Archive for the ‘CPWR’ Category
Parliament Chair Abdul Malik Mujahid, Former V.P. Al Gore, and National Spiritual Leaders to Conclude Religions for the Earth Conference at Multi-Faith Service in NYC
On Sunday, September 21, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will be speaking at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service at New York City’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
Mujahid’s view that “faith leaders must all join hands to save the only planet we have” will come to life at the service featuring a prestigious group of leaders in the religious, spiritual, and Earth-spiritual communities presented in collaboration with Former-Vice President of the United States Al Gore, who is also slated to speak.
Speakers and attendees will be enveloped in celebratory acts of music, performance and ritual all building toward a massive pledge of spiritual communities honoring the sacred environment in real, practical actions.
As a co-sponsor of the Religions for the Earth conference, the Parliament will be connecting with a strategic assembly of 200 other leaders in interfaith, religious, faith and spiritual organizations. Union Theological Seminary is hosting the conference as part of events kicking off NY Climate Week in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit.
In Mujahid’s view, the growing commitments faith communities are making to advance environmental protections will see more promising results by applying the influence leaders can have in multiple ways.
Mujahid says, “As more than 40 percent of America listens to pulpits every week, we must not only preach the gospel of sharing more and consuming less. But also, we must do our best to influence the guiding institutions to become more serious in urgently developing the relevant public policies. Better public policies and better consumer behavior both are needed. And this will be a major theme in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.”
Religions for the Earth Conference attendees will also participate in the biggest climate march in history, The People’s Climate March, expected to unite over 100,000 environmental stewards organizing from across all social institutions on Sunday, September 21. Faith and interfaith representation at the march will climb into the multiple thousands.
Peace activism in general will reach a global high on September 21, which is the United Nations official observance of International Day of Peace, coinciding with satellite climate events taking place all over the world.
The evening Religions for the Earth Multi-Faith Service is open to the public, featuring speakers including:
- Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder – IceWisdom International, Eskimo, Kalaallit Elder
- Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Sioux 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle
- Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Founder – Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth
- Ms. Dekila Chungyalpa, Environmental Advisor to His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
- Father Edwin Gariguez, General Secretary – Caritas Philippines
- Former Vice-President Al Gore, Chairman – The Climate Reality Project
- Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
- Reverend Dr. James Kowalski, Director – Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
- Iriama Margaret Lokawua, Director – Indigenous Women Environmental Conservation Project
- Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair – Parliament of the World’s Religions
- Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder – Navdanya
- Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder – Sojourners
- Terry Tempest Williams, Writer and Teacher
When: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 6 p.m. EST
Where: The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
Religions for the Earth MultiFaith Service is being presented by host Union Theological Seminary, and co-sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, GreenFaith, Interfaith Center of New York, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, and the Cathedral Saint John the Divine.
The Board of the Parliament voted this weekend to hold the next Parliament in the United States in 2015. The next Parliament marks the fifth modern Parliament and the first American Parliament in 22 years.
“America is the home base of the interfaith movement and it’s about time the Parliament come back home. The Parliament in 2015 will strengthen the interfaith movement through our listening, sharing and networking with each other,” says Chair of the Board Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid.
The interfaith activism in North America has at least doubled in the last 10 years, whereas it is sprouting all around the world where people who have never heard of the interfaith movement are now becoming part of it. As the next generation connects to issues of peace, justice and sustainability it is time to introduce these emerging leaders to the Parliament.
Dates and location will be announced shortly.
Since 1993, more than 37,000 delegates of 80 countries have come to the Parliament representing 50 plus traditions in programs, plenaries, cultural exchanges and dialogue. Parliaments held in the USA, South Africa, Spain, and Australia have amassed a global interfaith community committed to the advancement of a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
We Want To Hear From You:
As the Parliament prepares to announce the next host city please kindly share with us your preferences on themes, plans and costs as we create a Parliament 2015 for you.
