Conversation and transformation

Repost from Project Interfaith blog | Jan. 29, 2015

“Listen not for the sake of information, but of transformation.” 

These words were spoken by Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, ordained Presbyterian pastor and keynote speaker at the Midwest Regional Gathering for NEXT Church last fall. NEXT Church, a Presbyterian network of leaders who are working toward a future that is more relational, diverse, collaborative, hopeful and agile, met under the theme Embodied Faith, asking what Presbyterian values look like in daily actions.

I was honored to get to present a workshop on “entering faith… into interfaith” where we discussed how to integrate interfaith engagement into individuals’ values and institutions’ missions, but further than that, we modeled interfaith engagement by having a dialogue ourselves.

With a group of 30 Presbyterians – including seminarians, pastors, and community activists – I guided a “Speed Dialogue” – like speed dating, but for new friends instead of romance. Project Interfaith put together this comprehensive facilitation guide for interfaith organizers to use. Similar to the Interfaith Youth Coreequivalent of “Talk Better Together” – the premise is simple – using conversation as a way of promoting open, respectful discourse about religion, belief, stereotypes, and identity.

While usually done within more diverse contexts, the opportunity to do this activity within a group of seemingly uniform people allowed for new interfaith lessons to sprout. We saw that interfaith dialogue is a model not only for cross-faith/non-faith conversations, but a way to appreciate the nuances and complexities within one tradition. It was even a perfect gateway into creating intentionally diverse settings in the future, with many church members interested in bringing the model back to their community and getting to know their neighbors through a Speed Faithing Night. Here are just a few lessons from that day:

  1. Commonality between strangers, yet a diversity of pathways

Participants had never crossed paths before, likely will never again, and came to value the commonality they found between their stories. But even in this context within same tradition, there was a varied range of pathways of where people were coming from and where they were going.

  1. Value of one-on-one conversations

Most attendees had participated in large group dialogues – where a delicate balance had to be struck to include all voices equally. With this opportunity for one-on-one conversation, they were able to ask questions, dig deeper, and be more focused with the discussion.

  1. Allows all people to speak and share perspectives.

The conversation is designed to be a give-and-take, with no dominate voice or facilitator, which places value in the voices of all participants – including those often overshadowed or overlooked.

  1. Embraces all aspects of identity.

Faith and beliefs are inseparable from other aspects of identity, like race, sexuality, and gender; Speed-Dialogue allows for an appreciation and respect of the complexity and intersectionality of identity.

Participants walked away with new friendships, insights, and a program they could implement right away – one that would allow them to fully live out their faiths while engaging with the diversity within their tradition and within the wider community. I walked away with renewed hope in religious life – seeing faith leaders become interfaith leaders. As Kim-Kort said, this brave and courageous engagement creates an expanded vision and experience of God that pushes beyond the walls of the church. By letting differences permeate our experiences, we become more compassionate, pluralist, and ultimately, more human.

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