“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.
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.