Interfaith Dinner Dialogue Deemed a Delicious Success!

To no surprise, the InterFaith Works Cooperation Circle’s InterFaith Dinner Dialogues event was a delicious success!

Fifteen host homes and faith community venues welcomed 150 guests on Sept. 22 for the annual InterFaith Dinner Dialogues program. Participants gathered over a meal and discussed a number of thought- provoking questions, with the diverse guests offering their personal thoughts about faith and spirituality. A trained facilitator guided and moderated the dialogue, so participants felt comfortable sharing their thoughts.

Dialogue hosts provided a simple vegetarian dinner, as eating together is a symbolic act of tolerance, respect and understanding, as well as an outward expression of unity among those with varied beliefs and religious traditions. Food and dialogue were the connection as all 15 facilitators ended with the question,

“How do we begin to accept others’ faith and beliefs despite how they differ from our own?”

The Dinner Dialogues have been very successful, as participating attendees have asked for the dialogue to continue.

 


To find out more about dialogue program and event participation opportunities, contact the El-Hindi Center for Dialogue at 315-449-3552, or email cwd1@interfaithworkscny.org.

Cooperation Circles Celebrate International Day of Peace

 

URI North America Cooperation Circles and Affiliates are ready to celebrate International Day of Peace (IDP) 2016! The theme for IDP this year is “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Building Blocks for Peace.” Our network is building off of these blocks for peace by creating moments of #TangibleHope that strengthen the ideals of peace, both within and among their diverse communities.

Click through this slideshow to see what they’re up to! You can also check out the URI North America IDP Program Bank to find inspiration for IDP celebrations in your community for years to come. If you have an event to report, click HERE to submit it and qualify for a trip to the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week!

 
 

You can also check out events happening all around the world, hosted by URI CCs and others, on this map produced by URI Cooperation Circle UNIFY.

A Requiem of Hope

 

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”

Shirin Ganji, Member of the Newmarket and Area Interfaith Council

————————————–

Verily, with hardship comes ease (Qur’an 94:5)

In my faith, I am reminded that misfortune is only a challenge of your character, and that there is rarely any difficulty that is not followed by relief. However, when faced with adversity, hope becomes questionable. It becomes the product of a constant self-struggle of whether to move forward or remain stagnant. But most of all, in any given moment it can be conjured up and it can be temporary.

However permanent or fleeting hope may be, it is, above all, empowering. In my experience, it has assisted me through moments of grief and distress.

Recently, I was on a road trip to Las Vegas, in which my purse with all my belongings including my passport, driver’s license, health card, SIN card, and credit cards were all stolen. Instantly, the desire for adventure came to an abrupt end, shrouding the night with concern and worry as I had a return flight to catch the next day. My friends accompanied me through this turn of events, and assisted me in every possible way. They inspired me to find hope in the matter and aided me in all the necessary procedures about reporting a stolen passport.

After searching all night, and slowly losing confidence in the search, they held my hands and each prayed with me for my safe return home. We each came from different backgrounds and belief systems but regardless, it ignited a beautiful expression of intent. It calmed me down, and deep in my heart everything felt like it was going to all wrap up nicely.

I retrieved a temporary passport from the Canadian embassy and managed to board a domestic flight to San Francisco, only to be faced with another road block. The airline had told me that, in order to go home, I was going to have to wait a day and cash up $2000. Out of fear of not being able to afford the trip back home I broke into tears in the middle of Union Square.

While sobbing in public, a homeless man from across the street made his way to the flower booth just outside the subway and purchased a flower. He offered me the flower and said: “Please don’t cry, everything will work out. I promise.” A man who seemed to have nothing consoled me in an attempt to spark optimism amidst a seemingly dark situation. I thanked him dearly, hopped on the train and called my booking company to get on the next plane to Toronto. Eventually, everything worked out! I got back home safely, and a month later, to my surprise, the Las Vegas airport sent me my purse with all of my belongings, as someone had returned it to the airport.

Throughout this experience, my hope was cultivated by the friends and strangers, from different identities, who supported me in my time of need. The questions of what I believe and who I believe in is left out of the equation. This is what inspires hope in me and in humanity: when we focus on the problems in front of us, and learn to lend a hand to every person who needs it.

