Interfaith makes us Better Together.

This is my interfaith story. To those of you who have yet to meet me, my name is Carmen Yip and I am a junior student majoring in Sociology, German Studies and Certificate in International Relations. I am relatively new to the whole interfaith movement, but I am passionate and believe in the power of being better together. Previously, I served as the House Manager of Interfaith House and am currently a member of the Fellows Alliance at Interfaith Youth Core (in Chicago).

Growing up in a Protestant church and attending Sunday school every week, I have long taken my religion as a “natural” element of my life. That is not to say I was not serious about my faith. Contrary to that, I have been so absorbed in my church life and own spiritual growth, that I have ignored the vibrant mix of religious diversity in Hong Kong (my hometown).

It was not until when my father began to work in mainland China that this bubble popped. Up to present day, the people in China still cannot practise their religious lives without the direct/indirect control and supervision of the state government. I still remember attending a “state-approved church” in Beijing and being puzzled by the tension and stiffness present in the chapel. Later on, I learned that there are places in the world that do not permit the freedom of religion like I’m used to. To be able to practise and share your religious identity is indeed a privilege that, sadly, not every person in the world could enjoy. That would be my first “A-ha!” moment.

Later in highschool, I have travelled to Myanmar(Burma) with a service trip. Though the country does not officially allow religious freedom, there are still well-established faith-based orphanages that serve the children of Myanmar. We visited both a Christian orphanage in Myanmar and a Buddhist monastery orphanage in Kyaikto; and it really touched me that although these two communities have different theologies and beliefs, they both strive through the state oppression to carry out an act of love and care.

Me with the beautiful children at one of the orphanages in Myanmar

A year later in 2008, the riot broke out. I see monks standing up for their human rights and being crushed down by the military regime. And I asked, what can we do? Students of different nationalities and culture joined together and held vigils as well as demonstrations to protest against social injustice. But somehow, I felt that a part of me was not represented in these actions. Why was I keeping my faith away from the social justice acts? Why was I afraid of connecting my religious identities to this? Was I scared of making things complicated, controversial or too sensitive? This struggle remained with me until the day of my graduation, and to this day, I still wish I had spoken up and taken action in an interfaith manner rather than simply disconnecting my religious identity to my social justice actions, because these two are closely intertwined and interdependent (for me).

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Bible Jeremiah 22:3)

In college, I started to get involved with the interfaith movement. At first, it was simply out of interest. I wanted to learn about other religions and to know what differs me from Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc. I wanted to hear stories and experiences of people’s faith-paths. Interestingly enough, my first Interfaith event at Wesleyan was one that focuses on the similarities, rather than differences of religious traditions in the world. At Fast-a-Thon, we explored the significance of “fasting” as a common practice of many religious traditions and through donating the meal points we would have spent on food that day, we also practised the action of our faiths or philosophies. This event consists of all three core elements of my Interfaith definition: respecting individual religious identities, building mutual relationships and taking action for the common good. Since then, I have always been fascinated by the power of the Interfaith movement, and worked hard to spread this work to all students on campus as well as the neighborhood community in Middletown.

Fast-a-Thon 2009

Recently there have been many stories that showed us what it looks like when there is no interfaith, even in a nation that is proud of its freedom of religion and speech. Our world is religiously diverse; this, we could not change. What we could do is to create positive and respectful interactions between different religious groups. If we could channel the strength and motivations of these individuals into doing something positive for our society, that would truly make this world a better place. We need to ask ourselves these “what IF”s and take action into making interfaith a reality. I think today is a good time to start, do you?

This year, along with 19 other campuses in the nation, I will hold a year-long Better Together campaign that would promote interfaith work as a social norm on campus. Students as well as staff and faculty will be aware of the importance and urgency of the interfaith movement in this country and in the world. Our first kick-off event is on November 18th (Thurs), come imagine the “What IF”s and interfaith possibilities in Wesleyan with us!

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About Carmen

Better Together
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6 Responses to Interfaith makes us Better Together.

