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Acts of Faith

Eboo Patel
Eboo Patel participated in the Wake Forest University Voices of Our Time speaker series in 2012 and has been a part of numerous interfaith efforts, including President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighbor-hood Partnerships. He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, USA Today and CNN.

Building the Interfaith Youth Core

posted Jul 16, 2012, 6:59 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the ninth and final installment in our look at “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 

 

Chapter 8 -- Acts of Faith:  Building the Interfaith Youth Core

 

        When Jeff Pinzino, Eboo’s friend from college and a partner in the Habitat project in India, returned to Chicago, he was determined to start the foundation for the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).  He began gathering followers and laid the groundwork for the Chicago Youth Council and the Day of Interfaith Youth Service.

        In mid-2002 as Eboo was completing his doctorate, Jeff was feeling that his work with IFYC was over.  Eboo stepped in and began expanding the network of relationships and looking for funding.  Ron Kinnamon, a former YMCA executive, told Eboo:  “‘We in America knew something about living in a Judeo-Christian society, but we know nothing about living in a multifaith society.  I think it’s going to be young people who lead us into this new reality.’”

        Tapping financial resources in Chicago’s deep-pocket foundations was not easy.  Religious organizations were not at the top of their agenda, even if they proposed mobilizing youth to build religious pluralism.  “After months of frustration, I finally met a foundation person who saw the potential of the IFYC.  Zahra Kassam, a young Muslim at the Ford Foundation with a degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, immediately understood the IFYC’s vision and methodology.

        “When the Ford Foundation grant ($35,000) was finalized…my friend Joe Hall…gave me a gold piece of advice: a grant from a major foundation can be worth three times the amount of the actual check if you leverage it right.”  Soon, additional foundations paid attention in a whole new way, and IFYC raised more than $100,000 in a few months.

        The IFYC then was able to hire its first full-time paid staff person, April Kunze, an Evangelical Christian who had become uncomfortable with what that designation had come to mean in contemporary America.  While president of the campus Evangelical Christian group at Carleton College, she worked with students in the organization to help raise money and volunteers to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down in a hate crime.  Several members of the group refused to help, saying that it showed the Muslim community that God was displeased with their “devil worship.”  April was deposed as president, and she refused to have anything to do with organized Christianity.

        With staff help on board, Eboo reached out to religious leaders.  “They were universally apprehensive about involving their young people.  ‘We barely have enough time to teach our kids about their own religion.  It’s just not a high enough priority to spend that precious time exposing them to others.’”

        Eboo told a senior person at the Diocese of Chicago that “today’s youths…are coming into contact with kids from different backgrounds all the time.  If they don’t have a way of understanding how their faith relates to the Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Evangelicals, and others that they spent most of their lives around, then there’s a good chance that their religious identities will atrophy.’”

        So what is the IFYC approach?  Eboo calls it shared values-service learning.  “We begin by identifying the values that religious communities hold in common – hospitality, cooperation, compassion, mercy.  We bring a group of religiously diverse young people together and ask them, ‘How does your religion speak to this value?’”

        Once the door was open to meet with representatives of youth groups and with youth themselves the light began to dawn on others.  Eboo recalls one discussion with a high school student at the Muslim Education Center:

        “‘You mean, we do projects together with kids from different religions and talk about our own faith and listen to them talk about theirs?’ the student asked.

        “’That’s basically it,’” I said.

        “‘Man, what a cool idea,’ she said with a smile.”

Youth Programs

posted Jul 9, 2012, 8:02 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the eighth installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 

 

Chapter 7 -- Acts of Faith:  Youth Programs

 

“I was starting the Interfaith Youth Core because I thought young people could be a major force in building religious cooperation, and I was having a hard time getting anybody to pay attention.  Even people within the small interfaith movement generally treated young people’s involvement as a sideshow.  But, religious extremists didn’t view young people as an afterthought.  Religious extremists saw a fire in young people that others were missing.  They were stoking that fire and turning it into targeted assassinations and mass murder.  In my mind, I was picturing a movement of young people working for religious understanding through cooperative service.”

