Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eboo Patel

Blurry picture of Patel answering questions.
I'm at the Chautauqua Institute for the New Clergy Program (renewal and interfaith conversation for clergy in their first 7 yrs of ministry).  My mom came with me.  Great mother/daughter bonding time has been a bonus to the point of the week: to learn about pluralism, especially between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) with a group of new-ish clergy from many denominations.

The days are full of lectures, conversations and worship on the theme "Radicalism: blessing or curse." 

Today we heard Eboo Patel, writer, thinker, and executive director of the Youth Interfaith Core.  He spoke at the launching of his new book, "Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America."

His lecture ranks up there with Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and Jane Goodall's "Reason for Hope" as one of the best lectures I've ever heard. 

Patel defined radicalism as going back to the roots and then examined the roots of America to make the case that religious pluralism is what makes America great, and radical. 
My mom reading Patel's spiritual biography, Acts of Faith.

He quoted at length from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr to demonstrate that the greatness of our country relies on its commitment to pluralism. He didn't gloss over ugly parts of American history, but said that "the force of pluralism can defeat prejudice."  He believes that the same forces that made the civil rights movement possible in the 60s are at work in America now. 

Besides being able to articulate the broad sweep of American history with clarity and humor, his rhetorically beautiful lecture was also impressive because he didn't use notes.

I, on the other hand, was clumsily typing snippets into my phone in an effort to remember all he said.  Then I bought the book.  No time or energy to fully synthesize what was so great about his talk, but here are a few of my notes.  They may not be exact quotes so please get the book and read him directly if you're so inclined.

...When lamenting the fervor of anti-muslim sentiment during the discussion of the Muslim Community Center near ground zero in 2010, an adviser told him he was missing the better part of the story, the hope: "These are the moments that change agents hope for.  Our country is molten and can be shaped."

...talking about the pain of pluralistic culture: "everyone feels half full...you can't get all you want all of the time."

...discussing how to interpret the Koran, Patel related what he learned from a mentor: "The Koran has to be interpreted in light of its chief value: Mercy."  (For Christians, he said it's love.  So our texts need to always be in service of love and those that don't seem loving need to be put in line, somehow, with the larger value.)

...On the variety of cultural/ethnic/religious/sexual identities in America: "the dash between Muslim and American is a bridge, not a dividing line."

Ok - those just a few notes.  The big takeaway is that America will grow stronger as pluralism is protected.  That's not a new idea, but it's sure an inspiration to hear, especially from someone who has strong faith commitments but isn't threatened by others with equally strong commitments.  You can bet I will google his blogs and articles (there are lots) and read as much as I can.

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