Archive for the Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism Category

Phillip Pullman, “His Dark Materials”

Posted in Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on April 29, 2010 by aprilpalo

“Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
OF neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked awhile,
Pondering his voyage…”

– John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

So begins Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The books of the trilogy – Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass – compose some one thousand pages. The epic fantasy narrative takes the reader through many different worlds and characters. Textures, colors, shapes, and moments that make up HDM provide a highly sensual experience as one reads. At the same time, the intellectually and philosophically challenging material requires you to engage fully and spiritually with the text.

What’s it about?

[Spoilers ahead. Also, please read the comments to follow the evolution of this post.]

Rather than laying out the tale as it progresses, I want to reflect on the story as a whole.

Simply put, the overarching theme of the tale is “Dust”. In every parallel universe, Dust is the perfect confluence of matter and spirit; it is beautiful and anonymous, emotive and omnipresent. Dust exists in every world, and came into being when the first creatures became cognizant of themselves. Thus, Dust is most attracted to the moment when “innocence becomes experience”; it avoids children whose souls have not yet become fully formed, and is instead drawn most to adults.

Underneath the scope of Dust, the whole trilogy is concerned with a deep, deep conflict. On one hand, the Authority (God) has long boasted that he is the creator of all things. Subservient to his will, authoritarian and dogmatic churches control the world. In an Oxford parallel to ours, one such example is the Papacy; in the tale, it has now become a complex web of church-driven governmental agencies and offices (“the Magisterium”).

Underneath the Magisterium, a secret and covert agency (“the General Oblation Board”) seeks to control the mystery of Dust. Because Dust does not settle on children, the GOB severs children from their souls, and therefore prohibits Dust from being involved in their lives. This creates soulless, mindless, empty, obedient slaves. Directly responsible and keenly interested in this process, Mrs Coulter is the nemesis of the tale.

On the other hand, Lord Asriel is a rebellious, imaginative, innovative explorer. As a rebel and experimental theologian, he works for no one. As the tale begins, his mission becomes clear: he wants to break out of his own world, destabilize the Authority and the churches below it, and establish a new “republic of heaven” freed from dogmatic slavery. His relationship with Dust is mysterious, but it seems that he wants to simultaneously protect Dust and use it to his own advantage.

Caught in between these two opposing forces, Lyra (of the parallel Oxford) is the daughter of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel. Through complex circumstances, she becomes the possessor of a magical golden compass, a mysterious dial that tells her the truth through intense meditative engagement. As her ally, she becomes friends with Will, a troubled and passionate young man from our own world. Through equally complex circumstances, he comes into possession of the Subtle Knife, a knife that can cut a window into any of the millions of parallel universes.

Using these two tools, Lyra and Will must race to stop the Authority, end the dogmatic rule of the Magisterium, eliminate the GOB and save children’s souls. Above all, they must protect the Dust and restore the worlds it enriches. With the help of polar bears, witches, a Texan zeppelin operator, ghosts, harpies, gay angels, and Lilliputian spies, the pair zip through multiple universes and survive countless harrowing adventures.

In the end, Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel both fail in their respective missions, but the Dust and all the worlds are able to be restored to a safe, vibrant, protected future.

That’s the set-up for the book. I laid it all out up front because I wanted to lay some solid groundwork for discussing themes of the text.

What did I think of it?

As far as a fantasy narrative is concerned, HDM is incredible. It’s fast, dramatic, beautiful, vibrant, and colorful. The characters and emotional themes are engaging and well-developed. Love, courage, life, sex, death, environmentalism, post-colonialism… all of these themes and more race across the pages and into the heart as one reads. I could barely turn the pages fast enough to keep up with my desire to continue the tale, and when it was finished, I was very sad to see it completed.

No, it is not as a literary piece that I’d like to discuss HDM. Instead, I am interested in the philosophical and theological picture that emerges.

On the one hand, there are definite things I love about the tale:

1. Dust. Dust is a beautiful, mythical, ingenious concept. It fits beautifully with how I feel about the way the universe works. I have always believed in some kind of universal undercurrent that eddies and flows about our lives, connecting and withdrawing from everyone and everything at once. Pullman’s depiction and emphasis on Dust is a masterstroke.

