Profound Moments of Clarity (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Movement)

[Cross-posted from Bridge Builders, IFYC’s social networking site, and Multifaith Alliance.]

Well, I have a confession to make. I had to completely fill a notebook, spend a full day in two airports, and write frantic thoughts all over the whiteboard in my apartment before I could sit down and write this today.

I’ve known for a long time that religion was my calling. From the first Religion class I took at my University, I knew it was the path my career would take. And I’ve also known for a long time that interfaith work was an endless joy for me – from the first day I took up facilitating my University’s interfaith discussion group, I was hooked. But never before this conference have I experienced such a profound sense of total vocation.

At one of the morning plenaries I was sitting in the Louis room, looking at the shore and downtown Chicago in the distance, listening to panelists speak about starting and sustaining the interfaith movement. Sitting there, watching the waves crest and taking notes in the early morning, I came to the first of many profound moments of clarity.

I realized that – whether in academia or activism – every career choice I make needs to lead always, flexibly, and continuously to this, the interfaith movement. Whether it’s pursuing graduate school in religious studies or whether it’s facilitating dialogues and service projects in my community, I know that the interfaith movement is not what I want to do. It’s what I need to do. Winda, one of my new friends from Luther College, spoke about how the interfaith movement is like her “new faith”. I couldn’t agree more.

After three days of a relentless, grueling schedule – jampacked with plenaries and workshops, documentaries and panels, networking and boxed lunches, airports and waiting lines – I came home and propped up a whiteboard on the coffeetable in my apartment. I cranked up Angelique Kidjo and filled the whiteboard with lines and lines of careful handwriting. I even borrowed from my high school writing tips, going so far as to make a brainstorming web! By the time it was full, I had organized some pretty serious thoughts.

First and foremost, what is my public, civic engagement? I liked what Rev. Jim Wallis said about public engagement and its relationship to a personal commitment, so I wanted to establish the former first. Simply put, my public engagement is a religiously pluralistic world. It is a world defined by a respect for religious identity, mutually inspiring relationships, and common action for the common good. Unpacking these terms presents a powerful, beautiful vision of the future.

Here’s an analogy: It’s like we have to share an office. If a Hindu and a Muslim (let’s say) have to share an office together, then they’ve got to respect each other. Each must recognize that the other is a full, complete person and is allowed to work there, too. Next, they’ve got to establish a working relationship. They’ve got to build a working friendship that will connect them equally and respectfully with each other, so that they can get the job done. In turn, the Hindu and Muslim have to accomplish certain work tasks, like doing a presentation together. They’ve got to compare notes on their shared skills, and make the presentation the best it can be in a cooperative fashion.

In this analogy, sharing an office is like sharing the world. Unless we want to remove ourselves from it completely, we’ve got to share this space. To do that, we have to recognize that every other person on this earth, including those with whom we fundamentally disagree, is allowed to be alive, too. We’re all allowed to be here and allowed to breathe the same air, right? In turn, just like establishing a professional friendship, we’ve got to establish a working local and global relationship that will allow us to mutually inspire and care for one another. Finally, just like pulling off a presentation at work, we’ve got to apply our common values and shared goals to the social justice tasks at hand.

So, that’s my public engagement. But where does it come from? What are my personal commitments to the cause? One of the presenters at the conference spoke about complex biographies. We all come to the table with a complex framework of identity. Inherited and chosen identities, race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, ability, religion: all of these formulate a unique construct of our ethics.

My inherited and chosen identities, my recognition of White privilege, my strength as a woman, my hard-working, middle class upbringing, my Irish-American heritage and resilience, my independent American consciousness, the maturity of my twenty years of life, my able-bodied size, my Jewish tradition of social justice, my Christian tradition of Christ’s example – all of these inform who I am and how I am going to engage in the world.

Ultimately, the application of the best of these ethics formulates my personal commitment – what I can bring to the pluralism table.

But now what do I do? I know how I want to engage in the world and I know what I can bring to the cause, but what action can I take? The answer to that question is a highly personal and specific one, but I can articulate it in three parts:

1. Education – I must educate myself on the history of my communities, the current needs of my peers, and how the administrations function. I can’t confront local Twin Cities issues unless I know how they came to be that way. I can’t bring the young Hmong or Somali communities together unless I know what the youth want and feel. And I can’t make change in my environments without knowing how campus and local administrations operate and what they demand.

2. Leadership – I have to take the skills I’ve learned (from dialogue facilitation to fundraising, from leading the movement to developing sustainability) and apply them to my life. Tips, tricks, tools, models: I’ve got to internalize these and translate them into my progressive action. Establishing a framework, building a knowledge base, and engaging a skill set are all tools that can make me an interfaith leader. Storytelling, service, and shared values are are concepts I can utilize to my advantage.

3. Networking – I have met so many people at this conference, from tons of different schools and multiple different states and nations. These people are my peers and allies in the interfaith movement. I’ve got to be in touch with them. Plus, I’ve got to tap into the people I already know, too – there are potential leaders around every corner on my campus, and I’ve got to take advantage of that.

Ultimately, the conference has made me recognize my vocation, and has given me the framework to do it: public, civic engagement; private, personal commitment; and the local actions I can explore today.

For that, I can never be more grateful.

Thank you for giving me my calling,

April Palo
Religion ’11
Hamline University’s Multifaith Alliance

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4 Responses to “Profound Moments of Clarity (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Movement)”

  1. Make it happen, April. It’s good to see people pumped about interfaith work.

  2. […] Profound Moments of Clarity (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Movement) « be happy f… (tags: interfaith) timbrauhn […]

  3. I highly enjoyed reading your blogpost, keep up writing such exciting articles.

  4. […] Profound Moments of Clarity (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Movement) « be happy f… (tags: interfaith) […]

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