Sunday- a week later
Things just got moving faster and faster at the Parliament, leaving no time for blogging. I returned home on Tuesday, with a pile of notes, impressions, and pictures that it will take a while to unload.
On Sunday of the Parliament, I passed through the lobby, where Beyond Words, a dance ritual incorporating greetings of peace, chants, and movement from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Native traditions was underway. I was headed for a session on the Compassion Games. The Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC) has participated in the Compassion Games for the past couple of years, and I was delighted to find that the presenters were from Menlo Park. We made connections to consult further. Jon Ramer, the creator of Compassion Games, was there, and took the opportunity to “pass the torch” to me and the SiVIC team.
At noon, Linda Crawford and Fred Fielding of ICP met together with Will McGarvey of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, Michael Pappas of San Francisco Interfaith Council, Carol Hovis of Marin Interfaith Council and with heads of interfaith groups from New York City, Washington, DC,. Wichita Kansas, and Maryland to explore how we might network with one another and share our experience and methods. We in the Bay Area have been meeting together about three times a year at ICP for several years. It was good to extend our connections across the country.
Editor, Bay Area Interfaith Connect
Saturday- The day began with a session entitled “Kill Them (Qur’an), Do Not Spare Them (Torah), and Cast Them Into Everlasting Fire (New Testament): Context of Difficult Religious Texts” with Karen Armstrong, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and Jonathan Brown. All three spoke of how their religious traditions dealt with violence in their sacred texts. “Every generation is equidistant from God” said Brown; every generation has to look at scripture and tradition and it’s current situation and choose for itself how to live.
In the evening we gathered for the evening plenary on “War, Violence and Hate Speech,” with Alan Boesak, Karen Armstrong, Tariq Ramadan, John Esposito, Medea Benjamin, Jane Goodall, and more. What a day!
Lest you think that a day bookended by a discussion of toxic sacred texts and examination of war and violence was all grim and ugly, I also:
A full day, by any measure!
Friday-As I make my way through the bustling activity at the Salt Palace, I’m struck by the fact that interfaith isn’t just for grey heads any more. For too long, before my own hear started turning grey, I was aware at interfaith gatherings that I was one of the few “young” people there. This time the corridors are filled with young, engaged, excited participants. This is good news for the movement.
I was lined up with others from the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council to do a presentation titled “From Partner City to Interreligious Council: Building a More Just and Compassionate Society.” At the Melbourne Parliament in 2009, many of the same people had made a presentation on what we had learned in the process of applying for Partner City status with the Parliament. We were welcomed in as the “Inaugural Partner City” then. Shortly thereafter, we created the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC). Since our Partner City status had a lot to do with the creation of the Council, we were asked to tell the story at this Parliament.
Those attending the session were a small, but enthusiastic and engaged group. We described the origins of SiVIC, our efforts to create a new council, and some of the challenges we faced in the process. We included an Affirmative Inquiry process, inviting the participants to consider what their own situations offered in terms of interfaith cooperation and possibilities for working together.
Then I found my way to a session sponsored by the Holocaust Museum on what significance the Holocaust might have beyond the Jewish/Christian world. Along with John Pawlikowski, who is legendary in Jewish/Christian relations, there was a second year rabbinical student, a Sikh who teaches Islamic studies and a Muslim woman who teaches religion and Holocaust. Another amazing discussion.
I was invited to join people from Islamic Networks Group (ING) for dinner and we ate at a local restaurant. I talked with people I’ve worked with over the years but whom I don’t see very often, and while sitting there, saw first ICP Board Member Scott Quinn, then ICP Executive Director Linda Crawford and former ICP Interim Director Susan Strouse come in, and later, ICP Board Member Don Frew. Don was with a group of Pagans and Wiccans and Evangelical Christians preparing for what I later learned was a very profitable dialogue.
After dinner, as I was making my way back to the garage, I came upon a Native American ritual in progress. There are two tipis set up in the courtyard, and they had a big fire pit with a sacred fire burning. There was drumming and chanting from several folks. A stirring end to the first day.
“Faith in Women: Women’s Dignity and Human Rights,” a pre-Parliament gathering on Thursday focused on women- the challenges they face and the gifts they bring to the world. The opening session featured greetings from indigenous grandmothers and noted women leaders from Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and other religious backgrounds. Workshops addressed the Earth and the Sacred, sexual violence against women, the role of the Divine Mother, Mormon Feminists, and women as global peacemakers, to name just a few.
The official opening of the Parliament on Thursday evening was led by a Native American drum circle and a procession of local indigenous leaders who danced and then welcomed the visitors to their tribal lands, the home of the Utes, the Shoshone, and many more.
The Governor of Utah noted that it was a lot easier for the over 9,000 attendees at the Parliament to get to Salt Lake City than it was for the original settlers. They came on foot, in carts, and on horseback, he said, but their dream was to find “peace and a place to practice their religion freely.” Those who gathered for the Parliament are seeking the same things- in a time “when religious harmony is needed more than ever,” those gathered for the next few days will devote themselves to learning about others, facing up to the challenges of the contemporary world, and finding ways to work together for the good of all.
