Tonight we are honoring “bridge-builders”, people who are making the idea of inter and intra-religious cooperation a reality in the day-to-day life of American social/civic interaction and indeed the world. They are changing the conversation about religion. Here they are:
Abraham’s Vision – An organization that is providing education and vision to young people on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian issue. This is conflict transformation and and youth empowerment at its best.
Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition – A model program, city-wide high school interfaith programming that brings religiously-diverse youth together in dialogue and service.
Berea College – A Christian college in Kentucky. The first to provide a safe space for students of all colors and backgrounds. Berea charges no tuition, but it makes its students work on campus. They continue to provide a safe space.
Joshua Stanton – Nice guy. Joshua is training in the rabbinate. While at Amherst, he started an essay contest that became, in time, an amazing publication: Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Joshua is going to make some amazing things happen.
UPDATE: Rabbi David Saperstein is providing us with an amazing keynote lecture, so I have to update this.
What every religious tradition shares is a focus and belief in justice, peace, and compassion. He spoke about Karen Armstrong’s Compassion Charter. “We don’t exist just for existence’s sake,” said Saperstein. He also quoted Frederick Douglass, whom he referred to as the “American prophet”, saying, “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” and that it was our duty to change things for the better by speaking truth to power.
Rabbi Saperstein said that religion only succeeds when it touches the lives of real people, wherever they are. This means us. Religion and personal faith should drive us towards getting our hands dirty out there and fixing the world: “Dialogue is not enough – it is the doing together that is the essential thing. We can’t just talk about the Torah, we have to do the Torah.”
“Hate crimes are more than just individual crimes – they are meant to target, terrorize, and delegitimize an entire people.” They tear open the threads of diversity that have created America. I’m going to stop putting quotes around things because everything that I type is Saperstein and it’s ALL GOOD. Religions stand together on issues of religious freedoms whenever they are attacked in America. If any group can have their rights denied, all groups can have their rights denied. The struggle against religious persecution worldwide is also important to this nation. Legislation in 1998 mandated an annual reporting structure to detail religious persecution in places across the globe.
The international religious community works together day after day to speak out for human rights, 3rd world debt forgiveness, humanitarian laws, prison reform, food issues, peacebuilding processes, and all sorts of things. All people of good conscience work together on the global stage. Darfur never would have been a big issue if it weren’t for religious communities standing up and speaking up. Still, there is a lot of work to do.
OK, Rabbi Saperstein is reading some poetry right now and it’s wrecking me. His speaking is powerful. He’s telling us to go out and live fully in faith and fix the broken bits. He’s shouting, but he’s shouting from some deepness of heart that we should all hope to one day display to the world.
“If we do not speak out to protect God’s creation, who will?” We’ve seen the whole earth from outer space, and we can now see the entire creation and at the same time all the negative things that we are doing to it. “This earth is our Garden and this time we risk not expulsion but devastation.” Wow.
This sense of urgency animates our work. The interfaith movement is testifying to the fact that we can be and must be and will be the shapers of a better and more hopeful future. I’m crying right now.
So Rabbi Saperstein went on and took questions for a while, and I did my best to compose myself. What an amazing speech/exhortation – he finished by blessing our work and us. Whew. I need a nap.