Yesterday we had 25 interfaith high school youth and leaders participating in an event I helped organize called Interfaith Works. It was inspired by the work of Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core. I got together with a Presbyterian youth minister, as well as the local rabbis and a leader at the Islamic Center in Livermore, and began to imagine what an interfaith youth event might look like in Livermore. I then got in touch with the Interfaith Youth Core and they connected me to a speaker from Orange County, Prerna Abbi, who we brought up to lead us in a day of interfaith dialogue, learning and service.
The morning was great – we worked through some of the Interfaith Youth Core principles about mutual respect for individual religious traditions, mutually inspiring relationships and common action for the common good. We did a few ice breakers to get youth and leaders talking with one another, and then had an “Agree/Disagree” activity. Everyone had to line up and then choose to go to the “Agree” side of the room, or the “Disagree” side when a statement was read. I used the following statements:
- Livermore is a great place to live.
- Coke is better than Pepsi.
- I believe people are basically good.
- I believe there is a God who has a plan for my life.
- I believe God cares about the choices that I make.
- I believe there is a heaven and a hell.
- I believe there is good and bad in the world.
- I believe religion has contributed to some of our world’s problems.
- I believe it is important to participate in a religious community.
- I would say that I am spiritual but not religious.
Each side had to choose a speaker who would share why they and others chose that side, and if someone had to stay in the middle, they had to share why they were on the fence about the issue. It was a really great activity and got everyone realizing some of the commonalities and differences between everyone present.
Then we all sat around a circle and read through various sacred scriptures from different religions that spoke about the need for and importance of service. It was really interesting to hear from students which religious text spoke to them the most. Many of the students connected with texts from the Jain tradition, as well as the Sikh tradition:
“The individual who performs selfless service without thought of reward shall attain God’s salvation.” (Sikh tradition, Guru Sahib)
“Rendering help to another is the function of all human beings.” (Jain tradition, Tattvarthasutra 5.21)
After that we did another activity together that led us into a discussion on how to engage with those who have exclusive truth claims, and then it was time for lunch and of course, cornhole! We had five boards setup and they really got into it. If you don’t believe me, you can check out a video here.
Then came our time to live out our call to service and giving back to the community – and to do it together. We partnered with Marylin Avenue Elementary School and worked on clearing out a ton of weeds from their school’s garden. You can see the before and after photos above. We had an amazing group of students and leaders who really got into the work and were able to make a huge improvement to this garden for the teachers and elementary school students who will be using it.
From the leaders and the youth who I spoke with after the event, everyone seemed to really enjoyed it and were excited about the energy and the interest in interfaith work that everyone had. A few people asked, “So when is the next interfaith youth thing…?” This was meant to be a standalone event, but perhaps it’s the beginning of something here in Livermore and the Tri-Valley. I don’t know, but I’m excited by the interest. I sent out a survey to the participants, and here are a few comments from students:
- “I learned to be my self.”
- “We can all be united through our service.”
- “It was lots of fun to meet new people of different faith backgrounds, talk about our beliefs, and do a service project together.
- “I learned that even though each religion is different, they all have the same message and they really aren’t that different.”