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.
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.
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!