in four service-learning projects, and learn about religious pluralism, interfaith cooperation, and identity.

On Sunday [day 1], we were fortunate enough to visit Philadelphia Sikh Society.

There are over 20 million Sikhs around the world today. Sikhism began over 500 years ago in the Punjab area of South Asia, which now includes the vast territories of Northern India and eastern Pakistan. Guru Nanak, born in 1469, founded the Sikh religion on the principles of love, understanding, and the rejection of blind rituals. Sikhism is about devotion to and remembrance of God at all times in life–behaving truthfully, embracing the equality of humankind, standing for social justice, and cooperating with people of all faiths.

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As with any religious tradition, a few paragraphs cannot adequately inform you. I encourage you to read on your own or visit a Gurdwara to learn more.

Upon entering the Gurdwara, we were warmly greeted by various leaders in the community. We put on head scarves, took off our shoes, and then washed our hands and wrists in the large basin just outside the prayer space. We sat with others in the prayer hall, listening to beautiful prayer songs in Punjabi.

Then, we were led into the kitchen space for the langar meal.

langar

Langar is a community meal that Sikhs offer to all people, free of charge.
It is an expression of equality, as all people sit together on the floor and enjoy the food as one communal experience.

After a great meal we headed over to their educational building for an overview of the history of Sikhism and the day to day life of a Sikh. Q&A followed. the Messiah College students had some great and curious questions, including how Sikhs are committed to non-violence and how their scriptures encourage non-violence.

Afterwards, we headed to the offices of Interfaith Philadelphia for the opening workshop. We had the chance to get to know each other a little better and to share why each of us decided to participate in this program. I was impressed with the students and their commitment to learning and interfaith cooperation. After that, we defined what “curious” questions are and what “judgmental” questions are. We thought about the various communities we will visit throughout the week and what types of questions we may have.

Day 2, here we come!

God’s Bias

Luke 6:17-26     

Recently I had the honor of attending the Unifying Our Communities in Response to Hate Conference at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

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This gathering brought together community stakeholders, government officials and law enforcement to discuss the “state of hate” and share ideas on how community members can respond to hate and bias. It featured: Rabbi Jeffery Myers from the Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh, PA; the Reverend Eric S.C Manning of Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC; Attorney General Josh Shapiro; and Pardeep Singh Kaleka & Arno Michaelis, authors of Gift of Our Wounds, from Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

I wish to focus on Pardeep and Arno, and their movement against hate.

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Some of you may remember Pardeep’s name. He is a member of the Sikh Gurdwara in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that was attacked on August 2012. Six people died at the hands of violence, the worst race-based attack in the U.S. since the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. Pardeep lost his father in the attack. Since then, Mr. Singh Kaleka has been a voice for forgiveness and justice. 

In his own words:

I decided to respond to this tragedy with compassion. There is a saying in Sikhism, ‘Charhdi Kala’ which means ‘we move in relentless optimism’. Regardless of hardships in life, I’m optimistic about the future.

‘Charhdi Kala’ and compassion go hand in hand. Some people think of compassion as offering forgiveness and all is forgiven, but I think of it as a process, in other words I attach a purpose to what’s happening in life and appreciate the good things when they come.

On 5th August, there was a purpose to what happened. Someone came to our temple trying to divide us, saying that we didn’t belong and that we weren’t wanted in his country. With ‘Charhdi Kala’ the purpose of our response is to reach out, to include the other and say this will not happen again.

It was that attitude that led Pardeep to reach out to an extremely unlikely person: Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist who helped to start a gang back in the late 1980s that produced the August 5th Sikh Gurdwara shooter. Upon learning about Arno’s background and why he became a white supremacist, Pardeep was convinced that the two needed to work together. And so they have. The two co-authored the book The Gift of Our Wounds, sharing their stories and how such a hateful tragedy can lead to love, cooperation, and positive social change. Likewise, the two created the organization and movement Serve2Unite, a proven means of establishing a healthy sense of identity, purpose, and belonging that diverts young people from violent extremist ideologies, gun violence, school shootings, bullying, and substance abuse, along with other forms of self-harm.

How-to-join-a-community-of-young-peacema

The organization has helped thousands of students from over 30 schools who have experienced human kinship while addressing a host of social issues, including homelessness, veterans’ issues, human trafficking, police-community relations, gun violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, Holocaust remembrance, and genocide prevention.

I mention this powerful story of hate leading to learning, compassion, and justice, because hate crimes are on the rise and sadly, many Christians do very little about it. And in some cases, Christians are even complicit in the hateful acts.

So allow me to ask two questions:

Who are the poor in spirit?

How do we respond to hate?

​See, here’s the thing. Jesus of Nazareth, in Luke’s Gospel, was healing people. Who was he healing? Those on the margins. Those who were called unclean. Those who felt left out, targeted, forgotten, abused. And Jesus got flack for it. It wasn’t religiously kosher. It wasn’t religious enough. But why? Why did people, including Jesus’ own colleagues, criticize the healings? Because the system itself was unjust. Because priests and scribes and politicians and rich people benefited from the system. And they didn’t want to lose power.

So you can imagine that these words were inflammatory:

Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, sad, hated, excluded, defamed.

Woe to you who are rich, abundant, privileged, included, spoken well of.

Yes, wrap your minds around THAT.

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Mind blowing for most. For Jesus though, this was justice.

The Sikhs and Jews and Black Christians and Muslims who are constantly attacked and targeted—they are blessed. The ones who are not—the U.S. White Christians, for example–woe to you.

This is Justice.

So who are the poor?

They are anyone on the outside—marginalized, oppressed, without food and basic necessities, forced out of their homes, refused work, abused, forced to deny their true selves, denied basic human services and rights, mistreated because of their gender, shunned because of who they love, ostracized because of their skin tones, defamed for simply how they look or how they live their lives. They are the poor in spirit.

And when they are attacked by hate and fear and ignorance, God always favors them. This is God’s bias. Because God is on the side of those on the margins.

And so, the second question. How do we respond to hate?

Well, for someone like me who is NOT the poor in spirit, my response is different. I have not had such horrific things happen to me because of the color of my skin, my religious background, sexuality, or gender. I am privileged. And so, my response to hate must look different. It is not enough for privileged people like to me to just not be hateful or to not participate in say, white supremacy or racism. No—I must do more. I must respond to hateful words and acts with compassionate words and acts—for those on the margins. I must stand with them when they are targeted, I must help them to pick up the pieces to heal when they are attacked. I must join hands with them to say: NOT IN MY TOWN!

I am moved by what Pardeep shared:

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“We may not choose what happens to us, but we surely choose how we respond.”

Yes. We do choose how we respond. So how will we respond to hate? We cannot be paralyzed by it; we cannot be silent; we cannot be apathetic. We must, as Pardeep and Arno did, unite together to work for justice and peace and compassion. To paraphrase Arno from The Gift of Our Wounds:

Hurt people do indeed hurt people. When suffering is not treated with compassion, it spreads; when fear isn’t met with courage, it lies to us and disconnects us from our humanity; when ignorance is not countered with wisdom and understanding, it grows and solidifies.

Hate is only overcome with long-term kindness.

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