By Sadie Slagar
The Interfaith House (IF) and the House of Peace and Justice (P&J) invited students to engage in open conversations about faith with their “The Same, But Different” discussion series.
Junior Mimi Abrams, a member of IF, and sophomore Noah Manskar, a member of P&J, have organized the series that meets Wednesdays at noon in the Zook Nook Café.
Abrams said she wanted to create the discussion series as a forum for meaningful conversations about faith and life.
“My hope for this project was to create an environment where conversations could comfortably be had and where all people were willing to be challenged, while at the same time openly express what faith means and looks like to them,” she said.
“As a Christian I see, and probably hold, many misconceptions about faith, religion and spirituality, but I think it’s important to overcome these misconceptions and seek to understand each other better through conversation.”
Abrams said she started thinking about creating a book group after attending a Christian conference with Ohio Wesleyan’s Chaplain’s office. Abrams said she contacted Manskar with the hope that the SLU community might sponsor the group.
“I knew he was a Christian who was interested in social justice and civil discourse, so when I first considered a SLU community book group he was the first person I got in touch with,” she said. “Noah liked the idea, but suggested we open it up to the entire campus and consider making it a house project.”
The discussion series is centered around the book “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell.
Abrams said Manskar suggested using this book because the points made by Bell are powerful and could assist in an enlightening discussion that includes all faiths. She said she was excited to start reading “Velvet Elvis.”
“I had read one of Bell’s other books, ‘Love Wins,’ and was challenged in new ways as he offered unique insight on what Christianity could look like,” she said. “I knew Bell writes in a way that begs for discussion and reflection, regardless of religion or world view.”
The turnout for the first discussion of the series was great, Abrams said. There were about seventeen people, including students, professors and one of the Ohio Wesleyan’s Chaplains, who attended the first discussion, held on Oct. 24.
“There were more people there than we had books to distribute, and every person had something to contribute to the discussion,” she said.
Abrams remembers leaving the first discussion feeling “incredibly grateful.”
“It was encouraging that everyone seemed engaged and challenged by the thought-provoking questions people brought up, and everyone seemed comfortable voicing their own thoughts,” she said. “I look forward to continuing the discussion and discovering more ways in which, as the title of our series suggests, our faiths and world views are similar, yet different.”
These different viewpoints, Abrams said, contributed positively to the discussion as participants covered topics regarding different faiths like Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
“I hope the discussion continues to show us the ways the differences in our faith traditions are what ultimately make us so similar,” she said. “We think it is important for these differences to be embraced, celebrated and more fully understood through open and curious conversations.”
First-year student Billie Paulus attended the first Wednesday discussion and had a very positive reaction.
“The discussion was thought-provoking and enlightening,” she said. “It was relatively open and really engaging.”
Paulus said she is enjoying reading “Velvet Elvis” and will be attending remaining sessions.
“It really reinforced and began to explain why we as people need faith as much as we do, any kind of faith, and how our lives are affected by the truths that we find or don’t find,” she said. “I’m hoping to learn much more in the coming discussions.
Paulus added that her own faith, Christianity, helped her in participating in the discussion. She cited a quote by C.S. Lewis as describing how her faith influenced her during the session.
“C.S. Lewis once said, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else,’” she said. “This really summarizes the way my faith influenced my understanding and participation in the discussion.”