by Adah Shair (Interfaith Center Student Assistant and Better Together @ UNF Officer
The first Talk Better Together of the semester, formerly known as Text Study, was held on the 11th of September in the Interfaith Center/Women’s center lounge. September 11, a day that evokes memories of loss and fear. The image of the Twin Towers on fire forever printed in the memories of those who witnessed how one day, one unfortunate event changed the course the world would take. Marking 9/11’s 13th anniversary, UNF Interfaith center made an attempt to bring together the scriptures from four different faiths to reflect upon their similarities and differences. So in this conference of scriptures sat representatives from Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i faith and the conversation of the night was what is it in that faith that drives its adherents to do service work. As the verses, quotes and personal stories from the various faiths floated in the room, a common theme arose; Service isn’t confined to a trip to Salvation Army or a Saturday spent at HabbiJax. As is mentioned in the scriptures from the Bah’ai faith, service is our everyday lives, every time we smile at someone, greet someone, share half our granola bar with our friend in class, take the trash out for someone else; it’s all the little things we do because we think they are the right things to do.
Let him to do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. (‘Abdu’l-Baha:Selections from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha).
The word for Charity in the Jewish tradition is “Tzedekah,” which in Hebrew means Righteousness/Justice and not charity. Perhaps the work I do in serving others is not an extraordinary trait of my moral character, but a basic obligation to be fulfilled as a human, as part of a greater contract I signed when I was granted the privilege to be human.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, ……….. you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” ~ Leviticus 19:9-10
You shall leave them for the poor…, not hand it to them as a token of charity, but just leave it for them so they could collect it themselves, being helped and preserving their sense of dignity at the same time.
A similar theme of service without involving the self can be seen in a quote by one of the most prominent Persian Sufi poets, Hafiz.
Even After All this time The Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the Whole Sky.
Sometimes our judgment comes before our instinct to serve. I had this experience while serving breakfast to people experiencing homelessness during my alternate spring break trip to D.C. I felt an unknown fear when the doors of the church opened to welcome all those waiting at its doorstep for a warm meal. I tried to overcome that fear by convincing myself that I was the one helping and they were the ones who needed my help. I was in a better position, I need not be afraid.
How arrogant! Little did I know about their stories!
I judged them on the situation they were in: once chefs and musicians, researchers and writers, then an unfortunate series of events – and now people experiencing homelessness. Before that experience, I may have referred to them as homeless people, because to me their only identity was a lack of home. I did not know their multiple identities – their wealth of stories. Now if one asks me, I will say ‘a person who is experiencing homelessness.’ It may seem trivial to change a few words in a sentence, but it also changes the way I think about the matter. The story of the Samaritan narrated in Luke (10:30-35) shows how it is important to serve without judging the person we have the privilege to serve. The Samaritan helped a man beaten by robbers on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a path too dangerous to be travelled alone. The Samaritan did not judge the man on taking that path alone nor pondered whether it was worth helping him since he was responsible for his fate. He helped him regardless.
UNF is part of the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, a White House initiative aimed at bringing people from different worldviews and backgrounds together to do community service (http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ofbnp/interfaithservice). This year UNF has adopted the challenge of Humanizing Homelessness through Storytelling,Education and Service. As Better Together @ UNF, in collaboration with other clubs on campus, proceeds with this year’s challenge, I hope I remember the lessons I learned from this Text Study; service can be as simple as acknowledging a person experiencing homelessness by smiling at him/her, to judge the people I serve is to negate my own service. I don’t need a lot to serve. I don’t have to be rich or retired to serve.
At this very moment, as a broke and overworked college student, I know that I have enough to serve……
I am enough to serve.