 

Eboo says that extremists often are carefully manipulated and nurtured from the time they are malleable youths.  Osama bin Laden’s psyche was shaped at Al Thayer Model School in Saudi Arabia.  His teachers included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which some say was a precursor to contemporary radical Islam.  When the Brotherhood was organizing it had to find ripe targets for the message of radical Islam.  “They were looking for people with time on their hands, a desire to make an impact, and the ability to grow the movement.  The perfect target: young people.  The perfect venues: schools.”

 

However, Muslim youths are not the only ones lured into religious extremism by charismatic youth organizers.  He cites Yossi Klein Halevi who grew up in the 1960s in New York.  Halevi became convinced that the world was organized to eliminate the Jews.  He was drawn to Betar, the youth movement of Revisionist Zionism.  He was taught to blame mainstream Jewish leaders for making the Holocaust possible by not becoming more militant.  And, they were taught songs about going to war and killing Arabs.

 

In the U.S., the Black Panthers promised funerals for police officers who harassed African Americans.  The Weather Underground embraced radical white youths who set off bombs to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

 

“Too many adults secretly consider the absence of young people in mainstream religious communities the natural course of events, viewing the kids as too self-absorbed, materialistic, and anti-authoritarian to be interested in religion.  The result is that adults pay lip service to the importance of involving youths in faith communities but let themselves off the hook when it comes to actually building strong, long-lasting youth programs….

 

“Recent research by sociologist Christian Smith…concludes that many young Americans want religion to play an important role in their lives, but their faith communities do a poor job of involving them....‘Very many religious congregations and communities of faith in the United States are failing rather badly in religiously engaging and educating their youth.’

 

“Every time we read about a young person who kills in the name of God, we should recognize that an institution painstakingly recruited and trained that young person.  And that institution is doing the same for thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of others like him.  In other words, those religious extremists have invested in their youth programs.  If we had invested in our youth programs, could we have gotten to those young people first?”

 

 

The Story of Islam

posted Jul 1, 2012, 5:09 PM by Interfaith WS   [ updated Jul 5, 2012, 12:04 PM ]

This is the seventh installment in our look at “Acts of Faith” written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 

 

Chapter 6 -- Acts of Faith:  The Story of Islam

 

When Eboo Patel headed to England in September 1998 on a Rhodes Scholarship, he again saw himself as an outsider.  He was convinced that all of the other scholars had all of the “right” connections and knew exactly what the future held from them:  Nobel prizes and tenure at Harvard.  That feeling was short-lived.

 

“Self-righteousness and feelings of inadequacy are close cousins.  Once I admitted to myself that winning a Rhodes was a fluke and that everyone around me was smarter and more deserving, I figured the only thing I could do was accept my luck as God’s grace and try to make the most of the experience.”

 

Eboo’s faculty supervisor at Oxford was Geoffrey Walford, a rail-thin, blue jeans-clad professor who shattered stereotypes of Oxford dons.  Walford surprised Eboo by telling him that he should get a doctorate in something that ideally would connect with his career, instead of encouraging Eboo to pursue a route to academia.  “‘…the thing I’ve been thinking about most is the relationship between religious identify and interfaith cooperation,’ I said. 

 

Because of Eboo’s Islamic Ismaili heritage, Walford steered him to the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, which was directed by Azim Nanji from the University of Florida.  “Azim knew that I was interested in something more significant than a doctorate.  I was embarking on an intensely personal journey.  The perspective I brought to Islam had been shaped by my admiration for Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama, as well as my friendships with Kevin and Brother Wayne.  I loved the spirituality and social justice in Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism.  I had had no interest in Islam until my most recent trip to India, when I had found Muslim prayer surfacing in my Buddhist meditation, when the Dalai Lama had told me to be a good Muslim.”

