Tuesday, September 21, 2021

How Can We Bring Healing and Unity? | by Jerry Zehr

 Many essential truths that help deepen and expand our minds and spirits are present in many religions. One example is the teaching of the Golden Rule. This essential spiritual truth is at the heart of many of our faith traditions: 

  • Baháʼí: "He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself, nor promise that which he doth not fulfill." (Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-I-Iqan, p. 194

  • Buddhism: "Treat not others in ways that you would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga, 5:18
  • Christianity: "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12) 
  • Hinduism: "This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you". (Mahabharata 5:1517)   
  • Islam: "Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself." (The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith)
  • Jainism: "One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated." (Mahavira, Sutrakritanga)
  • Judaism: "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary." (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
  • Sikhism: "I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me; indeed, I am a friend to all." (Guru Granth Sahib, p.1299)
  • Taoism: "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." (T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien, 213-218)
  • Zoroastrianism: "Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself." (Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29)

As in the teaching of the Golden Rule, we will see these world religions have many of the same teachings on love of neighbor, forgiveness, compassion, peacemaking, respect of others, and more. Each of the world's religions can be twisted to justify violence, but each is rooted in peace. The more we can understand our neighbor's faith, the better chance we can build paths of peace.

We need to help people see that we have much more in common than what divides us. My book is entitled "The Peacemaker's Path: Multifaith Reflections to Deepen Your Spirituality" because the purpose is not to blend our faiths into one single religion but to offer us a greater understanding of each of our faiths. Learning about other's faith traditions can enhance our religious beliefs and help us see the other as a child of God. 

I have crafted a forty-day journey through religious traditions such as Bahá'í, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Native American spiritualities, and more. For a fuller picture of the divine, we must not focus on what separates us from others, but rather, what unifies us; this is the work of the peacemaker. 

Each chapter includes:

  • Thought-provoking meditations and stories
  • Holy scriptures from various faith traditions 
  • Questions for reflection
  • Daily call to action
  • Closing prayer

Loving our friends is easy; loving the other will bring shalom.

Jerry Zehr is an ordained minister and has been a leader in interfaith ministries for over thirty years. He has helped create four interfaith organizations, including the Carmel Interfaith Alliance and the Indiana Multifaith Network. You can learn more about his book here

Monday, August 23, 2021

Living in Two Worlds: A Reflection on Ways to Truth | By Viveka Hall-Holt

I am a person who finds myself at home in many worlds and, therefore, in none of them. I'm sure that this statement is true of everyone in some way or another. This is especially true for me when it comes to different ways of knowing. I am a senior in college majoring in Religion and Psychology. This combination of disciplines means that I have been formally exposed to vastly different ways of conceiving of knowledge and how to come about it. Going from one class to another sometimes feels like it should require a passport to enter into another world. 

The reason that I chose to study both Religion and Psychology is that I find both fascinating and meaningful. They both resonate with ways that I had already learned to understand the world from my religious family and my academic surroundings. However, as I learn more about each way of knowing, I notice how each one seems to belittle the other. Where scientific spaces frequently seem to turn up their noses at religious knowledge, dismissing it as make-believe with no solid basis, religious spaces also have a tendency to see science as temporal and meaningless. I often feel caught in the crossfire and deeply unsettled. These arguments simply serve to alienate me from both ways of knowing instead of convincing me that their way is right. 

Milky Way Galaxy

As much as it would be easier for me to decide between the worlds and be done with it, I cannot because they are both a part of me. Living in both of them gives me joy that is unique to each one. My understanding of the world feels much more expansive when I incorporate science and religious studies. Ultimately, I have decided that having two ways of finding truth is better than one, because Truth is so intricately complex. Every added perspective can only give a wider understanding of the whole. 

My struggle with holding the tension between these two ways of knowing can be a metaphor for a larger theme within interfaith work. As much as I wish that I could claim to know everything myself, the one thing that I do know is that my two limited disciplines cannot come close to the wisdom that is found when we all come together in search of truth. This is not to say that there is no room for disagreement or that the goal of interfaith work is to always agree. However, I do think that part of this work is to decide whether we want to believe that there is only one way (our way), or choose to learn from each other and grow in many kinds of understanding. How many worlds are we willing to inhabit? All of my interactions at Interfaith Philadelphia from Passport and Civil Conversations training discussions to thoughtful Gateway questions and answers to conversations with each staff member have reminded me of the power that interfaith communion has to enrich our collective understanding, something more powerful than the singular world of any one person. 

Viveka is a rising senior at St. Olaf College and a double major in Religion and Psychology. She is a member of Interfaith Philadelphia's summer intern team. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Religious, But Not Spiritual? Discovering My Spirituality | By Madison DeLuca

Everywhere I went, I heard people tell me, “I’m spiritual, but not religious”. I struggled with this, because I always questioned “how did they know?”.

What does an awareness to one's spirituality look like? 

A little bit about me: I identify as a female Christian from small-town Northeastern Pennsylvania. I'm a college student, and I often keep my life based on a calendar, with everything scheduled and in its place. Those who know me best will say that my biggest gift - but also biggest downfall - is my emphasis on planning every aspect of my life. In my hometown, I am surrounded by nature, and I feel blessed that the area that I grew up in is isolated from the distractions of life that others may experience. 

I rely on my faith heavily and would consider myself on the “religious” side of the argument. Growing up, my home congregation was always a safe place for me to grow and learn more about myself and the world. With this support, my leadership skills and confidence could blossom, which inspired me to lean into the prospect of religious leadership. I enjoy letting my brain travel down the wormholes of theology and letting myself sit and meditate on some of the big questions and lessons of the Bible. 

I am grateful for my religious experiences, but I still sat with great curiosity about my spirituality. The people in books and movies make it seem like such a powerful experience, and I was selfishly worried about missing out. Have opportunities for me to connect with my spirituality surfaced previously? Have I given myself the space to listen?

One positive aspect of the pandemic is that I finally had the space to pause and listen. I went from someone who was running around from commitment to commitment to someone who could sit down and become more acquainted with my thoughts. This also brought to the surface some suppressed mental health issues, but I was able to sit and listen to myself, and figure out what I needed to heal.

On one of my troubling days, I found myself finally listening for something that would bring me peace, instead of running away from my trouble. I was finally able to start connecting with myself spiritually. I found an overwhelming sense of comfort in the surroundings around me, whether it was the cardinal out the window, or the music playing in the background, or in my gratitude for a friend. My spirituality reignites the curiosity, the confidence, and the love that helps me strive.  

I may be constantly feeding myself with material looking for new ways to learn, but the most positive learning experience I’ve had is when I sat down and took the time to learn about myself. 

Madison is a rising senior at Elizabethtown College and a double major in Political Science and Religious Studies. She is a member of Interfaith Philadelphia's summer intern team.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Interfaith Work is Human Work | Levi Walbert

    Interfaith work has been a center of my life for some time now; from shadowing chaplains around the hospital, to working at my university’s office of spiritual inclusion, and now here spending my summer with Interfaith Philadelphia.  

    When others ask me what this kind of work is about, I find many are often surprised when I tell them that outwardly discussing religion and faith is only a fraction of the work we do. I can’t blame their surprise, as I think back to when I first began my study of religion and the world’s faith traditions, I remember myself standing as an outside observer to them. I would spend my time drawing lines of connections between these grand concepts of metaphysics, ethics, history, and culture believing it to be the heart of religious understanding. It worked fine for academic purposes, but I would soon come to understand that theory alone is not comparable to the lived experience of interfaith work.

    When I began actually entering these spaces where faiths meet, I came to realize that it wasn’t the concepts or theologies of faiths that met, but rather the complex lives of people.  No one I’ve ever met, regardless of tradition, culture, or any other category, has ever fit perfectly into these grand concepts I dedicated so much time to study. Each person due to the innumerable circumstances of their lives related to their faith in a unique and individual way that could not be fit neatly into a box. The assumptions I had built up were shattered by that realization. 

    All the academic knowledge on theology, philosophy, culture, and history could not equal the realization that interfaith work has always been an evolving and living dialogue between people. Sometimes individuals, sometimes groups, sometimes whole nations – but always people. 