2. Pullman’s anti-dogmatic vision. The crusade to save Dust and restore the natural order of the world requires the rejection of corrupt, abusive power structures in church and government. I totally agree with Pullman’s views in this regard. I am especially in favor of his views on a “republic of heaven”. Ultimately, there can’t be one, because goodness and light is inside all of us! Spiritual truth is, simply, wherever we are!

3. Pullman’s vision of hell and heaven. Now, he never comes right out and states his vision. (It is a fantasy story after all, not a metaphysical treatise.) However, a certain vision of hell and heaven does emerge in the tale, and this is my interpretation of it. Simply put, hell is what happens when you did not love life enough. If you cannot provide a personal story full of love and passion and joy, you will not be able to pay your way to heaven. But if you can, you can travel and climb your way up to the light – and when you reach it, your soul becomes selfless and one with every atom in the universe. With a transcendent joy, you come out into the light of a beautiful pasture of trees and clouds, and immediately you become one with every dewdrop, sunbeam, leaf, sigh, tree, kiss, and moment in this universe. I think that’s beautiful.

So, there’s this deep metaphysical groove. Dust, freedom and spiritual truth for all, hell and heaven as the natural consequences of love and connectedness… it is an incredibly touching, valuable, beautiful thing.

But there are certain things I don’t like, and certain cultural and theological views that remove a lot of the joy from it for me.

1. Pullman is anti-Catholic at best and anti-Christian at worst. I know that’s a pretty strong thing to say. But Pullman’s key focus is essentially that “the Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake” (as one of the characters puts it.) He places God in the exact same blame as the authoritarian and dogmatic churches of this world. He actually depicts the death and uselessness of God in conjunction with the collapse of the Christian churches of the tale. He uses the medieval doctrine of original sin – a late Christian concept and arguably irrelevant to many Christians today – as the weapon of the Authority, the Magisterium, and the GOB. If priests and nuns are shown, they are either abusive or outright murderers. It is a vehemently anti-Catholic and possibly anti-Christian tale, without question.

2. Simplistic view. Even the anti-Catholic sentiment I wouldn’t mind so much, as long as he held an equally zero-tolerance policy towards all other religious traditions as well. (If he did, then HDM would become a unique metaphysical and spiritual approach to a non-theist worldview, a la What Dreams May Come, which would actually be pretty cool.)

But he doesn’t do that. On the contrary, other religious traditions and cultures are only brought in as direct support for his anti-Christian message. Vaguely Inuit shamans, vaguely Tibetan Buddhist tulkus, vaguely Jewish Biblical characters, and vaguely Romany nomadic communities are all brought in as support for “the good guys” in the tale. None of these religious and cultural traditions are explored in any depth; they are simply marshalled as exotic and otherworldly alternatives to authoritarian dogma. It is a very one-sided, very stereotypical view of indigenous, Buddhist, Jewish, or Romany communities. And those are just the few I can remember off the top of my head!

Concluding thoughts?

I obviously don’t know this for sure, and I’m clearly only speculating here. But ultimately, Pullman seems like the sort of person that came to hate Christianity and therefore became an atheist. In that context, anything non-Christian may be marshalled as support for a non-theist message.

It especially sucks because his whole metaphysical worldview is so cool, and so inspiring, and so beautiful – but he doesn’t let Christianity come to the table to enjoy it. I feel like if he’d done any reading or research into the early Christian community and the original message of Christ, he would recognize that God and Christ would support him!

But of course, this would require separating God and Christ from the contemporary Catholic church, which seems to be something Pullman is incapable of doing. I guess that’s the biggest shame of all. Authoritarian and dogmatic churches have robbed the Christian tradition of its ability to be seen as loving, progressive, and open-minded.

As far as an epic fantasy narrative, it’s a fantastic read and an incredibly enjoyable thrill ride. Hell, even the symbolism and mythology is highly compelling and addictive. Even as a non-theist philosophical worldview, it’s raw and beautiful and inspiring. But if you’re looking for respect or appreciation for different religious traditions, especially Christianity, please leave His Dark Materials on the shelf.


That Dark Stretch of Time, the Light at the End of the Tunnel, and the Social Justice Mega-Post

Posted in Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism, Oracle and Opinion on November 23, 2009 by aprilpalo

It’s been a rather long few weeks. I’m hitting that stretch between Thanksgiving and Finals when things get pretty tough.