 

Azim told Eboo, “‘You are living at a time when Islam can go in many different directions, and it will be young people like you who are shaping its next steps.  Having an understanding of the humanistic dimensions of Muslim history and how to teach them most effectively is about as important an education as you can get.’”

 

Eboo recalls the story of Yusuf Islam, who sang under the name of Cat Stevens in the 1970s and was one of his favorite songwriter-singers (spiritual songs like “Moonshadow,” “Peace Train,” and “Wild World.”  When Yusuf converted to Islam he associated with Muslims who told him that music was against the faith, an interpretation that was entirely legitimate.  In the early 1990s, Yusuf came under a different influence and rethought the position on music and faith.  This was during the time of the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs while few leaders and nation’s did anything to stop it.  The leader of a Bosnian aid agency called on Yusuf to organize an international concert to support the effort to stop the killings.  Eventually, Yusuf realized that his music could be a powerful tool against oppression, and he started to make music again.

 

“Under the guidance of Azim Nanji, I learned that Islam is best understood not as a set of rigid rules and a list of required rituals….Frazlur Rahman (of the University of Chicago) emphasized that the core message of Islam is the establishment of an ethical, egalitarian order on earth….It was the ethic of service and pluralism in Islam that I felt most enlivened by and most responsible to.  Starting the Interfaith Youth Corps gave me the chance to put that ethic into action, to feel worthy of the designation ‘Muslim.’  With the help of several established interfaith organizations, I gathered a group of sixteen young people from four continents and six different religions to discuss the basic principles of the Interfaith Youth Corps in the Bay Area in June 1999….We came out of that conference with the three pillars that still serve as the heart of the Interfaith Youth Core: intellectual encounter, social action, and interfaith reflection.”

A Return to India

posted Jun 24, 2012, 11:27 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the sixth installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 

 

Chapter 5 -- Acts of Faith:  An American in India

 

Only six years separated Eboo’s previous trip to India from the current journey, but it was like a lifetime.  He had acted like a spoiled child on his previous visit, spoiled by what America had done to him – forced him “to sacrifice my true heritage in a devil’s bargain for acceptance, and then laughed viciously when it slowly dawned on me that I would never be anything but a second-class citizen there.”

 

He had returned to India to visit the Dalai Lama, but he also was there to reconnect with family in India.  It was not the India he anticipated.  His family still had slaves.  The slaves never used the same bathrooms as the family and didn’t drink from the same mugs.  It was conventional wisdom that some people were destined to be second-class citizens here.  The young men wore blue jeans, not traditional Indian clothes.  Eboo shared the bus with caged chickens and small goats. 

 

“Every interaction in India was a lesson in class structure….My American-ness was starting to stare me in the face in India: not the America of big-screen televisions and Hummers, but the America that, despite its constant failings, managed to inculcate in its citizens a set of humanizing values – the dignity of labor, the fundamental equality of humanity of human beings, mobility based on drive and talent, the opportunity to create and contribute.”

 

The experience brought recollections of American novelist James Baldwin, who wrote about class distinctions in Western society from the perspective of someone whose ancestors had been slaves.  Baldwin said that “love between people of different identities was not only possible but necessary, and that we had to insist on it.  Here was a black man who had been chased out of restaurants because he had the temerity to ask for a cup of coffee from the front counter, rejecting separatism in favor of the hope of pluralism, a society where people from different backgrounds worked together, protected one another, sought to achieve something meaningful for all.  Here was a man who viewed identity as a bridge to the possibility of pluralism.

 

“I realized that it was precisely because of America’s glaring imperfections that I should seek to participate in its progress, carve a place in its promise, and play a role in its possibility.  And at its heart and at its best, America was about pluralism….In a strange way, Baldwin’s writing helped me understand my relationship with India.”

