Happy New School Year!

Posted: September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

This post is perhaps a bit delayed, as classes here at UIndy have been going for about two weeks strong at this point, but I digress; Happy New School Year, everyone! We of the Interfaith Forum are greatly looking forward to this year, and we have a lot of exciting events planned for it, so be on the lookout for information on them as the year progresses! For now, though, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to introduce you to our leadership team for this year, who, along with your support and participation, hope to assist in creating fellowship and unity in service for people of all faith backgrounds. So, without further adieu, here’s our leadership team for the year:

 Mark Wolfe- Mark, a Junior Religion and Philosophy major, is also the founder of the Interfaith Forum and our dedicated, charismatic leader. He possesses an extraordinary passion for service, as well as an unwavering commitment to fostering equity for people of all backgrounds and religious affiliations. His interest in interfaith issues was sparked by an incident in which a Sikh temple near his home was vandalized by local residents in a fit of misplaced post-9/11 vengeance. Since that encounter, Mark has worked tirelessly to help bring about a world in which such things would no longer occur, a re-imagined realm in which vitality overcomes violence, equality overcomes iniquity, service overcomes selfishness, and love overcomes hate, a world where all people can truly triumph in the knowledge that we are all interconnected in this world, and that we are better together.

Sam Thomas- Sam, a Junior Biology and Chemistry major with a Pre-Med concentration, is, along with Mark, one of the two returning interfaith leaders. If Mark Wolfe is the fire that kindles the Interfaith Forum, then Sam is the pit, ensuring that he remains grounded and realistic in his aspirations. Additionally, she possesses an innate sense of our needs in relation to our vision, and often acts as the pragmatic voice of reason and organizational clarity in times when decisions must be made. In doing so, Sam is also a primary factor in making sure that necessary business is addressed, and that we remain in line with our mission at all times.

Jess Leaman- Jess is a Sophomore Sociology major and in many ways, the creative side of the Interfaith Forum. Whether it be through her enviable drawing abilities or imaginative activity planning, Jess always manages to find a way to make Interfaith events enjoyable and exciting. To say that this is her most defining trait, however, would be selling her short, for she also has an intense passion for service, manifesting itself in her devotion to several causes, including thirst, hunger, and social justice. This dichotomy has made Jess an extraordinarily valuable addition to our executive team.
Kenny Albee- Last but not least, Kenny is (or, perhaps more appropriately, I am) a Junior Supply Chain Management major, and, as the parenthesized comment above implied, the dedicated Interfaith Forum blogger for the year. In terms of our leadership team, I am most notably the most actively humorous of the group, steadfast in my belief that life, in spite of its myriad complexities and iniquities, is at its core meant to be a lighthearted affair. While my humor is often a great asset to the Forum, I admittedly must sometimes rely on the others to keep it toned down when in the midst of more serious discussions. I am also notable in that I am the only executive who was not raised as a practicing Christian (or practicing anything, at that), and therefore often bring a unique viewpoint to our discussions. I now would describe myself, however, as a practicing Christian in the beginning stages of becoming Roman Catholic. I plan on writing some entries in this blog about my faith journey, and what has brought me to my current spiritual state, with respect to how such a journey ties into the interfaith paradigm. I will also post articles and opinions on interfaith issues and current events, as well as promote and discuss our organization’s activities. So stay tuned for a great year for Interfaith Forum, and a great year for being Better Together!

(Inter)Faithfully Yours,

Kenny


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In August, I remember returning to campus with a slight apprehension.  In a matter of months, I had learned about the Interfaith Youth Core’s (IFYC) campus interfaith movement, applied for an internship position, and became an interfaith leader.  After this year, what would the University of Indianapolis’ (UIndy) interfaith involvement look like?  Would I be able to fulfill IFYC’s objectives?

At UIndy, I was helped by my friends Faith Cougill, Jenna Nawrocki, and Sam Thomas that co-founded a student group called the Interfaith Forum during the previous year.  Later in the year, we were also helped by an Americorps program that invited students to participate in interfaith service through the Interfaith Service Corps (IFSC).  These students were Amanda Carter, Saisha Rairdon, and Mitchell Green.  They also were joined by IFSC students at the Indianapolis-area campuses of Butler, IUPUI, Marian, and Franklin College.  Additionally, UIndy’s chaplains, L. Lang Brownlee and Jeremiah Gibbs, and many students that participated in an interfaith steering committee were immensely helpful.

