Anxiety and Hope

We sometimes wonder what Interfaith activities do- for our own walk with Jesus, and for our relationships with those around us. Valerie Hoffman shares her experience of The CU Campus/Community Interfaith Exploration: Cultivating Hope in Anxious Times. May her reflection invite your to enter more deeply into your relationship with the Lord. 

Since May 2018, I and two colleagues in the Department of Religion at the University of Illinois have met every month with Pastor Michael Crosby of First Mennonite Church, Rabbi Alan Cook of Sinai Temple, and Imam Ousmane Sawadogo of Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center (CIMIC), in what became the steering committee of the CU Campus/Community Interfaith Exploration.

We put together a series of events that took place in the last two weeks and called the program “Cultivating Hope in Anxious Times.” The anxiety in the title is that caused by fear mongering and hate crimes in our world today; hope is cultivated by reaching across boundaries to stand in solidarity with those who are threatened and to embrace the beauty of our diversities.  

The series began with a lecture on Oct. 31 by Harvard Professor Francis Clooney, a Jesuit priest and scholar of Hinduism, on how studying Hinduism made him a better Catholic.

On Nov. 7 we heard a lecture by Dr. Eboo Patel, a UIUC alumnus and founder of Interfaith Youth Core.  On Nov. 8, Professor Mark Swanson of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago described changes in Muslim–Christian (especially Lutheran) relations in Chicago over the last few decades, moving from dialogue to solidarity and joint activism.

That evening, CIMIC hosted a dinner and we listened to a panel of scholars from different faith traditions. The next day, Sinai Temple hosted a lunch and a panel of local faith leaders. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, Ted & Co. TheaterWorks presented “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy 2.0: The Fear Version.”

Attending these events was enlightening and deeply moving.  All the speakers and events emphasized that interfaith work does not try to eliminate or resolve our differences; it does not mean that we have to feel that any faith is as good as another.

Eboo Patel encouraged us to embrace the glory of our own traditions, to be fully grounded in our own faiths, as a basis for interfaith engagement.  How can we be grounded in our faith in Christ while cooperating with people of other faiths and celebrating the diversity of views on God and the world?  

Professor Swanson argued that there is no better way to get a Christian theological education than in conversation with other faiths, because it forces us to go deep.  Seeing the coherence of other faiths and even glimpsing their beauty can enrich our own spiritual lives.

Likewise, Professor Clooney’s approach to Hindu texts is not to accept or reject them, but to create a space where his spiritual life is deepened at the level of the imagination, and by incorporating new, enriching practices. He said we should give witness to the beauty of our faith without seeking to prove the falseness of another religion.  

Dr. Safwat Marzouk of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, who spoke on the panel at CIMIC, pointed out that Micah 4 describes people from many nations coming to the mountain of the Lord, to learn His ways and walk in His paths.

All the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever. Micah 4:5

The passage recognizes that people are not all the same, but they can nonetheless move and work together. We need to accept and even celebrate our differences.

Rabbi Cook said that forgetting that we are children of God is one of the greatest sins, and that recognizing the broader fellowship of humanity is a solution to brokenness.  

At the end of the panel at CIMIC, the Muslims prayed the evening prayer, and then the Jews prayed the Sabbath prayer in the mosque sanctuary. It was a precious, holy moment. By the end of the beautiful and uplifting session at Sinai Temple, it was easy to see the light of God in each of the 200 diverse individuals in that room.

May we all have more such beautiful occasions!

Valerie Hoffman
November 12, 2019
Bulletin: 11/10
Order of Service: 11/10
Sermon: Completion: God’s Goal for Us Humans (Hebrews)

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