    And the truth is, people are complicated. The religious lives of people do not live in isolation from their cultures, community, education, family, history, and every other aspect of human life. When I stood on the outside looking in, the concept of religion was a single isolated part of people's lives, and now that I stand on the inside, I’ve come to realize that every aspect of one’s life (including one's faith tradition) touches upon every other part. If we are to unite people of different faiths to live together in harmony, we must serve their communities, their families - their human needs and desires at every level. 

    Interfaith work is to touch every aspect of our experience as humans; sometimes that’s bringing people together to paint a planter, sometimes it’s to bring faith and community leaders together, sometimes it is to candidly talk about our faiths, and sometimes it’s just giving people the opportunity to talk and be listened to. Interfaith work is to work with people just as they are.  

    My time so far working with the Crafting Community Project has been a perfect example of this; having the opportunity to learn from and work with communities as they together to express themselves has shown me how crucial it is to touch upon the living aspects of people's everyday life - not just the conceptual aspects of their faith. To me, the mundane and the sacred have been shown to be so intimately intertwined that the line which separates them has begun to fade.

Levi is a seminary student and Buddhist minister residing in the Lehigh Valley and a Summer Seminary Intern with Interfaith Philadelphia.

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Importance of Uplifting | By Sara Zebovitz

I was raised a Conservative Jew at a Conservative school. The holidays were a time for family. On Sukkot and Passover, my grandparents and cousins on my mom’s side came to stay with us the whole week. My cousin stayed with me in my room, and became one of my best friends. The culture of holidays and family is energy

The secular holidays, I celebrated with my dad’s side of my family. My aunts, uncles, and cousins were Jewish and not Jewish. Some celebrated other holidays, too. Thanksgiving was as important to me as my weekly observance of Shabbat, and remains that way. Family is spirit. Every Thanksgiving, I was uplifted and refreshed. 

My first Christmas was magical. I was with family friends, and it consisted of: a huge Italian Catholic Christmas Eve dinner, followed by midnight mass, and then waking up early with excitement to see what was under the tree – and found to my surprise that Santa came for me, too. I felt so welcomed in to their home. My own sense of self was raised up

To uplift is to raise up. To boost spirit. To give energy.

My first experience with Interfaith Philadelphia was as a participant in the first Visionary Women cohort in 2016-2017. I was 27 years old, meeting women generations older than me, sharing in conversation about our faith traditions and what drives us. We shared our spirituality with one another giving each other energy, even from just a few short hours of learning each week. Visionary Women was a gift. 

I uplifted others and in turn was uplifted. This is a gift I strive to return every day as the Director of Institutional Advancement at Interfaith Philadelphia. 

Last week, we launched UPLIFT. UPLIFTERs give monthly gifts to Interfaith Philadelphia, ensuring that we can continue to provide the Philadelphia region with opportunities to uplift and be uplifted; to boost spirit and to give energy. With a simple monthly gift of any size, you can join our community of UPLIFTERs. You’ll have special access to UPLIFT programming, and you’ll get to meet others who share your values, others who want to uplift

Join UPLIFT today – share your spirit. Let your energy have a ripple effect. And, if you commit to a gift of $25/month or more by August 6th, you’ll get a welcome gift in partnership with a local business! Join me in UPLIFTING and being UPLIFTED.

Friday, June 11, 2021

New Eyes: The Gift of Being a Walking the Walk Group Leader | by Marilyn Berberich

I love to collect quotes. Maybe it’s hereditary. My father kept a folded piece of paper with favorite quotes in his wallet. I stitched a quote quilt and hung it by my desk.

One of my favorite quotes is by Marcel Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” When I stepped into the role of Walking the Walk Group Leader seven years ago, I envisioned wonderful afternoons of dialogue, meaningful service experiences, plentiful opportunities to learn about other faith traditions, and happy times building community with the amazing teens who had signed up for the program. What I didn’t realize was that I would also be getting new eyes. I would never see the world the same way after each Walking the Walk journey.

So what does it mean to have new eyes? For me, it meant some consequential exchanges. I traded assumptions for surprises. There was no “one way” for just about anything. Each faith community was unique, each student was unique, and each session was unique. I quickly realized it was wiser to be flexible and intrigued by differences than to wed myself to preconceived ideas and plans. Without new eyes, learning experiences could vanish right in front of me.

