This past Monday I found myself in a room full of 19-23 year olds. My newfound friends and I were all from varying schools, public and private, backgrounds, religions, majors, and stories. But we were asked the same question, “What inspired us from this past week.” As everyone began sharing their answers, I began to scan the room and reflect on these past few days. What made my days? What did I love? What did I remember? What intrigued me? Yes, I had my fan girl moment when I took my picture, chatted, and had my book signed by the superhero himself, Eboo Patel. (If you do not know who he is, before you continue reading my blog post I request you look him up and order his book Acts of Faith. This is a must.) But was that actually life changing?
As I look around, I see my newfound friends; a Jain, Muslim, Hindu, Agtheist (not to be confused with either agnostic or atheist), Methodist, Atheist, Baptist, Unitarian, and the rest of us, somewhere in between. My Ruth Messinger group, attending the Interfaith Leadership Institute coordinated by Interfaith Youth Core in New York City, New York to learn how to bring Interfaith dialogue and cooperation to our individual campuses, all had the same answer. I think about how I know each of their stories now. Sohail, one of the first people I met during the conference, is a first generation American of two Pakistani parents attending a small liberal arts college in Connecticut. I specifically remember saying, “You are so cool!” to him when I heard his story. Not meaning to humble his life at all, but a few short minutes later I shouted the same thing to my friend Atama. She was born and raised in Mali till she passed her exams at 16 when her parents sent her stateside to attend school. I found myself stating the same to my SLU friends when I found out their religions, Hindu and Jainism. Humbled, myself, by the awesomeness of my newfound friends and support system, I could not understand how Atama or Sohail could think I am awesome for studying abroad in Tahiti. Ummm, I grew up in Iowa- the center of nowhere – obviously they are silly.
Something that caught me off guard was when I met Daz, who is Number 7 for Ohio University’s football team. I freaked a little bit. I am speaking to a big time University football player. This is insane! Upon speaking that all out loud, because I seem to lack a filter, he told me, “Hey, I am just the same as you.”
I felt so dumb. Of course we are the same. We just live diverging lives. His story is just as important as my story and as important as Atama’s, whose life was changed upon moving to America, as Bianca who grew up in South Africa with her parents, Peace Corps workers, who saw and lived apartheid’s effects, as Rima, born to a Hindu family in rural Illinois, as Rachel who went on a faith search when she realized she could not be a part of the Catholic church because she is a lesbian.
Every one of our stories’ is just as important because it brought us there, in the Big Apple, together for one common reason – interfaith. There is no better story. My story was just as important as their story and vice versa, because together, we can use our stories to work towards our common goal: interfaith cooperation.
So, when it became my turn to share my inspiration, I said it was each of them.
In a way, working, listening, speaking, and planning together was interfaith work. Speaking and listening to each other IS interfaith dialogue. I learned more about the world, religions, others, myself, my faith, and the work I want to do in this world through my group than I had during the conference’s speed faithing event. Our goal as a whole is pushing each other individually to learn about various faiths, what we each believe, and having thoughtful discussion with an inquisitive and open-mind. And we did this. We did it and became closer as a whole.
These conversations are what inspire me to do interfaith work at Simpson College. These newfound friendships with not only people from other schools at the conference, but with my peers from Simpson College that attended the conference with me, is what I want to see on Simpson’s campus. I want to see new ideas, dialogue, and alliances flourish in front of my eyes, because ignorance is not bliss, but respect is.
– MacKenzie Bills
“We came from a religious tradition that says we are all responsible for each other”