 

But, back to the reason for the visit to India:  the Dalai Lama.  Eboo’s meeting with the Dalai Lama reinforced a message that Brother Wayne had been preaching:  “that studying other religions should first and foremost have the effect of strengthening our understanding of our own.”  Eboo’s friend, Kevin, found that his practice of Buddhist meditation and his readings in other religions helped him embrace his Judaism more fully.  Although Eboo considered himself a failure at Buddhist meditation, he found that it had brought him back to Muslim prayer that was part of his youth.

 

Kevin and Eboo talked with the Dalai Lama about how the Interfaith Youth Core hoped to bring young people from different religions together to serve others.  “’This is very important,’ the Dalai Lama said, suddenly growing more serious.  ‘Religions must dialogue, but even more, they must come together to serve others.  Service is the most important.  And common values, finding common values between different religions.  And as you study the other religions, you must learn more about your own and believe more in your own.’”

Real World Activism

posted Jun 17, 2012, 5:08 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the fifth installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. 

 

Chapter 4 -- Acts of Faith:  Real World Activism

 

Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic monk in Chicago, lived in a spiritual world apart and had a vision that transcended human limitations.  He constantly moved Eboo Patel into the future where the creation of the Interfaith Youth Core became inevitable.

 

Brother Wayne “was convinced that we were experiencing the interspiritual moment in human history, a time when the great religions of the world would come together to affirm their common values….(He) had lost hope that the existing leaders of the interfaith movement would take bold steps.  ‘They are very spiritual people,’ he explained to me, ‘but they are afraid of exercising their prophetic voice.’  So he had set out to find new blood.

 

“Then he turned to me and said with utter seriousness, ‘I think you can play a leadership role in the global interfaith youth movement.  I can tell you are a very spiritual person.’

 

“‘Sure,’ I told him.  ‘Who can say no to that?’”

 

Eboo had been in Chicago about six months after traveling around the U.S. following graduation from college.  He found a teaching position at an alternative education program for urban minority high school dropouts.  The school was expected to take these students, many of whom read at a fifth-grade level, and prepare them to pass the general equivalency (GED) test within six months. 

 

Eboo’s advanced sociology training, high ideals and supreme self confidence were totally unrealistic in this setting.  Students had little or no support system.  Many of the females had at least one baby.  Many male students were in gangs.  And, the vast majority were poor.  After hearing Eboo explain his theory of education, one of the parents asked, “’You’re going to teach my daughter to read, right?’”

 

Eventually, Eboo and the students began to make progress, but he said it was a lonely existence for him.  “What I really missed was a community,” he said.  And on New Year’s Day 1997 he resolved to address the problem.  He and his roommate hosted a potluck meal and invited several of their activist friends.  The meetings filled a need, and soon the gatherings attracted as many 80 people.  The synergy led to the creation of a social justice community.

 

“A small group of us went to meet with Father Lambert from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish” about renting a vacant convent.  Despite the absence of traditional religious trappings among the group of activists, Father Lambert decided to give it a try.  The group became involved in neighborhood affairs and soon purchased a second building.

 

Brother Wayne began taking Eboo and his friends to various interfaith meetings.  After finishing his talk he introduced Eboo and his friend, Kevin, as “the leaders of the next generation…who are building the interfaith youth movement.”  That was all in Brother Wayne’s mind.  There was no interfaith youth movement.  Yet.  Eboo said there were always dinners with a lot of old people talking in circles.  Then, the earth shifted.  Eboo and Kevin were invited to attend the Global Summit sponsored by United Religions Initiative.  The conference acknowledged that for interfaith work to be successful there had to be “concrete, ongoing interfaith activities….Young people needed a space to connect faith, diversity and service.”

 

Eboo left the summit with the passion to make the Interfaith Youth Core a reality.  When they returned to Chicago and shared the idea with Brother Wayne, he was ecstatic.  “’You know who will want to hear about this?’ he said suddenly.  ‘His Holiness.’”  The next thing Eboo knew, he was on a plane to Dharamsala to meet with the Dalai Lama.