Once-distant projects stack up and become urgent, and one’s weekend task list rapidly becomes daunting. Classes pick up speed as professors try to cram more into the last few weeks of the semester, and finals seem to approach faster than ever. In my case, most of my classes are also incorporating a lengthy research project, which makes sinking my teeth into my workload even more complex and difficult. My unmotivated wish to just cuddle up and watch a movie is getting fierce.

What’s more, the nights grow longer, the mornings grow colder, and the days grow darker. More frequently than ever, I catch myself wishing to go home, steal a nap under a warm blanket, and maybe make some soup and toast. The gloomier the days, the more pronounced this urge becomes. I find myself demanding more and more of Chris’ attention, because his hugs just feel so damn good when I’m unmotivated and cold!

Fortunately, I think I’ll be able to make it through these next few weeks just fine. Having a quick break for Thanksgiving will feel absolutely delightful and will hopefully recharge my energy. Plus, cooking warm seasonal meals and getting plenty of sleep will help connect me to what my body wants – to curl up with the ancient home and hearth.

(Speaking of Thanksgiving and seasonal meals, we’ve decided on our Thanksgiving menu!

Pork and Sage Meatballs with Lemon-Thyme Sauce

Pumpkin, Peanut, and Ginger Creamy Soup

Both recipes are from The Kitchn (featured in my links to the right). I’m really excited to spend some time with the people I love, sharing warm bowls of soup around the table. Going to sleep cuddled up with my future husband, watching the flickering firelight of the woodstove, the scent of dry pine sparking in the embers, will be exactly what this freezing little student needs!)


As much as I’d love to end this blog post on such a delicious high note, I’ve got to be honest. Besides the crunch of November/December and the worsening cold/darkness of the season, another thing has got me running for a hug or an escape. Simply put, I’ve been dealing with a lot of social justice questions.

A lot of my peers have been involved with social justice for quite some time, and have developed strong coping methods for the moral questions that plague the activist. But given my relatively recent calling, I’ve been thrown into it headfirst, and so I’m still struggling with how to answer some of the nagging problems on my shoulders. I haven’t got any answers and I’m not sure how to write for my audience on this one, so I think I’ll just throw them out there:

1. How do we balance the crucial need for equal access to social services/rights/freedoms, with an equally important need for respecting and valuing racial/ethnic/religious/gender/sexual/etc identity?

This question is more complex than it sounds. On a superficial level, there should be no problem with everyone being able to pursue equal social assets while simultaneously enjoying a strong personal identity. But when you get into the actual mechanics of how this works, it becomes very hard.

All people should be able to attain high-paying jobs, even if they’re people of color, right? Obviously. But how do you go about making this work? Housing, education, employment practices, parenting, financial ability, location – all of these work against the average person of color, which sets up a system of disadvantage, which in turn inhibits people of color from obtaining jobs at the same level as whites. So, what do you do? Do you advocate ignoring their race, in order to guarantee them jobs? Sounds good, but then you’re eliminating their right to their own cultural or ethnic identity. Or do you utilize their race as leverage to help them? Sounds good, too, but then you’re playing favorites of a different kind; how do you turn this sort of policy into an organic respect for identity?

The problem gets worse when we think about the question of ignoring or valuing difference. To oversimplify the problem, I can use feminism as an example. Many feminists advocate ignoring the socially-constructed female gender, working to prove that women can do anything and everything that men can. While gender is indeed socially constructed, this approach neglects to consider the actual experiences of women as they differ from men’s – care, bodily comportment, discrimination, et cetera. In response, many other feminists advocate evaluating and exploring women’s experience, calling attention to the ways women live differently than men. While this approach is important because it values women as distinct from men and acknowledges their often-painful experiences, it also serves to differentiate women and potentially set them apart from other capabilities.

To get into this even deeper, we can go off on a whole conversation about “other capabilities” in the first place. What is normative? Culturally, we’ve got this unconscious idea that the white, male, Western, middle/upper class perspective is the normal one, from which all else flows. This sets in motion phrases like, “Get over it”, “I don’t see race”, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, et cetera. It also sets in motion ideas like, “Knowledge is the same for everyone”, “We all live in the same world”, and so forth.

I could go on and on about this, but the questions just keep getting deeper and harder and harder to solve. Let’s go on to my next issue.

