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Bay Area Interfaith Connect

Additional News Stories from 2014


Making Statements; Taking Sides

As the bombings and shellings continue in Israel and the Gaza Strip and the human toll rises every day, those of us who devote ourselves to building peace and relationships of respect and appreciation between religious communities find ourselves faced with a profound crisis. In situations where opposing viewpoints threaten to divide people and communities profoundly, leading even to physical violence far from “ground zero,” what is our role? Where do we stand? What can we say?

In the contemporary world of instant “communication,” the ease of posting one’s opinion, stripped of subtlety by limits of time, text, or twitter, coupled with the anonymity that the net often provides, makes it easy to “weaponize” our words, as Rabbi Joshua Stanton warns at the Huffington Post. He writes, "...to weaponize our words only reinforces the conflicts themselves and increases the harm that they do. Our opinions might rightly be deeply held, but our choice of words can be one of our most important deeds."

Perhaps more than at any time we are called upon to exercise the skills and attitudes that (one hopes) we have been able to develop in our encounters with one another in less fraught circumstances. We can encounter one another with the intention to learn, not simply make declarations, and work towards trust, not suspicion of one another’s intentions. We measure another’s actions by a self-critical awareness of our own actions, rather than holding them to ideal standards that we ourselves do not observe. We do not assume we know where conflicts or differences exist before listening carefully to one another. And we always make the effort to understand the others’ perspective, never losing sight of our shared humanity.*

When lines get drawn so vividly, it sometimes seems that there is no alternative. You are either for, or you are against; you are either right or you are wrong; you must choose: which side are you on? Perhaps our challenge is both to discover a third way and to lift it up. To stand in the middle and listen to both (all) sides. To live in the tension of unresolved conflict, seeking to live into a new way of being human that encompasses both.

This past week, Rev. Paul Brandeis Rauschenbush, Executive Religion Editor at Huffington Post, and some of his colleagues invited people to share “A Moment for Peace.” He wrote:

“It's true, A Moment of Peace online may not offer any tangible results. It is foolish in the face of real war and death to expect too much from any initiative, especially an online gathering. But can we suspend our cynicism for just a moment and be a part of something positive? If nothing else, we are inviting you to take your place among those who still believe peace is possible, among those who still have hope.”

Our challenge is to find and defend that human space in the middle of conflict.

*The skills and attitudes are distilled from Leonard Swidler’s Dialogue Decalogue. Although developed in the context of Jewish/Christian dialogue, the principles hold true for dialogue in other contexts, as well.

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InterFaith Tour in the Bay Area

"Is interfaith cooperation a means or an end?" "Is there a difference between tolerance, coexistence, cooperation, and appreciation?" and "What message would you give to young people about getting involved in interfaith work?" Those were just a few of the questions local interfaith leaders were asked recently by three French students who have been traveling around the world to explore and document interfaith cooperation.

Victor Grezes, Josselin Rieth, and Ismaël Medjdoub are part of a five-person world tour sponsored by Coexister, the Youth Interfaith Movement in France and SparkNews, an organization encouraging the sharing of inspiring stories. All students in their 20's, an atheist, an agnostic, and a Muslim, they have been traveling with two others, a Christian and a Jew, on the InterFaith Tour. Since July of 2013 they have met more than 470 activists in more than 45 countries. They had a private audience with Pope Francis, met the Great Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, the Maronite Patriarch in Lebanon, and many local activists.

The Interfaith Center at the Presidio was instrumental in setting up interviews and connecting them with events in our area, and many of the people they met were closely connected with ICP. The three (the other two were elsewhere for this stretch) spent a week in the Bay Area, their first stop on the U.S. leg of their visit, and then will be on their way to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington.

Their goal is not merely to meet and talk, but to share what they have learned as they travel and to end their journey with a “Tour de France” that will take them throughout their own country to communicate the importance of interfaith cooperation and how it’s being done around the world. You can find out about them and their travels at their website (www.interfaithtour.com/en/), on Facebook , YouTube, Twitter (@InterFaithTour), and Instagram.

During their week in the Bay Area, they were able to attend the URI Circles of Light Gala on Saturday, March 22, and then on Monday to interview Bishop Bill Swing and staff at the URI headquarters at the Presidio and, at the Presidio Chapel, meet with Rev. Paul Chaffee, former Director of ICP and current editor of The Interfaith Observer. Tuesday found them in San Jose, talking with Rev. Andrew Kille, Chair of SiVIC, the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council and Editor of Bay Area Interfaith Connect; Maha ElGenaidi and Henry Millstein of ING, and Saher Sidiquee, a Muslim student in the campus ministry at Santa Clara University. Saher later took the three to the campus.

On Wednesday, they met Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition on Immigrant Rights project of Clergy & Laity United, and later talked with ICP Managing Director Linda Crawford, Board member and founder Rita Semel, and Michael Pappas of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. In the evening, they were able to attend the “Building Bridges” dinner sponsored by SFIC.

Thursday found them in Berkeley, where they interviewed former ICP board member and Director of Operations for The Chaplaincy Institute Vanessa Brake and longtime ICP board member and Elder of the Covenant of the Goddess, Don Frew. Don gave them a tour of the Adenocentyn Research Library, a significant collection of works by and about Pagans.  (“Our first meeting with a Wiccan!” they tweeted.) They ended their week in the East Bay, talking with Fr. Tom Bonacci at the Interfaith Peace Project and Rev. Will McGarvey, Director of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County.

The InterFaith Tour has already stirred up interest and excitement, drawing together a world-wide network of people and organizations to inspire further cooperative work. We look forward to hearing more about them in the months ahead.


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