Why I Took My 2-Year-Old to a Global Interfaith Conference
Have you ever traveled with young children?
Everything takes longer. Bathroom stops, hauling around luggage, walking, eating.
You do not get to only focus on your destination; instead, you are constantly making sure everyone is fed, comfortable and satisfied. Time zones and sleep schedules change. Traveling with children is sort of an inconvenience.
When I voluntarily chose to take my 2-year-old with me to Toronto for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in November, there were times I doubted myself.
Is this trip worth the trouble? Will he remember this experience when he’s older? Will the cost of the plane ticket, meals and other expenses outweigh the positive experience I hope he will have?
To answer these questions, a word about my upbringing. I was reared in far right-wing fundamentalist churches as a kid.
It wasn’t until my collegiate years, while attending a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church, I began to break free of the lies fundamentalism told me.
The churches of my childhood preached that anyone who wasn’t a Christian in the Protestant free church lineage was going to burn in a literal fire for all of eternity.
My experience in fundamentalism boiled down to making sure I said the right sinner’s prayer to the right merciful (?!) god so I would not be damned to hell.
Interfaith relationships and working together for peace had no place in the framework of the fundamentalist churches of my youth.
When I started attending interfaith dialogues with my world religions professor, Rob Sellers, during my seminary years, I found it liberating.
My interreligious neighbors showed me a light from God through their faith traditions. I began to lose the fear I had for the other as I began to listen to them.
I learned the value of cooperation to bring peace, healing and restoration to all of life on the earth.
It was through my interfaith relationships I began to truly understand Jesus’ commandment to love my neighbor as myself. Interfaith relationships opened up a new world of communion with God and with others.
So, back to why I chose to take my toddler to the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
In 2015, I attended the parliament in Salt Lake City. Have you ever had an experience where you wished your loved ones or friends could have been with you?
I was experiencing good news through interfaith relationships and wanted my wife and our soon-to-be-born son to also have the opportunity to connect with faiths from all around the globe.
So, I made the hopeful commitment to travel with them to the next parliament. I circled the 2018 parliament on my calendar well ahead of time.
I wanted to give my child an experience valuable to me that the fundamentalism of my youth would have never afforded me.
Then, as a family, we traveled to Toronto for a week to gather with faiths from all around the world.
We listened and prayed with strangers who became friends. We learned from our past stories and painted pictures of a better future.
You might be thinking, “Will your 2-year-old have much memory of this experience as he gets older?” I wonder the same.
But, for me, the parliament wasn’t just a one-time experience; it will hopefully help build a family value for us to engage with people who are different than us.
In my childhood churches, I was taught to fear, judge and exclude others. I want to instead teach my child to understand, appreciate and cooperate with others.
I was taught from a young age that true friendships should only come through my particular faith tradition; we were the only ones with any sort of love or truth, and all other religions were doomed.
I want to teach my child to appreciate wisdom and insight from any religious tradition where truth is shared.
The parliament represents so much of what I believe now – dignity of women, creation care, religious freedom, racial reconciliation, peace over war, equality and justice for all. I want to teach my son these things.
I hope experiences like the parliament can inspire my son to listen to those who do not look or think like him, to those who may speak or experience life differently and to those whose spiritual practices may differ.
I hope he will find ways to practice compassion toward all people, both locally and around the globe “for God so loved the world.”
My hope is that my son’s generation will work together to renew the earth and respect all of life in it, seeking peace instead of war.
I hope my son knows that interfaith has no age minimum and his voice as a child matters.
It is possible that my 2-year-old will forget many of his experiences at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto.
But, if I continue to give my son opportunities to love God and love his interreligious neighbors, I think the great commandment is being fulfilled and lugging a 2-year-old around at an international conference was well worth the time, effort, energy and cost.