Archive for the ‘interfaith’ tag
By Leo D. Lefebure, Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
This essay will be published in Interfaith Spirituality: The Power of Confluence. Ed. Ambrogio Bongiovanni, Leonardo Fernando, Gaetano Sabetta, and Victor Edwin. Delhi, India: SPCK, forthcoming 2015. © all rights reserved.
To download the full chapter please click here.
About Dr. Leo D. Lefebure
Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, includingRevelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Weeks before his assassination, a journalist asked the great Indian leader and champion of non-violence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi what would happen to his philosophy of nonviolence after his death. His reply was both prophetic and poignant. He said: “The people of India will follow me in life, worship me in death, but not make my cause their cause.”
These words could have been uttered by any of the people we worship today. Gandhi’s cause was simple: Bring peace through religious, ethnic and cultural harmony among the people of the world. Our emphasis on nationalism and patriotism, narrowing people’s perspectives to a small geographical area, was repugnant to Gandhi. In fact, he said, the acceptance of the interconnectedness and inter-relatedness of all beings is what will save this world from strife and destruction. No country, however rich and powerful, can be safe if the rest of the world destroys itself. The security and stability of any country, he believed, depends on the security and stability of the whole world.
What we are doing today is just the opposite. We are not only torn apart as nations but even in our belief in God and spirituality. The world is witnessing violent chaos. People killing each other in the name of God although God and religion are about love, respect, compassion, understanding and acceptance. If the world does not appear to have accepted Gandhi’s message of nonviolence and a life of harmony, neither has his own country of birth and dedication – India.
Not even his own Congress Party believed in or accepted his philosophy and way of life although this party has ruled over India for almost 60 years after independence in 1947. The Congress Party paid lip-service to Gandhi, printed his image on all currency notes and observed his birth and death anniversaries. Beyond that Gandhi’s legacy gathered dust on the shelves. If India could not give the lead to the world in sane living can one expect other nations to follow Gandhi’s ideology?
I believe Gandhi was a universal personality and his philosophy should appeal to anyone who believes in civilized behavior. After all he did influence many leaders in different countries! The tragedy is that everyone sees his philosophy of nonviolence as a strategy of convenience and not as a way of life. The consequence is that individually and collectively as nations we subscribe to a Culture of Violence that dominates every aspect of our lives. Nonviolence is selectively used as just another weapon of convenience.
Peace has, consequently, come to mean the absence of war and that if we are not fighting physically we are nonviolent. We do indulge, however, in passive (or non-physical) violence like exploitation, oppression of all kinds, wasting resources, encouraging disparities, and the countless other ways in which we hurt people emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. It is this passive violence that generates anger in the victim and ultimately results in physical violence. It is the fuel that ignites war and violence.
India is now at the crossroads. The extreme right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its multiple off-shoots have come into power. Their genesis is in the Hindu supremacist and militant RSS organization, that was responsible for the assassination of Gandhi. Since the assassination of Gandhi in 1948 the Hindu right wing claimed they had nothing to do with the conspiracy and that it was all engineered by Nathuram Godse, his brother Gopal and a few friends. The reality is that Godse was a member of the RSS, and withdrew himself from membership only to protect other RSS functionaries, during his trial.
With the sweeping majority that the Hindu Right wing now enjoys in the Indian Parliament their Members of Parliament have been emboldened to demand that Godse be considered a hero of the Indian revolution, that the killing of Gandhi was an act of patriotism and that Gandhi’s image be removed from the currency notes. To me this sounds like tacit admission that they were morally responsible for empowering Nathuram Godse to carry out the assassination plot, just as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is morally responsible for the slaughter of more than 2,000 Muslims in the State of Gujarat in 2002 when he was the Chief Minister, the equivalent of a US Governor. The slaughter was the result of police inaction and the Government’s lack of intention to call in Federal troops. Either Mr. Modi wanted the slaughter to take place or he was a weak leader incapable of controlling the government and the bureaucracy. Most people believe it is the former and not the latter
The Hindu nationalists, like bigoted people anywhere, are adept at speaking from both sides of their mouths. This includes the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, who has almost overnight become America’s wunderkind. The BJP and its numerous allies firmly believe in the Nazi theory that a lie repeated often enough will eventually be accepted as truth. Unless the people of India come together against hate, intolerance and fascism, lies, deceit and corruption could be India’s fate in the foreseeable future.
