Building Beyond, Building Something New
Together we have held questions and shared our different answers.
We have grieved together through different tragedies yet common tears.
We have marched and resisted and risked arrest in the face of hate – in the name of love.
What will we have next?
It is new every year. Watching my students move from multifaith to interfaith. Daring to tear down walls and build bridges to faith traditions and spiritual expressions different from their own.
“Why do you wear that?”
“Why don’t you eat that?”
“Why do you think we are here?”
“Where are we going?”
They learn and walk away together religiously literate, though more importantly friends.
And I watch those friends come together in times of grief as well.
Time after time of grief.
Candles and prayers and tears after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Candles and prayers and tears after the Christ Church Mosque shooting.
Or in the wake of heartbreak in Charleston or terror at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee or vandalism at Hindu temple in North Carolina.
We stand in solidarity while trying to wrap each other’s wounds in a fragile hope.
We prayed. And then prayed with our feet.
We shouted “Enough,” “Not in our name,” and “Me too.”
We marched for Dreamers and we Marched For our Lives.
We fought for 15, we fought for Standing Rock, we fought against the coldness of ICE.
We died in and screamed that Black Lives Matter.
We resisted the rising tide of division and a cruel nationalism.
And we were arrested together, each whispering a prayer in our own way moments before being detained.
All hoping that our actions might shed light, move hearts, and change policies.
Yet, what now? What’s next? After the pandemic, after the job losses, after the lies, after the terrifying attack on the Capitol, after so much has been burned, after so much and so many have been lost.
I pray that we build. Together. And not just build back – much as that is necessary - but build beyond and build something new.
To me, this is the best of what our religious and spiritual traditions offer – a vision of what we might be not just as individual souls, but what we might be together. Our faith’s say more than just “This is not who we are.” They point to whom we might be. Whom we all might be. They teach us to do more than tear down walls of oppression and to lose shackles of fear. We are taught to hope for and lend our hands to the building of something new.
This is not just speaking out against xenophobic bigotry, but working to build diverse, inclusive, cosmopolitan communities. This more than just speaking out against racial profiling, violence against Black bodies, and the historic lack of accountability and lack of justice. This is now imagining new models of public safety and finding ways to address the things that cause people to commit crimes in the first place. This is not just marching and praying for a reduction in gun violence. It’s beating those guns into garden tools, it’s healing the fear that causes folks to buy guns for protection.
But here’s the thing. We build best when we build together. The great gift of interfaith learning and interfaith friendship is not just so that we may “tolerate” or know a little bit about the faith of our neighbors. It’s not just so that we can be polite and not ignorant in an ever-increasingly globalized world. The gift of these interfaith relationships is that we may serve together.
We can build for each other with each other.
I think this is the next chapter for people of faith. While continuing to learn and grow in friendship (that work is new for each generation and must always be renewed) we will now employ these relationships for the good of our country and for the good of the world.
The Rev. Dr. Chaz Howard is University Chaplain and Vice President for Social Equity and Community at the University of Pennsylvania
If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.