It all began with a click of the iconic blue and white button, “add as friend.”
The genesis of the kindred relationship between State of Formation, The Journal of Interreligious Dialogue and The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions began yes, of all places… Facebook. There are many arguments for and against the authenticity of connections forged through the illusion of connectivity made possible by social media, but I have to say, this is one instance where being Facebook “friends” provided the foundation of familiarity I needed to stretch out my hand and introduce myself to Joshua Stanton at the CIRCLE Dialogue conference in Boston in March of 2010.
I had been following Josh for some time, and admired his intelligence and insight on religious diversity and community organizing. He had just launched the Religious Freedom USA campaign, and I was inspired by the way he was taking the inter-religious movements to the streets by organizing marches, hosting educational forums and writing passionately about the need for promoting interreligious understanding.
I introduced myself to Josh that day and from that moment, a bond of respect existed between us. Though I am a Buddhist feminist from Chicago and he is a Jewish rabbi from New York City, our shared commitment to working for trust across lines of religious difference made us fast friends. A few weeks later, I received a call from Josh and Chris Stedman, asking to brainstorm an idea for a new blog that would provide a platform for the next generation of interfaith activists, seminarians and leaders to share their challenges, ideas and writings.
Their timing was perfect. The founders of State of Formation sensed something important was coming – they were sensing what the next generation of interfaith leaders needed and wanted, but up until that point, no one had named it, or envisioned it.
I recall some of the first blog names Chris, Josh, Stephanie and I pondered together … Daily Dialogue, Conversations Across Borders, Fanatically Interfaith (!!!). Of course, we eventually settled on "State of Formation," which was pitch perfect. I felt "State of Formation" conveyed growth and movement, and the importance of breaking the mold, leaning in to the risk. It spoke against stagnation and hesitancy. State of Formation stuck.
In my work with the 2009 Parliament of Religions, I’d just helped to launch PeaceNext, a social networking site for the interreligious movement, which hosted members from over 80 countries. At the 2009 Parliament in Melbourne, Australia, 2,500 people joined PeaceNext over the course of a few weeks. The rate of growth was mind-boggling and completely unexpected. The need for fresh content, innovative contributors, and especially, the presence of youth perspectives and voices was becoming urgently apparent.
Soon after our initial conversations, Valarie Kaur joined our calls to tell us about the launch of Groundswell, and soon thereafter my friend and Parliament colleague Honna Eichler came on board as co-editor of State of Formation. Many amazing people have been a part of bringing State of Formation to life.
Over the last two years, it’s been a joy to watch State of Formation grow. I am honored to celebrate State of Formation's 1,000th article – what a tremendous achievement.
To think that my “click “on Facebook may have, in some small way, helped to contribute to what SOF is today is one clear example of how I believe new media provides opportunities to strengthen and ignite social movements and foster meaningful friendship. But interestingly, what ultimately sparked an actual friendship between Josh and I was opportunity we had to meet face to face, where we sensed shared values and a curiosity to collaborate.
I believe the most pressing challenge facing our generation is the dire need for interreligious friendship, trust and understanding. Our future generations depend on it. My spiritual teacher Judith Simmer Brown once said to me, “Don't forget - the world needs you, the world needs what is uniquely yours.”
What you have to contribute is the gift you have to offer. No one else can bring this to the world but you. That State of Formation provides this valuable platform to the next generation of leaders is an expression of hope and beauty. I am honored to have been a small part of the beginning.
So kudos to you, State of Formation, on your 1,000th article! State of Formation has clearly “clicked” for so many – here’s to millions more hands reaching across comfort zones to risk, engage, and connect.
Image by Sean MacEntee, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Stephanie Varnon-Hughes is a Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue™ and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary, where she earned her Master's in Church History in 2008 and her STM in 2009. A schoolteacher, Stephanie received the Most Promising New Teacher of the Year Award of 2005 in St. Louis, Missouri and has taught English and Performing Arts in public schools in St. Louis and the Bronx. She is a PhD student at Claremont Lincoln University, focusing on building and piloting a multi-religious curriculum for public secondary school students. Follow her on Twitter @SVarnonHughes.