I traded being locked into thoughtfully crafted agendas for lingering with times of connection and discovery. It’s no secret that I love being well prepared. Crafting Walking the Walk sessions brought me great joy. However, seeing faces light up, watching students lean into conversations, and hearing laughter break out were moments that needed to be savored. My blueprint for the session was a starting place, but the afternoon came to life as the session unfolded in its own special way. Closing reflections convincingly underscored how personalized each student’s experience had been that day.

I traded aspirations for expertise for aspirations of humility. If you want to put pressure on yourself, try to become an expert. Every time I drifted in that direction, I felt waves of panic. There was no topic we would touch on at Walking the Walk that I could claim to have mastered. I knew I was on more solid ground when I modeled curiosity and challenged myself to generate and ask a compelling question. It was delightful to come to grips with the fact that I would be a perennial student. I would visit the same church, synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, or other place of worship for multiple years and always leave with some new learning or understanding. What a handsome reward!

I traded worries and a penchant for predictability for a willingness to be comfortable with discomfort. My first year as Walking the Walk Group Leader was marked by a steep learning curve. The folks at Interfaith Philadelphia, and Margie Scharf in particular, were my borrowed relationship capital. I was just a rookie doing my best to extend goodwill and establish my own personal connections. There were missteps and awkward situations. Occasionally there was feedback that rattled my confidence. Now and again, I was sure I wasn’t cut out for the job. And then came a moment of clarity… the path to understanding is rocky; it has blind curves; there’s no opportunity for speeding. And, yes, this is exactly what I signed up for! My heart woke up and my courage signed on for seven glorious years as a Walking the Walk Group Leader.

I have many beautiful photos and mementos from my Walking the Walk years. They make me smile, and they trigger marvelous memories. But most of all, they make me grateful for the wonderful mentors, religious leaders, and superstar students, and student group leaders who journeyed with me. They made my world shinier. They gave me new eyes.

Marilyn Berberich has been the Walking the Walk Group Leader since 2013 and finished her tenure with her eighth cohort this past May. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

An Introspection Into My Interfaith Engagement Journey | By Neil Reeves

    When I decided to attend seminary, I had to accept my call and determine which seminary to attend. Initially, I planned to attend a seminary that taught mainly my faith tradition. At this seminary, I would have the opportunity to interact with students whose faith traditions can also be found in many African American communities. The alternative was to attend a seminary that offered a variety of theological perspectives. I knew that my post-seminary work would include some interfaith work. I have always believed deep down that people of different faith traditions are more alike than they are different. So, what decision did I make? I chose the latter and decided to attend Lancaster Theological Seminary (LTS), a seminary that in 2020 had student representation of 18 denominations.

I am so glad I chose a seminary that stretched me beyond my theological comfort zone because it gave me the opportunity to learn from others whose views and practices differ from my own. Through LTS, I also secured an internship with Interfaith Philadelphia, an organization whose primary mission is interfaith engagement and understanding.

Learning from others about their faith traditions has allowed me to become closer to my faith tradition. I meditate more on the beliefs and rituals of my tradition - some of which I now embrace more. I am also more curious about the beliefs of other faith traditions and their worship practices. Interfaith engagement has also enabled me to become a better listener and forced me to reflect on my internal biases and stereotypes about others. Another benefit of my journey is that I am establishing new relationships with people with whom I may be able to partner in the future, to work on societal issues that are important to me - including mass incarceration, homelessness, fatherhood, and economic inequality and empowerment.

I have learned a lot but still have more to learn. I must admit this journey challenges me daily. Due to the time I spend using my technological gadgets, engaging in volunteer work, studying, and following through with my own family commitments, I often find myself with my head down, immersed in my own individual bubble and echo chamber. It’s comfortable there and honestly feels busy enough. However, this self-centeredness causes me to ignore those people, experiences, and views that are not within my immediate and daily surroundings, including those whose faith traditions differ from my own. I welcome the opportunity to meet this challenge by intentionally remaining in dialogue with my fellow seminarians, connecting and establishing relationships with people I meet through interfaith events, and attending worship spaces unfamiliar to me. I must continuously rise to meet this challenge and do my part to make the world a better place by eliminating subconscious biases I may have against others.

Neil Reeves is currently a Seminary Intern with Interfaith Philadelphia. He is a second-year student at Lancaster Theological Seminary and serves as president of the men’s ministry at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.