What happens at the Parliament of World Religions?

Wow, what a full two days it’s been! I feel like I’ve been here for a week already.

I have so many impressions upon my mind and my heart… so many small stories…  even a few prayers answered. Too much to tell, too much to feel really.

Interfaith Education and Dialogue

The Parliament of World Religions – a place for all of the world’s wisdom traditions to meet for education and connection. This seems to be the epitome of interfaith dialogue. It’s exciting to be in a building with 8,000 people who have come together for the sake of brother- and sisterhood and peace-creating, not in spite of, but BECAUSE of their differences.

Education is important, of course. But, I’m more interested in what happens when you put together two seemingly different or opposing things. It’s like taking two rocks and hitting them against each other to create a spark, to light a fire. There’s a line in the Broadway musical RENT that says “the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation!” It’s not the learning about each rock or trying to get one rock to chip away at the other rock until it’s gone that leads to peace. It’s about the active force between the two. This, to me, indicates the importance of relationship. That’s why I’m so excited that the Parliament seems to be emphasizing what we can do together. There is a strong social justice theme here at the Parliament and all of the major speakers in the major sessions that I’ve seen have talked about what needs to be done on this planet and how we can do it!

The education piece isn’t about distilling each religion into one platitude that we can all agree on (though, I think there is a lot to be agreed on – compassion, duh). However, what does unite us is the fact that we are all human beings, we are all inhabitants of this planet. If we can work from there, coming together in action and service for the health of the planet and all of its human and non-human communities, whatever we do will naturally help us transcend (not ignore) differences and build bridges.

Emerging Leaders

I’m having a great time talking about some of these themes with the Emerging Leaders breakout sessions, for those under the age of 36. Though I appreciate and seek out intergenerational dialogue, I felt like I had finally found my tribe. For once, I feel like the dozen or so of us approached our topic of War and Hatred in an integrated way. Too many times have I found myself in dialogues that dissolve into cynical intellectualism OR la-dee-da-light-and-love sentimentality. With this group, there is a commitment to deep and open-hearted listening, while also keen observations volleying back and forth through the conversational air. Our brief 90-minute discussion last night, which will continue tonight and tomorrow, was refreshing – the kind of feeling you get when you don’t realize how thirsty you were until you take a long drink of cool water! I’m looking forward to more and can’t wait to report on the actionable plan(s) that I know will arise.

How to be an interfaith/interspiritual minister

One of the young women I encountered last night asked how, as an interfaith minister, do I address and honor faith traditions without tokenizing them? She said that her campus interfaith coordinator often asks her for a Hebrew prayer for various ceremonies and functions, but that sometimes it feels forced or the prayer is taken out of context. She’s happy to share her faith and say prayers, but feels that sometimes it’s for the sake of simply having a Jewish offering. I mentioned that I noticed this very issue in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Women’s Assembly which was careful to honor so many different faiths, but sometimes there are simply too many prayers! I do believe that it’s important to give voice to everyone, but when does it become simply noise? When does a prayer become just a way for a certain faith to be heard instead of way to authentically connect to the Divine through that particular framework?

My response, I said, would be to look for true inspiration, to invite inspiration from the collective wisdom of the group. I wouldn’t want to be an interfaith taskmaster, simply plugging in the Christian hole and the Muslim hole, etc. etc. My philosophy is to be more of a facilitator or a curator, providing a container that responds to the individual and specific offerings of a community while holding the whole in mind.

This response was pretty similar to the one I gave my neighbor in the Langar line who asked me what exactly does an interspiritual minister do? I said, “Great question! The answer, for me, changes everyday, and I see it answered in as many ways as there are interspiritual ministers.” I attempted to explain that my ministry is a response to whoever lands in front of me. There is no interfaith dogma or theology to pull from, really. It’s not like being a Christian minister who’s going to respond to someone struggling with their Christian faith within a Christian framework. It’s about asking questions that invite whatever is inside to arise – to meet with that inner impulse that guides an individual.

More later…

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