Casting Out Fear:  Living into Hope

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

The Rev. Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough, Episcopal priest, Canon for Interreligious and Ecumenical Relations and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Rochester:

“Perfect love casts out fear. ” (1 John 4:18)  This line from the New Testament has echoed in my brain for months now.   Where do I find hope in these trying times? I find hope where people are committed to casting out fear.  My work with young adults on a college campus, both in the classroom where I teach interfaith studies, and as the Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, is all about casting out fear.  The students in my courses want to learn about the interfaith movement and how diverse religious groups interact with each other in the real world.  They want to make sense of the conflicts that dominate our news cycle.  They want to figure out how they can become agents of change, moving the negative narrative of interfaith encounter towards something far more positive. These young adults are not stunted by the prejudices and fears of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  They question what they learned growing up and they seek to learn for themselves what this diverse and pluralistic world is all about.  On a campus that is often skeptical of religion and religious people, our Interfaith Chapel communities and our student interfaith organization change hearts and minds and make a difference.  

The Interfaith Chapel provides students an outlet for their spiritual development and a safe place to explore whatever spiritual or religious worldview and teachings they might have learned growing up, encouraging them to go deeper and to integrate their spirituality into their emerging adult self.  The students who come through the Interfaith Chapel include those who are affiliated with a particular religious tradition and those who are unaffiliated, seeking, or simply curious.  Four years ago we founded the Students’ Association for Interfaith Cooperation (SAIC) which has become the primary student organization that engages in interfaith work on campus, bringing together students from the various faith communities and students who have no religious affiliation, for interfaith community service, dialogue and education.  Our SAIC leaders have included observant Muslims, confirmed atheists, social justice impassioned Jews, liberal mainline Protestants, transgender students, first-generation college students, and children of undocumented immigrants.  These students form community across all those lines of difference. They relish getting to know those they once might have feared.  

These students form community across all those lines of difference. They relish getting to know those they once might have feared.  

In SAIC’s first year, an atheist student came to one of our events and shortly thereafter joined the leadership team.  He came to SAIC to see if what he had heard about religious people being “stupid” was true.   He stayed because he learned it was not and that these students were passionate about making a difference in the world, much as he is.  A young Jewish woman, who had been taught to distrust Muslims, was transformed when she participated in our annual Hijabi-for-a-day event, co-sponsored by SAIC and the Muslim Students Association.  On that day, non-Muslim women wear the hijab for a full day and come together in the evening to talk about the experience. This young woman shared how deeply touched she was as she wore the hijab and learned from her Muslim colleagues what it meant to them to wear it.  Her attitude to Muslims was overturned that day.   Evangelical Christians, transgender Unitarian Universalists, African Christians, American Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims worked together to prepare and serve meals at a homeless shelter in Rochester, engaging in dialogue about the values that propel them to engage in community service.  Students from many faith traditions and none at all rallied and marched across campus together for a #NoBanNoWall march on a cold winter day in February this year and I felt tangible hope, not fear.

 

In the midst of the hateful rhetoric and fear mongering of our current social and political climate, hope is in short supply. Our Muslim students modeled the values of our Interfaith Chapel in their promotional video for their annual Islam Awareness Week events.  They responded to the hate and vitriol of our current political climate with humor, compassion, and a genuine desire to engage and educate in order to foster understanding and peace. Their open-hearted willingness to cast out fear through education, dialogue and building relationships gives me hope. These students are the leaders of the future.  They embody #TangibleHope.

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The Rev. Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough is an Episcopal priest and serves as the Canon for Interreligious and Ecumenical Relations for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester.  She is also the Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Associate Professor in the Dept. of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester where she teaches courses in interfaith studies and world religions.  She is in charge of the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester, responsible for interfaith programming and education.  She serves as Priest in Charge of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Bloomfield, NY.  Interfaith work is her passion.  She has served for many years on various bi-lateral interfaith dialogue commissions in Rochester including Christian -Jewish, Christian-Muslim and Christian-Hindu dialogue.  She teaches interfaith studies and world religions at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, preparing students for Christian ministry with a heightened sensitivity to the religiously pluralistic context in which they will serve.

This blog post is part of the #TangibleHope Diaries series. To read other posts in the series, or to contribute your own, click here

#TangibleHope is Uncomfortable

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

Tahil Sharma, promoter of religious/secular pluralism and social justice:

#TangibleHope is uncomfortable. It means I have to step out of my world of understanding to build trust, respect, and compassion for those who think differently than I do. The discomfort of the mind leads to the transformation of the heart and the development of humankind to coexistence.

Hope to me is the transition of discomfort and anxiety to love and solidarity.

I grew up in a home of two faith traditions: Hinduism paternally and Sikhism maternally. I’ve been blessed with two unique vision of the Divine in my own home that helped me make sense of the world and its complex nature. Not many people in this day and age are born into my experience of God, but that is the richness and beauty of every individual’s path.