What gives me tangible hope today is the collaboration between different faith groups and communities assisting each other in times of chaos and turmoil. Just as I was offered assistance through my journey, others require the same kind of treatment. Acknowledgement of this cause already insinuates a certain degree of awareness and how important it is to spread hope around the world.

———————————

Shririn Ganji is the co-founder of the Undergraduate Religious Studies Student Association, geared toward historical understanding of different religions and a more practical understanding of how religion is integrated in the public sphere. She received an Honors B.A from the University of Toronto, specializing in World Religions and Philosophy. She derives most of her inspiration learning about the various religions and cultures that exist in the world, and how many of these traditions are linked, and intertwined together.

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.

 

Hope is only hope when…

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”

Bishop William Swing, President and Founder of the United Religions Initiative:

What fills me with hope is going out into the driveway in the morning to pick up the newspaper. I brace myself for the experience. I walk slowly and dawdle. I breathe in self-consciously. For a brief moment, I am in awe.  What is it that holds me in its power and glory? The sunrise!

Sunrise is so quiet.  No one owes it or can control it. Sunrise brings a blanket of undeniable freshness as if all the soiled garments of life had just been laundered.

It accentuates the beauty of everything it touches.

Sunrise has always worked its magic on me no matter where it has encountered me.  Picking blueberries in the hills of West Virginia, drawing water in jungle river in Papua New Guinea, walking hot streets in India, trudging roads above the Arctic Circle, walking into prisons, TB hospitals or mental facilities, filming in a desert in Judea, strolling along a beach in Rio de Janeiro, watching old couples ballroom dancing in China.

When the sun comes up, hope peeks through the gloom and whispers a word of promise.

It is morning in Burlingame, California, where I live, and I stand for the briefest of seconds holding my newspaper basking in the sunrise.  In my hand, I hold the incomprehensibly complicated news of a world gone mad, and on my face, I feel the light of infinite possibility. Hope is only hope when it is confronted by the specter of hopelessness.

I raised myself on the music of optimism.  “Oh its a good day for paying your bills and a good day for curing your ills.  So take a deep breath and throw away your pills, cause its a good day from morning till night,” says in 1940’s song. And I sang it on the surface of my life. But optimism only carries you as far as the edge of intractable suffering.  Then the journey can only be made by internalizing rays of hope that warm you from vast reservoirs of primal energy. Sunshine!  Or its equivalents! Or its Author!

Today’s prevailing hopelessness is captured in the phrase, “Religions have always fought in the past, and they will always fight in the future. You can’t change that.” There is a great deal of truth to that statement.  But there is a great deal of error in it, as well.  Religions have not always fought.  As a matter of fact, people of different and conflicting religious claims have consistently discovered practical ways of living side by side in far-flung locales and at various moments of history. They do today, all over the world, but this news will not be in the newspaper that I hold in the driveway.

Every day, I go inside my house, turn on my computer and get reports through the United Religions Initiative. These are real stories of people of all sorts of religions and other traditions, finding each other, tapping into good hearts, and discovering creative ways of serving specific needs.  To what do I attribute this newsworthy phenomenon?

I think that religious people pick up the absolution, the invigoration, the beauty of holiness that sunshine bestows, each day, on the earth.  Promiscuous grace bestowed in all directions, on the most undeserving as well as the most exemplar! Ordinary believers intuit that the One they worship is exceedingly generous and practical, and so they feel at home with other souls, of other traditions, who are inspired by Divine generosity and practicality. Together they publish a different kind of news — a digest of hope.

———————————

bishopswing1-250_250Bishop William Swing is the President and Founder of the URI. He had the original vision of URI in 1993 in response to an invitation from the United Nations which asked him to host an interfaith service honoring the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. He  served as the Episcopal Bishop of California from 1980 until his retirement in 2006. In that capacity, he was a national and international leader in response to the AIDS crisis, co-founded Episcopal Community Services to address San Francisco’s homeless problem, and co-founded Community Bank of the Bay to support local businesses and the economy.

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.