Please stay connected in the coming days for these important announcements:
- Parliament 2015 Host City Announcement
- Parliament 2015 Dates
- Exclusive Pre-Sale Registration Instructions for Parliament Ambassadors, Supporters, and Partners
- On-Sale Dates and Rates to attend the 2015 Parliament
- Sponsorship and Exhibition Details
- Program Proposals
- Pre-Parliament Events Planning Around the World
- Volunteer, Intern, and Professional Openings with the 2015 Parliament
Become a Parliament Ambassador!
Join a select network of global Interfaith advocates conducting listening sessions with their communities to create the next Parliament. Ambassadors extend the Parliament platform for mobilizing people of faith for social action in their local communities and play an indispensable role in the evolution of the Parliament movement. Read more…
The Parliament of the World’s Religions Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein on his nomination by President Obama to lead the United States Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom. Saperstein who serves as Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would become the first non-Christian to take the office now vacant for nine months.
Board Chair Mujahid welcomes the unprecedented move of the Obama Administration to advance a Jewish Rabbi to lead the office first established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Mujahid’s congratulatory letter highlights Saperstein’s “admirable record of touching humanity through faith-based justice,” and commends his expert leadership as an example of how progress can be achieved through engaging the guiding institutions.
In addressing the interfaith movement at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, Saperstein hosted an engagement session entitled “The State and Religious Freedom,” and was featured prolifically on panels including:
- Poverty Must No Longer Be With Us with Huruhisa Handa, Jim Wallis, Katherine Marshall, Dr. A T Ariyaratne, Tim Costello, Sulak Sivaraksa and Sr. Joan Chittister
- Democracy and Diversity in Global Perspective with Anwar Ibrahim, Pal Ahluwalia, Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr. M Din Syamsuddin, and Dr. Barabara McGraw
- The Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Public Discourse with Archbishop Philip Freier
Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill,” Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The Center not only advocates on a broad range of social justice issues but provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues nationwide, and coordinates social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.
Read more about Rabbi David Saperstein.
The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC) presented its inaugural Interreligious Leadership Award recognizing the distinguished His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Ilene Shaw, and Rabbi Herman Schaalman in a downtown Chicago ceremony June 19.
Of the honorees, Rabbi Schaalman, who was the spoksperson of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, is remembered for helping to mobilize a worldwide interfaith movement rooted in Chicago.
President of the CRLMC and Parliament Board Vice-Chair Rabbi Michael Balinsky says, “Schaalman is a respected and beloved voice on the Council whose very presence and wisdom fosters an atmosphere of interreligious cooperation. He is looked to for guidance and wisdom on the issues facing our city and the role the interreligious community can play in fostering activism and healing.”
In a Chicago release, the JUF echoes this statement describing Schaalman as “one of the most respected Rabbis to serve Chicago’s Jewish community.”
According to the CRLMC, Cardinal George has served the council for 17 years, and honor Shaw recognizing her support to the Council’s educational efforts. In its report, the Council states, “Mrs. Ilene Shaw, who, under the auspices of the CRLMC, “has made possible the production of an InterFaith Calendar featuring 17 different faith traditions describing their basic tenets, beliefs and observances. The calendar is recognized nationally as an excellent vehicle to promote interfaith understanding and respect,”
To read more about the ceremony and its address by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, please read more by visiting the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions tells a 121-year story of extraordinary, inspired people from around the world- belonging to literally hundreds of faith traditions- coming together with global leaders to create a better planet. Where common bonds and prayers transcend spiritual paths and national origin, these luminaries and lay leaders collaborate to empower the worldwide interfaith movement. This collective of interfaith activists work through a shared love of humanity to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Take a glimpse inside the vaults of Parliament history to see that another world is possible, and what those who have experienced the life-changing encounter have to say about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. .
“A Parliament, in essence, is a big conversation.”
-Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions
The Birth of a Movement
“What we need is such a reinforcement of the gentle power of religion that all souls of whatever colour shall be included within the blessed circle of influence.”
– Fannie Barrier Williams, the only official African-American presenter at the 1893 Parliament
Towards a Global Ethic
“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”
– Sarah Stockwell
A New Day Dawning
Cape Town, South Africa
“In the year 1999, you gathered in our own continent, Africa, in the city of Cape Town. You inspired us. In 2002, IFAPA (Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa) was founded. It embodies the spirit of the Parliament.”
New Pathways to Peace
“The most important lesson I learned in my role as Parliament Chair was that interfaith dialogue and engagement empowers us to understand that our differences present us with an opportunity to go deeper. Beneath our differences we share a common humanity. It is this vision of our deep unity amidst our diversity that gives me hope and keeps me doing the work I continue to do.”
-Rev. Bob Thompson, Chair Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth
“Only the Parliament, the largest interfaith gathering on earth, has the potential to serve as a platform to mobilize interfaith social justice movements on a global scale.”
A Legacy for the Future
“The Parliament was an opportunity for people with different ideas getting together, discussing issues for better understanding. Religions plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, that if we can manage to get people to be tolerant towards each other where religion is concerned, other problem areas should be a lot easier to sort out.”
– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa
I watched a Muslim youth and a Jewish youth join hands on the stage of Good Hope Center. Each sang a prayer, one in Arabic and the other in Hebrew, and I wept at the profundity of their simple gesture.”
– Rev. Pete Woods
“With open hearts and minds, the Parliament’s participants will be returning back to their neighborhoods in our shared global village enriched with new experiences, friendships and new success stories after a joyful six-day long intensive listening and learning experience. Many of them will be making their personal commitments in writing on how they plan to change the world”
-Abdul Malik Mujahid
Religion is often accused of causing much of the polarization in the world. Those who perpetrate violence through words and actions often point to religion as justification. However, the Parliament supports the notion that religion is a powerful force for good, bringing out the best in both individuals and communities.
Adam Taylor of the World Bank and Cheryl Tupper of Arthur Vining Davis Foundation joined the Parliament leadership on a panel presented at the Council of Foundations 2014 Philanthropy Exchange Conference on Monday, June 9. The breakthrough session called “The Role of Religion in an Increasingly Polarized Society,” attracted more than 40 engaged representatives of grantmaking organizations.
Panelists exploring this theme agreed that both the commonalities and distinctions between faiths can powerfully address deep moral and ethical issues of scarcity of resources, equality gap and justice, and the environment. Cheryl Tupper, speaking from a philanthropic perspective, said foundations are not only an important audience for these messages, but can also play an important role in addressing these issues.
Describing religious and spiritual communities as a force for good makes sense in financial terms, too. Participants live tweeting the panel highlighted Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid’s comments on reports projecting that $2.6 trillion U.S. dollars in charitable relief and social support come from faith communities in service annually.
“Interfaith brings out the best in faith,” said Imam Mujahid, who chairs the Board of the Parliament. Marketing the dollar signs behind religious good is a critical step forward for the interfaith movement itself. By quantifying the social good it becomes harder for guiding institutions to deny or ignore the massive potential of faith-based collaborations.
Adam Taylor elaborated the point in catchy terms. At his turn, Taylor spelled out the World Bank’s Faith Based Initiatives’ “4 B’s of Religion,” championing religion as a “bridge, balm, beacon of hope and a boost for social movements.”
Throughout the discussion the panelists sought to highlight practical ways faith communities are working to ameliorate the polarization between individuals religions, communities and our guiding institutions; in addition to how philanthropy can be a strong catalyst to support creative outcomes.
Moderator and Parliament Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson explained reasons why some foundations have been skittish about engaging with faith-based initiatives, acknowledging that concerns arise when sectarian violence is committed ‘in the name of religion,’ but that the extremist fringes do not follow religious teachings. In reality, the majority of people of faith come together through common values of compassion for the other, or the Golden Rule.
Nelson further affirmed that “religion offers an ongoing source of renewal empowering us to face the issues of the world,” and that one of the opportunities foundations can be powerful colleagues in fostering a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world is in supporting ways of engaging younger people who are increasingly identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious.’
Remarking on the need to move beyond simple platitudes, Rabbi Michael Balinsky emphasized the need to build real relationships like those he seeks out not only in his work as Vice-Chair of the Parliament, but also in the Chicago neighborhoods of faith where he serves dual executive roles on the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
Janaan Hashim, another Parliament Trustee, underlined the importance of dialogue. Sharing her experience teaching seminary students, Hashim reflected on how interfaith engagement is a way to learn productive and respectful communication when difficult issues emerge.
By the session closing, engaging questions from attendees pushed the 75 minute gathering overtime an additional five minutes. It was heartening for those working within and supportive to the interfaith movement to discover foundations so interested in understanding new pathways to collaborate with interfaith initiatives.
I love my city of Chicago. One of my prouder moments occurred in 2010 which, to me, witnessed the manifestation of about ten years of outreach, communication, and deepening mutual respect across normative borders. It came out of years of interfaith dialogue and growing friendships.
At the end of that summer, I arrived home from my studies in Amman, Jordan to a welcome of something called “Quran Burning Day” as promulgated by some obscure preacher in Florida named Terry Jones.
I chuckled. I sighed. I knew that this preacher and his hate didn’t represent Christianity or those Christians beyond his flock. That’s illogical and runs contrary to my exposure and readings on Christians and their faith. He is an anomaly. Then I wondered how different today’s world would be if people thought similarly about Muslims and Islam when an anomaly decides to do some hateful act in the name of Islam. My following of this newest offense, I thought, would end there as I had better things to do with my time than give attention to this hate-monger.
A few days later I received a call to serve as the host of an interfaith press conference on Eid al-Fitr. This is the day of celebrating the completion of Ramadan and the fasting that comes with it; it was also the day of this Quran burning event.
Around 10,000 people attend the prayer and celebration each year at Toyota Park, home to Chicago’s soccer team. The field was packed with worshipers as our interfaith guests observed from the bleachers.
After the prayer, I was ready to move the press conference along, pressured with 14 people from 14 different faith traditions all wanting to voice their stand against the hate thrown toward Islam and its adherents. As I walked into the press room, I was given an additional five names.
To move a press conference along swiftly with a small handful of speakers is tough given news crews cannot stay long. But this was a powerful group with a powerful, single message: the Chicago interfaith community stands behind its Muslim brothers and sisters.
One local TV news station dedicated about 4 minutes of clip after clip, faith leader after faith leader, saying the same thing. The message denounced with a forceful voice any concerns that the same type of hate would be tolerated in Chicago. I’ll never forget Rev. Gregory Livingston, a Baptist, staring straight into the cameras and, with his bold, robust voice saying to the Florida preacher, “Brother, you’ve got it wrong.”
Such bonds of support and brotherhood is not strange in the world of religion. When people think religion polarizes us, a closer look indicates otherwise. It’s not religion that is polarizing, but those who want religion to polarize that causes the divide. To me, this position is simply playing into the hands of religious zealots and terrorists, reinforcing their warped perspective of religion.
People of faith trust their scriptures and one thing that interfaith dialogue has taught me is that, at their core, no faith in the world calls for hate of the other, destruction of civilization, or annihilation of different beliefs. Having nearly 20 faith traditions represented at this press conference exhibited the bond of brotherhood through several of our faiths’ common denominators: being your brother’s keeper; speaking the truth; standing against hate; educating the ignorant; detachment from self.
Knowing with full confidence that my friends of different faiths – indeed, different theologies and practices of worship – had my back did not arise out of a vacuum. This was the natural consequence of years of cooperation, discussion and firm belief that in coming together as an act of personal faith, we are taking strides toward creating a better world.
Janaan Hashim is a trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions an attorney with Amal Law Group, LLC and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary.
By Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti
Parliament Trustee, Co-Chair, Parliament Women’s Task Force
The following excerpt highlights the work of the Parliament and world leaders to recalibrate the religious contexts in which cultural practices carried out equate to human rights abuses. This section comes from the presentation, “Human Rights and Mental Health of Women in the Context of Religious Freedom.” delivered to the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Amsterdam in 2013.
“What I hope and what I suggest is that religion is one of the great sources of the vision that produced the concept of human rights, that religion is one of the great mobilizers of human goodness and courage to realize visions of just and sustainable human societies, of many various cultural and religious forms. In the twentieth century, it was the charismatic religious leadership of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King Jr., and of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that provided the impetus for major civil rights movements. “The arc of the universe,” said King, “bends towards justice.” Indeed, we hope that it does.
Today there are many religious voices standing up to the more regressive and intimidating movements in the world of religion; among these are Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, and Desmond Tutu, along with many programs of an interfaith nature, many movements within religions, and perhaps most touchingly, many people of faith acting in accord with their consciences.
The Parliament of World’s Religions and other interfaith organizations increasingly provide a forum for more progressive religious voices and the development of shared visions. In fact, Jimmy Carter gave a groundbreaking address to the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions at Melbourne, after very publicly leaving his own lifelong religious home, the Southern Baptist Convention, when that church revoked its blessing on women’s leadership and declared that wives must be submissive to their husbands.
In his address to the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Carter said, “This view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or tradition. Its influence does not stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified. The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views and set a new course that demands equal rights for women and men, girls and boys.”
In response to Carter’s address, and under the leadership of Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Parliament of the World’s Religions (of which entity I am a trustee) initiated a Women’s Task force, which I co-chair with Phyllis Curott for the purpose of “developing a multi-generational action plan to assure that the voices of women are heard at the vital nexus of women’s issues and religion.”
Speaking of the seemingly needless regression in the world of religion, Desmond Tutu commented on the obvious advantages of including women in leadership, “In my own church, which decided only in 1992 that women could be ordained as priests and bishops, it was quite a shock to realise how much we had diminished ourselves in our ministry when we saw the difference women made. In this volatile time, when there is so much distress and dissatisfaction, we are wasting a huge source of talent and wisdom by not including women as equals in all aspects of life – whether in politics, business or religion.”
I remain convinced that we must engage the world of religion in every way possible, first by recognizing its considerable power to mobilize humans to act courageously to realize the best in us, but also by legislation that protects the freedom and dignity of women and men from bad religion; by interfaith conversation, but also by conversations between the secular and religious domains, and of course by conversations within religious traditions. With regard to this last element, I think it goes without saying that changes in the traditions, including interpretation of texts, must come from within those religious traditions, though conversations across traditional boundaries may well be enriching for all parties.
Because I see the power for both good and ill in the world of religion, I was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2009, and I serve as a Trustee of the Parliament. I want to illustrate this dimension of my own life with a story: in my very small town, I was recently invited by a Roman Catholic group to participate in their charity walk. I put on my clerical garb, my black shirt and white collar, and I walked thus in the California heat; it was my simple and direct response about women’s leadership to walk among them attired in the symbolic garb of my role of spiritual leadership. The question of the day was what to call me, since “Father” is obviously not the right thing. This is the slow work, and it simply has to be done, village by village, charity walk by charity walk, YouTube video by YouTube video. There is so much that can be done simply be engaging conversations instead of letting the opportunities to do so slip by. I have added to my public and casual vocabulary the expression, “Hmmm, that’s not how I see it…” and have found that what I thought would be both tedious and exhausting is often both enriching and empowering. I’ve learned that often people listen if I will speak my truth, and that people will speak if I listen. As I said, this is the necessary slow work.
The Arc of the Universe does bend toward justice, I think, but the weight of our collective human will, expressed by attention and by action is necessary to that bending.”
 Alexandra Toping, “Saudi activists face jail for taking food to woman who said she was imprisoned: Court finds women’s rights campaigners guilty of inciting wife to defy husband’s authority.” The Guardian, 5 July 2013
 Desmond Tutu. “Women, Religion, and Change,” The Elders Blog, 1 February, 2012. http://theelders.org/article/
By Dr. Rob Sellers
For more than a decade, my life as a Christian has been enriched and my commitment to the Christ Way deepened through my study of the world’s great religions and my relationships with many followers of other faiths. To use a biblical metaphor, there have been times when my soul was parched and I drew water—thirst-quenching and invigorating—from these “alien wells.”
Someone might ask why a Christ follower would willingly seek spiritual refreshment from “foreign” wells. I’ve thought about that theological question and discovered several good answers. The biblical passage which informs me is found in John 4 in the story of Jesus’s journey through Samaria, where he stopped to rest at the ancient well Jacob had built in alien, Canaanite territory, near Sychar. It astonished his disciples that he would drink from a Samaritan well and, moreover, that he would befriend a Samaritan woman, especially one with a bad reputation. But Jesus had not hesitated to stop beside that alien well, to quench his thirst from it, and to engage one who regularly drank that water. I believe that it is appropriate to suggest that the story of Jesus at the well in Sychar serves as a biblical model for his disciples, including each of us.
Why indeed shall we seek to quench our thirst with water from alien wells?
Of course, if I were simply talking about literal wells and actual water, we could easily conclude the matter by saying that when we are thirsty, it doesn’t matter where in the world we might be. If we have a way to draw from the well in a foreign place and the water will not make us sick, we will readily drink from it to quench our thirst. But speaking metaphorically and not literally, the issues become more complex. Whether or not we drink from this alien well does not simply depend upon access to it or the purity of its water.
Jesus used water metaphorically in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, speaking of “living water” that “springs up to eternal life.” He clearly takes the literal well and actual water and uses them to shift the conversation to spiritual thirst. And so the question becomes whether or not “life-giving resources” can be drawn from other spiritual wells.
Here are some convincing reasons from several Christian scholars and writers who argue that other religions and their adherents may indeed provide us with spiritually stimulating and energizing water.
The first reason is expressed by Benedictine abbess, popular lecturer, and prolific spirituality writer Joan Chittister, who suggests that our common humanity justifies our drawing from other wells. She writes:
Whatever the distinctions of time, place, and culture, whatever the time and place in which we have lived, we are all human beings—just human beings, wherever and whenever we live, subject to the same emotional limits, dealing with the same range of emotional responses. . . . We have at our fingertips . . . a reservoir of wisdom as broad as the sky, as deep as history. [For e]ach great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person (Chittister, xi, xiv).
A second reason for drawing from “alien wells” comes from one of the world’s foremost ecotheologians, Jay McDaniel, a Christian pluralist who teaches at Hendrix College, not so far from us in Conway, Arkansas. McDaniel suggests that we should drink from other wells because our own water may be less than pure. He says,
Many people in different religions are realizing that the water is polluted, and that in order to cease polluting it, they need not only to dig within their own heritages for help but also to learn from other religions (McDaniel, 140).
Is it any wonder that an ecotheologian would advocate the benefit of searching for new sources of “water”? Simply looking at Christian history, or at the questionable beliefs of some contemporary Christian groups, leads me to agree with McDaniel that our own spiritual water is not always healthy.
A third reason for drawing water from other spiritual wells comes from ordained Methodist minister and professor, Martin Forward. His observation is not original, yet certainly bears repeating. Forward says that our fractured world desperately yearns for religious people to share with one another. He notes:
Although people of distinct religions have lived alongside each other for centuries, the modern world has added a special urgency to the need to do so respectfully and knowledgeably, since we now possess the means of destroying the whole created order. [Thus,] one hopes that respect for and knowledge of the “other” will lead humankind away from the abyss (Forward, 1).
Cardinal Newman—the 19th-century Anglican Oxford don who became a Roman Catholic and was nominated for sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010—famously exclaimed: “Oh, how we hate one another for the love of God” (Quoted in Smith, 250).
A fourth reason for drawing water from alien spiritual wells comes from Matthew Fox, Dominican priest and writer “silenced” by the Vatican for his Creation Spirituality, and who now serves as an Episcopal priest. In one of his 20 books, One River, Many Wells, Fox argues that the source of water in all the wells is the very same Divine River. James 1:17 calls this common “River” the “Father of Lights,” who—according to John 1:9—“gives light to everyone.” In response to this common source of spiritual water, Fox proposes that we practice “Deep Ecumenism.” To explain what he means by the term, he says:
I begin with an observation from Meister Eckhart, who says that “Divinity is an Underground river that no one can stop and no one can dam up.” There is one underground river—but there are many wells into that river: an African well, a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a goddess well, a Christian well, and aboriginal wells. Many wells but one river. To go down a well is to practice a tradition, but we would make a grave mistake (an idolatrous one) if we confused the well itself with the flowing waters of the underground river. Many wells, one river. That is Deep Ecumenism (Fox, 4-5).
A final reason I mention for drawing from alien wells comes from a retired Presbyterian professor, W. Eugene March, who has spoken at one of the programs of the Abilene Interfaith Council. Marsh not only thinks we Christians should draw from diverse spiritual wells, but believes that the multiplicity of wells may actually be God’s good idea. He provocatively writes:
The diversity within our world is something most of us take for granted. There are in the neighborhood of fifty million species of plants and animal life currently to be found, and it is estimated that perhaps as many as fifty billion have existed at one time or another across the long lifespan of our world. . . .So why should there not be different religions? Why should we be surprised or troubled by the reality of different ways to express spirituality? Since diversity seems to be the norm in creation, by analogy a pluralism of religious responses among the people of the world is reasonable to expect (March, 18-19).
Now, what has so profoundly touched my own life in these recent years has not simply been the academic awareness of the good reasons to draw from alien wells and to develop relationships with those who drink those waters, but the actual spiritual practice of doing that interfaith engagement. And, no place has been more fulfilling—or filling—than the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on whose Board of Trustees and Executive Committee I am privileged to work. May I mention just a few of the spiritual wells and those who draw water from them that have made me a better Christian?
First, I think of my friend Andras Arthen, a Spanish-born immigrant American who is director of the EarthSpirit Community, representing particularly the indigenous European pagan traditions. Andras (pictured on my right, in a meeting this past year in Guadalajara), with his “earth-centered” religious beliefs, has helped to deepen my conscious gratitude for the earth and has strengthened my resolve to care for it as a steward of our gracious Creator God.
I am grateful, also, for Kirit Daftary (pictured on my left), a Jain and president of Anuvibha of North America—a United Nations NGO dedicated to working for non-violence and following the teachings of its spiritual master, Acharya Mahapragya Ji. I’ve noted how Kirit, the extremely busy owner of his own manufacturing company, frequently goes on pilgrimage or retreat in India to serve and learn from his teacher whenever he can. His dedication to being with his spiritual master challenges my busyness and too frequent excuse-making whenever I am given opportunity to retreat with my Lord.
I have learned from Phyllis Curott, Wiccan priestess, author, and attorney from New York City. The commitment of Wiccans to women—especially to those who have been marginalized, abused, and forgotten—has led Phyllis to leadership in the Women’s Task Force of the Parliament.
Whether speaking at Rockefeller Chapel of the University of Chicago (pictured here) or arranging women’s conferences at the United Nations, she works voluntarily on behalf of others in a way that inspires and instructs me about believing in and championing the rights of women as God’s beloved children.
Finally I mention Imam Malik Mujahid, my Muslim brother in Chicago, who chairs the Parliament Board and is constantly working for peace among the religions. Recently chosen as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world, Malik juggles his global travels and peace-making missions with his own enterprise in Chicago and with his leadership of our Board. Yet, wherever I’ve been with him, he always excuses himself from discussions when it is time to pray (pictured here, several months ago in Salt Lake City). His dedication to communicating with God, no matter the circumstance, teaches me what it means to be thirsty for God.
“Alien Wells and Those Who Draw from Them”—these are such important resources for our own spiritual growth. Yes, we too have vibrant, living water to share from our own well with these friends of ours. And we must certainly do that whenever appropriate or invited. But I cannot think of any reason why we shouldn’t also be willing to linger at their wells. It just might be that when we are especially parched and impoverished in spirit, that their cup of cold water may refresh our souls!
Chittister, Joan. Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and its Meaning for You: Universal Spiritual Insights Distilled from Five Religious Traditions. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.
Forward, Martin. Inter-religious Dialogue: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001.
Fox, Matthew. One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths. New York: Penguin Group, inc., 2004.
March, W. Eugene. The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.
McDaniel, Jay B. With Roots and Wings: Christianity in an Age of Ecology and Dialogue. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995.
Smith, Huston. “The Ecumenical Movement: What are we Seeking?” In Essays on World Religions. Ed. M. Darrol Bryant. New York: Paragon House. 1992.