Profiles in Radical Hospitality

Hi there!  Shea here.  *Waving.*  As part of our Better Together at OU blog, we're going to be posting pieces written by folks who spend time at UCM programming related to the White House Interfaith Challenge.  UCM runs on the idea of Radical Hospitality, which means we accept everyone who walks through our doors no questions asked.  In large part because of the vibe this creates there's lots of interesting people at UCM involved in lots of interesting things.  I thought you might like to meet some of them and learn about their views of UCM, faith, life, and other stuff.  I've been asking around for blog posts, so here's the first one I received.  Today's post is by Kavin Shah, an OU student and regular volunteer at Thursday Supper and Saturday Lunch and participant at Interfaith Impact.

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Hello. My name is Kavin Shah and I am a lifetime member of the Clean Plate Club. This is my first year being involved with UCM and I’ve already had some of the best times of my 4 years here. I love the opportunities it provides for me to become a bigger part of what I now define as my community. Athens is no longer just a transient residence where my college is, it has become a home.  I am currently a senior studying psychology and women’s studies at OU and there is no better place where I can apply what I learn in school to form closer relationships with my community members than at UCM. Sometimes I like to clean and wash dishes but my favorite duties so far include: taking Wanda home, hugging Richard, Gerry’s stories, and listening to Frances say the word “honey”. I also enjoy pulling knotweed, petting dogs, and interfaith impact. I plan on spending as much time here as I can so if you haven’t been by this year come say hi Thursday 5:30 or Saturday 1:00 and we can share a meal!



Why I Am Occupying

Hi again!  Shea here.  *Waving.*

United Campus Ministries has been incredibly supportive of the Occupy Ohio University movement.  After all, when a group of students works with administration to hold a non-violent, substance free, radically inclusive, social justice demonstration for the purpose of educating college students about civil disobedience, what's there to say besides "Awe-some!"?

On that note, I thought it would be pertinent to share why I am occupying.  I have a lovely post written by a frequent volunteer at UCM's Free Meals Program, but I thought perhaps talking about Occupy this week would be timely.  But keep in mind, this is personal.  I'm not speaking for anyone else, for the occupy movement here or anywhere else, or for UCM.  I'm Shea and I'm speaking for me, as someone who values humans and religion and things like mountains and love.  And it's a bit long, for exactly the same reason it's a bit personal.

So, I am occupying because basic human rights are being violated.  Even here, even now, even though we’ve seen human rights violated before and been sickened by what we’ve seen.  And these human rights are beyond basic, or at least the way I think about them is.  They include the right to be safe.  The right to have a place to live that is conducive to healthy human life.  These human rights, in my view, include the right to be not hungry.  The right to love and be loved.  The right to be educated.  To live without fear of oppression based on power binaries and differences.  The right to religious diversity and freedom of expression.  And because the UN says it’s so, and because I respect the UN, the right to internet access.

I don’t think these rights comprise an especially large request.  I am not occupying, after all, in demand of diamonds or high-quality cowboy boots (the prices on these things are outrageous, for the non-Appalachians in my midst).  I am not occupying in demand that everybody love everybody or because I demand personal beliefs be sacrificed in order to create a more human-friendly world.  I am occupying because now, in this place, people don’t always have access to very basic human needs.  When we’re discussing Psychology, and maybe it’s a good idea to visit Psychology-World right about now, people need their basic needs met in order to advance to higher levels of being.  When folks don’t feel safe, when they don’t have a place to live that is conducive to healthy human life or enough food to eat, they most generally lack the ability to advance into higher, more actualized states of being.  And because everyone secretly wants to be actualized, I occupy.

I occupy because I am an Appalachian woman and these hills, this loam under your muddy rain boots, have been disrespected more ways than an 18th century sailor knew how to semantically disvalue a woman.  Coal mining is dangerous work, for people and for mountains.  Now entire mountain tops are being removed and, frankly, every time one of these mountains loses its top my heart breaks.  It’s not ok to take a mountain’s top.  Mountains are bigger than we are, they’re important, and I think we’re being just a bit greedy by taking the tops of very old mountains with no intention of returning them.  Didn’t our mother’s teach us manners?  Or, for those folks not lucky enough to have good mothers, don’t you know they were supposed to?  And living around these mountains are PEOPLE.  Bad stuff cycles unless we choose to actively break cycles of bad stuff.  Because Appalachian children, and everyone else who lives in this region, have faced what I would view to be basic human rights violations, I occupy.

I occupy because I think people deserve to have rule over their lives.   To love and be loved.  This includes the right to marry whomever one loves, so long as the relationship is healthy (I’m not occupying in the name of non-healthiness, after all).  This also includes the right to raise children in a functional household, the right to be a child who feels safe at home, and the right to speak whatever language in that home one feels comfortable speaking without fear of being devalued for speaking that language.  I think both women and men should have the right to decide when they want children and access to birth control and I strongly feel that women should have access to medically safe abortions.  I think people deserve healthcare—mental and physical—that is accessible and which comes without stigma.  To copy and paste this paragraph’s thesis sentence, because I think it works well here as well, I occupy because I think people deserve to have rule over their lives.  