2. How do we deal with one’s authentic identity versus one’s perceived identity?

Technically, everyone should be able to self-identify. Race, ethnicity, religious tradition, gender, sexual orientation, ability – they’re all socially constructed. Therefore, every individual should have the right to practice/identify whatever they wish.

But here’s the problem: What happens when one’s authentic (i.e., self-determined) identity come into conflict with one’s perceived (i.e., culturally-determined) identity?

In some cases – transgender people, for example – I would advocate very strongly for one’s authentic and self-determined identity. I would support a person claiming their own right to their own gender and sexual identity, even to my dying day. But in other cases – such as U.S. Army Maj. Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood several weeks ago – I would advocate very strongly for a culturally-determined identity. I would reject his (allegedly) Muslim identification and publicly renounce his affiliation with an otherwise beautiful, peace-loving faith.

Is this fair? Can I call the shots both ways? What if the roles are reversed? What if one’s gender identity is mixed up with psychological illness and a sexually exploited childhood (like in “Stage Beauty”)? What if one’s religious identity is strong and peaceful, but runs counter to traditional expectations (like in CNN’s “Emerging Jews” article)?

I don’t even know how to sink myself into this one.

3. Diversity/pluralism versus political correctness: How far is too far?

Given all the issues expressed in #1 and #2, it becomes obvious that we’re dealing with an ongoing public conversation. It never ends and happens every single day. How do I balance social equality, cultural difference, authentic identity, perceived identity (and all the related questions therein) with political correctness?

In other words, how do I participate in life? I’m having a hard time digging stuff I used to enjoy, because I’m constantly thinking about the systems of advantage that went into it. I’m having a hard time laughing with old friends, because I never think their insensitive jokes are funny anymore. How do I keep finding pleasure in things? How do I keep finding humor in life?

But on the flipside, I don’t want to be like Racialicious – they seem to write only about things that make them angry, and thanks to them, steampunk isn’t even fun anymore. I don’t want to be like the Hamline liberal elite, shoving words like “diversity”, “white privilege”, “social capital”, and “offensive” down people’s throats.


This is a glimpse of what I’m struggling with. This blog is getting pretty long, so I think I should wrap it up. On the whole, I guess I’m just ready for a break, ready to relax and recharge and approach my life anew.

Thanks for listening 🙂

To end on a high note, the cutest video ever:

Hello, world!

Posted in Academia and Research, Dreams for the Future, Family, Friends, Graduate School, Internships and Work, Love, Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism, Notes from a Small Apartment, Oracle and Opinion, Study Abroad: The Great Adventure, Wedding on November 17, 2009 by aprilpalo

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I suppose it’s about time I crack my knuckles and fill you in!

There are a lot of things I’m preparing for. First and foremost: studying abroad. We’re moving out of our apartment sometime around December 17, and our flight leaves January 10. We should be in Dublin by 8:30 am the morning of January 11, and won’t be back until mid-May 2010.

I can’t believe I’m going to be living, working, and studying in a new home for nearly six months! The University College Dublin campus is the largest in Ireland and teaches nearly twenty-two thousand students per year. Dublin is one of the oldest cities in Ireland – it’s been been a capital city and port since well before Christianity, Vikings, or the Roman Empire. Ireland itself is an island unlike any place I will ever live, a bizarre mix of old and new, ancient and modern. Everything is going to be different there – even some parts of the language! I am absolutely thrilled to go, and I’m only one $3000 loan away from making it happen.

Other parts of my life revolve around what I’m going to do when I get back:

  • I’ve got my academics all planned out for my senior year; it’s hard to believe that I’m only two Hamline semesters away from graduating!
  • On top of that, I’m applying for a Mahle Scholarship. The Scholarship is actually a paid stipend position dedicated to progressive religious education, reflection, and service. It would be a really great way to dedicate myself to interfaith justice on campus, and I’m already buzzing with ideas!
  • I’m also coordinating the next leg of my research project. After the incredible success of last summer, it’s back to the drawing board to see what I can hone, expand, or focus more deeply. I’m going to take advantage of some Ireland resources, and when I return I fully intend on spending Summer 2010 working through additional research. Then I can spend my senior year dedicating myself to my Religion senior honors’ thesis.
  • In terms of interfaith/social justice initiatives, I’m also dedicating myself to Multifaith Alliance’s future. We’ve finally lined up an amazing new student leader for Multifaith while I am gone, and when I get back, I’m really excited to tackle some new projects as a team. I’m in touch with Hamline administration regarding a potential interfaith living community on campus, as well as introducing some interfaith dialogue into freshman orientation programming!
  • But academics, research, and extracurriculars aren’t everything; I’m also focusing on my employable future. I am currently applying for an internship position with Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, ideally working with the Saint Paul Interfaith Network and the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition. I am so excited at the possibility of working with these teams, and I can’t wait to find out what’s next! What’s more, my dream goal is to attain a position in the Interfaith Youth Core’s Fellows Alliance program – it’s a year-long paid position and the ultimate in youth interfaith leadership. It’s a dream goal for me and I’m really working hard to make it happen!

