Interfaith weavers seek to create close-knit, diverse communities

Posted Online: June 06, 2014, 4:40 pm
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By Leon Lagerstam,
ROCK ISLAND -- She knitted a shawl while weaving some interfaith pearls of wisdom.

Augustana College assistant professor of religion Dr. Laura Hartman was one of 110 people at an Interfaith Understanding Conference June 1 to 3, and did some knitting while listening to nationally known guest speakers.

She said knitting is something she encourages students do as a "contemplative exercise."

Teams of college presidents, faculty members, chaplains and students from 17 of the 26 universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America participated in the conference at Augustana. Participants included Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as Lutherans.

"There was a lot of talk about doing it again," Augustana College chaplain, the Rev. Richard Priggie, said. "This was the first one of these, and I think it went superbly well, better than we expected. I predict we'll do it again, but may spread the wealth around to one of the other colleges."

Participants came from as far west as California Lutheran University, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and as far east as Susquehanna University, in Selinsgrove, Penn., Chaplain Priggie said.

Keynote speakers included Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and president of an Interfaith Youth Core movement and member of President Barack Obama's inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding ELCA Bishop, and Augustana College professor Dr. Jason Mahn also spoke. Dr. Mahn's keynote address Sunday was titled "Why Interfaith Understanding is Integral to the Lutheran Tradition and Lutheran Higher Education."

Dr. Patel discussed "The Interfaith Movement in Higher Education," and co-presented an "Interfaith Understanding in Local Communities" session with Bishop Eaton.

Panel discussions were held after each keynote address.

"People left here with a great deal of enthusiasm for interfaith understanding," Chaplain Priggie said.

A final session Tuesday morning dealt with "what are we taking away from this conference and are the things we're taking away going to really grow at each of these 17 colleges that sent representatives?" he said. "The answer people gave was a resounding 'yes.' "

Among follow-up steps participants discussed during that final session was "weaving interfaith understanding throughout the curriculum," Chaplain Priggie said. "When interfaith discussions occur, it usually happens through and stays in the religion department, but that has a limited impact.

"We're looking for a wider, deeper impact of how to weave interfaith approaches throughout the curriculum," he said.

The conference was exciting, inspirational and challenging, particularly the words of Dr. Patel, Dr. Hartman said.

"One of the things Eboo talked about was a mission statement used at Concordia Lutheran in Moorhead, Minn., which stated something like 'the reason we do our interfaith work is because we are Lutherans,'" Chaplain Priggie said.

"It's not just because we are nice, but it's because we are Lutherans, and worship a God of grace and His love for all.

"One of our Muslim students said he loved the fact that Augustana lifts up its Lutheran traditions passionately, because it serves as a model for him to lift up his tradition," Chaplain Priggie said.

"We can push our identity and diversity pedals at the same time," Dr. Patel said during one of the panel discussions. "Part of the interfaith skills set required includes history, theology and identifying shared values of different faiths."

"We all drink from one water," according to a responsive reading written by Malaysian environmentalist and human rights activist Anwar Fazal, that was used during a time of reflection at the conference. "We all breathe from one air. We rise from one ocean, and we live under one sky.

"The newborn baby cries the same. The laughter of children is universal. Everyone's blood is red, and our hearts beat the same song," continued the reading. "We are all brothers and sisters, only one family, only one earth. Together we live, and together we die."

As Dr. Hartman knows, interfaith weaving can help make a real close-knit community.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.

(More History)