  1. philippetl says:

    Hey Carmen! Great hearing from you and the way you are acting within your community to promote the interfaith movement.

    My first encounter with the interfaith movement was in Jerusalem in 2008, when Winter, Astrid, Mike and I spent the evening with a Rabbi and a Sheikh who told us about the interfaith concept. I was amazed by the power of this new idea, and to some extent, I believe that this is the right way towards a more peaceful and understanding planet.

    I was very impressed with the quality of your blog entry! Very well structured and punctuated! It was a pleasure to read, and it was even more exciting when I realized that you were yelling “Wesleyan!” in the YouTube video you posted at the end!

    I’m very proud of your spiritual evolution (elevation?) in regards to your own faith and others. I think the introspection effort is remarkable and I liked how you went slightly political in regards to the situation in your home country. However (as you know) I am still a fervent atheist whose lack of belief in a god is personally beneficial. I would love to see more interaction between the atheist and faithful communities, as peace, respect, understanding and friendship are values that know no one faith.

    In any case, I loved your entry and I wish you the best!

    Philippe
    – A.K.A. the sexiest Canadian [atheist] alive [that you know]

  2. Carmen says:

    Philippe! What a pleasant surprise to see your comment here. This post has planted a great fat smile on my face πŸ™‚ I am so happy to read your interfaith experience; there is indeed so many interfaith project happening in Israel/Palestine/Jordan area, I am hoping to be involved in one of them either this summer or after graduation πŸ™‚

    Tell you what, during the interfaith conference in Chicago a few weeks ago, I met with 19 other US campus interfaith leaders, and more than 5 of them are atheist/agnostic!
    One of them even had a humorous presentation titled: “Waiter! There’s an Atheist in my Interfaith!” haha. Read this article, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-stedman/dont-leave-atheists-out-o_b_756120.html Inter”faith” is, I find, still not the accurate term to describe the concept, it includes all religious traditions, spiritual practices and those who do not identify themselves so as well!

    Let’s skype soon or something. I miss you so much.

    Love,
    Carmen

  3. megan says:

    great post, Carmen! love your story and congrats on your successful Fast-a-thon. The tradition continues…

    • Carmen says:

      Thank you so much Megan. Will you be going to DC this weekend? There are two students from Wes attending the conference! I can’t wait to hear back stories πŸ™‚

  4. Fumi says:

    This brought up the same question I’ve been asking myself for years and years. Why is it necessary to believe in a particular God?

    Growing up in Japan, I don’t profess a specific religion just like most of the Japanese, and yet we do have a lot of different religious practices or events throughout a year: the new year’s visit to a shrine, the summer visit to a temple during the Bon festival (a Buddhist festival to recognize ancestral spirits), and the Christmas time celebration. Mainly there are three religions coexisting in the Japanese society: Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity . We don’t always have a faith in the gods of these religions. I admit it probably sounded profane to some people, but that doesn’t mean we don’t respect them. Indeed, we do respect every religion. What is unique about our Japanese society is that we absorb some parts of different religious practices/doctrines that suit the society well and integrate them into our own canon for the better society. I think this is also some sort of interfaith although, interestingly, we are not aware of it. What do you think about our case, Carmen?

    • Carmen says:

      Haha Fumi sorry it took me like two weeks to get back to this comment. First of all thank you for reading and responding to this blogpost πŸ™‚ And I appreciate your sharing very much.

      Indeed, I never found that it’s “necessary (for everyone) to believe in a particular god”, and I very much agree that religion and culture have sometimes become so intertwined and assimilated that many originally “religious” practices have become “profane”. Say for example, many taoist practices including going to the temple to ask for blessings is quite a popular thing in Hong Kong where I live, and this act is not religious at all for a lot of people. More a cultural thing, they say.

      I completely agree that this is a type of interfaith work, too; although I do find it very beneficial when we take the initiative to talk about these issues/situations instead of just taking them for what they are. Say for example, even though I know you say you’re “not religious”, maybe next time you are home, you could start a conversation with your family/friends who are religious, and listen to their opinions on Japan’s interfaith picture πŸ™‚

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