On Nov. 13 Northeastern Illinois University had its 14th annual interfaith conference. Even though I’ve got to-do items as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, I accepted the invitation to participate because I remembered how thought-provoking last year’s program was (see my 2-part blog entry “Interfaith Initiative”).
When I arrived on campus and made my way to the Student Union, I encountered the half-head. It was my first time to actually see the Ten Thousand Ripples sculpture. It wasn’t as large as I expected but still disconcerting to see – the sheared off face perched on a concrete corner (see photo below from NEIU’s Twitter feed).
In the next event, a panel about interfaith relations, I spoke about the support I received from my interfaith colleagues from various faith traditions for opening up a discussion of the Ten Thousand Ripples project (see previous blog entry about the Treasures of Uptown event). I said Buddhism is about always learning from others and not claiming only we have the absolute truth.
In Rabbi Brant Rosen’s presentation, the thing that struck me was how his tradition has to wrestle with parts of their history where they wreaked destruction on peoples of other faiths. He said Jews have to own the whole tradition with “the good, bad and the ugly.” Instead of rationalizing away the bloody incidents of the past, they must disavow such actions and attitudes now and into the future.
In the next session was a chance for students to share their views on interfaith relations. The majority of those young men and women who spoke up were Muslims. They see the need for interfaith forums so their fellow students could better understand that they follow a faith of peace and hear how hurt they feel when they’re lumped in with bomb-throwers. To me it’s always refreshing to see the Muslim women looking so stylish in their hijabs (and a few wore veils below their eyes). They prove that women don’t have to practically reveal their whole bodies to look fashionable.
One African American woman became tearful saying she’s been subjected to condemnation by her family for not joining their religion (which she didn’t identify). She said she tried several religions and found she couldn’t believe in any of them. She said she didn’t want her child to join a religion if it makes him hateful as her family members have been toward her. After the session the Interfaith Youth Core representative went to speak to the student. I wondered what she was saying to her since the words seemed to comfort her. My hope is that the young mother will find that in interfaith forums no one will condemn her for not joining a religion and that it’s okay to not believe in any particular faith. In fact, anyone who wouldn’t embrace her as a fellow human being can no way be considered a truly religious person.