 

Identity Politics

posted Jun 11, 2012, 1:42 PM by Interfaith WS

This is the fourth installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.  The book is available online at www.amazon.com  

 

Chapter 3 -- Acts of Faith:  Identity Politics

 

College is a time of developing an understanding of how the world sees you, how you see the world and how you see yourself.  Sometimes it’s brutal.  Almost always it’s revealing.

 

“The world never seemed so new to me as it did during those first few months of college.  My first lesson was on race.  I was stunned to learn that not everybody wanted to be white….Cafeterias were balkanized by race and ethnicity.  Unlike in high school where the popular (mostly white) kids sat at one table and others longed for a place there, people wanted to be where they were.  In fact, they were fiercely proud and protective of their own zones….

 

“My skin color, my ethnic name, the food my mother cooked meant no access to certain circles….For so long, I had simply accepted this as a fact of life.  But college gave me a different framework in which to see race.

 

“Having swallowed the pill of white supremacy whole during high school and allowed its poison to spread through my body, I suppose it should come as no surprise that I would accept uncritically the first elixir that presented itself.  That elixir was identity politics, and it was in full swing during my undergraduate years.  The grand idea of identity politics circa 1994…was this:  the world, and one’s place in it, was entirely defined by the color of one’s skin, the income of one’s parents, and the shape of one’s genitalia.  Middle class white men had built a culture, an economy, and a political system designed to maintain their own power.  First they called it Western civilization, then they called it America, and now they were calling it globalization.  These people were the oppressors.  The rest of us, the oppressed, had been pawns in their game for far too long….The rise of identity politics was the beginning of a new age, a great intellectual liberating force that allowed us not only to understand the true workings of the system but also to perceive and return to our own authentic selves.  Our authentic selves were, of course, totally determined by our ascribed race, class, and gender identities, which shaped everything from one’s politics to one’s friendships to one’s tastes in food and music.

 

“The one thing that connected me to my past was volunteering.  Something about my YMCA experiences and my parents’ insistence that service was essential stuck with me.  Also, I needed the human connection.  My head was swimming with radical theories and my spirit was bursting with anger.  The moments I spent trying to concretely improve somebody’s life kept me from falling over the edge….

 

“But I was aware of a more creative movement bubbling up.  It had volunteering at its core, but its broader mission was social change….These organizations (Teach for America, City Year, Habitat for Humanity) took diversity seriously.  They realized that service was an ideal place to bring people together from different racial, ethnic, class and geographic backgrounds.  People built a special relationship with one another when they passed bricks at a Habitat for Humanity site of planned lessons for children at an inner city school.  The common purpose gave them a common bond.  Furthermore, because these people came from different backgrounds, they inevitably brought different perspectives to the various challenges that emerged in their service projects.  In other words, a diverse team made for better service.”

 

It was during this time that Eboo was introduced to the life of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement which she started.   “The most radical part about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement was the insistence that everything the movement did was guided by a single force: love.  I was tired of raging.  It left me feeling empty, and what did it achieve anyway?  I wanted to improve people’s lives because I loved humanity, not because I hated the system….Day’s view that God is the source of love, equality, and connection – and that He requires His ultimate creation, humanity, to achieve the same on earth – made sense to me in a deep place….”

Growing Up American

posted Jun 5, 2012, 7:23 AM by Interfaith WS

This is the third installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.  The book is available online at http://www.amazon.com/Acts-Faith-American-Struggle-Generation/dp/0807077267 . 

 

Chapter 2 -- Acts of Faith:  Growing Up American

 

Patel was born in India but came to the United States when his father decided to seek an MBA at the University of Notre Dame.  The family brought their Islamic rituals with them.  However, as both of his parents began to work, rituals were “elbowed aside by another faith, a force both glittering and suffocating: American achievement.”

