by Olivia Sonell
This semester I’ve had the pleasure to serve as the Interfaith Intern for the Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University. For me this has meant a lot of things; for one it means that I got a position I really wanted. Ever since I was really young I’ve wanted to be involved in religious activity in some way and while that may have waned to an extent during my time at Butler, this last year it has been an extremely important part of my life and my academic study. Exploring the variety of religious faiths and life has been an immensely rewarding experience, and my CFV internship has done nothing but encourage reflection on my and other’s values, our connection to each other, and what my responsibilities are in the world as a person of faith.
One of the big things I did as part of the internship was to organize off campus community dialogue. I organized two outings to local congregations: one Jewish, one Muslim – with the specific intent of creating a space for interfaith dialogue between those of faith difference. Both of these “excursions” as I called them were incredibly educational. At the Reform synagogue Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, I learned that many Jewish congregations pray over bread and wine at the end of Shabbat service, after which they eat a meal – I couldn’t help but make the connection to the Christian Eucharist of the body and blood and wonder if this Jewish ritual was where the Christian one began.
The mosque visit I organized was to Nur-Allah Islamic Center, which has been in existence in various forms for around fifty years. Nur-Allah has its origins in the Nation of Islam (which taught that God was Black and the white man was the devil) and has since moved towards a more orthodox and more universal vision of Islam centered around the Unity of God and the “brotherhood of man” (though I myself prefer the terms like “kinship of humanity”.) Their Imam Michael Saahir, was extremely personable and very pleased it seemed to be sharing his faith with us. He spoke of the Prophets Jesus and Muhammad and the unity of their message – and how that relates to recognizing the truth in all religions. As a gender non-conforming person I took the liberty of asking Imam Saahir how might a bi-gendered space account for a person who is not man or woman. This led to discussion amongst Imam Saahir, the congregation, myself and my CFV supervisor Daniel Meyers on how accommodation would occur. In the end it was decided simply to have all the guests sit in chair on their own side of the room, so while we were in a since “segregated” from the congregants, we ourselves sat how and with whom we pleased. There was some additional “fallout” from this visit, but it occurred in a way that simply creates another learning experience for myself.
In all, with the different outings, the somewhat bi-weekly conversations, the field trips to show solidarity with faith communities in Indy, and my own continuing personal exploration I feel very fulfilled by this internship. Where I see myself going forward, as I am graduating this May, has been shaped by my work here. I am firm in my commitment to creating interfaith, intrafaith, and multi-faith understanding when and where I can; I find this work extremely fulfilling as it is for me a way of fulfilling the “Gospel Mandate” – “to proclaim good news to the poor, bring healing to the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)
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