Although the thousands of people in the room came from around the world and represented dozens, if not hundreds, of diverse religious traditions, they gathered with a common faith, one that United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon named in a message to the gathering: “a shared faith in humanity.”
It was perhaps more than a little ironic that after devoting a full day to women and their importance to the religious world that there were only a few women on the stage for the opening ceremonies, none of them making a major speech. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a rousing welcome to what was to come over the next few days.
When I checked in at the Salt Palace for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the gracious woman behind the desk gave me my nametag, a booklet titled “The Commitment Book,” and then said, “you’ll want a tote bag.” As I took the canvas bag, I realized what a weighty prospect lay ahead. The program book measures a full 8 1/2″ by 11″ and is 3/4″ thick. It probably weighs a couple of pounds. For navigating my way around I think I’ll rely on the app, but the program book is an impressive reminder of the richness of the next several days. There are hundreds of workshops, religious experiences, and plenary sessions offering a rich array of traditions, learning, and sharing. And all this is not to mention the conversations in the hallways or over the Langar lunch provided free by the Sikh community.
I then went in search of “Remembered Light,” the display of stained glass art repurposed from fragments of windows gathered from sacred spaces in Europe by Chaplain Fred McDonald following World War II. I was afraid it would be tucked away in a dark corner of some exhibition hall, but was delighted to find it in the main hall, right on the path to the lunch area and next to a lounge and resting space. ICP Executive Linda Crawford and stained glass artist Armelle LeRoux were both there, with both harrowing and inspiring stories of the effort it had taken to bring the windows to Salt Lake City. Already people were touring through the display, weeping at times, moved by the vision of something new and creative arising from the ashes of war.
The Windows are a valued addition to the Parliament environment, and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio is gaining recognition for its work as well. Thanks to Linda, Armelle, and board member Camilla Smith for making this happen.
Now on to the next four days!
Last week, a group composed of Muslims and Christians came together at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio for a discussion of the role of Jesus in the Qur’an. We’ll start discussing the book, Islam’s Jesus by Zeki Saritoprak, at our next gathering, so for openers we looked at the stories about Jesus’ birth in the Gospels and in the Qur’an.
Fatih F. Ates of Pacifica Institute showed a YouTube video of a dramatization of the verses of the Qur’an dealing with the annunciation to Mary and the birth of Jesus. I handed out the texts from Matthew, Luke and John concerning the origins of Jesus. And a lively discussion ensued. The Christians were surprised to learn the high esteem in which both Mary and Jesus are given in Islam (there are more verses about Mary in the Qur’an than in the Gospels). The Muslims were curious about the development of the New Testament, how the stories originated and were transmitted.Curiosity abounds on both sides and the conversation was thoughtful and respectful. Most of all, we enjoyed each other’s company! And we’re looking forward to getting to know even more about one another. My hope is that even more people will join the group – so many that we have to create more small discussion groups, at least for part of the meeting time.
What a different way of addressing the diversity of our world from organizing protests at places of worship. Needless to say, there were no flags or guns at our meeting, either. I’m not writing this to brag (well, maybe a little), but to encourage people of faith and goodwill to get involved in something like this – something that contributes to peace in our communities. It’s too easy to just criticize the crazies, dismiss them and go about our business as usual. More is required.
How are you already involved in peacemaking? How might you find new ways to “be the change you want to see”?
Thanks to Rev. Susan Strouse; read more at https://progressivechurch.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/jesus-mary-the-quran/
It’s been a long time coming, anticipation has been building, and now it’s less than a week away! The Parliament of the World’s Religions takes place in Salt Lake City October 15-19. ICP will be displaying the McDonald Windows in Hall C; lead artist on the project Armelle Leroux will be onsite some of the time. These beautiful messages of peace reborn from the destruction of World War II remind us of the ongoing challenge to promote understanding and cooperation among religious communities and institutions.
Many of our colleagues from the Bay Area will be attending and making presentations. At our pre-Parliament gathering in June, we heard about a few: former ICP Interim Director Susan Strouse on “The Intrafaith Conversation;” ICP Board member Andrew Kille on “From Partner City to Interreligious Council;” Sally Mahe of URI on “Democracy and Religious Diversity;” Theodore Timpson on “Approaches to Interfaith Education;” Macha Nightmare and friends offering “Goddesses Alive! A Ritual with Masks.” Longtime friend Iftekhar Hai speaks on how the Qur’an and the Bible deal with pluralism; Paul Chaffee on Interfaith Digital Communication. ING will describe its interfaith speakers bureau, and the list goes on and on.
If you are active on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, look for the hashtag #PWRBayArea to share what you are learning and find out who else is there from our region. We’ll be posting to our blog and Facebook pages as well during the Parliament, so take a look at what’s happening.
Read more about the Parliament from Board member Andrew Kille at Examiner.com.
This is the archive for the Bay Area Interfaith Connect, the former newsletter for the Interfaith Center at the Presidio .