Patheos 10+1: A Q&A with Activist-Minister Amanda Henderson

Patheos 10+1: A Q&A with Activist-Minister Amanda Henderson March 23, 2016

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The Rev. Amanda Henderson, Executive Director of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado

The Rev. Amanda Henderson was up at the crack of dawn on a cold Tuesday morning earlier this month, her white cleric collar showing from under her winter jacket. She stood with a small group of other clergy on a gritty downtown street corner on the morning the “sweep” was to begin. Over the past weekend, the city of Denver had put up notices that they would be “sweeping” the homeless folks off of the streets and putting their belongings in storage.

I saw Henderson being interviewed later that day on the evening news about why she was out there on that corner, and I remember most her saying that she was there to stand in solidarity with these people on the streets who were human beings deserving of dignity and respect. She also spoke of how dire the situation had become in Denver for those without homes and services.

Standing with the homeless is just one of the many acts of compassion and justice Henderson does on a regular basis in her role as the Executive Director of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, a nonprofit promoting justice, religious liberty, and interfaith understanding. She organized a gathering last fall at the Colorado Muslim Society to stand in solidarity against Islamophobia, and she was there shortly after the shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs as a pastor to care takers and advocates. You can also find her at the state Capitol bringing diverse religious voices to speak for human rights and equality, as she works for religion as a ‘force for good,’ and calls out when religious ideology is being used to oppress or harm.

We invited Henderson, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), to share more about her work and her inspiration (and her guilty pleasures!) for our Patheos 10+1 Interview Series, in which we ask the same 10 questions of Christian game-changers and thought-leaders who are inspiring us today. Her responses are below.

What is your work in the world?

My work in the world is in the spaces of  ‘difference’. I work to bring people together across our ‘differences’ in the belief that it is in these spaces that we find justice, thriving and flourishing for all. Specifically, I bring people of different faiths together to work for human rights and equality through my work as the Executive Director of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado.

What are you most energized by, professionally or personally, at the moment?

The ‘edges.’ I love being in rooms or places with people who are thinking creatively about complex human issues. I am energized by situations that dive into the deep messiness of life unabashedly. Where people are seeking to live and love authentically with integrity. Specifically, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Denver Homeless Out Loud group, and work with advocacy partners for women’s reproductive justice and GLBT equality. Like I said, the places that get a little messy and risky!

What’s inspiring your work right now?

The state of the world and the public rhetoric of division. I am honestly heartbroken and continually baffled by some of the hurtful and hateful things I see and hear. When I hold this in contrast to the beautiful deep relationships I have with people who are often spoken of with such hate, and with the rich history of love, inclusion and creativity I find in books and ideas passed down for centuries, I can’t help but feel inspired to work for more of the love and compassion and less of the g*rbage.

What’s the last book you read?

Ta Nahisi Coats Between the World and Me. Not only is the content profound and paradigm shifting, but he is a poetic and beautiful writer. I also have a constant pile of books and books of all sorts laying all around the house that I pick up and read a chapter at a time. I might have an Amazon addiction enabled by one-click ordering.

What’s something few people know about you?

I am totally obsessed with dogs. I can identify most dog breeds, and my sweet big dog Sherman is my shadow. I can’t live without a dog by my side.

Why are you still a Christian?

Because I feel God stirring in my bones. And because the life and love of Jesus continue to call me to ways of being in the world that light a fire in my belly. I love that through Jesus, God comes into the messiness of life and turns tables to stand with those who are left out and excluded. I love that Jesus continues to challenge assumptions and call us to deeper ways of being in the world.

What’s your favorite theological word?

Perichoresis. The ‘interlocking’ nature of God’s being. Where each of the pieces are unique and ‘particular’, yet open to and in relationship with the other. And that we are invited into this circle of God’s being. This informs my theology, my way of being in the world, and my understanding of ‘interfaith’ work.

How do you pray?

Every way. I love prayer. I pray when I walk through parking lots, or when sitting in a waiting room. My deepest prayer comes in my yoga practice, through breathing meditations, and in pauses when reading.

What’s a guilty pleasure?

Too many… The worst is probably Dairy Queen Reece’s Blizzards in the summer. I can’t get enough.

What’s one cause you’d like more people to know about/support?

Not that it is unknown, but I would like more people to stand with and to financially support the Black Lives Matter movement. The criminal justice reform and community empowerment that go along with this work seem like common sense to me when you look at the numbers and hear the stories. This should not be controversial. If these horrible numbers and stories were associated with any issue besides ‘race’ our communities would be moving mountains to address the underlying issues to bring change. It is time to work for real equality and thriving for all people.

IMG_3727-e1413832011771 (1)Bonus Question: What’s the key to successful interfaith dialogue?

Knowing who you are. The best ‘interfaith dialogues’ happen when people are grounded in their own tradition. This allows each person to come to the table with a clear sense of their own identity and an openness and curiosity to learn about other people’s experience. Ultimately, the hope of ‘interfaith dialogue’ is that it leads to a deeper sense of both our differences and our common humanity. This awareness should lead to a commitment to standing with and for one another’s wellbeing.

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