2018: Year of young people

Hello and happy New Year everyone! After the Christmas break my weekly blogging here continues.

The big theme for Interfaith Scotland in 2018 is going to be the “year of young people”. Already in my last blog I mentioned that the Scottish government made 2018 the official year of young people and that Interfaith Scotland as well as the UK Interfaith Network are thinking about how to more engage young people for interfaith work this year. When I visit local interfaith groups the question I am asked most often is “how can we get more people involved? Especially young people?”.

Here are some personal thoughts about this theme:

Who is a “young” person?

This question is not as easy to answer, as it seems to be. Here two examples from my praxis as a minister (in training). When I visit people in carehomes for elderly people the “young” persons are the under 80s or maybe even under 90s. When I give confirmation lesson for the about 14 year old confirmands, I as a nearly 30 year old, am an “old” person for them.

For the work in the UK Interfaith project I’m involved in we decided to draw the line at the age of 25. People younger than 25 are considered as “young” for us.

Is it a specific interfaith problem that there are “not enough young people involved”?

No, it’s definitely not. Nearly all faith communities, but also other institutions like sport clubs etc. in Western countries have this problem. One cause is that today less children are born, than for example in the 1950s. Furthermore “old” people stay longer, because of better health conditions. This gives people the feeling that there are a lot of old people everywhere and very little young people. And if there are less (in percentage) young people involved in the activities of faith communities, how can they come to interfaith work?

I don’t believe young people are less interested in religious themes in general. And my experience when I meet young people here in Scotland is, that they consider interfaith work as important, as soon as they know about it.

Why should young people join local interfaith groups?

Local interfaith groups work well for certain groups of people. From my point of view and the experiences I made when visiting some of them they are a good thing for people, who are settled at one place. Their members are often (not always!) in average older than 50 years. I think the youngest persons I met there, who might have been in their 30s (?), where there in an official position, representing either a certain faith community or a local council. Most of the members of the groups, who are not representing a faith community or a council are retired. I think it’s great that people in this age are putting time and effort in interfaith work! But I can understand, if young people don’t have a feeling that such a group is the “place to be” for them. Honestly I don’t know, if I myself would join such a group on a regular basis in my spare time… I think the “younger group” that maybe local interfaith groups should try to reach as new members are people from maybe their mid-30s, early 40s onwards. In this age, after building a family people often orientate themselves back to faith communities they belonged to in younger years or start looking for new orientation in life. In this age people often get also more interested in a more continuous stable voluntary work in one place, which seems to fit with the concept of a continuous group.

Do we need special interfaith-activities/groups/projects for young people, if we want to reach them?

Yes, definitely! And from my experience this should be rather project-based than very long-term orientated. It’s always hard to generalize, but as far as I can see young people should not have the feeling, that they have to be committed in a project for the rest of their life, if they join a activity. That just doesn’t fit their life situation. It doesn’t mean that young people don’t like to be committed with certain work, but the time frame for the commitment should be clear for the beginning. For example the young people who joined the Rwanada exchange programme last summer committed themselves to join certain activities afterwards, for example telling people about their experience at certain occasions. But this commitment was clear and if some of them don’t want to be involved in interfaith work anymore, they have an easy exist from this. Hopefully they will continue promoting interfaith, but it’s only fair if they are free to choose and don’t feel any pressure. The Rwanda exchange is a good example for successful interfaith engagement of young people, not only because of the clear time frame, but also because it was an “unusual” event. The participants could make experiences they couldn’t easily have had in another way and that makes the project very attractive. So interfaith projects must give young people attractive opportunities – and probably meeting retired persons to talk about the constitution of a group or about religious themes might not be the most attractive thing.

Attractive activities involve spending time with people from about the same age group, but maybe a different religious or national or cultural background. The activities should be fun! The activities should be interesting, that means the questions, which are important for the participants should be discussed/present. The activities should be somehow “special”, not like everyday life. The young people must have the feeling, that the activity is really for and about them.

How can (young) people be reached?

It is important to reach potentially interested people where they are, to make them excited for interfaith. From my point of view the solution should not be to set up a lot new groups for young people but rather providing a platform where young people, who already belong to a certain faith tradition meet young people from another faith tradition. This could be at specially organised interfaith trips or just two youth groups visiting each other for an evening or a special activity where two or more youth groups come together for.