Our first big event was the “What IF?” Speak-In Event to handle issues of hunger and homelessness.  The night consisted of  making 25 no-sew blankets for the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) (as seen below), hosting four speakers from IHN, and engaging in interfaith dialogue on the shared call to service.  Sixty students, faculty, and community members attended to show that the interfaith community of Indianapolis will not stand silent on these important social issues.

We then engaged in service projects throughout the year to address hunger and homelessness.  One of the most successful events was during our first semester at Gleaners Food Bank where we packed 700 food bags for Indianapolis’ needy.  Members of various faith traditions gathered together to unite in harmony rather than violence and make a impact on the community.

In addition, the IFSC leaders started a weekly interfaith service project to Fletcher Place Community Center in coordination with Kiwanis’ Circle K.  On every Monday of second semester, students from various faith backgrounds fed meals to the homeless, packed food for their food pantry, and sorted clothes for their thrift store.

Furthermore, the Interfaith Forum and United Nations Student Association partnered to host a Kids Against Hunger packing event at UIndy.  These volunteers packed over 2,500 meals for starving kids around the world.  For more information, look at the video below.

In order to celebrate the accomplishments of year, we hosted the Better Together Bash on April 14, 2011.  On this date, thirty-two students, faculty, and community members enjoyed a vegetarian meal from Earlham’s chapter of Food Not Bombs and listened to Dr. John Clark of Provocate and Lubabah Abdullah, the new executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana.  Still, UIndy’s interfaith movement was only just starting.

On April 16, the Indianapolis interfaith community helped in two projects on “The Great Day of Service.”  First, college students and community members alike gathered at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds for the first annual Kids Against Hunger Pack-a-Thon.  These volunteers packed over 250,000 meals for kids around the world.  Can you imagine the impact that this multitude of meals might have?

Second, the University of Indianapolis hosted the Thirst Project Benefit Concert later that day.  Through the musical talents of Jon McLaughlin and Joel Levi, we raised $4,080 for the Thirst Project to build clean water wells in other countries.  For more information on the Thirst Project, look below.

Thus, we have had an immensely successful year at UIndy for interfaith service.  We gave the homeless warmth through no-sew blankets.  We packed tons of meals for Indianapolis’ and the world’s hungry.  We gave water to the thirsty in other parts of the world.  This year, the UIndy interfaith movement gave basic essentials to a few, but still so many do not have the means to live.  Our work is not yet done.

While the service we have accomplished is great, the grander vision that we wish to complete is building interfaith cooperation as a social norm in Indianapolis, the United States, and the world.  At UIndy, we have made great strides to allow people of all religious and philosophical backgrounds to contribute to their community, but we have more yet to do.  We wish to reach out to more students, more faculty, and more community members to create an accepting interfaith community.  Until that goal has been realized, the forces of religious prejudice will continue to cause violence and discrimination.  As a member of any faith, we cannot stand silent when our brothers and sisters are facing this injustice.

This last video shows our accomplishments this year that we will keep expanding into the future.  Thanks for all of your contributions, and the UIndy interfaith community hopes that you will continue to support us.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Posted: April 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today, I was hungry, so I visited the campus cafeteria to ease my stomach’s growls.  Today, I also felt thirsty, so I turned on the tap water, filled my water bottle, and drank to my heart’s delight.  For me, obtaining the essentials for living is a piece of cake, sometimes quite literally.

Yesterday, I helped coordinate an event that brought nine college students to realize the lack of food that many people face.  Through Kids Against Hunger (http://www.kidsagainsthunger.org/), these students helped pack hundreds of thousands of meals.  While the exact totals are still not known, the goal was to pack 500,000 meals, and they did not fall very short.  They wished to give others the ability to have a source of food.  How many people will be fed by 500,000 meals?

Yesterday, I helped coordinate an event that brought over 200 concert-goers to realize the lack of water that many people face.  Through the Thirst Project Benefit Concert, (http://www.thirstproject.org/), we raised $3,520.21 to provide clean water to others in Swaziland.  Every $20 saves one life, so we gave 176 people clean water for the rest of their lives.  They wished to give others the ability to have a source of water.  What benefits can come from giving 176 people water?

We celebrated these types of accomplishments at the Better Together Bash at UIndy on April 14. Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and agnostics enjoyed a free vegetarian meal from Earlham College’s chapter of Food Not Bombs while listening to great speakers that celebrated the interfaith accomplishments of the past school year.  On this day, we realized the potential that interfaith service has to change the world.  As seen by the events occurring yesterday, the Indianapolis and UIndy interfaith movement has already started to change the world.  Sorry, John Mayer, but we are done waiting.

