After six weeks of living together in community, engaging in multifaith study and dialogue, and growing in relationship to the land through farming, the 2017 Summer Institute came to an end. The campus already feels empty! Here are some reflections from the students:
Katherine Witte (Christian):
The summer institute has taught me the importance of asking questions and not always expecting an answer. As a white, Christian woman, I was challenged by Mark Charles' criticisms of white Christianity and the Church's involvement with the Empire. I was upset by his critiques and the problems Christianity has perpetuated. I found myself asking questions about how we fix the problems and how do we move forward without really coming to an answer. I was frustrated by this because I wanted solutions - I needed solutions.
After a lot of processing with good friends from the institute, I learned that there isn't one answer. His presentation was meant to leave me with more questions than answers and to force me to confront these problems. I have to come up with the answers, I have to decide what solutions will work in my community. I'm thankful for the challenge he posed, but I'm even more grateful for my experience with the summer institute. Without that I would not feel prepared to face these tough issues.
Delia Rogers (Jewish):
When I applied for the Summer Institute I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I certainly did not expect what I got. I expected living in community to be something like living in dorms, with very frequent but somewhat sterile interactions with the people around me. I had braced myself for the noise and passive-aggressive struggles over the air conditioner. And while both of those things certainly happened (apparently 80 is not normal summer air conditioner temperature in New York) there was so much more than that. We slept and worked and ate not only in proximity to each other, but together. No conversation topics were off limits and it was handled with civility and understanding. It is so strange not to have found myself giggling in the kitchen eating challah straight out of the oven this week and even stranger not to wake up to the chatter of getting ready to farm.
Living at Stony Point with the rest of the Summer Institute students taught me things I never realized I didn’t know. I learned to listen and see where the gaps were in what I was getting. I learned to go into everything with intentions. I learned not only to pause and feel the world around me, but to feel it while I do things. I learned that I love being able to recognize vegetables that I had picked. And I learned that I had a lot more blindspots than I thought I did and to ask people what I was missing. It was an incredible summer.
Yoomna Rahim (Muslim):
Although the Summer Institute cannot simply be described in just one meaningful moment-- as I had many, the one that sticks out most is the shared space for prayer. Our very last night of the Institute, the other fellows and I had the great pleasure of attending a Sufi Zikr prayer at Jerrahi Mosque. This prayer was long, and lasted late until about 12 AM, while many of us had very early mornings in our travels back home. I figured that it would be a stretch to assume the other fellows would want to attend the prayer, especially the non-Muslim members -- but to my surprise, every person came along. This last night in witnessing the beautiful Zikr with the people I had learned to respect and admire for the past six weeks became one of my most cherished memories of the Summer. Prayer can feel alienating if not conducted in the ways we are familiar with, but it can also unite us along our paths towards a common justice.
Bekah Puddington (Christian):
Since returning home from the Summer Institute at Stony Point Center less than a week ago, I've been noticing to myself how much the term "decolonize" has become part of my working vocabulary, even just in my own personal/private thought-processings (thank you, Mark Charles!). I'm grateful for this new way of framing things; I feel that this summer I learned new language and new resources for working towards decolonizing my own faith (Christianity) and thinking about justice work, and also the Christian concept of "missions," from an intentionally anti-colonial perspective.
But the top, most stand-out takeaway from this summer for me is definitely the relationships I formed with other people. I especially value that. I met so many beautiful, incredible, inspiring human beings, from a variety of backgrounds, this summer! I think it's always valuable to put a face(s) to a group of people that one may have heard a lot about but not interacted with much in person, as was the case for me prior to this summer; I was able to do that during the S.I., and am immensely grateful for my new acquaintances and friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian--and all beautiful. I am coming away from this program full of thanks, re-dedication to finding my niche in participating in work for justice, and also with a renewed commitment to pursue my own faith walk/spiritual journey as an aspiring Christ-follower as best I can. And towards that end, I have found myself greatly inspired by the lives, prayers, work, and commitments of my Muslim & Jewish, as well as Christian, sisters & brothers that I met this summer. I hope to maintain these and build other interfaith relationships throughout my whole life, and to continue to reach together towards ongoing conversation and collaboration for the work of justice and peace, with the vision of the Beloved Community.
I also learned about some more specific resources for ongoing/continuing self-education, re: theological questions and justice pursuits, especially in a North American context. I learned more about food justice and farming, and about practical techniques for community organizing and conflict transformation work. Finally, I was also reminded of how much I crave being in community, and delighted to be reminded of how much I love making music with other people! I hadn't done that in far too long - just another of the many gifts given me this summer :)