 

“This was fine by me,” he said.  “My energy was focused on trying to fit in as a brown kid in a white world.  I would strategize in bed before going to sleep, asking myself questions such as “What can I do to make the popular white kids at school accept me, or at least not harass me?’  On the handful of important religious holidays when my parents dragged my brother and me to jamatkhana (a private house of worship), I would look at the sea of brown people dressed in kurtas and salwar-kameezes (Indian tunics), mouthing Arabic prayers with their eyes closed and their bodies swaying, comically wagging their hands while telling stories in Gujarati, and I would feel as if they were an inferior breed.  I was no longer wondering what the white kids at school would say about these people.  I had adopted their sneer.”

 

Like many teenage boys, Eboo rebelled.  He found it “cool” not to excel in school.  Many wondered if he could.  He wondered himself.  “My parents had lobbied hard for me to be included in Challenge classes, mean for the cream of the crop at Glen Crest Junior High.  My prior academic and behavioral record had been spotty, but my parents badgered the administration until they relented and let me into the program.  I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain….I was still only a so-so student.  Class time, in my mind, was best used to try to figure out how to jam an entire pack of Fruit Stripe gum into my mouth.  Who needed to learn how to diagram sentences or solve algebra problems?

 

After antagonizing his Challenge science teacher (Mr. Schrage) in the sixth grade, Eboo returned to the seventh grade and had the same teacher.  “I walked into his class on the first day of seventh grade…and heard him say, in utter seriousness, ‘Didn’t we get rid of you last year?’  I returned to the classroom after the last bell of the day.  ‘I want to be in Challenge science,’ I told him.  ‘I want to write the best research paper you have even seen.’ “

 

Eboo had been shocked into realizing he was hurting only himself.  He “could have told me that the decision to place me in regular science class had already been made by the department head.  He could have said that I wasn’t prepared to write the paper – even if I had an attitude change….Instead, he took a risk.  ‘Find a topic by next week,’ he said.  I left with a mission.

 

“Since signaling my second chance, Schrage had been a full partner in this endeavor, meeting with me every other week to check on my progress.  Standing in front of him, my dominant emotion was gratitude.  ‘We did it,’ I told him, and handed him the black binder with my paper inside.  He whistled softly, warmly, as he flipped through it, checking the table of contents, scanning the index.  ‘Kid, you are something,’ he finally said.

 

“He put the binder on his desk.  The other binders, the projects done by other students in the Challenge program, were piled near the back of the room.  ‘Why aren’t you putting my paper over there?’ I asked.

 

“’Because I’m using your paper as the example this year.  I’m going to show it to all my other classes and my colleagues in the science department as an illustration of what seventh graders can achieve.’”

Crossroads of the Identity Crisis

posted May 17, 2012, 11:00 PM by Interfaith WS

This is the second installment in our look at “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.  The book is available online at http://www.amazon.com/Acts-Faith-American-Struggle-Generation/dp/0807077267 .  You may also be able to find it at a local bookstore or the public library.  Simply register your email address, and you will be able to post your comments on this site.

 

Chapter 1 -- Acts of Faith:  The Crossroads of the Identity Crisis

 

On July 7, 2005, four young Muslim men loaded explosives into their backpacks and boarded a bus and trains in separate parts of the London.  Within an hour, 55 people, including the four men, had been killed by their explosives, and London was paralyzed with fear.  In Chapter 2 of “Acts of Faith,” Eboo Patel explores factors that influence young people when they reach the crossroads of their identity.  Excerpts follow.

“How does one ordinary young person’s commitment to a religion turn into a suicide mission and another ordinary young person’s commitment to that same faith become an organization devoted to pluralism?  The answer, I believe, lies in the influences young people have, the programs and the people who shape their religious identities.

“Religious totalitarians like Sheikh Omar (a Syrian-born father of seven) are exceptionally perceptive about the crisis facing second-generation immigrant Muslims in the West.  They know that our parents, whose identities were formed in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia half a century ago, have a dramatically different set of reference points than we do….

