by Ne’Shaun Borden, Interfaith Center Student Assistant
The Interfaith Center wasted no time jumping into spring semester with great events. During the spring “First Week” we kicked off the first day of class with a conversation led by Kalilah where she discussed the way she makes meaning as an agnostic woman. The next day we had a great i-dinner with delicious Thai food from Pattaya Thai and an awesome trivia game that was challenging and engaging. The following week it was time for my favorite Interfaith Center event, Talk Better Together, formerly known as the Text Study.
Talk Better Together was held at 6 pm on January 15th, 2015 in the lounge shared by the Women’s Center and the Interfaith Center. We kicked off the night with pizza, getting nice and full as we prepared to discuss what the Christian New Testament, the Torah, the Baha’I writings, and the Quran said about interfaith cooperation. As relevant as the topic is to all of the work we do here at the interfaith center, I have to say that I was not excited about this topic. This all changed after we started, the conversation got really deep really fast.
Hana kicked off the Talk Better Together with a quote from Baha’u’llah, who is the founder of the Baha’i faith. Every text study I struggle to process the Baha’i text so I made sure that I was listening carefully. Baha’u’llah said, “The prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the wellbeing of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, that may heal the sickness of a divided humanity.” Hana followed this with another quote from Abdul-Baha that stated “Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home”. If this does not scream interfaith cooperation then I am not sure what does. We had some of the most fruitful discussion related to this topic. Matt, the Christian facilitator pointed out that the word for spirit in Hebrew is breath (Ruach). He shared connecting that understanding of “spirit” from the Hebrew, to the Baha’i writings, that from this text he believes that we should all be one breath. I took from this that the problem is not that there is division or that we have different religions – the problem is how we handle it.
Adah delivered the Muslim text. Chapter 49, verse 13 of the Quran states “O, mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” To me what stuck out in this verse is the importance of “knowing” your neighbor. That to me tells me that God wants us to be in deep meaningful relationships with our neighbors. We also discussed the difference between being noble and being righteous. At first glance they seem interchangeable but they are not. In this context we are distinguishing between birth order and acts.
Next up was the Christian text. Matt gave us scriptures that pointed out great interfaith cooperation in the bible. He referenced Matthew 25:31-40 that says that when the son of man comes in his glory that he will separate all the people and those at his right hand will enter the kingdom because of the good deeds that they have done for their neighbor. In this scripture he says to them “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ So what is God telling us to do? It seemed to me that he is calling us to serve all of our brothers and sisters regardless of their beliefs, God has called Christians to do interfaith cooperation.
Finally, Rachael delivered the Jewish text. She referenced Genesis and Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin Chapter 4 which comes from the Talmud. In the Talmud it says that “And (man was created alone) for the sake of peace among creations, that one person cannot say to his friend, ‘My father is greater than your father’… another very clear instruction that as people we were made to serve others and keep the peace.
A few weeks after Talk Better Together, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Eboo Patel speak. Eboo Patel is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core and author of Acts of Faith and Sacred Ground. Hearing Dr. Patel speak about the Civil Rights movement as an interfaith movement, I really understood how I can play a role in this work. I know now that no matter our beliefs we can come together for the common good. I also realized that the common good at UNF may look very different than at Harvard. In knowing that, it is up to us to access the needs of our community to determine meaningful service projects that can hopefully help to build bridges of cooperation. Thinking back to Talk Better Together and the Interfaith movement it seems that we can use our beliefs to build bridges instead of barriers.