Next year, UIndy and other colleges around the nation will join in fulfilling President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge (http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ofbnp/interfaithservice).  Look at what has already been achieved.  What great heights can happen next year?  How many people will be served?  How many interfaith friendships will be forged?

Today, I filled my stomach and quenched my thirst, but yesterday, I was reminded that not everyone has the privileges that I can access.  For those that attended yesterday’s events, they probably now feel the same way that I currently do.  Through the impact of interfaith service next year, many more can start realizing the social problems that occur.  Many of those people will later affect their communities in ways never before believed.

Do you know what I hear?  I hear a movement starting.  May Indianapolis be considered a place where the interfaith service movement began to become the norm rather than the exception.

Mark Wolfe

This blog post was written by Dean Michael Cartwright, the head of UIndy’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Office.

1. Who are you? I am Dean of Ecumenical & Interfaith Programs at the University of Indianapolis. I also am a member of the faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences as Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religion, and an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (Indiana Conference). And as a long-standing fan of Duke Basketball, I am True Blue!

2. What is your involvement with interfaith? In addition to the fact that I oversee the university’s office of ecumenical & interfaith programs, I have learned a great deal from interfaith engagement. Over the years, I have had the privilege of participating in scripture trialogue groups through the Society for Scriptural Reasoning www.scripturalreasoning.org. I have also enjoyed the hospitality of friends who are Muslims and Jews, and from time to time I have also had the privilege of having persons of other religious traditions share a meal with me and my family.

3. Why are you involved in interfaith? My interest in interfaith engagement over the past decade has been prompted by three converging interests.  First, as a Christian theologian and ethicist, I have a longstanding interest in Jewish-Christian relations.  In particular, I am interested in the ways that Christians make sense of Judaism and vice-versa. Almost a decade ago, I had the privilege of editing a collection of essays with Peter Ochs, a Jewish theologian and philosopher. I learned a great deal from that scholarly collaboration about the different ways that Christians and Jews think about what it means to be children of Abraham.

Second, I have longstanding commitments to Christian peacemaking, which means that I have a stake in making dialogue possible between persons who have different allegiances and loyalties. While I regard nationalism as a more pernicious threat than I do religious identity, I also know that misunderstandings about how persons of different faiths practice their religions also exist. The process of eliminating ignorance and developing relationships is hard work, but I think that is what we are called to do as “royal ambassadors for Jesus Christ.”  “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15)

Finally, as an educator, I believe that universities like UIndy owe it to students to provide them with opportunities to engage difficult topics of conversation. That is part of the reason why I taught the course on “Christian Approaches to Interfaith Engagement” (REL 299) last year. I am equally concerned to make extra-curricular opportunities available for student exploration.

4. How do you see interfaith affecting the future? As someone who is deeply committed to church-related higher education, I believe that Christian engagement with non-Christian religious traditions is already very important. But I anticipate that it will become even more important as students engage one another in a more diverse world. Once upon a time, it may have seemed like interfaith engagement could be an option to pursue, but that is no longer the case. Faculty and students alike must become more knowledgeable about the wide range of religious traditions that exist around them. And the EIP Office hopes to provide opportunities and incentives to help make that happen. With that in mind the Office of Ecumenical & Interfaith Programs is in the process of creating an annual recognition for Academic Excellence in Interfaith Exploration. We anticipate that this award will be given for the first time in the Spring of 2012.


This op-ed article will hopefully soon appear in the Indianapolis Star.  It is already scheduled to be included in the Southside Times and the Daily Journal.

With the recent unrest in the Middle East and Africa, we have witnessed inspiring calls for freedom, but also disturbing amounts of warfare. Religious convictions are often a catalyst in the violence, as Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus alike choose to defend their belief systems rather than promoting peace. Is there any way to end the fighting?

One encouraging message has come from the Obama administration, which has promoted interfaith service as an antidote to worldwide violence. The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge calls for university students and administrators to harness the religious diversity on college campuses to work for the betterment of their communities and the world. Can you imagine what might happen if people from all different faiths, motivated toward service, attempted to work together to create positive change in the lives of others?

At the University of Indianapolis, interfaith service has already created small but positive change in the community. In September, a UIndy student group called Interfaith Forum – with members representing Christian, Muslim, Mormon and agnostic worldviews – hosted a block party for homeless families at the Interfaith Hospitality Network. In October, the Interfaith Forum packed 700 food bags for the hungry in Indianapolis. In November, the group hosted an event to make blankets for the city’s homeless.