“We second- and third-generation Muslims cannot separate ourselves from the societies live in.  We watch MTV, go to public schools, cross borders that are invisible to our parents dozens of times a day, and quickly understand that the curves of our lives cannot adapt to the straight lines our parents live by.  Raised in pious Muslim homes, occasionally participating in the permissive aspects of Western culture, many of us come to believe that our two worlds, the two sides of ourselves, are necessarily antagonistic….

“As we grow older and seek a unified Muslim way of being, it is too often Muslim extremists who meet us at the crossroads of our identity crisis.  They say, ‘Look how Muslims are being oppressed all over the world.  You, who are living in the belly of the beast and indulging in its excesses, have only one way to purify yourself: to become death and kill.’

“I was lucky.  My free fall was stopped by the YMCA.  Since my mother had started working, I had been in afterschool care and summer camp at the B.R. Ryall YMCA in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the suburb of Chicago where I was raised.  Kids who wouldn’t talk with me in school befriended me at the Y….As I grew older, my camp counselors encouraged me to join the Leaders Club, a YMCA program for teenagers that focused on volunteering as a key to leadership development.  The YMCA’s secret is simple; it stems from a genuine love of young people….

“At the (YMCA) Leaders School, we sang a song called ‘Pass It On.’  In one of the moments when my father was feeling especially righteous about his ‘Muslim-ness,’ I overheard him expressing concern to my mother that the YMCA, which was after all the Young Men’s Christian Association, was teaching us Christian songs. ‘Do you think they are trying to teach Christianity to our kids?’ he asked…

“’I hope so,’ my mother replied.  ‘I hope they teach the kids Jewish and Hindu songs, too.  That’s the kind of Muslims we want our kids to be.’  In that offhand reply, overheard when I was a teenager, my mother guessed the arc of my life.”

 

Comments.  What is your story?  What program, what mentor, what event altered the trajectory of your life and changed who you were to become?

“Acts of Faith:” An Introduction

posted Mar 16, 2012, 10:13 AM by James Stoertz   [ updated Mar 29, 2012, 11:57 AM by Interfaith WS ]

For the next nine weeks, this space will share materials from “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.  We invite you to share your thoughts on this innovative way of building community.  Create your own book club and join us in discussing it each week.  The book is available online at Amazon.com

 

“One hundred years ago, the great African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois famously said, 'The problem of the twentieth century will be shaped by the problem of the color line.'  I believe the
twenty-first century will be shaped by the question of the faith line.  On one side of the faith line are the religious totalitarians.  Their conviction is that only one interpretation of one religion is a legitimate way of being, believing and belonging on earth.  Everyone else needs to be cowed, or converted, or condemned, or killed. 

 

"On the other side of the faith line are the religious pluralists, who hold that people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together.  Religious pluralism is neither mere coexistence nor forced consensus.  It is a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends upon the health of the whole.  It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution.

 

“Religious totalitarians have the unique advantage of being able to oppose each other and work together at the same time.  Osama bin Laden says that Christians are out to destroy Muslims.  Pat Robertson says that Muslims want only to dominate Christians.  Bin Laden points to Pat Robertson as evidence of his case.  Robertson points to bin Laden as proof of his.  Bin Laden says he is moving Muslims to his side of the faith line.  Robertson claims he is moving Christians to his.  But if you look from a certain angle, you see that they are not on opposite sides at all.  They are right next to each others, standing shoulder to shoulder, a most unlikely pair, two totalitarians working collectively against the dream of a common life together….

 

“This is a book about how some young people become champions of religious pluralism while others become the foot soldiers of religious totalitarianism.  Its thesis is simple:  influences matter, programs count, mentors make a difference, institutions leave their mark….

 

“Pluralism is an intentional commitment that is imprinted through action.  It requires deliberate engagement with difference, outspoken loyalty to others, and proactive protection in the breach.  You have to choose to step off the faith line onto the side of pluralism, and then you have to make your voice heard.”

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