Of course, all of this stuff is happening on top of writing for The Oracle and working three jobs in IT, so I’m busting my ass on a regular basis. It’s worth it, though. Now that I know what I want to do and how to work towards it, I feel unstoppable. I feel like my calling is definitely leading me somewhere – I just have to keep up!

I’m really working on making my projects my own priority, instead of comparing myself to other students and friends. I’ve got some friends who are attaining serious career success right now, but the thing I have to remember is that I am, too. And I will continue to do so! I’ve just got to buckle down and follow my vocation wherever it takes me!

Let’s see, what else? Well, I’m also preparing for what comes after graduation. I’m obviously planning for graduate school, and here is my current list:

  1. University of Chicago
  2. Northwestern
  3. Chicago Theological Seminary (Can you tell that Chicago is a running theme?)
  4. Columbia
  5. NYU
  6. Harvard
  7. Yale
  8. Duke

Yeah, so I’ll admit I’m not setting my sights particularly low. But what’s the worst that can happen? They say no? Big deal – I find somewhere else, and I turn it into the best decision I ever made. 🙂

I’m also flirting with the idea of pursuing a Fulbright. I hadn’t considered it very much before, primarily because I was also thinking about the Peace Corps, the potential language barrier, and whether or not it would work for our plans as a couple. But I got to talking and thinking about it, and I realized: There is no realistic reason why I couldn’t pursue a research future in the United Kingdom. Why not apply? I can always defer grad school until I get back, and Chris can always pursue employment abroad if the Fulbright grant doesn’t support him.

Mentally/Emotionally/Physically, I guess I’m in this really powerful transition mode. My mind, my heart, my body – every part of me is moving forward. I’ve written before that I’m in a really peaceful, motivated place in my life; I am both deeply tranquil and brimming with passion, and I think that’s a really good place to be. My happiness must always be balanced with a reflective gratitude, and I try never to let a moment go by that I don’t thank God* for what I have been given.

* This might also be a good time to touch on my spirituality. You’ll notice that I put an asterisk by the word “God”. Usually I write “the universe” or “life”. I definitely still believe in those things; I certainly don’t believe in a personified, reified God. But I am starting to identify with a Jewish/Christian tradition, and part of living a Jewish life and living by Christ’s example is recognizing the depth of my faith and the value of community. In terms of faith, it’s important for me to stop running away from the concept of God and instead approach it thoughtfully, flexibly, and with utmost love and gratitude. Rather than obfuscating the words “universe” and “life”, I can take a page from Soren Kierkegaard and engage in a subjective, faithful relationship with “God”. Do I believe in God the same way others do? No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t engage in a relationship with It. In terms of community, it’s important for me to stop talking and begin living. I can’t just keep speaking and hoping I find something; I’ve got to jump in and practice my identity fully and passionately. I’ve never pulled punches in any other part of my life. Why should I start now?

So, that’s a process and I’m very excited to see where it goes in the future.

All told, I think we’ve touched on a lot of the important things in my life right now! It’s a pretty hectic way to live, but it’s a powerful, thrilling, and enjoyable way. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s a lot I didn’t discuss – there’s been a lot of social justice issues I’ve been tackling, and wedding plans I’ve been considering – but I’ll leave those for another time!

