“No really, what would you like us to do?”

When the folks who’ve been doing interfaith and other nonprofit work for decades longer than me look to me to say, so “what do you want us to do?”
“What?” I thought.
“No really, what would you like us to do?”

Let me back up and give you the full picture of what has been going on here in Utah. I moved here in the summer of 2013, and as soon as I hit the ground, I began looking for ways to be involved in Interfaith. I began at my work to talk about how we could engage in interfaith work with the community college students. I began to bring up faith and philosophical identity at every meeting, when programming, and later in my classroom. This led to many discussions, one of which was with the service center staff member who was working on Peace and Justice Certificate. Keep those words in mind because they are very influential later in my story. At the time, we talked about including the humanities course I was teaching into the certificate. I had a great deal of freedom with the course content, so of course, I turned it into an interfaith perspective on humanities.

One of the next connections I made in the interfaith world was with a religious life director at another private college. This school was very interested in the idea of building a Peace and Justice Center. (Remember, I said those words would be important) One of my most prominent Strength’s Quest strengths is “connectedness.” So you can imagine all these bells going off in my mind. How can I get these two folks connected? How can we combine our efforts to do bigger and better projects? My mind ran wild. Let’s make transfer articulation agreements for the certificate program from the community college to the four-year institution. Let’s build an Interfaith Peace and Justice Center where all the students can do a certain number of service hours, where they reflect on their religious or philosophical identity… I carried out the plans to the obvious conclusion, world peace.

Once I snapped out of my day dream, I began to think about the reality of the possibilities. First step, we need to have a meeting where the three of us can talk about all we had in common. I managed to make our meeting happen, though people have crazy schedules these days. We talked about the intersections of all the ideas, and what other potential work we could do. What would this potential center do for the community and the students who serve in the center? A community-facing center with an array of trainings, articulation agreements, other potential stakeholders, and even possible funders were all a part of the conversation. Finally, we decided we should meet again, adding to our party a community stakeholder. This individual facilitated the city and county of Salt Lake becoming a signatory to the Charter for Compassion.

This brings me to the beginning of my story. We have now grown to a party of four at this meeting. I tell my whole story again about seeing the connections in the work of both Peace and Justice seekers. With the story summarized and the whole party on the edge of their seats, they all look at me. “So, what are you asking me to do?” What was I asking of them? Good grief, I left the meeting feeling like a failure. Sometimes in our work we feel like we all alone. No one wants to feel like they are alone. I’ve found quite a community of folks doing a great deal of work, but the difficultly is that few folks are connected on their work. How can we connect all these efforts? How much greater would our voice be if we are all speaking together? I feel like there is a ton of positive Interfaith, Peace and Justice work going on, but we take it on in isolation. When we do make connection, folks don’t know how to combine efforts. I didn’t know what to say, and that made me feel horrible. Any suggestions for what we should try to do together?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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