When I was considering which YAV site I wanted to be placed at, I was somewhat torn. I didn’t doubt that my experience at any of them would be immense and life-changing in some way, or even that I would be glad I decided to go there. Each of the options I looked at provided some incredible opportunities. But I knew that the specific reasons I would be glad I went, and the specific ways in which my life would change, would be vastly different depending on which site I went to. The task I had at that time was to try to predict what kind of specifically improved person I was going be glad to have become, before I began to become that person- and then to figure out which site would most help make that happen.
At some point during my discernment, I was on the phone with my older sister, and we ended up discussing some of my options. When she asked me why I was potentially interested in Indy, I said, “Well I really like that the focus is interfaith. But I don’t know if that’s a reason to go there. I already know interfaith work is important. I don’t need to spend a year learning that.”
She responded with something along the lines of: “If interfaith work is so important to you, then why don’t you do it?”
Looking back, the real issue was probably more that the idea of living in Indianapolis for a year paled in comparison to the idea of living somewhere like South Korea for a year, and I was just making excuses. But I couldn’t deny that my sister had a good point. My YAV year wasn’t just going to be about learning about new issues (though that’s still a major and important aspect); it was going to be about doing work that matters to me, and exploring into causes I care about personally.
So I came here to learn about and engage in interfaith work. Though my service at Habitat branches out to other things as well, that’s still the foremost part of my answer whenever somebody asks me why I’m doing a year of service in Indy. And not everybody reacts to that answer the same way.
Early on in my year, my boss took one of my coworkers and me to a prayer breakfast downtown, with a lot of movers and shakers of the Christian Church in Indianapolis. For those of you who, like me up until that point, have never been to a prayer breakfast- I can’t say whether or not they’re all like this one was, but here’s what they’re like if they are:
Essentially, a prayer breakfast is when a bunch of rich Christians get dressed up all nice, and meet in a big fancy room. There, they eat a big fancy breakfast, and at some point, start lifting up big fancy prayers about the needs of the city. These prayers then allow all the big fancy people there to feel good about helping out with all the dirty and/or complicated things going on in the world. It’s a really great system, because, since they can now feel good about themselves, they no longer have to take any concrete action to help out with the dirty and/or complicated things, as a group which considers themselves the hands and feet of Christ might do. Hooray.
In fairness, not all the people there were disconnected sycophants. I know at least some of the people there would go on to do real, helpful things in the world. And I believe even the majority of the people whom I rudely labelled sycophants just moments ago had to have been at least partially, if not mostly, well-intentioned. Either way, none of that is really the point; that’s all just to describe where I was when this next bit took place.
The lady who was sitting next to me and I struck up a conversation before all the praying started, and over the course of that conversation, as is the way with such things, it was revealed that I was in Indy for interfaith work. Moments later, I found out that this lady happened to be of the variety of person I mentioned earlier who doesn’t react very positively toward hearing about interfaith work. Initially, she just seemed confused. Then, there was a little back-and-forth, wherein it became clear she didn’t think I should be so reckless as to listen to the perspectives and experiences of people from other religions, particularly when it came to matters of religion. I don’t remember a lot of what we discussed, but I do remember at one point she asked the question: “Aren’t you worried you’ll lose your faith?”
I had no answer for that. Not in an “I’m so angry; I’m speechless!” way, but simply because I had never really considered it that way before. At the time, I was only able to fumble out something along the lines of, “Umm… no. Not really.” But months later, this incident came back to mind, and I realized what my answer to her question really was.
I’m not afraid I’ll lost my faith as a result of interfaith involvement. I’m afraid that, without it, I have no faith.
My faith teaches me that all people bear the Image of God. My faith teaches me that the greatest commandment we ever received was to love God, and love one another. My faith teaches me that God is infinite, and that God extends God’s grace to all people, through that unimaginable and insurmountably loving infinity. These are not just little quirks about my faith that I made up; they are part of the foundation of who God is, and who we are, according to the Christian tradition. If I discount, avoid, or neglect the experiences and understandings of another person simply because they are not my own, I am running away from the Image of God as it’s been presented to me.
I could point to endless scripture, doctrine, and personal experiences that back me up on this, and even carry that point further still, but that’s not the purpose of this blog. In a pathetically egotistical way with which I’m still coming to terms, this blog is just supposed to be about how I’ve grown over the course of my YAV year.
Before I came here, I knew interfaith work was important, and I almost left it at that. When I started out here, I was eager to get involved, but I had no idea how to describe that to strangers. As I move forward here, the experiences I’m having are slowly giving me the understanding and the words necessary to describe the imperative I believe God has for us to work together, for one another, regardless of our backgrounds. And that’s why I’m here.