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Discovering Our Interfaith Vitality


Discovering Our Interfaith Vitality 

by Paul Chaffee

Oxford Dictionary writers say that vitality is “being strong and active,” and the word comes with all sorts of synonyms – lively, energetic, exuberant, growing, dynamic, enthusiastic… It derives from the word vital, which has two main meanings: “something that is absolutely necessary” and “full of energy.”

Since the tragedy of 9/11, and particularly since the start of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, the world has been witnessing a new, unexpected vitality in the interfaith movement – new organizations, new activists, and a renewed attempt to make a difference in a culture that has become addicted to anger, fear, and violence.

“Vitality is Life” – Photo: Wikimedia,  Kenny Louie, Cc.2.0

“Vitality is Life” – Photo: Wikimedia, Kenny Louie, Cc.2.0

To explore what interfaith vitality means, an excellent approach is exploring people’s stories, those models whose strength and effectiveness help us become the people we want to be. What makes them strong and active, and what resources are available to promote our own vitality in this work? This month we’re exploring those questions.

The issue begins with the story of a seasoned interfaith leader and activist, raised in the fury of America’s struggle for civil rights, who has decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. Her personal story reveals a thirst for vitality since childhood.

Audri Scott Williams’ story is followed by a report from a major academic research project that studied 555 spiritual/religious communities in Los Angeles to find out what makes a religious community vital and creative.

  • Then comes a story from India about the impossible dream of creating an interfaith school, which nonetheless engendered a thriving, growing institution with hundreds of graduates – a vibrant multi-faith community.
  • A story about fasting that follows holds the key to a powerful, inexpensive tool for generating a flourishing multi-faith culture in any local community.
  • Then the complexities of interfaith vitality in Christianity are unpacked, making easier the sometimes difficult steps for newcomers beginning interfaith relationships.

Two stories conclude this brief exploration: one is about the relationship between improvisational theater and interfaith dialogue, underlining the need to ‘be here now’ in our interfaith relationships. And finally we hear about how important contemplation is, whatever our tradition, and the different practices at our disposal in the quest for vitality in our lives and faith.

TIO is accused sometimes about just focusing on good-news stories, though reading the Interfaith News Roundup on any given month might dissuade one from that conclusion. But, truth be told, we are more interested in these pages about what works than what doesn’t, and this issue is full of good news and resources to inspire a new vitality in our life and work.

Header Photo: isha.sadhguru.org