At the end of January I attended the Interfaith Youth Core’s first ever Alumni Gathering. It was an incredible experience. Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) is an organization that anyone interested in the interfaith movement should spend some time investigating. The Alumni Gathering was a collection of individuals who had, at some point in time, been an intern, fellow, or participated in one of IFYC’s conferences which they call Interfaith Leadership Institutes. The organization is a relatively young one, but there were people at the Gathering that had been a part of the founding of IFYC. I was in awe of the individuals who had made this movement a priority in their lives for such a long time.
The Interfaith movement is something I have become involved in the last few years at both a personal and professional level. I admire those that have known for a while that it is such a fruitful and gratifying pursuit. All of us at the Gathering got caught up in each other’s enthusiasm. Those that had been working on interfaith for a while drew new energy from those of us who were relatively new, and asking original and thoughtful questions. They saw familiar faces of friends, colleagues, and collaborators on past events. The new crowd was comforted by the warmness of the interfaith community that we were being welcomed into.
The directed conversations followed several tracks. My personal commitment is to the world of higher education. I am continually inspired by individuals attending community colleges and on university campuses. The higher education environment is a place which we as a society have designated as a safe space for exploration. It is an extraordinary environment in which to spend a single day, fortunately for me, I get to spend my career. Students, of both traditional and nontraditional age, have come to a conclusion that there is something yet to learn. There is ground in which it is safe to not be the expert on a subject, and be humbled by the great potential of our world be it in Math and Sciences, Architecture and Theatre, Engineering and Medicine, Accounting and Marketing, or Philosophy and Religion. Often it is unexpected or catches us off guard when we find that interfaith discussions are possible in each of these subjects. At the Gathering those of us working in higher education were charged with the responsibility of opening the eyes of those we work with on a regular basis to those remarkable possibilities. We were challenged to spread the movement outside of just a single student services department, and make interfaith a much broader discussion on our campuses. The potential for interfaith in higher education is enormous, and I want to spend more time addressing all of its capacity in series of posts forthcoming.
All of us at the Gathering had our career paths in which we had prioritized interfaith cooperation, but what was exceptional was how marvelously personal the movement was to all of us. We were passionate and dedicated to listening to every individual circumstance, and work-shopping potential solutions. Someone would suggest a new avenue of funding or potential networking connection, and it was as if we were all able to breathe deeply again. We were reassured that we were not in our communities alone working toward an abstract and demanding ideal. There were others out there doing the same work, and we could now call upon one another for support.
Two warnings come from this experience. One, you become very close very quickly when you share the same enthusiasm over such a short weekend. So much so that we forgot to sleep, I think I slept a total of twelve hours over a seventy-two hour period. The last night we all sat around a booth at the hotel restaurant sharing and laughing. The intensity of the weekend, our laser like focus on the movement, our dedication to the practical steps we would take once we returned to our individual communities completely drained us. We laughed until we cried, until we practically rolled on the floor, until we could no longer hold our heads up and were forced to get a few hours of sleep before our flights the next morning.
The second warning is this, that when I returned home I was met with questioning faces and little appetite for the conversations that I had devoured all weekend. My friends, though supportive, do not really understand why I do the work that I do. They listened to my stories and smiled as I relayed the comedy of sleep deprived social entrepreneurs, but they did not get it. My dedication and love for interfaith has not found its way into the hearts of some of my closest friends. I was slapped in the face with how much work there is still to be done to make this movement a social norm. I crashed from my interfaith high. Lucky for me, I now have a network of individuals all across our nation working to advance the interfaith movement.