I would echo the words of many involved in interfaith work when they tell others that engaging in interfaith work does not weaken one’s faith but challenges one to think more deeply about their faith and to learn more about it.
At the same time, I would encourage those involved in interfaith work to be true to their own convictions and faith as well. I believe that we often do our best and most dynamic work when we are working out of those things that are most true to us. To do our best work and to bring our best selves to the interfaith table we must continually nourish the roots of our own faith identity.
I can remember a time in college when I was working to start a new interfaith group on campus. I was planning events, rallies, and trainings all the while applying to start an interfaith living community on campus. As many of you may have experienced at some point in your college career, many of these events were poorly attended, and I was having trouble wading through the sea of residence life paperwork. In the midst of this, during a meeting with the campus chaplain, he asked me “What part of this work resonates deeply with you, what part of your own identity and beliefs lead you to engage in this work?” As I sat and thought about this question, it dawned on me that I had been putting aside my own faith practices and services to focus on this interfaith work on campus. I had so run myself dry that I wasn’t quite sure why I was doing the work I was doing. It was an important lesson for me to learn. I need to continually re-engage with my own faith community and tradition if I am going to have anything to bring to the interfaith table. For me, as a Christian, the story of Jesus moves me to engage in interfaith. We all must reconnect with those things that move us to do this work.
I would also note here that I believe it is important for me as a person of privilege, coming from a majority faith group in this country, Christian Protestantism, to consider this when seeking to engage those from minatory groups or faiths. While I have many chances in this country to connect with my faith and culture daily, others do not have this luxury. The time they spend on holy days, in prayer, or at meals with their community may be some of the only times in their daily life when they feel they are being ministered to and being encouraged in their identity.
When I ask a peer of mine who is a Muslim to speak at an event or help with an educational event at a local Church, I must realize that I may be asking them to spend time away from their community. I may be asking them to give of themselves when personally they really truly need the time to be nourished by a community. Having a dialogue with them about this and what they feel comfortable doing and treating them as a fellow practitioner of faith rather than a resource to be utilized is critical.
We must remember that we are all people who are part of communities, not simply unending sources of knowledge and power.
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