Teen Interfaith Leadership Council Goes to Santa Fe

Diane Fisher (Jewish) and Deacon Steve Herrera (Catholic) from the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council CC (SiVIC) took eight teenagers on an interfaith immersion experience in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The teens explored various religious traditions in Santa Fe, engaged in interfaith dialogue, and shared prayer practices and information about their religious traditions with each other.

Seeret, one of our Sikh participants said about the trip that “the in-depth experience of talking to an elder of a particular faith, and hearing words of wisdom and sage advice about life as well as the faith was exceptional and unexpected. I just thought it would be an introduction to faiths and then we’d look around and leave, but the fact that we were able to ask so many questions and have them answered with so much respect— that in and of itself made the trip wonderful.”

Understanding other religions can be more difficult than it sounds, so having an intentional space for that express purpose allowed for a more enriching experience. Carly, a Jewish participant observed that “on a trip like this you make friends and learn about new religions, and it’s a really cool experience. You learn so much and go to places you would never go otherwise, and are encouraged to appreciate your own faith more as you learn to embrace differences.”

Karen, a member of the Shinnyo-En Buddhist Order, remarked that it was nice “being able to share with other faith-minded teenagers, because often people think of religion as just some superstition that you believe in because your parents do. So sharing with people who also have faith, especially from different religions, understand that it’s something very much a part of us. Being able to have an understanding of other religions helps people to peaceably talk things through, as well as see things from others perspectives.”

Diane Fisher (Jewish) and Deacon Steve Herrera (Catholic) were the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council Cooperation Circle‘s board members who facilitated the teen interfaith immersion trip. They are Co-directors of the Teen Interfaith Leadership Council of Santa Clara County, affiliated with the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council Cooperation Circle. Deacon Steve Herrera produced the video.

The “Ask a Muslim” Series: A Space for Courageous Conversations

“Can Muslim women lead prayer?” “What is Sharia law?” Can you be gay and Muslim?”

These are but some of the questions Muslim panelists are asked during monthly Ask a Muslim gatherings co-hosted by The Markaz Arts Centre for the Greater Middle East, an Affiliate of The United Religions Initiative (URI) North America in Los Angeles.

Once a month, this collaboration with Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), invites members of the public to listen to, and engage with, a diverse group of Muslims responding to a variety of prompts, such as “Islam 101,” “Women in Islam” and “LGBTQI and Islam.” Participants are encouraged to ask clarifying questions without the fear of feeling ignorant. Ask a Muslim seeks to counter the islamophobia presented in the mainstream US media by putting faces and stories to the life experiences of Muslims in the United States and beyond.

Co-organizer Jordan Elgrably, founder of The Markaz, describes these events as conversations and safe spaces that foster “an ongoing open dialogue for debate and understanding around today’s pressing questions about Islam.” The vision for this program came from a real need Jordan identified within his community and beyond.

“In this country, we don’t talk about race, religion, politics, with great depth – we need safe places for public conversations,” he said. “We need to peel away our onion layers with each other and talk honestly about our fears and confusion.”

Los Angeles is not the first place this series has taken place. This past summer, Ani Zonneveld, founder and director of MPV, brought Ask a Muslim to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. During her time at the HRC, MPV hosted tables for passerbys to spend a moment with the Islamic scholars and Imams who traveled with MPV as part of their “ImamsForShe” initiative. This project facilitated meaningful, one-on-one connections between strangers and helped break down barriers that had previously existed between people.

The Ask a Muslim series employs the age-old peacebuilding tactic of using open and honest conversations as a tool for dismantling stereotypes and challenging implicit prejudices. It aims to change people’s hearts and minds about Muslims by creating a space where participants are encouraged to reach within themselves and ask what is truly on their mind – free of judgment from other participants.

All across the US and Canada, grassroots interfaith groups are making strides to break down these barriers and create safe spaces for the deep conversations of which Jordan speaks. The Love Your Muslim Neighbor panel discussions hosted by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County CC facilitates crucial conversations, within a variety of church congregations, regarding some of the major misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims, with up to 200 participants. Additionally, InterfaithWorks Cooperation Circle, based out of Syracuse, NY, hosts an Interfaith Dinner Dialogue series, wherein participants gather over a free meal to discuss questions posed by a facilitator and share their experiences regarding faith and spirituality with friends and strangers alike. Examples of such events continue with: Kashi Ashram Cooperation Circle, an interfaith intentional living community hosts “Listening Circles,” the Arizona Faith Network Cooperation Circle, hosts community discussions on local issues, their most recent one being on Environmental Racism, and the National Peace Academy‘s “Truth Telling Project” aimed at implementing and sustaining grassroots, community-centered truth-telling processes to share local voices, to educate America, and to support reconciliation for the purposes of eliminating structural violence and systemic racism against Black people in the United States.