As amazing as I found this experience, others found themselves confused and curious about how I could coexist in a home with two religion. When I was younger, I got into the habit of answering these question but would always be annoyed at having to answer these questions every day. “What is Sikhism?” “Why are there so many Hindu gods?” “How can you practice two religions? Don’t they conflict a lot?”

I didn’t realize how important these were to people until interfaith activism became my passion. When fear, ignorance, and bigotry find their way in the hearts of mankind, humanity has a way of showing its worst attitudes and behavior. I learned about this after witnessing so many hate crimes taking place against communities that were near and dear to me. Muslims and minority religious communities, the LGBTQ community, Black lives, and immigrants from all walks of life were being sent to their gallows of hate for their convictions or existence and identity.

The Hindu and Sikh community have especially been at the forefront of said injustices and growing misconceptions and stereotypes have plagued these communities since the immigration influxes of the late 19th century. Many of these acts of violence and denigration have been rooted in the mere lack of understanding that people have for one another. How we assume people to behave and act take us down a path of worse attitudes and behavior towards others.

I realized that the questions that bothered me every day could actually be the antidote that saves many lives.

My hope resides in the fact that people are willing and able to overcome discomfort to ask and answer the toughest questions about themselves and each other. It is never easy to question our own perspectives, let alone understands the worldviews of others who may be completely different from us, but I have hope that an inquisitive nature and a genuine heart can lead people down the path to cordial and heartfelt relations.

I am a witness and a benefactor to this curiosity in action. I know how hard it might be to answer questions about your religiosity, spirituality, or humanistic philosophy. But our deep curiosity and introspection will help us to perceive others better and certify our ability to understand ourselves better too.

Don’t let curiosity get the best of you. Let there be hope that curiosity can bring out the best of you.

Tahil Sharma is a nationally recognized leader promoting religious/secular pluralism and social justice. He works as the Hope Not Hate Campaign Coordinator for AMP Global Youth, a project of Americans for Informed Democracy currently sponsored by the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute. He currently serves as a UN DPI-NGO Youth Representative for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Interfaith Liaison for Sadhana: the Coalition for Progressive Hindus, and as a Religious Director for the University of Southern California. Tahil also serves as a member of the Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality for the UN Interagency Network on Youth Development. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @InterfaithMan.

Hope in Interfaith Leaders 

tangible hope diaries eboo patel and mesha interfaith youth core

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

Eboo Patel and Mesha Arant (Interfaith Youth Core), active proponents of young adult leadership in the interfaith movement respond:

On a crisp morning in September members of the IFYC staff in Chicago waited in expectation; would the hundreds of guests we invited to welcome the Honorable Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, show up? Mayor Khan is the first Muslim elected to lead a major western capital city. We believed his visit would serve as an opportunity to highlight the importance of interfaith cooperation on the international stage. And while we knew the significance of this visit, we were unsure if Mayor Khan’s presence was enough to entice college students to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning.

“Hello,” “good morning,” “As-Salamu Alaikum,” laughter, and conversation soon filled the synagogue’s fellowship hall and our staff breathed a sigh of relief.

We opened the doors to Temple Sholom and Muslims, Jews, Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, and those who choose to identify in a host of other ways filled the space. “Hello,” “good morning,” “As-Salamu Alaikum,” laughter, and conversation soon filled the synagogue’s fellowship hall and our staff breathed a sigh of relief. Hundreds of college students and community members were there to show their support for religious pluralism.

I’m never quite sure why we worry in these moments—maybe it is the uncertain nature of event planning or the certitude of day-of hiccups. But this moment served as an affirmation for what we already know to be true: when young people are given the opportunity to advance interfaith cooperation, they show up.

Each person who walked through the door on that September morning served as a tangible manifestation of the vision we hope to concretize for our generation.

Our work at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has shown us this to be true time and time again. Our organization is built on the idea that young people are the key to making interfaith cooperation a social norm in our lifetime. We have built networks, programming, and resources to bring this idea to life. Each person who walked through the door on that September morning served as a tangible manifestation of the vision we hope to concretize for our generation. Our hope is in them.

At IFYC we believe that civic interfaith leadership is a necessity for a healthy religiously diverse democracy. Our alums touch all sectors—they work in healthcare, for the government, create educational programs on the importance of religious literacy, teach children, become clergy, and host trainings. They are consistently bringing the values of interfaith cooperation into broader society. They are the Mayor Khan’s of tomorrow. 

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Interfaith Youth Core #TangibleHopeEboo Patel

Eboo Patel is a leading voice in the movement for interfaith cooperation and the Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national nonprofit working to make interfaith cooperation a social norm. He is the author of the books Acts of Faith, Sacred Ground, and Interfaith Leadership. He is a frequent guest speaker on college campuses, a regular contributor to the public conversation around religion in America and served on President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council. Eboo holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

URI North America #TangibleHopeMesha Arant

Mesha Arant is an Associate at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Mesha received her B.A. in Religion from Wofford College in 2012 and her Master of Divinity from Yale in 2015. Her current interests include African-American humanism, ethics, and bridging the theist/non-theist divide.


