A UU, two Hindus, and a Baha’i walk into a Christian Ethiopian restaurant.
The opening line to a culturally insensitive joke?
No, my last dinner at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
In October, I attended the fifth Parliament in Salt Lake City. This one followed two Parliaments in Chicago (1893 and 1993), one in Cape Town (1999), one in Barcelona (2004), and the most immediately previous one in Melbourne (2009). This Parliament’s theme was “Reclaiming the Heart of Humanity: Compassion, Peace, justice and Sustainability.”
I decided to attend before learning the the UUA was a sponsor of the Parliament. Interfaith work just makes sense to me. Perhaps it is because I have had so much opportunity to be part of multi-faith communities.
I was raised by an unchurched Christian mother, who taught me God is Love; Jesus was sent to earth to show us how to love; What we need to do is to try to emulate that love as best as we can; Don’t worry about the other rules. Her lack of denominationalism and non-judgmental attitude opened the way for me to be accepting of a broad range of beliefs. I spent time as a Catholic and an agnostic. I learned about Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. I loved reading about the gods and goddesses of other religions. Unitarian Universalism enabled me to belong to a faith with people of diverse theologies. I have siblings who are Catholic and Baptist – including a Baptist bishop – and I live with a Jewish partner and a UU atheist daughter. For more than a decade, I served on the board of an interfaith non-profit working to prevent homelessness in my city. Mostly recently, I learned of the work of Reverend Dr. William Barber and the Forward Together Movement, a grassroots movement based on moral imperatives, not strict religious lines.
And why not embrace religious pluralism? Our faith, which seeks wisdom from holy books all over the world, has a unique role to play in bridging religious differences. Many attendees of the Parliament – UUs and non-UUs – understood this, too, through their knowledge of the work of Jenkin Lloyd Jones and other Unitarians and Universalists who were instrumental in working with others to create the first Parliament. I feel our faith calls me to be a bridge builder.
How delightful it was to find myself at the Parliament, where everyone sees themselves that way. All brought our curiosity about others' religions and how each religion calls us to witness and work for justice. We brought a desire to find ways to use both our commonalities and our differences to create a more peaceful and just world. We mourned collectively for the injuries of our world and made heartfelt commitments, as people of faith, to try to heal them. We shared lunch together at Langar, a meal free to all that is part of the Sikh tradition, sang together, and learned together at hundreds of workshops. The photo is of me and my new Hindu friend from Australia, Mangalam Vasan. She was one of the dinner partners.
Our June 2016 General Assembly’s theme is “Heartland: Where Faiths Connect.” So I’m wondering: where and when have you connected with a multi-faith community?
Watch video recordings of portions of the Parliament.
The UUA’s booth at the Parliament was used to create short videos inviting participants to talk about their faith traditions. View the gallery here.
Rev. Dr. Barber was a keynote speaker at a UU conference in March in Alabama. You can find links to the video of his presentation, as well as a study guide and small group ministry session based on his keynote in the Marching in the Arc of Justice Toolkit.