By intentionally creating spaces conducive to open and honest dialogue, each of these initiatives creates opportunities for people, from a variety of different backgrounds, to show up, engage and take ownership of their learning.


Anissa

Anissa Abdel-Jelil joined the URI North America as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator in May 2016, after a seven-month fellowship with the organization. She brings with her a passion for social justice and storytelling. Her international and interfaith upbringing, paired with her academic journey, opened her eyes to the community-based peacebuilding work taking place all over the world. Her experiences in the fields of international human rights and humanitarianism, health, wellness and intercultural bridge building have equipped her with a hybrid lens for problem solving and clearly communicating complex information. Anissa’s combination of work and volunteer experience and language, graphic design and social media skills will allow her to make a meaningful contribution to the URI North America team. Throughout her time with us, she hopes to emulate the creativity and resilience she sees throughout URI’s network.

jordan picJordan Elgrably is an award-winning social entrepreneur, producer, writer, editor & the founding director of The Markaz, Arts Center for the Greater Middle East, in Los Angeles. A curator and producer of public programs, Jordan is of Moroccan and French heritage. He has been passionately committed to strengthening Arab/Muslim/Christian and Jewish relations for many years. In addition to The Markaz, which he co-founded in 2001 as the Levantine Cultural Center, he founded the New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers International in 1996 and Open Tent Middle East Coalition in 1999. He was a producer for the Dalai Lama’s World Festival of Sacred Music in 1999, 2002 and 2005. As well, he has launched several original initiatives, among them the Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief; Beirut-LosAngeles.org; CelebratePalestine.org; and New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, with funding from the Golden Globes/Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Jordan attended the American University of Paris (formerly ACP) and was based for a number of years in Paris and Madrid, where he worked as a journalist and associate producer for TF1. His essays, articles and stories have appeared in many anthologies and periodicals. He is a member of PEN Center, the international advocacy organization for writers and journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, and the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. In 2008, the L.A. Weekly featured Jordan Elgrably in its People of the Year issue and he received the Local Hero Award from the Foundation for World Arts and Culture; in 2011 and 2014, he was an Annenberg Alchemy Fellow; in 2013 and 2015 he was nominated for the James Irvine Leadership Award. In 2014 he received an American Express Award and in 2015, the Rachel Corrie Conscience and Courage Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He is a 2016 Ariane de Rothschild Foundation Fellow. Jordan lives near San Luis Obispo with his wife and son.

ani picAni Zonneveld is founder and President of Muslim for Progressive Values (MPV). Since its inception, Ani has presided over MPV’s expansion to include chapters and affiliates in 12 countries and  19 cities. She has organized numerous interfaith arts and music festivals, participated in many interfaith dialogues and is a strong supporter of human rights and freedom of expression. She is the brainchild of Literary Zikr – a project that counters radical Islam on-line and co-editor of MPV’s first book, an anthology titled “Progressive Muslim Identities – Personal Stories from the U.S. and Canada”; she has contributed to many forewords and numerous anthologies too many to list; is a contributor for HuffingtonPost, OpenDemocracy and al-Jazeera, and recently gave her TEDx talk titled – Islam: As American As Apple Pie; and the subject of a documentary title “al-imam” featuring Ani’s activism works. As an award winning singer/songwriter, she utilizes the power of music and the arts in countering radicalism as she speaks-sings her message of social justice and peace from a progressive Muslim woman’s perspective, and is the first woman to release an English Islamic popalbum in the U.S. in 2004. Born and raised Muslim from Malaysia and based out of Los Angeles, Ani spent a good portion of her formative years raised in Germany, Egypt and India as an Ambassador’s daughter. Her exposure to different politics, religions and cultures has shaped her inclusive worldview.