The point for bringing together people, who are already involved in their faith community is important for elder people too. And for this it is important that the bringing-people-together project give the participants an additional benefit, so the project must be “more” than what is already happening in the different faith communities.

Conclusion

Young people can become interested in interfaith and the best way seems to be special projects like journeys, where they can meet other young people. It is rather important to provide a platform for the young people, than setting up special youth interfaith groups.

 

Of course all this thoughts are my personal and are not representative for Interfaith Scotland or the UK Interfaith Network. If someone has other opinions I would be very interested to hear them, especially if they are from “young people” themselves, so it’s not only talking about them, but also to them!

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List of wishes

December is a month when many people are thinking about wishes. Children might write letters to Santa Claus with their wishes for Christmas and adults might think about what they wish for the new year.

The following is my personal list of seven wishes for the interfaith work in 2018.

  1. No religious violence anymore.

No person should suffer from violence and religions should in no way support people suffering. Politics, society, religious leaders and every believer all over the world should do everything possible to support the peaceful streams in the different religions.

  1. More dialogue

The dialogue that is happening here in Scotland is very good, but there can always be more. And in other places in the world there is less or no dialogue between different religions.

  1. More young people in dialogue

When I visit local interfaith groups this is the wish I hear most often. 2018 will be the official “year of young people” in Scotland. For Interfaith Scotland the work with young people will be one of the most important parts of its work this year, for example by organising a national youth conference in St Andrews in April. Even the UK Interfaith Network is putting much effort in the work with young people (I can tell you more about this another time).

  1. More funding for interfaith work

As everything successful interfaith work depends on funding. Not everything can be done by volunteers and staff needs to be paid, as well as travel expanses and food at events. So hopefully governments as well as private funders and donators will increase the amount of money they give for interfaith work.

  1. More publicity for successful interfaith dialogue

The media seems to talk about religion mainly if there are things going wrong. I would like to see a greater awareness of the benefits of interfaith work in local, national and international media.

  1. More “professional” interfaith work

In Scotland I can experience the benefits of a very good organised interfaith work, run by special interfaith charities like Interfaith Scotland, Interfaith Glasgow, Edinburgh Interfaith Association and the UK Interfaith Network. I wish that many more countries would organize (and fund!) interfaith work in a similar way – not least my homecountry Germany.

  1. More “theological” dialogue

Something popping up in my blog articles from time to time. From my point of view an interfaith dialogue is only complete, if the theological questions are included. That doesn’t mean every single dialogue event needs to deal with those questions. There is definitely a huge benefit in “just” bringing people together and letting them learn more about each other – but from my personal theological point of view the different religions can (and must) also learn from each other in theological questions, but there seem to be very little opportunities for this kind of dialogue.

Are you ready for Scottish Interfaith Week?

Have you already planned what you do during the next week? No? Than have a look at http://scottishinterfaithweek.org/programme-2017 and start planning!

At the moment the official programme contains 69 events all over Scotland. There is at least one event in every region. So there can’t be any excuses that Interfaith Week is only happening somewhere else. The events take part from Dumfries and the Borders in the south to Orkney and Shetland in the north and from Skye and Ayr in the west to St. Andrews and Aberdeen in the East. At the Scottish Interfaith Week website you can sort the events by region or by date, so it is very easy to find events that suit your diary. But what kind of events are happening? There is a very long range of events according to this year’s theme “Creativity and the Arts”, here some examples:

 

If you like listening to music (and who does not?) you could visit an Interfaith Concert, for example on Shetland  or Edinburgh. Or maybe you would like to sing yourself? There are opportunities in Moray, Aberdeen and Stirling. You can also be creative in other ways than singing, for example at the Papercutting Event in Falkirk, at the “Fellowship, Food and Fun” Event in Dumfries or the “Family Fun Day” in Glasgow. If you want to experience other kind of arts than the ones mentioned above, maybe the Film event on Skye, the “Poetry and Spirituality” event in Glasgow, the theatre event in Paisley, the “Arts and Creativity” evening in Ayr, the “Food and Poetry” evening in Inverness, the film evening in Edinburgh,   the Dance event in Paisley, the evening about Baha’i architecture in Glasgow or the tour and meditation at Coldingham Priory is the best for you. If you like discussions about texts the Scriptural Reasonings in Edinburgh and Glasgow or the Meeting in Kirkwall/Orkney are perfect for you. Fife Interfaith Group is organising a Interfaith Lecture in Kirkcaldy and in Dundee you can join an Interfaith Symposium. Dundee is also the place for this year’s official Launch event.

