Sunday, March 25, 2012

Interfaith service: What's the big idea?

Parnian Parvin-Nejad '13

The phrase "interfaith service" itself sounds like a noble undertaking, but once you think about it, its meaning is not quite as clear.  What exactly is so special about doing community service with a group of people of different faiths?  Many faiths include service to the community as a component of putting their beliefs into practice, or in the case of Abrahamic religions, as a way to serve God.  That's an easy answer for the "faith service" part, but the "inter-" part still remains to be clarified.  Half of our ASB trip is focused on this idea of “interfaith” volunteering, but before the trip, it was still not entirely obvious to me why.  Half What benefit is to be gained in bringing together people of different faiths to do service rather than drawing from a single belief system?
Thanks in part to the discussion we had with a representative from the President’s Office of Faith-Based Community Partnerships, I think I am on my way to an answer to this question.  We started off our discussion with the representative, Clay, with his introduction to the initiatives organized by the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS), such as AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity.  He explained to us the difference between stupidity (a refusal to learn or a determination to retain incorrect assumptions) and ignorance (a willingness to fill in the spaces of incomplete knowledge)
It is difficult to remain “stupid” about a group’s beliefs when you see them actively engaging in good works as an expression of faith.  This is one important facet to interfaith service, but not the only one 
For me, the most valuable element of interfaith service is the structure that it engenders for interfaith dialogue and understanding.  In the past few days of our trip, I have had so many deep conversations with my companions about the most fundamental values of our beliefs.  We have spoken about the definitions of these values, their applications in our lives, and their similarities and differences.  At one point, we even developed our own definition of love as it can apply to God and many other relationships.  By exchanging parts of our faiths, we have been better able to understand each other— and better able to understand ourselves.

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