Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Creatively embracing difference

Creatively embracing difference:
The Center for Interfaith Cooperation’s First Annual Interfaith Banquet and Concert

The night began with a delicious salad, and ended with spontaneous dance. The Center for Interfaith Cooperation held its First Annual Interfaith Banquet and Concert January 22 at Christian Theological Seminary. It was a celebration of three years of CIC bringing together Central Indiana’s diverse faith communities. Even more, it illustrated the challenges and opportunities that come from embracing our differences. It showed the creative energy and the power to better our communities that our diversity can generate.

For an interfaith banquet, even planning a meal for nearly two hundred Hoosiers of a dozen different religious beliefs might pose a problem. With so many competing dietary restrictions, how to satisfy everyone? Halal for the Muslims, kosher for the Jews, vegetarian for the Hindus? It would have been easy to go with a meal that blandly offended no one.

Instead, the banquet organizers challenged CTS’s award-winning chef Maarten to produce a feast creatively combining the best from many food cultures, surprising and delighting the taste buds of all. This has been the approach of CIC: not to stick to the lowest common denominator on which all religions can agree, rather to draw from the very best that all have to offer … thus to produce new insights and ideas that would not have emerged had the differing faiths not talked with one another.

The evening recognized the achievements of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation. More than 2,000 people attend its Festival of Faiths last fall, and you can expect thousands more when the next Festival is held August 30, 2015. (Mark your calendars now!) CIC has helped organize dozens of formal and informal dialogues, and sponsored thought-provoking lectures at all the local universities. The Immigrant and Refugee Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program run by CIC, has helped bring better wellness and mental health services to hundreds of newcomers to our city.

Of course, these days any discussion of different faiths coming into contact must have a serious side. As CIC director Charlie Wiles notes, religion “helps us to see more fully, to witness and experience the beauty of creation. However it can also be toxic if it leads to judgment, self-righteousness and demonization of ‘otherness’ in this world.”

CIC’s founding (and outgoing) board chair Don Knebel — recipient of the first “Interfaith Ambassador of the Year” award — showed pictures of young children from his trips to Syria, South Africa, and Jordan. These kids don’t hate each other, he said, as he quoted lyrics from “South Pacific”:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

The evening was a tribute to the effort of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation — its friends, board members and supporters — to teach a different lesson to young and not so young alike.

By the close of the event it was obvious how special this lesson of embracing difference can be. Highly acclaimed musician and composer Yuval Ron brought his Ensemble to perform a concert combining Jewish, Muslim, and Christian music from across the centuries. His ensemble consists of Christian, Jews, and Muslims (including a genuine whirling dervish), but that is not what made Yuval Ron the ideal performer. Yuval Ron is a serious historian who seeks out forgotten traditions and songs that reflect the creative collaboration of religious groups that most people today might think have been locked in conflict since the beginning of time. When the Yuval Ron Ensemble performs these pieces, the sound can be magic.

How magic? By the end of the performance, the audience had seized the stage for a dance. It was a display of spontaneous celebration not often seen in the Christian Theological Seminary’s stately Shelton Auditorium. Explore CIC’s website www.centerforinterfaithcooperation.org to see photos from this exquisite evening of interfaith celebration.

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