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.

A New Paradigm for Veterans

tangible hope diary joe jenkins

 

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

Joe Jenkins is a U.S. Marine veteran and leader at the Washington-based advocacy group Veterans for American Ideals:

You learn a lot in the military. Sure, it starts with making your bunk, shining your boots, cleaning a rifle, and learning to march. But the real things you learn stick with you past boot camp and long after you take off the uniform.

One of the things that sticks with me happened in the fall of 2008. I was a young U.S. Marine sergeant aboard the USS Kearsarge on a humanitarian mission to Latin America. Servicemen and women representing nations from across the globe joined us aboard, and for a while the Kearsarge was a floating microcosm of the entire world. At the time, I already had deployments to Iraq under my belt and was no stranger to large-scale military operations like these.

Then, suddenly, a hurricane swept through Haiti, devastating the country. The Kearsarge was diverted to provide immediate aid, and it was there that I saw the true extent of what our military service members can do in this world.

For weeks, we spent every hour of the day filling water containers, loading food, and making deliveries to shore via helicopters and landing craft. Side by side with Haitian villagers, we cleared rubble and dispensed hundreds of thousands of pounds of life-saving supplies. It was back breaking work, but no one quit. Seeing the determination of the Haitian people, who, despite incredible suffering, never lost their dignity, moved and inspired me. Witnessing the resolve of our servicemen and women, working in cooperation with others from around the world to perform this one act of humanity, gave me hope. Looking back, moments like that show me the real meaning behind my service, and why so many continue to serve today.

I am part of a growing movement of military veterans that believe our commitment to a set of ideals, the ones that motivated us to serve in the first place, never ends.

Now, I am privileged to work with these same men and women again. At Vets for American Ideals, I am part of a growing movement of military veterans that believe our commitment to a set of ideals, the ones that motivated us to serve in the first place, never ends. As our country seems increasingly divided along lines of race, gender, religion, and politics, I see our military veterans becoming a powerful force that can bring this nation together. Our veterans are as diverse as the American populace, but are setting aside their differences in favor of the countless things that unite us.

I see military veterans speak out as a voice of moderation, civility, and reason.

On issues like ensuring America’s role as a humanitarian nation, and continuing our long-standing tradition of extending our hand to the downtrodden of this world, including the 65 million women, children, and families displaced in the global refugee crisis, I see military veterans speak out as a voice of moderation, civility, and reason. On societal woes like Islamophobia and racism, veterans are speaking up, combating rhetoric that is tearing at the very fabric of our American society and weakens our national security.

What gives me #TangibleHope is this new paradigm — one in which service members, those that are entrusted with safeguarding our cherished ideals of unity, humanity, and inclusion, are a continued voice in civil society. I consider myself lucky to see my fellow veterans working every day to better their communities, their country, and the world. It confirms a powerful truth: the spirit of service isn’t embodied by the uniforms we wore, but by the reason we put them on in the first place.

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Joe Jenkins Tangible Hope DiaryJoe Jenkins is a U.S. Marine veteran, former high school teacher, and leader at the Washington-based advocacy group Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First. He is also a graduate fellow at the University of Texas’ LBJ Washington Center.

URI represented at White House interfaith gathering

Members of United Religions Initiative joined hundreds of participants last week for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge gathering at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama initiated the challenge in 2011 when he sent a letter to college and university presidents calling for interfaith and community service programming. Today, more than 400 institutions embrace his call to interfaith service.

The yearly gathering is a time for students, staff, and like-minded organizations to build connections with one another and hear from members of the Obama administration. This year, plenary speakers included the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen; Director of the Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet; Secretary of the Department of Education, John King; and representatives from the U.S. Department of State and both the White House and Department of Education Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

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Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet in conversation with the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Tina Tchen .

URI members from four countries and three states attended the gathering, including URI North America Regional Coordinator, Sari Heidenreich. Regional Coordinator for URI in the Latin America and the Carribean, Enoe Texier and Fr. James Channa, Regional Coordinator for URI in Pakistan were invited as special international guests by the Obama administration. Representatives from several URI Cooperation Circles also attended, including Sun Devils Are Better Together (Arizona), Nashville Cooperation Circle @ Scarritt Bennett Center (Tennessee),  S.A.R.A.H. (California) and Coexister (France).

Breakout sessions topics ranged from how to increase media coverage of interfaith work to the challenges of creating safe spaces for people with a wide range of identities.

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URI members from France, Venezuela, USA and Pakistan meet at the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge gathering in Washington, D.C.

“It was an honor to represent the United Religions Initiative network at such a diverse gathering,” Heidenreich said. “I always carry with me and share the work URI members are doing to bring interfaith collaboration and harmony to the world. This work and these people give me Tangible Hope that we are making progress towards a more peaceful and just world.”

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

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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.

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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.