I’m occupying because these things are not happening.  Because there’s been a power binary created that’s a bit like a see-saw: a few folks are up in the air while the rest of us, and we’re a very worthwhile rest of us, are in the economic mud.  I like mud as much as the next gal but this version of living—whether we blame corporations, taxes, or whatever political party we are not—isn’t ok with me.  I think people deserve these basic rights, and I don’t think we live in a society that provides individuals with the ability to access these rights.  And no matter whose fault that is, it’s not acceptable. 

I’m not naive.  I don’t think the world is a perfect place and I don’t think that any turn of events or handful of decades could dramatically re-fashion human life in America to be hunky-dory for every single person in this nation.  I don’t believe in utopia.  Like Ursula K. Le Guin, I believe we all have our dark sides, and since society was fashioned by humans with dark sides it has a dark side as well.  But I believe that the way we treat the least among us—the poor, the disempowered and those with unequal rights—is a gauge of our society, and I think that perhaps our society isn’t acing reality right now.  I think our society is capable of doing better.

This is why I occupy.



No Label Required

Today's post is from Rachel Hyden, Campus Organizer for Ohio University's Better Together Campaign. 

For the majority of my life I have had no religious identity. As a child my parents never took me to church, and through high school I never much spoke of religion. It wasn’t until college that I really started questioning my beliefs­– not only the basic questions like where I came from, what my purpose is, and if there is a God, but questioning where I fit in. I knew I was a moral person- I believed in equity, I believed in peace, and I believed in doing what was best for this planet and the people on it. But I didn’t know where I fit in. Was there a religious community out there for somebody like me?  Someone who doesn’t identify with a religion, but instead lives a life based on the common morals and ethics you would find in most religious codes? What do you call somebody like me?

What I’ve come to realize through my interfaith organizing is this­– I don’t need a label to fit in. My morals and my values are my religion, and I am finally comfortable with the lack of title. It wasn’t easy getting to this point­– for so long I craved to believe in a recognized religion. But I don’t need the label to fit into this community, this interfaith community. And here at Ohio University, this interfaith community is really starting to grow.

On September 11, over 350 OU and Athens community members gathered for an Interfaith Peace Walk. With so many faith traditions represented, it was utterly breathtaking to see the diversity intertwining through the crowd. Labels and no labels, we were a community walking as one. And despite our differences, we stood side by side for our shared belief in peace. There are few words that can truly describe the moment when I felt the sense of belonging that I had been yearning for. It was incredible.

While the Peace Walk was a moment that will stay with me for a lifetime, I know there are many more to come. Better Together at Ohio University will be working this year to raise $5,000 to build a well in a developing nation. If that goal is reached and we can successfully give a community access to clean and safe drinking water, I know that moment will change me forever. With just one year of interfaith organizing, we have the potential to save someone’s life. Imagine what we could do with ten?

The White House Interfaith Challenge

Hi!  *Waving.*  My name is Shea Daniels.  Welcome to the Better Together at Ohio University Blog!  This week I'd like to tell you about the White House Interfaith Challenge, mostly because I'm really really excited about it.  Hopefully by the end of this post you'll be excited about it, too!

The White House Interfaith Challenge is a super-cool initiative that Ohio University is part of.  It's a service based challenge focused on interfaith cooperation.  Let's break those sentences down a little bit further, because it seems to me that there's two really important ideas being communicated, and I want to make sure you end up just as excited about them as I am.

Idea 1: The White House Interfaith Challenge is service based.  Colleges who are part of the challenge, like Ohio University in Athens, choose two issues to focus that service around, one domestic and one international.  Here at Ohio University we've chosen Domestic Poverty and Food Insecurity (this is what I'm working on) as well as International Water Security (initiative run by Rachel Hyden).  Students and community members are banning together to serve hot, yummy, healthy free meals twice a week (domestic poverty / food insecurity) while raising money to build at least one well in Africa (international water security).  And we're having a blast!

Idea 2: This is an Interfaith challenge.  What does Interfaith mean?  Semantically, let's visit our good friend Webster.  According to Webster, Interfaith means "involving persons of different religious faiths."  This is a really good definition but I would like to challenge Mr. Webster on one point...Interfaith work is for folks of all and no faith traditions, so folks who are atheists, agnostic, or don't know what they are, are as welcome as folks who are Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or Wiccan.  Lots of people involved in our Interfaith challenge don't claim any religious tradition.  Lots of people involved in our Interfaith challenge are devout followers of a religion.  And we're all working together, because that's the point.  Even if we don't agree on everything we agree it is more productive to build a well in Africa than to argue about religious differences.

So, that's the White House Interfaith Service Challenge in a nutshell.  Interested in getting involved?  Yay!  Email  Rachel at for more informational about the International Water Security initiative, or if you want to join our Steering Committee.  If you're interested in Domestic Poverty and Food Insecurity you can email me, Shea, at, or just show up at UCM's Free Meals Program (Thursday 5:30, Saturday 1PM). 

So, once again, I'm Shea.  *Waving.*  Welcome to Better Together at Ohio University's blog.  Stay tuned in coming weeks for all kinds of interesting posts from all kinds of people.  We'll be talking about Interfaith work, about the service we're doing, and about what it means to us.  Because we're pretty sure that we're better together than we are divided, and we're pretty sure we can positively impact the world through the service we're doing.