Stay tuned. Thanks for listening. 🙂

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

Posted in Academia and Research, Dreams for the Future, Graduate School, Internships and Work, Love, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on October 30, 2009 by aprilpalo

[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

Monologues, Apples, Drummers, and Chicago

Posted in Dreams for the Future, Love, Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on October 18, 2009 by aprilpalo

I know this post is a little belated, but you’ve gotta forgive me. Between last weekend and this one, I’m ecstatic, but also a little swamped. Let me tell you why:

Chris and I kicked off last weekend with an awesome windfall! In the Wesley Center, my coworker Jane Krentz (director of the McVay Youth Partnership) is also a volunteer at The Guthrie. As a volunteer she gets various ticket packages and performance offers. Well, on Friday morning, she found out that I am studying abroad in Ireland with my fiancee, and offered both of us tickets to The Guthrie’s The Faith Healer! Read more about it here.

So, we jumped at the chance. We got all dressed up in posh clothes, drove downtown, parked, and went on a date to The Guthrie! Neither of us had ever been before. I mean, I’ve been to other theatres in the Twin Cities (The Jungle, Mixed Blood, et cetera), but The Guthrie had always been the elusive white stag. And let me tell you, it was worth the wait. The entire building is a gorgeous work of art – miles of blue, illuminated, glass architecture, surrounded by modern art and a beautiful glimpse of the Minneapolis skyline at every window.

The play itself was great. Four monologues explored three different people’s recollection of the same memories, and as the different versions unraveled, the complex and tragic truth revealed itself. I was fascinated, and it was a great time!

On Saturday, we got up early, bundled up in warm clothes and scratchy scarves, and drove up north of Anoka. Berry Hill Farm is an absolutely adorable little farm in the Minnesota countryside, and we had a blast there! We picked pumpkins, drank apple cider, wandered around the farm, tried homemade apple sundaes with caramel, petted the petting zoo animals (I was a big fan of the sheep), and enjoyed the beautiful, warm fall day.




After we left, we drove to Afton Apple Orchard, out by Woodbury. It was a little too expensive to get in and we were a little short on time, so we just wandered around the gift shop and sampled free apples. We bought a homemade caramel apple wrapped in white paper, and munched tons of slices of fresh, crisp, juicy apples! We even tried apple and pumpkin butters, which I thought were delicious – especially on crackers. Someday we’ll have to come back with a little money and spend some time picking apples – apples are definitely my favorite part of fall!

With our pumpkins bundled safely in the car and our stomachs growling for real food, we made a quick pit stop for dinner before driving to Minneapolis. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where I pulled off the best surprise ever!

A few weeks ago, I was planning our fall date weekend. While I was coordinating it, I saw online that one of Chris and I’s favorite bands of all time were playing at First Ave! So, without even thinking about it, I picked up two tickets. And then…

… I kept it a secret. For two straight weeks. Seriously. TWO WEEKS, I kept the secret! I didn’t. say. a. word.

Chris spent the whole day trying to figure out what we were doing that evening. When we finally pulled up into the parking ramp near First Ave, he still had absolutely no idea what we were doing there. “First Ave?” he asked. “Yep!” I grinned, but didn’t give away the secret. We got in line, and after weeks of anticipation, I finally showed Chris the tickets.

“MUTEMATH?!” he shouted – and he literally jumped up and down, stoked beyond belief. And so was I! And so we both jumped up and down like maniacs. And it was awesome.

Mutemath’s performance was absolutely incredible. The music was album-quality, their energy was ridiculously high and unbelievably addictive, and the spectacle was electrifying. Paul was literally doing flips up into handstands atop his keyboard while singing, and at one point, Darren stood and played his drumsticks… while standing on his bass drum… which was being crowdsurfed above the audience!

It was off the hook and totally wild. I haven’t screamed or laughed or danced that much in a long time – not since Rusted Root, for sure. Mutemath’s art/techno rock was insane, and it was one of the best nights I’ve had recently!

So, that was our weekend! I want to put pics up soon, but in the meantime these will have to do. 🙂


This week is going smoothly and swiftly, which is awesome. My next few days are going to be hectic, but totally worth it – on Saturday, I am flying to O’Hare and spending four days at an international conference in Chicago.

I won a scholarship to attend IFYC’s 2009 “Interfaith Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World” Conference. IFYC is the premiere international nonprofits dedicated to religious pluralism. This is an amazing leadership and networking opportunity for me (and all of us at Multifaith Alliance)! I’m thrilled to have this chance and can’t wait to spend time exploring it.

So, I’ll be running around crazily for a bit, making up for lost time and catching up on homework. See you soon! Thanks for reading!


