Vignettes from a Vigil

“I don’t think of them as victims–I think of them as martyrs. It took their deaths to bring us all together here tonight,” a twelve-year-old girl says, holding a microphone in the middle of hundreds of people clutching candles.

It is a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin this past Sunday. In front of the White House, vigil-goers mingle with curious tourists, a mix of photo-snapping sightseers and solemn faces.

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Whiskey Ads, Wise Women, and Wonder

Originally published on the website of the Fund (now Forum) for Theological Education.

It was not until this week that I learned how many Jack Daniel’s ads there are in the Nashville airport or how many people wear cowboy boots here. I had never been in Nashville before Tuesday, when I got here for the Fund for Theological Education‘s 2012 Leaders in Ministry conference (I was lucky enough to be nominated and accepted to come here as an Undergraduate Fellow). The conference, convened at the lovely Scarritt-Bennett Center (with a Gothic chapel and a cafeteria that serves up fried green tomatoes and grits), has gathered together a diverse group of young Americans interested in careers in religion.

In the past few days, we have listened to founders of various ministries, from a hip-hop church to a food program. Yesterday, we even completed a six-hour-long workshop called “Contextual Exegesis and Cultural Competency,” which was a challenge both in the sixteen-syllable title and in the heavy subject matter we were dealing with (in our small group that evening, we had to do five minutes of silent meditation before we were ready to hash it over).

As a Unitarian Universalist, the conference has been interesting, illuminating, and inspiring, but not without a bit of tension (which, as one astute fellow pointed out, is necessary to build bridges, both physical and spiritual). My theology may not fit into what some might qualify as Christian (I’m reading a book called Reincarnation in Christianity right now, and we Unitarians are infamous for not affirming the divinity of Jesus). Unlike many of the students here, preaching is neither my forte nor my preference, and I’m iffy on the possibility of going to seminary.

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Teaching America to Talk


One of my friends at Boston University has a dream. It might not sound quite as inspirational as world peace or ending starvation in Africa, but it is important. He wants our country to rediscover the ability to have civil conversation. He told me about his plan one afternoon, his idea to organize a huge event—”our generation’s Woodstock,” he called it—centered on making dialogue happen.

But that’s just talking, people might say. Just words. Is there any real value in that?

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HUNGERally: From Rooibos to Reality

Originally posted on NonProphet Status, the blog of atheist interfaith activist Chris Stedman.

Today’s guest post comes from Abigail Clauhs, a sophomore at Boston University who is studying religion and who runs the Boston University Interfaith Council. Below, she shares her experiences working to plan HUNGERally (more info herehere and here).

There is something nerve-wracking about meeting someone for the first time in a coffee shop. You get there first, five minutes before the agreed-upon time by virtue of your unbreakable habit of punctuality. You stand by the door, pull out your phone to look busy. Eyeing the menu, you wonder if you should go ahead and order the rooibos latte or if it would be rude to already get a drink. With every person that walks in, you wonder if it is the one you’ve only spoken to on the phone or via email. There is the awkward eye contact dance where you look to see if that person is looking for someone, too, and if you both are–relieved smiles and, finally, introductions.

I did that a lot last semester. Networking meetings, not blind dates. Just beginning my work with the Boston University Interfaith Council, I wanted to meet the leaders of interfaith programs at other colleges in Boston. And so, through a series of emails and calls, I got to know the interiors of a myriad of Boston coffee shops and people from MIT, Suffolk, and other universities.

The first time I met Chris Stedman was in a Starbucks in November of 2011. Chris, the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, was a major interfaith activist, and I was a little starstruck. However, we found ourselves soon fervently talking about interfaith work and the importance of service. That, in a way, was where the idea of HUNGERally was born. Of course, we has many meetings after that–and even more conference calls–but the event that happened on February 11, 2012, began right there.

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The Millennial Generation

This piece was originally published by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs as part of their Millennial Values Project, for which I was selected as a Millennial Values Fellow in 2012.

My high school environmental science teacher, a reformed hippie who had gone from Woodstock attendee to educator, often told us, “We were the generation who said we were going to change the world. You are the generation who is actually going to do it.”
Granted, she was only thinking along the lines of building solar panels and perfecting electric car (and getting in touch with nature, which she had us do by going on wilderness rambles through the woods around our school, resulting in muddy jeans and many disgruntled high school seniors). But that phrase of hers moved me in ways her lectures didn’t–the idea that our generation, the Millennial Generation, was different. A promise for the future. Something real.

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Atheism on the Tire Swing

I suppose you could say my interest in the interfaith movement started in fifth grade. I grew up in South Carolina, a state not exactly renowned for its religious tolerance. Our location in the middle of the Bible Belt does not contribute to a lot of interfaith dialogue. And if you can say this of the adults of this region, you can definitely say it for the children—for it is a sad truth that kids will often parrot the opinions of their parents with far more cruelty and less actual reasoning than the adults.

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Seafarers Open New Facility

Originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of Jubilate Deo, a publication of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

An article I wrote during my internship with the Charleston Port & Seafarers’ Society, an ecumenical nonprofit that provides spiritual care as well as physical services of phones, internet, groceries, and more for the international seafarers that enter the Port of Charleston. 

Security in the Port of Charleston is extremely tight. Security scanners and cameras abound at each carefully-guarded entrance where trucks hauling huge metal containers pass through after tough scrutiny. But at around 11 a.m. on May 24, a different sort of visitor could be seen entering the port.

Instead of 18-wheelers, there were white buses emblazoned with a blue emblem. Instead of truck drivers and longshoremen, there were people dressed in suits and blazers. Among the guests were Town of Mt. Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails and many priests and chaplains. After the vehicles made it through security, they continued into the port, past towering stacks of cargo containers.

This was not a typical day at the port.

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