A report on an eye-opening event
Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of working as the intern for the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, through the Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University. In that time, I have been exposed to an enormous amount of opportunities to learn about and work with other faiths, as well as to coordinate and to experience events that help to bring people of different religious backgrounds together. An excellent example of these opportunities occurred just this past weekend. Through my position at the CIC, I was able to attend and take part in the Spirit and Place event “Culturing for Nonviolence: Religious Families, Community, & Power of Diversity” at the Indiana Interchurch Center, right down the street from Butler.
This event was eye-opening to say the least. As the name implies, Spirit and Place intended the discussion to revolve around how families of different religious backgrounds raise their children and how each faith chooses to instill its values. The event began with the debut of the Center’s new short film, “The Power of Religious Parenting”, a film which discussed the importance of family values and what and how each religion taught their children. This was immediately followed by a brief discussion of the films points and its purpose (more on this later). After a short break, the group came back to watch a radio skit, put on by prominent members of the interfaith community, including representatives from all different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Unlike the film, the skit specifically addressed nonviolence, which was an interesting juxtaposition when compared to the values that each religion represents. One thought that I found particularly interesting was the idea that it takes time to get to a point where nonviolence is seen as simply a way of life, an idea that was echoed by the other speakers within the skit. Finally, the groups split off into individual and more focused discussions, which was an interesting change of pace from the larger, more presentational format. In the group in which I was able to participate, we discussed a concept known as “Conscious Discipline”: the idea that educating and imparting our values to children is often something we do without even realizing it, described as almost an osmosis-like phenomenon. We were able to have a very fascinating discussion about the importance of being aware of what messages we were sharing with the next generation, and how our own actions can set an example, good or bad, for those around us.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the event was the short film, “The Power of Religious Parenting”. This original work, produced in-house by the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, followed several families from a plethora of religious and faith-based backgrounds. Baptists, Mormons, Hindus and several other traditions were each represented by one or more families, with each segment being conducted in a casual, interview-like format. Each family was given the opportunity to share the various traditions of their faith that pertained to a number of milestones in life, including birth, marriage and, perhaps most importantly, when a child chooses to accept the tenants of the faith for his or her self.
As I said before, this film and the subsequent discussion was easily the most fascinating part of the event for me. I was originally raised Catholic, and I spent the first seventeen years of my life in a sheltered neighborhood in Naperville, IL. Before my internship with the CIC, I had been relatively ignorant regarding the traditions and practices of other faiths, which is why the format and topic of this film was so intriguing. Seeing Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and a host of other groups discuss how the vastly different traditions that all result from the same life event was something that I had simply never experienced before. Did you know, for example, that the way Sikhs choose the name of their children is heavily connected to their holy scripture? It’s true: when a child is born, a verse or hymn of the Guru Grant Sahib, also known as a Hukam, is selected and the first letter of that verse determines the first letter of the baby’s name. While the radio skit and the individual were of course informative as well, the ability to actually see real members of the community talk about their faith in such a comfortable, open way was incredibly interesting for me, and I think it played exceptionally well with the other audience members as well.
Overall, “Culturing for Nonviolence: Religious Families, Community, & Power of Diversity” was an engaging, informative discussion that challenged a lot of my pre-conceived notions of other faiths and religions. The event was well-organized, and splitting time between presentations and small-group discussions was an effective way to facilitate interactions between those that attended. I especially enjoyed that the various faiths were not portrayed as competing in any way. There was no seeking of validation; no one was attempting to prove that their way was the best or that another way was incorrect. The representatives were simply sharing their own values and openly receiving and experiencing those of others, and I left it feeling as though I had truly learned something. It is an experience that I would definitely recommend, and I definitely look forward to any similar CIC events in the future.