From Champaign to Chicago

On Sunday, November 7th, Interfaith in Action, along with the Religious Studies Student Association (RSSA) took a trip up to Chicago.  It was an ALL-DAY affair, literally — we left Champaign at 6:15 am and returned at 11:45 pm.  By the time we got back to the train station, everyone was dead tired.  However, the trip was definitely worth it.

At the beginning of the semester, Professor Mohammed Khalil had suggested to Emily and me that the RSSA go up to Chicago to see some devotional sites we don’t have access to in Champaign-Urbana.  At the moment, the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette is the only Baha’i temple in North America.  We felt very lucky that it was so near to us; we had to seize the opportunity to take a tour.   Additionally, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, nearby in Chicago, is the oldest Orthodox church in the area.  Again, we felt it was a wonderful chance to see something we aren’t able to in Champaign.

The train ride up was interesting; personally I had never been on a train before, so I had a great time!  Most people slept, and we seemed to arrive at Chicago Union Station relatively quickly.  We all headed over to CVS to purchase CTA day passes, then made our way to the nearest ‘L’ stop.  On the subway, we met up with a friend of Emily’s who is very active in the Interfaith community at DePaul University.  It was a great chance to talk about the different events his group does, and exchange ideas.

Once we got to the Baha’i House of Worship, we were joined by Professor Khalil and a group of students from Elmhurst College.  The tour was only of the visitor’s center, but was incredibly informative.  Our group asked so many questions, and the tour took up all the time we had allowed.  It was awesome that all the students were so interested in learning all they could about the faith.  After the tour, we headed upstairs to the main prayer hall for an interfaith prayer service.  The prayer hall was amazing.  I have never seen architecture like it in person before.  The prayer service was pretty interesting as well; about seven speakers read from holy books of different faiths, and one woman sang a devotional song in Arabic.  The congregation was completely silent the entire time, and that definitely added to the atmosphere.

The Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL

After leaving the Baha’i temple, we all grabbed lunch nearby.  Everyone had a great time; the food was great, and so was the company.  Again, it was awesome to mingle with students from other schools who are also involved in interfaith work.

The Elmhurst and DePaul students left after lunch, and the UIUC students piled into Professor Khalil’s minivan and went to Holy Trinity Cathedral.  Archpriest John Adamcio gave us a tour of the small but beautiful church.  Outside, the building was nondescript, but we all wondered about the cross at the top of the steeple.  It looked different than the cross we typically see, in that it had three crossbars instead of only one.  Inside, walls and ceiling were covered with icons and gorgeous murals and paintings.  They had recently had a holiday, so we were also lucky to see many flowers and candles decorating the rooms.  This semester I am taking an Islamic Architecture class, so I have been seeing pictures of the insides of mosques since August.  Mosques never have figural art, because of the tradition of aniconism.  For this reason, being inside an Orthodox church was especially intriguing for me.

Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago, IL

After we left Holy Trinity, we had a few hours until our train left for Champaign at 8 pm.  We took the ‘L’ to Millenium park, and walked around Chicago for a while.  Instead of having dinner, we went to Ghirardelli and had chocolate (what?? yep!).  It was a really good time.

Best dinner ever? Yep.

We actually just made it to the train at about 7:58, but everyone got on safely, and we made it home (after some delays) at 11:45 pm.  The trip was awesome, and I’m hoping the RSSA and Interfaith can come together to do something like this every semester.

Katie Ryan, Interfaith in Action & Religious Studies Student Association

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Don’t buttonhole someone for the sake of a clean button-up

Cameron leading the panel

I remember when I was in the second grade, I met a weird kid in another class who seemed terrifically hyperactive, had a propensity for getting in trouble, and could not tolerate standing outside the locus of attention. Quite a few of my friends knew him (we’ll call him J.), but I didn’t really see the point in instigating conversation—I was, after all, almost a diametric opposite of this kid, and why would I want him to disrupt my time being self-righteous and calculated? He might dirty up my button-up.

But, one day during a tornado-drill, we were shepherded out into the hallway and I found myself wedged between J. and the grimy underside of a water fountain. Given little choice, I actually ended up talking to him and—marvel of marvels—we hit it off. J. was to become one of my best friends, and for the next eight years, we would be almost inseparable. I don’t know what it is that makes us want to define ourselves against others—all I could see in J. was everything I wasn’t, for instance—rather than simply talking to them in an attempt to know who they really are (as opposed to our constructed versions of them), but it yields no benefit.

