I was raised in a large non-denominational church in the Chicago suburbs that preached and practiced incredible compassion. When I got to college, I faced the unique challenge of making my faith my own in the very liberal environment of Madison, Wisconsin. During my freshman year, I stumbled upon a small student ministry, The Crossing, which forever changed the way I would view religion and its role in my own life.
The Crossing was the most open-minded, accepting and welcoming church I had ever seen in my life. They genuinely welcomed people of all races, nationalities, sexual orientations, political views, and religions – yes, religions. And they did this all without pushing Christianity on anyone. It was at the Crossing that I first heard the term “interfaith” and learned that it was indeed possible that people coming from completely different faith traditions could work together to serve and meet the needs of the community.
Besides being raised in a compassionate and inclusive church, attending a large public university in a very liberal town, I also traveled to Kenya and walked through the slums of Nairobi, studied German-Jewish history in Berlin, and worked at an interfaith non-profit organization. I understand that these experiences are quite unique and that they have played a role in shaping who I am and how I see things.
I have also had interactions and formed relationships with people from diverse backgrounds. The public schools I attended had large Jewish and Hispanic populations. I went to at least 20 bar and bat mitzvahs as a kid, with some of my very best friends being Jewish. I had a friend who was an undocumented immigrant, as was the rest of his family. Several of my former coworkers were Muslim, as well as my former boss. And my younger sister has intellectual disabilities. Knowing and connecting with people of different backgrounds and in different situations than myself has enriched my life in many ways. I have learned that stereotypes are always ill-founded and that I always share common ground with others, regardless of how "different" we are. I also develop a deep respect for the traditions of others and love to take bits and pieces of wisdom from them and make it my own.
And just like my opinions and viewpoints have been molded my experiences and relationships, they have also been molded by my identity. Simply put, I come from a position of privilege. I am a white, Protestant, middle-class, college educated, financially secure, English-speaking, 7th generation American woman. I make no claims that these aspects of my identity mean that I am better, stronger or more righteous than anyone else. On the contrary, I believe that my identity has influenced the way in which I see the world – and I see the world as a place where people of faith have tremendous social capital.
I have never experienced trauma, violence, persecution, discrimination, or dehumanization as a result of my religion, ethnicity, race, or nationality. This gives me a unique perspective and has no doubt attributed to my optimistic and idealist views. As a woman, I have at times been the victim of groping or misogynistic comments, but I have never experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. I am blessed to be able to say that most of the time, I feel respected and empowered as a woman in America. However, the amount and type of discrimination I may face as a woman is mitigated by my race and socioeconomic status, making this discrimination less salient in my life.
Perhaps this gives you a better picture as to why I am traveling the world to search for people using religion for positive purposes. I also want you to know that I will try my absolute best to approach all topics, people and religions I write about with an open-mind, whilst being conscious of and faithfully trying to reduce the natural bias through which I see the world.