This originally appeared as an Interfaith Insight.
The theme of this week’s Interfaith Insight is simple, yet powerful. Those words—“simple, yet powerful”—were repeated throughout the President’s Interfaith & Community Service Campus Challenge Fall Gathering, held in Washington DC for the past two days. Interfaith service, they said, is simple, yet powerful.
I attended on behalf of Kaufman to explore what we could do with the nation-wide challenge for campuses to not only engage in service with their communities, but also engage with the diversity of faiths their communities represent. The Challenge is entering into its third year, and hundreds of campuses across the country are taking part. Universities and colleges commit to one community issue, like poverty, education, sustainable energy, or healthcare. Then the administrations of the schools work closely with students to create opportunities that include community service as well as reflection and interfaith dialogue. This interfaith and community service initiative is one way the US is leading the world by proving that those of varied ideologies can not only get along, but help communities thrive.
A few lessons from the conference highlighted the necessity and value of interfaith service.
First, America is the most religiously diverse country in the world. With that diversity, Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core reminded us that without effort and direction, differences could lead to cultural bubbles, barriers, or even bombs. If we’re intentional about embracing that diversity though, we will build bridges.
Secondly, as our Jewish friends celebrated Sukkah over this past weekend, Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann from Stanford University taught us why the structure is built not with solid, concrete walls, but instead with sticks and flimsy structures that leave it exposed to the world. She said the nature of the Sukkot is not to achieve peace and serenity by closing yourselves off to the world, but by being open to it and what that vision from openness can teach you.
Finally, Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Department of Education and host of the conference, highlighted the service of beingrather than the service of doing. She told a story of a young boy at church. Week after week, as much as he wanted to give to the donation basket, he had nothing to give. Until one week when he grabbed the basket, ran into the middle of the aisle, set it down, and stepped into it. The young boy said, “All I have to give is me.”
Grand Rapids, I think, can be as generous and committed as this young boy was toward serving those around you. It can start this weekend, with the first of four Interfaith Service Days hosted by Habitat for Humanity of Kent County (more info. in the link on the top-left), or at the follow-up panel on Thursday, Oct. 3 about Faith & Sustainability.
The simple, yet powerful stories and best practices I heard the past few days have made me confident that interfaith service is a simple, yet powerful way of continuing Grand Rapids’ interfaith commitment.