Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interfaith Cooperation is a Must at Ohio University

Letter to The Post and The Athens News

The White House launched an Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge on March 17. President Obama’s address challenged college students and administrators to promote religious pluralism through interfaith service projects on their campuses.

The president cited Ohio University’s interfaith campaign to combat water pollution as an example of work already happening at universities that he hopes to replicate next year at other universities across the country.

OU’s Interfaith Steering Committee, in partnership with the local nonprofit United Campus Ministry, chose to combat the issue of water pollution at the beginning of this year because we believe that access to clean water is a fundamental human right.

In March, we raised a total of $250 for LifeStraws personal water filters to be sent to Haiti, providing about 50 Haitians with clean water for one year.
As part of my yearlong fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core, I have worked with students who identify with Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Unitarian Universalism.

I have been inspired and deeply moved by their determination to help those impacted by the earthquake in Haiti and to clean up our local streams. Through conversations with each of these students, I have seen that they, like me, draw their inspiration to serve others from their various faith traditions.
It is more important than ever for students to demand religious pluralism and participate in interfaith service projects at OU and at other campuses throughout the nation.

We have heard the voices of intolerance rise in recent months in cases such as the Ground Zero mosque controversy and the shooting of two elderly Sikh men in California in early March.

It is time for us to raise our voices and show the world that those from diverse faith backgrounds can and must work together to promote the common good.
I, along with the rest of the Interfaith Steering Committee, would like to invite you to join us in this effort.

On April 16, we will be completing a stream cleanup with the local nonprofit Rural Action to remediate acid mine drainage practices that have damaged Monday Creek, located in the northwestern part of Athens County.

On April 27, we will be hosting a Better Together Reception to celebrate our work and present opportunities to get involved in the campaign next year. These events are free and open to students of all or no faith traditions. Contact for more information.

This can be our moment. Our work has inspired the president of the United States to show his support for interfaith action. Help us prove we’re better together.

Guru Amrit Khalsa is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism. She is completing an intensive yearlong fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core, an international nonprofit organization that builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.

Baker Peace Conference in Name Only

Letter to the Editors of The Post and The Athens News

To the Editor: I must say that as a member of the OU and Athens peace and justice community, I am very disappointed with the theme and speakers of this year's Baker Peace Conference (held last week). Having a peace conference featuring mostly men and representatives and proponents of the military and defense industry is ironic at best and dangerous at worst. Where are the nonviolent peacemakers in your conference line-up? We are out there (and here and everywhere), and the Contemporary History Institute missed yet another opportunity to seriously, and with integrity, promote values and real nonviolent strategies for peace and justice.

You have been given a great opportunity (and the resources) to put on a conference that could work toward undoing militarism and violence and domination, yet you choose to support it through the very themes and voices you chose to showcase. We should be able to look to the annual Baker Peace Conference as a venue for serious academic theory and activist praxis for peace and justice, and sadly this has not been the case. This should be a conference which promotes critical engagement with racism, militarism, sexism, colonization and other oppressive systems so that participants may further our understanding of the roots of conflict and how we might undo these systems at a personal as well as national and global levels.

I hope that the Contemporary History Institute will seriously reflect on their responsibility to the OU and Athens communities and not allow this Orwellian "war is peace" doublethink/speak to continue to dominate the annual Baker Peace Conference. As for me, I ain't gonna study war no more.

Melissa Wales
Executive Director
United Campus Ministry (UCM: Center for Spiritual Growth & Social Justice)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Preaching Truth to Power

UCM's campus minister, Rev. Evan Young, delivered the opening prayer at the Ohio House of Representatives today (April 5, 2011). "I confess to a certain ambivalence about this," Young said, "because I'm not certain prayer belongs there. But since it is there, I think it's incumbent on me to speak a progressive word of truth to power." Here is the prayer he offered: 

Spirit of Life, source and ground and destination of us all--here we are, in this chamber of power, gathered to do the work of leading your people who live in this great state of Ohio. Those in this chamber have the power to decide and determine what rights and privileges our government will protect and defend, and who qualifies to enjoy those rights and privileges. Who is entitled to a say and who is not concerning the conditions under which workers' labor is bought and sold; who may marry and who may not; what sort of treatment we the people will consider hateful and abusive and who should be protected from such treatment, and how; to what great moral purposes the taxes collected from the people of Ohio should be put. The power concentrated in this chamber is powerfully attractive to those who wish to see their own interests furthered by the decisions made here; so attractive that they bend every effort to ensure that their voices are heard here and their interests are represented here. So, as we begin this session, we pray that the hearts of these representatives who have answered the call to serve be turned ever toward justice. We pray that they be given to understand that the measure of our justice consists in how we treat those who have been pushed to the margins of our society. We pray that they yield not to the temptation to listen only to the voices of those with the power and privilege to make their voices heard here, but that they strive to hear and attend to the voices of those who have been too often silenced by oppression or alienation. We pray that they humbly and steadfastly focus on the "all" in "justice for all," and seek to extend justice across all the lines and walls that so often divide us. And most of all we pray that the decisions they make produce the just, merciful, and compassionate society we dream of for all of Ohio's children, for their children after them, and for all the children who find their way here by whatever means in the years to come. Mindful of all that we have been given through your abundant grace, we lift up this prayer in all the many names we give to you who have always been beyond naming. Amen; blessed be.