If you live in another part of the UK you will also find events happening there. The English, Welsh and Northern-Irish events can be found at https://www.interfaithweek.org/events/map. I’m sure everyone can find at least one event suitable for him/her and I’m looking forward to this very special week. I wish all of you a wonderful Interfaith Week with great experiences.

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Faith identities

Last Tuesday Interfaith Scotland run a dialogue event together with Faith in Older People, Marie Curie, Stonewall and Edinburgh Interfaith Chaplaincy about “Identity and Belonging”. There was a very good atmosphere during the event and people of different age groups, different faith and believe, different sex and gender and different nationality shared their thoughts and had intensive discussions about Identity.

In the following I will share some of my thoughts about this theme.

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I would say that a lot of the conflicts we have in our modern world are conflicts between different group identities and individual identities.  From outside point of view the conflict in Catalonia in Spain seems to be amongst other things (economic reasons…) between people with a Catalan identity and people with a Spanish identity and a lot of people in between with maybe both identities or other identities such as a European identity. Also the conflicts in the USA between supporters and opponents of Donald Trump seems for me (mainly) to be about the question “what does it mean to be American?” or “What is the “true” American identity?”. These kind of conflicts seem to be typical for our time. Other examples (always with different focus) could be Germany after the refugee crisis, post-Brexit Britain, the question of Scottish independence and discussions about whether to widen or to diminish the European Union.

All of my examples have something in common: They are about national identity/state identities, but this is only because these kind of conflicts seem to be very strong at the moment because of their high media presence. These conflicts are also an important question in the area of Interfaith Dialogue.

 

On Tuesday evening I held speech at the German Speaking Church in Glasgow about Interfaith dialogue and the work of Interfaith Scotland. One of the question asked during the following discussion was very typical “Isn’t interfaith dialogue about giving up things and producing a kind of “wishi-washi” religion?”. This question is not a bad question, because it refers to the identity of religions involved in interfaith dialogue. People asking this kind of question  would probably say, that there is such as a core identity of their religion, which can’t be giving up and I would assume that a very large majority of believers in all religion would share this opinion. So for a Muslim majority there are things which can’t be giving up without becoming a Non-Muslim in the same way as there are things which can’t be giving up for a Christian majority, a Jewish majority, a Hindu majority, a Buddhist majority and so on. The interesting point here is, that it would be very difficult for all Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, … in their own faith to agree about the things which are building this Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, … identity.

I give an example from my own tradition. If you would randomly ask Christians from all over the world about the core of what it means being a Christian they might answer: “Being a member of the church”, “Being baptized”, “Refer to Jesus as the Lord”, “The trinitarian faith of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, “The command to love your neighbour”, “The belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus”, “to belief Jesus is the son of god”, “to go to church”, “to pray the Lord’s Prayer”, “to help others”, “to recognize the pope”, “to read the bible”, “to believe in 7 sacraments”, “to believe in 2 sacraments”, “to live in a Christian country”, “to celebrate Christian festivals”, …

It would be really hard to find one of these answers that all Christians in the world can agree on and in my opinion it is impossible to make them agree on what they mean when they say “referring to Jesus as the son of god” is the core of the Christian identity.

And I would assume it is the same in the other faith traditions.

From my point of view that shows, that it is only possible to build a so called religious identity as long as the core of this identity stays vague enough, so that a certain group of people can agree on it. If the core of a certain faith tradition is this vague the risk of loosing the identity is very little, because there is no single core for the identity. For every individual believer slightly different parts of the faith are important for their faith identity and all large faith identities (“the Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/… identity”) are in a way theoretical constructs.

For a single individual his or her personal faith identity might change a couple of time during his or her lifetime, but that should normally be not a big problem, because it is a personal decision to agree or disagree to a certain point of view. Identity problems only start, if other people prohibit others to change their point of view, because they consider it as Non-Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Buddhist/….

That means identity conflicts become only urgent or dangerous if people feel they have the right to judge about the identity of others.

If you agree or disagree with my thoughts feel free to let me know your opinion – that’s what dialogue is about!