More projects are in the works.  From 6-8 p.m. on April 14, UIndy’s interfaith community and its counterparts at IUPUI, Butler, Marian University and Franklin College will host members of various Indianapolis faith communities for a Better Together Bash, sharing a vegetarian meal provided by Food Not Bombs and hearing about the work the central Indiana college interfaith community has accomplished in its first year of operation.

On April 16, the college interfaith community will host the Great Day of Service. First, college students will gather with other community members at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds & Exhibition Center in Noblesville with the goal of packing 500,000 meals for the worldwide relief efforts of Kids Against Hunger. Next, from 2-5 p.m. that day at UIndy’s Ransburg Auditorium, campus organizations will host a Thirst Project benefit concert by nationally known singer-songwriter Jon McLaughlin, raising thousands of dollars to provide clean water to the impoverished people of Swaziland. Imagine the impact that this single day could have.

College interfaith service has already enacted change in Indianapolis. As warfare wages in other countries, our goal is to lead the charge in developing an America and a world that will choose harmony over division, service over violence.

I’d like to think that central Indiana’s college students have answered the president’s call to interfaith service. Indianapolis, will you support us and fulfill your faith’s call to serve others?

Tickets for the Thirst Project Benefit Concert featuring Jon McLaughlin are $20, available at the UIndy box office or by phone at (317) 788-3251. Every $20 raised for the Thirst Project will provide one person with clean water for life.

Mark Wolfe

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed some amazing contributions to fighting hunger in different parts of the world from a group called Kids Against Hunger (http://www.kidsagainsthunger.org/).  The organization started when a businessman/engineer witnessed misery and starvation around him while with a medical relief team to respond to a hurricane in Honduras in 1974.  He was appalled by the lack of food for the children affected by the hurricane because he knew that children are the future of any society.  After returning from the trip, he met with scientists to begin to formulate a nutritionally-packed meal that could be efficiently and cheaply shipped to the hungry children around the world.  At this point in Kids Against Hunger’s work, they have provided 162 million meals in over 60 countries.

When Ananya Khan from the United Nations Student Alliance (http://www.facebook.com/uindyunsa) approached me about the possibility of co-hosting a Kids Against Hunger event with the Interfaith Forum at the University of Indianapolis, I instantly accepted.  The scope of feeding thousands of children by spending two hours of time with fellow students astounded me.  After securing $500 through allocation with the university, we set a date for the event.  On Tuesday, February 22, around 15 students worked for an hour and a half to feed over 2000 children.  Can you imagine the impact that those meals will have?

When Joe Sanford from Grace United Methodist Church (http://dev.franklingrace.org/) offered to allow me to host the 30-Hour Famine (http://30hourfamine.org/) event with his youth group, I instantly accepted.  As part of my youth ministry class, I am required to perform a youth ministry project, and I saw no better opportunity.  I have participated in starving myself through WorldVision’s 30-Hour Famine to raise money for the past five years, so I was familiar with the event.  Upon signing up for the event, I was not aware that Kids Against Hunger would be present again.  This church had already raised over $10,000 for feeding hungry children, and the volunteer support was incredible.  On Saturday, March 5, over 90 volunteers, including the youth group, packaged over 50,000 meals!  Half of the proceeds would be given to a missionary in Guatemala, while the other half would be given to local food banks and pantries.  At the end of our famine, we were invited to taste-test the food, and we discovered that the meals were tasty, even when nutritious.  Can you imagine the impact that this amount of meals will have?

Through the Better Together Campaign, the Interfaith Youth Core (http://www.ifyc.org/) wishes to have a similar impact on hunger in Indianapolis under the context of interfaith cooperation.  When college students of various faith backgrounds join together with the goal of making the same contributions to hunger, tons of lives will be affected.  Those who will be served will be given the nourishment needed to survive and flourish in their daily lives.  Those who will serve will be contributing to a large social cause while actively understanding the nature of a shared call to action between different religious and philosophical backgrounds.  While the large-scale service project between UIndy, IUPUI, Butler, Franklin, and Marian has not been verified at this point in time, ideas floating around suggest that we be working to pack meals with Kids Against Hunger or pack backpacks with healthy food to provide nutritional supplement to lower-income Indianapolis Public School (IPS) children.  Only time will tell the details of the project.  With this level of involvement and excitement, can you imagine the impact that interfaith cooperation could have on hunger?

 

Mark Wolfe

Interfaith Youth Core Fellow

President of the Interfaith Forum

 

Liz Wheeler

Posted: March 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

Sophomore Liz Wheeler describes her interfaith involvement!