Interfaith Dialogue in Action
- Created on Thursday, 06 September 2012 20:40
From 2006-2009, I attended seminary in one of the most religiously diverse neighborhoods in one of the most diverse cities in the world--New York City. My school, Union Theological Seminary, stood kitty-corner from Jewish Theological Seminary (a Conservative Jewish institution, attended by JRLC Board Member, Rabbi Avi Olitzky, whose time at JTS overlapped with mine at Union), across the street from Riverside Church (the inter-denominational Christian congregational church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached against the Vietnam War) and neighboured a professional building affectionately called the “God Box” (The Interchurch Center, a 19-story building housing religious and interfaith organizations on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).
Needless to say, we at Union had ample opportunity for interfaith dialogue, even within our classes, where students ranged from Unitarian Universalist to Pentecostal to Buddhist to Agnostic. Outside of class, on a monthly basis, students from Union had the opportunity to sit down with students from other religious institutions around the tri-state area (New York, Connecticut, New Jersey) to gather, eat, and converse about the things we held in common, and the things we held apart.
Interfaith dialogue is important, unceasing work: Many times, just when I feel I’ve reached a new level of understanding, I find myself discovering new things that perhaps I should have already known. Most of the learning I have acquired about other faiths came not from courses or books, but from the honest, non-judgmental conversations I’ve had with individuals marked by a genuine curiosity about their neighbors’ traditions, beliefs, and values.
Still, I often came away from those conversations wanting something more: dialogue for dialogue’s sake is good, but then what? I began to seek ways to converse and act with my friends of different faiths. This brought me to experimenting with the practice of Zen meditation; to celebrating Sukkot with friends; to marching for interfaith understanding in New York City on the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001. Five years later, I sat next to my JRLC colleagues on the capitol lawn in St Paul, attending an interfaith remembrance ceremony marking the ten years that had passed since 9/11.
Interfaith conversation is important because of the things our new relationships compel us to do together: they compel us to act on that which we hold in common, to trust one another, to foster community. 41 years ago, JRLC was born of the intentional dialogue between a Priest, a Rabbi, and a Pastor. Today, as we at JRLC advocate for a just society in Minnesota, we reap the benefits of our past and present conversations, which lead not to uniformity, but certainly toward a sense of congruence. As we move forward, my hope is that we continue in our mutual relatedness, based in conversation, connection, and action.
Have interfaith conversations changed the way you act in the world? Share your stories in the comments below!
- Alison Killeen, Statewide Organizer
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