ABOUT DR. ARUN GANDHI
Dr. Arun Manilal Gandhi
Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
Along with politics, poverty and culture, religion is often cited as a source of conflict throughout the world. However, the last 100 years reveal a growing interfaith movement in America — one that promotes peaceful and productive interactions between religious traditions.
And it all began with a fair.
THE FAIR THAT SET THE STAGE
The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL drew millions of visitors to the windy city over its six-month run. Among its 5,978 educational addresses and meetings was the World’s Congress of Religions, which hosted religious leaders from all over the world.
The congress marked the first organized, international gathering of religious leaders and is thought to be the nascence of formal interfaith dialogue. Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, spoke at the congress, greeting the 5,000 assembled delegates with the iconic words, “Sisters and brothers of America!”
A CENTURY OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
One of the first international groups to get organized after the fair was the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers — now the International Association for Religious Freedom – formed in London in 1900 with the stated purpose of uniting all those striving for fellowship and religious liberty.
With the outbreak of World War I other interfaith efforts emerged. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) formed in New York just after war began in hopes of bringing people of faith together to promote peace, and it went on to become a leading interfaith voice for non-violence and non-discrimination.
With the second World War on the horizon, the World Congress of Faiths formed in London with the dual purpose of bringing people of faith together to enrich their understandings of their own and others’ traditions and also to educate and report on religious happenings through its journal, Interreligious Insight.
Following the devastation of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Christian missionary Carl Allison Evans founded the New Jersey-based Fellowship in Prayer as a multi-faith organization that would use prayer and meditation to foster peace.
In addition to the work of humanitarian organizations, renowned world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Dalai Lama, inspired by their own faiths, promoted religious, racial and political freedom. Many scholars say the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, in particular, demonstrated the organizing power of congregations working together for social change, under the guidance of religious leaders like King marching side by side with Abraham Joshua Heschel.
In 1962 the Catholic Church took a giant step forward in interfaith relations by convening of the Second Vatican Council. Before Vatican II, Catholics were discouraged from visiting other faiths’ houses of worship — but this all changed with the Nostra Aetate. This document, which officially took effect October 28, 1965, acknowledged the divine origin of all human beings and the truths present in other religions. It stated: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.”
Many organizations followed the Vatican’s lead over the next few decades. Religions for Peace, based in New York and accredited to the United Nations, officially kicked off in 1970, and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington formed in 1978.
First formed in 1960 the Temple of Understanding helped publish the first directory of interfaith organizations in 1987 and over several years hosted meetings that paved the way for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1990.
A CENTURY LATER
By 1988 nearly 100 years had passed since the World’s Congress of Religions and Vivekanada’s historic speech. A group of religious leaders and local organizers in Chicago came together to plan a centennial celebration, and through this the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions came into being.
In 1993 the Parliament hosted its conference in Chicago with 8,000 participants from faith backgrounds around the world. The organization went on to host meetings around the world every several years, and in September 2014 announced its first U.S. conference since 1993, to take place in Salt Lake City in 2015.
The 1990s also saw the birth of interfaith groups focused on the environment, including Green Faith in 1992 and Interfaith Power & Light in 1998. These efforts put ecological sustainability at the core of their faith-based activism.
With the growth of interfaith dialogue came increased academic and sociological interest in the ways pluralism affects religious life. Harvard University’s Diana Eck launched the Pluralism Project in 1991 to chart the development of interfaith efforts throughout the United States. And in 2001 the Pew Research Center initiated its Religion & Public Life Project to explore the intersection of religion and public life.
INTERFAITH’S NEW MILLENNIUM…
This article by Antonia Blumberg for HuffPost Religion is published with permission.
Parliament Ambassador Launches Spirituality and Medicine Interest Group at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
During my first few months in medical school, I noticed that religion was rarely discussed. As a Theology minor in college, I knew that religion was an important part of life for many Americans; indeed, nearly 9 in 10 Americans report a belief in some divine or spiritual power, and several studies have shown that organized faith communities can play important roles in promoting healthy behaviors. Topics related to spirituality and religious beliefs arose during the Healthcare Disparities course, but the discussions were only tangential. I had a feeling that students felt uncomfortable discussing such personal topics in the academic setting.
For this reason, I proposed a new student organization for the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago: the Spirituality and Medicine (SAM) Interest Group. This group aims to create a safe space for discussion of how spirituality/religion affect healthcare. I thought that this idea fit in perfectly with Pritzker’s commitment to all forms of diversity. Last month, SAM was approved for funding by the Dean’s Council, and I was awarded Germanacos Fellowship, a $5000 grant to develop a medical discussion series focused on the intersections between spirituality/religion and medicine. These seminars will be partially based on a well-known religious literacy curriculum for healthcare workers developed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. The Germanacos Fellowship was awarded by the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that aims to make interfaith cooperation a social norm in the United States by promoting inter-religious dialogue and community service.
I am interested in the intersections between spirituality and healthcare because my own religious beliefs inform my choice of career. My passion for medicine stems from a declaration in Islam and various other traditions that saving one person’s life is equivalent to saving all of mankind. Through my work with the Interfaith Youth Core during my undergraduate years at Georgetown University and as an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I have come to realize that religious communities—like all social structures—can be divisive or, when harnessed correctly, can be powerful catalysts for social improvement. Fortunately, the medical field is especially conducive to interfaith engagement because the concepts of service and human dignity are always implicit. In addition, physicians are one of the most religiously-diverse populations in the United States, and providers are increasingly recognizing the importance of religious literacy in medical education.
Over the next several months, I hope to introduce other students to religious diversity in the healthcare world, and to provide opportunities for my classmates to reflect on their personal motivations and values (whether or not those they come from a religious background) for pursuing medicine. I also look forward to finding connections between existing student organizations and facilitating dialogues on important topics such as mental health, reproductive health, and organ donation.
While becoming a physician, I also want to be at the forefront of the interfaith movement’s expansion into the healthcare world. I would be interested in collaborating with similar proposals that bridge the areas of religion and medicine, and presenting our work at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015. I intend to demonstrate that religion and science can work together rather than in opposition. I am guided by one of my favorite verses from the Quran: “Had God willed, He would have made mankind as a single religion [or community], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so strive with each other for virtue (5:48).
Aamir Hussain is a first-year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. . A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Aamir became an interfaith programs facilitator through leadership training introduced by the Interfaith Youth Core and now serves as an Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
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.
Sharing an update with the Parliament about his work in Liberia during the recent Ebola crisis, Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Victor Garpulee, gives us hope that in times of humanitarian emergency, commitment to the Interfaith movement is building support between neighbors. Here is his pictorial essay:
Victor’s Parliament of the World’s Religions group in Liberia demonstrates will and commitment to work with students, as well as religious, social, and other institutions to promote the Parliament’s Faiths Against Hate initiative, and eliminate violence and discrimination.
“The banner above is a working material of Parliament Liberia as we go in communities and institutions where there are people of difference faith to sensitize them about respecting people of other faiths.”
An awareness of the Ebola epidemic that is taking away the lives of the people of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The below letter shows how Parliament Liberia is demonstrating will to work with various institutions across the country.
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.
New Parliament Ambassador on Creating California-Based Children’s Interfaith Organization First Drops
Orange County, California area interfaith program First Drops teaches children about a variety of religions through fostering relationships and taking different religious sites and experience it for themselves. The curiosity of children and their eagerness to learn about religion fuels the organization. Parents and community members provide children resources as a means of learning about many religions. They also participate in monthly community service projects including feeding hungry families, as well as many more projects and activities. Recently the children’s filming of “An Interfaith Carol” submitted to the World Interfaith Harmony Week Film competition won in its category.
Farrah Khan, a new Ambassador of the Parliament and founder of First Drops shares the following reflection on how this kind of active interfaith community cultivates respect for everyone.
First Drops was founded in the Spring of 2011. The idea came from the need to answer various questions my son who was in 5th grade had about religions. Even with my knowledge, I knew that it would be best for him to get his information from the source, so I took him to my friend’s church. He enjoyed the experience of attending mass, that’s when I knew I had to do more. I called up a few friends whose kids were the same age as mine and asked them if they would be interested in joining up for small discussions. The group of six kids and parents developed into an organization in less than two months.
Currently, First Drops educates children and their families about the many religions that surround them through site visits. Each site visit is a unique experience. The host facility usually gives an over view of their religion, provides a tour of the facility, and an opportunity to observe or engage in their religious service followed by a Q & A session. Then we usually are invited to a more casual setting where members of the congregation and our First Drops families have a chance to mingle and munch on snacks. This is a great learning experience because the child has an opportunity to experience the religion rather than reading about it in a book. The children have visited during Christmas Mass, Easter Mass, Purim, Celebration of Nirvana (Buddhism), Celebration of Ridvan (Baha’i) and much more. These experiences are what will become a lasting memory.
Our children also engage in community service. Every 2nd Sunday of the month, the children serve 100-150 homeless people in the Santa Ana downtown district. The families prepare the food and the children serve each guest. This has taught the children that respect for humanity comes first. After the first few feedings, the children began looking into ways to help our brothers and sisters living on the streets. So each month, the children come up with ways to help even more. During the rainy season, the children collected 200 rain ponchos and passed them out. These ponchos were either bought by the children’s own money or by asking friends, family and neighbors to purchase them. On Mother’s Day, the children passed out flower bouquets to every woman. The flowers were contributed by Trader Joe’s. We have held several clothing, toy and book drives throughout the year.
The children are welcome to use their own ideas to help foster a more compassionate world. They have produced an interfaith film called “An Interfaith Carol” which won the World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival first place for Youth Film. They are regular participants at the Irvine Global Village Festival and The Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council’s Celebration of Thanksgiving where they sing interfaith related songs.
We are teaching the children that in today’s world, it is important to work with others to improve. We partner with CROP Hunger Walk and collect money to help feed the needy around the world.
First Drops was recently asked to come under the Orange County Interfaith Network’s umbrella. This opportunity will give us access to over 12 interfaith councils and grow the organization.
My personal desire is to bridge the gap between those of us who are currently working in the interfaith arena and our next generation. One day, we will all be on the same page and the world will see peace.
Originally appeared in Milwaukee Journal Sentinal July 17, 2014, as reported by Annysa Johnson.
More than 100 faithful from a variety of religious traditions gathered at Milwaukee’s All Saints Cathedral on Wednesday to pray for peace in the Middle East, a response to the escalating hostilities in Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Worshippers sang “Donna Nobis Pacem,” or “Grant us Peace” in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. And Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Unitarian clergy offered their prayers and insights into what it means to work for and live in peace.
“It was very touching and profound,” said an emotional Mary Kelly of Milwaukee, who is Catholic. “There is just such a feeling of helplessness,” around the issues in the Middle East, she said.
“We have such a long way to go — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Milwaukee. I’m just happy that this congregation saw the need to pull us all together.
The service was organized by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, which works to find common ground among religious traditions. Like other flashpoints in the Middle East, the Gaza crisis has heightened tensions in Milwaukee’s Jewish and Muslim communities, which tend to view the conflict from different perspectives.
Here are excerpts from the prayers offered Wednesday, in the order they were spoken:
The Very Rev. Kevin Carroll, dean of All Saints Cathedral: “We can pray for peace in far off lands. But our prayers will ring hollow if we ourselves fail to model what peace looks like — in our homes, in our families, in our relationships and in our communities. …Peace starts with prayer. But it also starts right here, right now, with all of us sitting in this room.
Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hying, Archdiocese of Milwaukee: Loving and peaceful God, help us to see ourselves and each other as you see us, beautiful; created in your image; open to love; hearts that are made for peace and good will, sacrifice and generosity. … Help us to love as you love, to forgive as you forgive, to be an extension of your mercy and your peace in this world, and to be signs of your kingdom in our midst.
The Rev. Craig M. Howard, Presbytery of Milwaukee: Deliver us from the hardness of heart that keeps us locked in violent confrontation with one another. Give to us your spirit of love so that we may show compassion. Teach us to walk in humility so we might live in peace with our sisters and brothers. And most of all, God, change our hearts.
Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Islamic Society of Milwaukee: Almighty God …we are ruthlessly subjugating, terrorizing and killing each other based upon narrow identities. Guide us to stop this needless violence, terror, aggression, cold blooded murders and destruction. … We beseech you to bring an end to this needless bloodbath and wanton destruction.
Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, Congregation Shalom: Teach us to work for the welfare of all people, to diminish the evil and pains that beset us. And to enlarge those virtues we know will bring dignity and peace to all the peoples of the earth. So bless our striving to make real the dream of peace among all humankind. May we put an end to the suffering we inflict upon one another and cherish the dignity of the soul that abides in each human being.
The Rev. Linda Hansen, Unitarian Universalists: We pray for the power to see that we are all connected … and that we ultimately help or harm ourselves in helping or harming one another. Out of this vision, may we have the will and the courage to work for a just and peaceful world in which every individual is treated with dignity.
The Rev. Stephen J. Polster, Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Church: And so we pray as we gather here … that you will strengthen our resolve to give witness to the truths by the way we live. Give to us understanding that puts an end to strife, mercy that quenches hatred, forgiveness that overcomes vengeance. Impart all of us here and everywhere to live in your law of love.
Swarnjit Arora, of the Sikh community: We are children of one God. … Then how can we say one child is better than the other child. All children in your eyes Lord are sacred. … We pray for peace in the Middle East. Oh God … Give us strength to stand up for peace and non-violence in our world. … We pray for chardi kala, the well-being of each and every human being.
The Rev. Jean Dow, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church: Though we come from different places and express our faith in different ways, give us a common concern, that we may share our deep convictions as people of faith and continue to pray and work together side by side, hand in hand. And Let us pray without ceasing for peace first within our own minds hearts and spirits, so that each of us might also be instruments of your peace and bearers of reconciliation in this city, in our neighborhoods, in our families and in our faith communities.
The Sikhs erected what was a place of worship and education. It was beautifully done in a huge tent-like structure. They offered food to everyone for a noonday meal. Upon entering the structure, we removed our shoes. I discovered that after the meal the shoes had been cleaned! What a wonderful loving gesture.
We were then directed to the floor that served as the dining hall. Long rolls of paper on the floor served as our dining table. Most of us sat on the floor to eat. A few tables were scattered about for those who needed to sit on chairs. But most of us opted to sit on the floor. On the floor were Americans in American-casual attire. Some Catholic nuns were wearing their tradition habits. Some men were in business suits; others wore blue jeans and t-shirts. There were men and women from the East in colorful robes. All were served scrumptious meals and water – as much as anyone wanted. The servers were pleasant, kind and courteous. People of different cultures, faiths and clothing came together in love, with open minds, receptive hearts and smiling faces. It was truly what the culture of the 1960s might call “A Love In.” Peace, love and food – that was the experience (not to mention clean shoes!).
This is the impression that stayed with me: One could talk about peace, diversity and understanding. There were fantastic speakers, programs and performances, but in the communal meal, lovingly served without being for a donation, we experienced what was the best of interfaith. Hungry people were fed. Diversity was honored. People were happy and were filled with love and nutritious food.
What remains with me is the conversations I had with attendees at the end of the Parliament. Yes, we loved the venue on the coast of Spain. We loved the city of Barcelona. We loved the gatherings. And what I heard most from the fellow-attendees was the langar. People prepared and served the food. Participants ate, met, mingled with others and were filled. It was a palpable example of peace and loving service in action. Five years before the Barcelona Parliament, I had gone to Cape Town by myself. I came home aglow with love and appreciation for all faiths. I really wanted my wife to have a similar experience. I went to my denomination’s headquarters to plead with them to have a large presence in Barcelona. They did and I was proud of them. It is one thing to talk a good talk, but the Sikhs walked their talk.
Someone has said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” What I saw was people serving one another and loving one another. I was honored to participate. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my reminiscences. Diverse cultures and religions, good food and humble servant leadership — what could be better? I can’t think of one thing!
Reverend John Strickland attended seminary at Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO. In 1999, Rev. Strickland’s representation at Unity’s delegate to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa marked a strong interfaith commitment. By 2003, Rev. John received the Light of God Expressing Award, the highest honor within Unity, at the Annual Minister’s Conference in Kansas City. During December of 2009, he led a contingent of Unity members to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. At present, Rev. Strickland resides and serves in the Atlanta, GA region.