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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Interfaith Means To Me

Interfaith allows one to learn first hand what and how other faiths wanted to be known, rather than the versions propagated in the media.

If we can learn to respect and accept the otherness of other, then conflicts fade and solutions for co-existence emerge.

Mike Ghouse

What Interfaith Means To Me

Beth Katz

June 28, 2010, at 06:59 AM

Beth Katz, founder and executive director of Project Interfaith.  -

Beth Katz, founder and executive director of Project Interfaith.

When Neighborhood News approached me about writing a column on interfaith work and religious and cultural diversity in our community, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because our neighborhoods are one of the most important fronts for growing, understanding and forging relationships in our community, which are at the heart of what interfaith work is all about. In future columns, I will explore dimensions of religious and cultural diversity in our community and provide you with opportunities to further learn about them. I also will examine what we can do in our homes, neighborhoods and in our community to make Omaha a place where people of all beliefs and cultures are valued and included. But before we delve in, I want to start by sharing with you what the term "interfaith" means to me and I invite you to post what it means to you.

Interfaith is not about agreement. It's about trust and authentic interactions.
The point of interfaith work is not to get everyone to agree because, let's face it, having differences is what makes us religiously, spiritually and culturally diverse. We are all part of a community, whether that be a neighborhood block, a city, or some other structure of belonging. Having a vested interest in getting to know, and, hopefully, supporting one another will enhance the vibrancy, health, and overall quality of life for all members of our community. So the focus of interfaith work, as far as I am concerned, rests in creating and sustaining trust and relationships by providing meaningful, creative ways for people of diverse beliefs and cultures to interact and connect. Using the arts, bringing in thoughtful speakers, and providing trainings and resources for professionals and community members are just some of the ways that we at Project Interfaith work to foster these relationships.

Interfaith means including people of all beliefs even if they are not connected to a religion or formal organization
As I mentioned before, interfaith work is fundamentally about relationships and understanding. It's about creating healthy neighborhoods and communities where people of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures are valued and included. But to ensure that all community members are valued and included, we have to have a basic understanding of one another, and this can only be accomplished by giving all members of our community meaningful opportunities to learn, share, and connect. This requires us to reach out and engage people who are very much rooted in a religious tradition. It also means that we must reach out to those who are not — and everyone in between.

Interfaith means getting to know yourself
In order to fully participate in interfaith experiences, you must have a solid understanding of your own beliefs and culture. This doesn't mean that you need to be some sort of spiritual leader or a religious scholar. It just means that you have taken stock of who you are and are open to exploring this further. While it's true that for many people, interfaith interactions often cause them to reflect, investigate, and sometimes question their own beliefs and traditions, I've found that this frequently leads people to develop a deeper understanding of their own religious/spiritual and cultural identity and awakens a desire to learn more about their tradition and themselves.

So I've given you a few ways in which I define interfaith and I'd love to hear your thoughts. I also welcome suggestions for topics of future posts and any questions you may have about religious and cultural diversity, especially as it relates to our community.

Beth Katz is the founder and executive director of Project Interfaith. You can find future columns about faith in our community the first Monday of every month on www.metroneighborhoodnews.com. Beth was bitten by the interfaith bug in college at Creighton University, where she first got involved in interfaith work as the co-founder of a student interfaith group. Her passion for creating a world where people of all faiths,  beliefs and cultures are valued and included led her to come back to her hometown of Omaha after graduate school to start Project Interfaith. You can reach her by leaving a comment for her on this site, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter at @bethkatz. To learn more about Project Interfaith, visit www.projectinterfaithusa.org.


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