The following is guest post by Michael Ivan Schwartz, President of Loud Communications and Director of Baltimore Urban Lacrosse League.
Loud Communications produces documentary-style videos for non-profit organizations. Baltimore Urban Lacrosse League (BULL) is a middle school lacrosse league in Baltimore City.
When I began my documentary film company in the fall of 2002, I was an active “follower of Jesus,” as I liked to call myself. Being born and raised Jewish (reformed) and growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I knew the term Christian held a lot of negative bias in some communities. So, I avoided it. To be honest, I avoided most religious terms and traditions during my twenty-year venture in the faith.
My work primarily was with non-profit organizations involved in social justice issues. Often these were groups founded by Christians and funded by church-affiliated people. I could talk the lingo of church-folks and fit into the subculture needed to provide an insider viewpoint for these video productions. Work was easy.
Along the way, I encountered projects for programs that I wasn’t always comfortable with regarding their doctrine, worldview, or spiritual practice. I questioned their faith. I questioned my faith. I wondered whether it mattered if what I believed should determine who I worked with and what messages I was helping proliferate. When I compared my work to friends who were engineers, teachers, health care workers, etc. it seemed like they didn’t have to make this awkward choice of who to serve and who to ignore. For them, it didn’t matter what their client, student, or patient believed. They simply did their job.
While this question of who to work with was pressing on me during my 20s and 30s, I was also experiencing a progression in my worldview and religious perspective. I had grown up Jewish with a bent toward agnosticism. I was primarily a cultural Jew with very little interest or belief in religious practice. At age 19, in college, I found Jesus—that’s a longer story for another time. I became very involved in spiritual study and practice, mostly through interdenominational parachurch organizations and evangelical churches. Belief in God and my desire to do work that pleased Him was paramount. Until, it wasn’t.
In my early 40s, my faith in God had dissolved. My life experiences both inside and outside of the church community along with studying Christian writing brought about a new perspective. I was no longer an insider. I am no longer a “follower of Jesus.” However, some of the best things I’ve learned in life have come through my two decades of religious experiences. I believe in tolerance and open mindedness. I believe in fighting for justice and speaking up on behalf of those with smaller voices. I believe in serving people where they are and for who they are. I believe in love—especially love for those different from me.
I believe learning from other worldviews and stepping into other cultures brings people together. During my time at the Entrepreneurs Lunch Series with the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, I’ve experienced a diverse set of views on living in Baltimore. We are a city full of tension over our differences, including our different views on how to make things better. My work with small non-profit organizations in the city has broadened my understanding of how our different approaches are essential for making life better for all of the unique subcultures within our communities.
Spending time talking, eating, laughing, crying, and sharing our different religious and life experiences with folks we wouldn’t typically connect with in our everyday lives is a fantastic way to build a better community. Isolation is a killer.
My time in Baltimore has been filled with these types of connections and conversations. A regular client of mine is the Baltimore City Public Schools. Working with kids in the city and seeing the range of struggles along with some incredibly resilient teachers and students finding success in the classroom is a brilliant way to renew my sense of purpose.
I’ve produced videos for a small afterschool mentoring program called Acts4Youth which does an incredible job balancing educational instruction, social skill training, and spiritual growth exercises to impact youth in the city.
Another place I experience this is as a volunteer with the Baltimore Urban Lacrosse League. We have 13 middle school boys and girls teams participating in a spring league and each summer we take an all-star team to some of the suburban lacrosse tournaments. Our kids (most of whom are poor and African American) get a taste of the good and the bad of participating in a mostly white, upper income sport. And it’s in that tension of different folks coming together to play a game where life experience and exposure can be broadened. Bridges are built. Walls are broken down.
I’ve found that my question of who to work with is no longer dependent on a religious worldview. Rather, I focus on working with those trying to help bring diverse people together to make the world a more beautiful place.
The ICJS Entrepreneurs Lunchtime Series (ELS) brings together local entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the role that religion and ethics can play in building healthy communities. In this initiative, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about religion and ethics in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome and lift up this diversity of perspectives.