Oklahoma is an incredibly diverse place. Different people of various backgrounds, faiths, and ways of life populate this state from top to bottom. However, sometimes we have to take a step back and open our eyes to see the diversity that is all around us. The busyness of our everyday living makes it hard to appreciate the plurality of ways of life that can be found in Oklahoma. Hopefully this blog will serve as a means of taking that step back and observing the diversity of this state. From Muslim to Jew, Eastern Orthodox to Southern Baptist, Hindu to Buddhist, Oklahoma has it all and more.
My intention in starting this blog is for it to be a collaborative effort incorporating voices from various faith communities in Oklahoma; a place for them to share their stories, to give us a glimpse into what their life is like in this state. My hope is that we as readers will gain understanding, empathy, and compassion for our brothers and sisters of different faiths, and that steps towards tolerance and love will be fostered. I hope this blog will not only help us see and appreciate this diversity and pluralism, but also become a vehicle for seeing the commonality in the faiths of the world: that we are all pilgrims grasping for a greater truth, that we are all called to care for our neighbor, both friend and stranger.
In a time when politicians and pundits seek to divide us, to invoke hate and misunderstanding, this blog will hopefully serve as a way to encourage just the opposite. There is no better time than now to come to a place of unity though diversity, of strength through pluralism. By providing a platform for various faith communities to share their stories, I hope that we will all come to better appreciate diversity and pluralism, and ultimately come to find unity.
Some background about me: I’m a 21 year old college senior, finishing up a Religious Studies degree with a minor in Political Science. I’ve recently come to work for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches this summer, and I’ve been given the title “Interfaith and Social Justice Liaison”, which means I’m a glorified intern who does whatever needs doing. I spent the spring of 2015 interning with the OCC, helping to organize the Norman Interfaith Tour, and now I’m back. I was raised like a whole lot of people in Oklahoma: Christian. Born to two worship leaders, I spent several days a week at the church. I loved it. I absorbed everything there was to absorb, tried to learn everything there was to learn. Theologically speaking, my upbringing was largely evangelical, although my mother’s Jewish heritage exposed me to at least one different faith at an early age.
Perhaps it was that initial exposure to Judaism that sparked my interest in Religious Studies. I can’t say for sure, but by the time I got to college, I found myself wanting to broaden my horizons. Taking Religious Studies courses helped me gain an understanding of different faiths, but it wasn’t until I actually started to meet and forge relationships with adherents of different faiths that my worldview was altered. I grew up so sure I had all the right answers, that my particular set of lenses through which I viewed the world was the only valid set. The thing is, though, when different religions stop being just pages in a textbook and they become personified in your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, or your fellow students, all of a sudden your world gets rocked. When the realization that you don’t have all the answers hits you, it’s both humbling and exhilarating.
Getting involved in the interfaith movement has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. The stories I’ve learned from other people have significantly altered the way I view the world, and you can’t put a price on the how much my capacity for empathy has increased. I hope the stories told in this blog have the same effect on the reader that they had, and continue to have, on me.
Alex Davis is the Interfaith and Social Justice Liaison for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches