Home > Beth Katz, Faith, Interfaith, Omaha, Project Interfaith, RavelUnravel, Religion, Spirituality, Tri-Faith Initiative, Writing > Identity gets new platform through RavelUnravel

Identity gets new platform through RavelUnravel


Project Interfaith was a passion project that a young Omaha professional, Beth Katz, thought up and ran with and during its run it made a lot of noice and connections in trying to foster greater understanding between people of different religious and spiritual beliefs.  This story for Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/) focuses on a program Project Interfaith  inaugurated called RavelUnravel that gave people from around the country and even around the world a platform for sharing their personal faith experiences.  No sooner had I completed the article and it went into production than Katz resigned and within three months of that the organization disanded, and presumably RavelUnravel ended with it.  The official reason given for the disbanding was declining financial support, according to board president John Levy.  I don’t believe Katz has yet to publicly comment on the reason for her departure or on her response to the organization she created and led having dissolved so quickly after she left.  What is odd is that in my interview with her for this story there was no hint of her forthcoming departure or any internal problems with the organization.  Whatever the reasons for her exiting and however she feels about the end of what she started and nurturted, this piece and an earlier one I did on her and Project Interfaith will make clear that she really was on a mission and that her organization really was making a difference.  I have to believe in some way, shape, or form she will continue this good work in the future.

 

 

 

 

Identity gets new platform through RavelUnravel

Religious-spiritual-cultural identity expression at heart of program inviting people to tell their stories via videos

Project Interfaith program ravels-unravels questions of who we are

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/)

 

The Tri-Faith Initiative’s goal of creating a shared campus housing the three Abrahamic faith groups is not the only Omaha interfaith effort netting wide attention. Project Interfaith seeks to engage people in dialogue about their religious-spiritual-cultural identity and experience. What began as a one-woman crusade of founder Beth Katz to foster interfaith work in Omaha now reaches far beyond Nebraska.

Reflective of its 30-something-year-old founder and her even younger staff, Project Interfaith has embraced the digital age through its online RavelUnravel video program and other educational resources.

“We’ve always seen the potential for our work to have an impact on multiple levels and I feel we’re just beginning to fully realize that,” Katz says.

The RavelUnravel initiative began in 2010 when she and her team assembled volunteers to capture flip camera-recorded interviews with diverse people at various sites around the Omaha metropolitan area. Each participant was asked to answer four questions revolving around their religious or spiritual identity, any stereotypes they’ve encountered around that expressed identity and the degree to which they find this community welcoming or unwelcoming to their religious or spiritual path.

Individuals and groups wanting to participate so surpassed expectations the campaign was extended. The campaign’s since been opened to the general public. More than 1,100 unique videos can be viewed at ravelunravel.com today. The submissions, all screened for content and minimally edited whenever possible, are from folks identifying with a myriad of religions and belief systems including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, agnosticism, atheism as well as every imaginable variation that exists within each category. A wide range of ages and races are represented. Viewers are able to comment on their own and others’ videos.

She says the program reflects emerging trends, such as a growing segment of the population that does not affiliate with a particular religion or belief system.

“I think we’re seeing an evolution of how people articulate their religious and spiritual identities and experiences and how they connect to established religions and belief systems.”

The organization recently became a formal partner of the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, a joint initiative of the White House and the Department of Education, thus positioning it to actively solicit videos from across America. It’s going global, too.

“We’re in the process of entering into partnerships with some organizations outside of the U.S. who would incorporate RavelUnravel in their interfaith work. We’re excited about the possibility of having videos from beyond the U.S. being part of the project.”

Let’s talk

She emphasizes, however, it’s really not about the volume of videos “that makes this a meaningful, impactful program, it’s what people do with the videos and how they respond. Certainly we want and invite as many people to share their stories as possible but it’s really about what the stories do when people watch them and talk about them.” Conversation kits have been developed to guide productive dialogue around topics typically considered taboo.

“Hopefully what they’re doing is inviting people to ask themselves those questions and to do some important self-reflection. Hopefully they’re giving people a tool to enter conversations with other people about these core questions that really drive our experiences and speak to this underlying humanity that connects all of us.”

The videos’ intensely intimate content is moving to Katz.

“I have been so honored by what people have been willing to share in their videos. This is not like do you prefer Coke or Pepsi. These are questions that really hit at the core of people’s identity and experiences as humans. There’s a video, for example, of an individual that talks about his identity as a gay Christian man and how for so many years that was something he could not reconcile. It drove him to try to commit suicide. He then talks about his experience of really finding peace with it and where that’s’ brought him to now.

“It’s some of the most personal information a person could share. I think all of us at Project Interfaith feel an incredible sense of responsibility and stewardship with these stories people are entrusting with us. Hopefully they’re presented in the most integrity-filled and authentic way possible. We want to use this as a vehicle to encourage and inspire others to share their stories.”

 

 

  • Brandon Deen  Ashton  Sam  Torrey  Porcha
  • Scott  Betty  Cecilia  Theresa  Hannah
  • Sierra  Karen  Noah   Nargilya   Sarwat Husain
  • Annie  Shelby  Chad  Monk Luke  Katie
  • Jeff  Samira  Gucharan  Manbir  Autumn
  • Yeji  Taylor   Emily  Sarah  Donna
  • Beth  Monica  Brandi  Dawn  Anthony
  • Melissa  Christian  Amanda

 

She feels the program is an antidote for this age of dislocation.

“There’s universal experiences that really connect us and I think Ravel Unravel illustrates those. I get struck over and over by how deeply human the videos are. When you see a person’s video it’s the next best thing to sitting across the table from someone because these aren’t scripted. It’s real people sharing their experiences and I think it just melts away so many of the labels, sound bites and preconceptions constantly being swirled around in our heads, in media, in advertising. I think there’s incredible power in that.

“What makes this work meaningful is that we have the potential to create new ways for people to connect and interact with one another.”

Interfaith opportunities
Katz is encouraged by more interfaith opportunities available today than when she launched her nonprofit nine years ago.

“It’s exciting to see all the different ways people can explore these topics and enter into these types of conversations.”

She says Omaha’s seeing increased activity with the Tri-Faith Initiative, progressive religious studies programs at local universities, open adult forums at Countryside Community Church and Urban Abbey and interfaith exchanges among synagogues, mosques and churches.

“I think it’s remarkable so much is going on here.”

On the other hand, she says, Omaha, like the rest of the nation and world, has a ways to go. “It’s still such a nascent and emerging field that I don’t think the idea of openly, respectfully talking and learning about a person’s religious identity and experiences is normalized. That’s really what we’re striving to do – to make this a part of people’s every day lives, so it’s a very comfortable process.”

She does like the direction interfaith efforts are going, however.

“There is a lot of innovative good work coming from a lot of different places. This is really about trying to elevate the quality of people’s lives and relationships and the strength of our communities and so it’s important we have a lot of different models we can look toward to find meaningful ways to engage each other and to work together.”

Technology both aids and hurts this movement.

“As we’ve seen with RavelUnravel it can be an incredible way of inviting access to these conversations, experiences and learning. The flip side is you also have a lot of misinformation circulating out there. Extremist and hate groups are extremely sophisticated in their use of social media and technology to present their message and galvanize their base. We need to really become creative and sophisticated in our use of technology and social media to present a counter-narrative that engages people in thoughtful ways and connects them with credible information.”

Interfaith efforts may be more needed today than ever.

“I feel like it’s the best of times and the worst of times for this work. 9/11 brought to the forefront a lot of ignorance and curiosity people had about religious diversity. We see in surveys the level of polarization, social hostility and government restrictions on religious freedom increasing. Some of the RavelUnravel videos call us to think about these really complicated, rich experiences in a more humane way. For a society to be really healthy and functional we have to have space for everyone to share who they are.”

Unraveled
As another way to spur conversation, Project Interfaith invited visual artists to respond to RavelUnravel. Fifty-two artists submitted and a jury selected works in various media by eleven from around the nation, including Omaha artists Molly Romero, Bart Vargas, Kathryn Schroeder and Paula Wallace. The exhibit, titled Unraveled, opened in Omaha and is traveling to sites in Neb. and other parts of the nation.

“Using the arts to engage people has always been a track of our work at Project Interfaith,” Katz says. “Now that it’s traveling to a diversity of institutions and communities it’ll be really exciting to get feedback from those host sites about how it’s being used and what people are responding to.”

The exhibit premiered at Omaha’s Jewish Community Center, whose art gallery director, Lynn Batten, says, “What makes this exhibit unique is its potential to develop community education and understanding around the concept of religious identity and how it permeates our every day lives and society as a whole. By asking the artists to represent their personal stories, the viewer begins to see the common denominator between them all. They begin to see that we are all universally connected beyond what our religious beliefs might be – that we are united through our experience of the human condition.”

“That’s part of what this is all about – trying to help people appreciate and delve into the complexity and the richness of identity and experience as it relates to religious, spiritual, cultural backgrounds and identities,” Katz says.

Unraveled’s next area stops include: Saint Paul United Methodist Church (Lincoln), Nov. 3 to Dec. 1; Iowa Western Community College, Jan. 12 to Feb. 6; and Countryside Community Church (Omaha), July 1 to July 31.

Follow Project Interfaith news at projectinterfaith.org. View RavelUnravel videos or upload one at ravelunravel.com.

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