Forging New Communities: The Necessity of Proximity for Healing and Belonging
“We forget that beyond concepts and definitions lay the stories we carry in our bodies…I believe choosing to see one another and paying attention to the stories our bodies tell is the beginning of a journey towards embracing and celebrating difference, which will ultimately lead us to deeper empathy and compassion.”
This is a reflection from Wen, an undergraduate student and emerging mestiza leader who recently participated in a learning cohort program called “Communities of Practice.” Hosted by the Ideos Center for Empathy in Christian and Public Life and funded by IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Fund, Communities of Practice foster space for healing and belonging that center around storytelling and empathy building.
Wen’s reflection speaks to the healing power of moving into closer proximity to those outside our native tribes and communities. This, I believe, is how we might best organize events that mobilize our communities towards healing and reimagine what it means to belong to one another. Said another way, in a culture that aims to dehumanize and divide communities, the invitation into these shared spaces where stories of hope and fear are told is both a rejection of toxic polarization and an embrace of true religious pluralism.
Twenty years ago, we failed to do this. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, we allowed our differences to divide us. This was felt especially by religious minorities who were violently targeted for hate crimes and whose faith traditions were discredited as political ideologies or foreign to true, American religion.
Now, once again, we have another crisis with an opportunity to either unite or divide our communities. As we continue to navigate the complexities of a global pandemic, we have already seen life-saving vaccines manipulated for political gain and anti-Asian racism exacerbated as violent crime against Asian elders and anti-Asian rhetoric increase. However, the COVID-19 crisis has also brought diverse communities together as efforts to provide for those in need and support physical and mental health have helped communities and individuals struggling to survive.
As a Christian, I look to the teachings and example of Jesus and the Scriptures to guide how I might best promote the flourishing of all people in our world today. Found throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are radical invitations into intimacy and belonging, as well as physical and spiritual healing. The outcasts of society are invited to follow Jesus and enter into a new worshiping community that transcends the hostility found between ethnic and cultural groups. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, slave and free—all called lay down their possessions and status and follow Jesus, the incarnate Yahweh.
However, the Christian Scriptures go beyond offering just an idealistic picture of community. The Bible gets into the weeds of forging this intimate belonging. As the early leaders of the church begin to organize new believers across culture and space, selfishness, racism, stubbornness, and division all begin to arise. Just like we see today, bringing communities together across lines of difference is messy, often painful work. The progression of belonging and healing is rarely linear. It is filled with unexpected twists and turns as something new and beautiful is created.
I am inspired by Wen and the many peacemakers and bridgebuilders like her who are drawing from their faith traditions to bring diverse people into closer proximity through communal, safe gatherings. While there is certainly a need for critics and prophets who call out injustice and evil in our world, we must also recognize and celebrate those who are fostering empathy, practicing neighbor-love, and making incremental, meaningful difference in local communities. These folks, many of them young leaders, inspire hope that drives us closer to healing, belonging, and justice. Drawing from their faith convictions, these writers, activists, organizers, and scholars are all creating hospitable space for healing and belonging, inviting diverse peoples to imagine their stories alongside one another, and actively pursuing sustainable, generative change.
On September 8, join Eboo Patel in conversation with civic leaders, sharing personal experiences and stories from their unique perspectives, each effected by the tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath as hate crimes against religious minorities in the US rose. Register Now.
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.