Posted in Love, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on October 9, 2009 by aprilpalo

[The story of the service project! Cross-posted from Multifaith Alliance. Keep reading to hear my thoughts!]

It’s the first morning after our incredible service project last night, and I can still feel the happiness and gratitude we all felt after such a fun, fulfilling opportunity. Emma Norton’s is an amazing place! Thanks to Emma Norton’s lovely ladies (Lucille, Carol, and Cynthia), we found out a lot of really cool stuff!

It turns out that the real Emma Norton first opened a “Girl’s Club”, a boarding home for young women new to the Twin Cities, in the 1910s and 1920s. Emma Norton’s has continued the tradition of providing housing and assistance for women ever since, including deaf students and hospital outpatients. Today, Emma Norton’s is a home for women battling addiction and mental health issues, many of whom come from homelessness and domestic violence.

The facility provides cozy bedrooms, a kitchen and dining area, several living rooms and lounges, and a nifty little patio. But inside, they provide way more than that. AA meetings and mental health sessions, job trainings and skills development, group events and fun activities – the list goes on and on. Emma Norton’s provides up to fifty women with the long-term stability, care, and resources to get them back on their feet and taking care of themselves.

To help out with this mission, nine of us split up into groups and tackled separate projects. One group scrubbed and disinfected rooms while sharing stories with Emma Norton’s amazing staff. The other group went down into the kitchens and sorted, categorized, and organized two huge, packed freezers! Both of these jobs gave each of us a new insight into the world of Emma Norton’s, and gave us a sharp, powerful look into the daily operations of caring for the underprivileged. Between laughter and sadness, between hard work and a loving community, Multifaith was able to enjoy one of the most powerful two hours we’ve ever had together. I can only reflect with gratitude and pride on the experience we were able to share!

[At this point I’d just like to share my thoughts on the experience, and share with you some of the excitement and passion I feel. Read on… ]

I can’t stop how strongly I want to dedicate my life to this. I can’t stop remembering our experiences last night and dreaming about our opportunities in the future.

I want to volunteer at Emma Norton’s every damn day of the week. I can’t quit thinking about them, soldiering through meal after meal, giving everything they’ve got to provide resources for these women. I want to start organizing funding now to get my communities involved in a big way.

On the one hand, I see organizations like Emma Norton’s struggling to provide, constantly turning away applicants. On the other hand, I see the privileges that I myself can achieve – academics, scholarships like Mahle, research opportunities, involvements with Multifaith and the Oracle, internships at SPIN, SPACC, or IFYC. I can see all of them stretched out in front of me, and I can’t stop myself from planning how I can take advantage of them and give back to what is inspiring me the most.

I definitely want to do another service project again. When I get back from Ireland in the fall, there are opportunities in the pipeline that I intend to explore. Each of these may present leverage to increase my community’s dedication to interfaith activism and service in our world.

Stick with me, everyone. Let’s all make it happen – I don’t want to do anything else!

Service Project THIS WEEK!

Posted in Academia and Research, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on October 5, 2009 by aprilpalo

[Cross-posted from Multifaith Alliance for the Hamline readers among you. Please take a look and RSVP!]

This year, Multifaith Alliance has set ourselves a goal to work on service for our local homeless, food-insecure, and at-risk families. In keeping with that goal, we are currently undertaking our first-ever service project! On Thursday, October 8 at 6:00 pm, we will be meeting in the Bush Student Center Chapel and traveling to Emma Norton’s Residence, a United Methodist-affiliated homeless shelter for women and children in the Twin Cities.

Here is their website:

We’ve been in contact with Lucille, their Volunteer Coordinator, and they are very excited to have us. We’re hoping to coordinate anywhere from ten to twenty Hamline students.

  • Participants will have no financial contribution necessary.
  • Participants will have no other responsibilities besides helping out Thursday evening. Multifaith is arranging everything!
  • Our tasks at Emma Norton’s may include painting, cleaning, sorting donated goods, arranging cards and Thanksgiving/Christmas gifts to residents, and helping out with other chores. It’s also possible that we might try to arrange an activity or discussion with the residents.

Service project participants should get ready for a fun, thought-provoking, and very special act of service. Also, look out for a provocative preparatory session as well as a reflective follow-up session! This is going to be one of the most important projects Multifaith tackles this year, so don’t miss it!

RSVP to April Palo at or Megan Dimond at x2315. Thanks!