Heartbroken, yet Hopeful

We are heartbroken, yet we remain hopeful.  We stand ‪#‎united‬ in our collective purpose, as part of the United Religions Initiative, to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to END religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of ‪#‎peace‬, ‪#‎justice‬ and ‪#‎healing‬ for the Earth and all living beings.  ‪#‎Mogadishu‬ ‪#‎Istanbul‬ ‪#‎Dhaka‬ ‪#‎Baghdad‬ and the many other cities and communities around the world affected by violence.
We are heartbroken, yet we remain hopeful.
We stand ‪#‎united‬ in our collective purpose, as part of the United Religions Initiative, to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to END religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of ‪#‎peace‬, ‪#‎justice‬ and ‪#‎healing‬ for the Earth and all living beings.
‪#‎Mogadishu‬ ‪#‎Istanbul‬ ‪#‎Dhaka‬ ‪#‎Baghdad‬ and the many other cities and communities around the world affected by violence.

The New Face of Direct Services for Homeless Folks

Today, over 70 media organizations across the United States are shining the spotlight on homelessness in their communities. The coalition of voices speaking up are a combination of groups participating in the San Francisco Homeless Project campaign, originating in San Francisco, CA, and other organizations, located across the nation, who are following suit.

URI North America joins these voices to showcase the work our network of interfaith grassroots peacebuilders are doing to address housing insecurities within their communities. 


It’s changing the face of direct services for homeless folks. And it all started with an anonymous donor, a city that couldn’t receive anonymous money and a group of interfaith leaders committed to serving the approximately 7,000 people without homes in their city.

“What makes the difference here is hope,” said Kathy Treggiari who works with the San Francisco Navigation Center as part of her role at Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco.

The Navigation Center, which is fiscally sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, a URI North America Cooperation Circle, takes an unconventional approach to housing the homeless. Rather than a traditional shelter, the Navigation Center provides a place where entire encampments of people without homes can move together — with their partners, pets and possessions– and have 24-hours access to living quarters, a dining room, showers, bathrooms, laundry and counseling offices.

URI NA Visits the Navigation Center

The Navigation Center is cheery, with brightly-colored murals and a courtyard that soaks up the morning sun. But what makes the Navigation Center groundbreaking is its emphasis on long term housing — that is the hope that Treggiari was talking about.

The Navigation Center is supported by a host of government agencies, many of whom would generally not work together, and a dedicated staff — 45% of whom are formerly homeless themselves — to provide in-depth and personalized assistance to help residents move into permanent housing. The model has been so successful that like-minded organizations from Dallas to Seattle to cities in South Africa are looking into replicating it.

From where I sit, it’s no surprise that an interfaith organization was instrumental in such an innovative model coming into existence. Part of the beauty of interfaith work is the bringing together of people with such vastly different beliefs that the solutions they come up with and projects they are willing to take on are often new and innovative.

Learn more about these groups here:

Missoula Interfaith Collaborative

Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara County

Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County

Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy


Sari HeidenreichSari Heidenreich is the Regional Coordinator for the United Religions Initiative North America, a network of 94 interfaith organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Globally, the United Religions Initiative is the world’s largest network of grassroots interfaith peacebuilders, with 787 member groups in 95 countries all working with coalitions of people of multiple religions, spiritual expressions or Indigenous traditions to create cultures of peace, justice and healing. To find out how to get involved, click here.

URI North America Leadership Celebrates URI’s 16th Birthday

Today we celebrate the United Religions Initiative‘s 16th birthday. Our family has grown to include 787 Cooperation Circles in 95 countries! What a gift to be able to stand with so many at the intersection of our beliefs and our positive social change work.

When Bishop Swing was invited, by the United Nations, to host a large interfaith service in San Francisco, marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter, he asked himself:
“If the nations of the world are working together for peace through the UN, then where are the world’s religions?”

This year, URI North America Leadership Council members Fred Fielding, Sukhvinder Vinning (Chair), Adeola Fearon, Johnny Martin, Gard Jameson and former URI North America Regional Coordinator, Sandy Westin reflect on this milestone.

URI 16th Birthday

Learn more about the United Religion’s Initiative’s origin story here.

Meet URI North America’s entire Leadership Council here.