Tuesday night (Oct. 26th), I had the wonderful opportunity of hosting/facilitating an Interfaith panel discussion here on campus. We had a diverse panel comprised of Jessica Cavanagh, Program Director at Hillel, Fr. Tim Hallett, Rector of Chapel of St. John the Divine, Dr. Rini Mehta, Visiting Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Rachel Storm, co-founder of Interfaith Atheists, Agnostics & Humanists, and Muhammad Abdullah, Muslim Community Activist, who each discussed what their respective traditions said about social activism and service. During the hour-long discussion, followed by a few audience questions, the Murphy Lounge in the YMCA on Wright Street became a location much like that of the water fountain that day in my second grade year—it allowed people of dissimilar beliefs to talk to one another, and the result was enlightening.

As the night wore on and the panelists opened up to one another (and to the audience), all present were treated to a great discussion that moved from simple citations of scripture to well informed criticisms and back again. By coming together in conversation in dialogues like this one, we can develop a mutual respect for one another underpinned by our similarities, rather than the (at times, more natural) means of defining ourselves by our differences.

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There and Back Again



Greg, Ross, Cameron & Adam

Interfaith studs - Greg, Ross, Cameron & Adam

I am by nature a skeptic. Routinely, I over analyze and over think, what to many would be simple problems. So obviously when I arrived in DC for the IFYC Leadership Institute, I had lingering doubt as to the prospects of an interfaith movement of this scale actually working. The Better Together campaign is a campaign of such scale and such ambition that it’s hard to wrap your mind around what the IFYC is really pushing for at first. The thought that kept on running through my mind as we entered our first session was people have been deeply divided across religious lines for literally thousands of years; what are a group of 100 college students going to do about that?

By Saturday night I had an answer to my question that erased my cynicism and satisfied the skeptic. It came from the simplicity of the IFYC message and a short but important conversation with my roommate for the weekend.

The idea that we should focus on our shared values while embracing each other’s differences in order to work for the common good is beautiful in its simplicity and revolutionary in its implications. But, as we all know, a message is nothing but words on a paper if it cannot inspire action and have some sort of real world results.

These real world results are what I was looking for and what I craved. I got my real world results on Saturday morning while getting ready to head out to Georgetown with my roommate for the weekend. He made a comment in passing that in his many years of traveling he had never stayed in a hotel with someone that was not of his faith. I was worried that he was feeling a touch uneasy, but all my fears were gone when he said with a sincere smile: “this works Adam”.

In three words he summed up everything that was right with interfaith. Here was a middle aged Muslim and an atheist college student sharing a room; we were not just tolerating each other, but legitimately enjoying each other’s company. This was not forced. This was wholly organic. For me this turned into a microcosm of everything that the interfaith movement can and should be.

It wasn’t until a couple hours later that I realized that the skeptic inside of me had been satisfied and silenced. This Better Together campaign can work. And, if I have anything to say about it, it will work. We will change the world. We can and will be better together.

– Adam Garner, Interfaith in Action

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Excited for the New School Year

Dear friends and supporters of interfaith,

I hope that the new school year has been treating you well!

Two weeks ago, I was driving up to Chicago in nervous anticipation for the fall training retreat of the Interfaith Youth Core’s Fellow Alliance. Did I really belong there with the guy who built houses in Nicaragua over the summer? The girl who did a presentation at the World Youth Congress in Istanbul? Or the countless others who spent their summers as interns at non-profit organizations? My summer of Physics 101 and making gyros for Zorba’s seemed very unimportant in comparison.

Over the course of our four day training, I got to know nineteen of the most inspiring interfaith student leaders that our country has to offer. As it turns out, I had worried needlessly. Every one of us had fears and concerns, but also areas of great strength. All of us had been chosen for a reason, and I learned so much from each of them. I can only hope that we will continue to learn from each other throughout our year as Fellows and beyond.

Though it was wonderful finally getting to meet the other Fellows, that was not the sole purpose of the retreat. The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) is launching an exciting new project called the Better Together Campaign. This semester I will be working to put together a steering committee made up of student leaders from religious, multi-cultural and service organizations to launch an awareness campaign on campus surrounding a social justice issue of our choosing. We will be asking the University of Illinois, “What if?”

What if we let our differences stand in the way of working together for the common good? What if we never interacted with someone outside of our own faith background? What if we actively worked together to create a world of religious cooperation and peace? What could we accomplish?

The IFYC asks, “What if Martin Luther King Jr. rejected Gandhi’s value of nonviolence because he was Hindu?” How would our country be different today? In a world where religious violence is at the forefront of the evening news and splashed across the front pages of newspapers, it is time that we take action. The stories that the world needs to hear are about the non-Muslim students who participated in “Wear a Hijab Day” at Hamline University or the interfaith group at Wesleyan University, CT who raised over $14,000 last week during Fast-a-thon.

Last semester, over 5,000 people from the University of Illinois and Champaign-Urbana community came together over the period of two days to package more than one million meals to send to Haiti. I feel immensely grateful to be a part of such an amazing and supportive community. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish this year! Our story is only just beginning.

Your President,
Emily Ansusinha

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