595: Wisdom for a new year from the Parliament of the World’s Religions

 Closing spiritual festival Parliament World Religions 2009
T
he Parliament of the World’s Religions has been knitting together the globe’s spiritual traditions for more than 100 years. The 1893 Parliament in Chicago marks the formal debut of Hinduism in the United States. The centennial of the Parliament in 1993 welcomed the broadest array of religious groups ever assembled in one location, until that time. (Here’s Wikipedia’s “backgrounder” on these Parliaments.)
    Since 1993, various “Parliament” conferences have popped up around the world, attempting to carry on this rich tradition. One was held in Australia in December and a ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Gail Katz, attended portions of the December 3-9 conference. (Here’s the official Web site for that conference.)


    Given our readers’ focus on holidays in December, we saved Gail’s 2-part overview to kick off 2010, a more appropriate time to take fresh action on some of these inspiring ideas.

HERE IS Gail Katz’s …

Reflection on the 2009 Parliament, Part 1:

 Figures at World Parliament Melbourne Australia
H
ow does one describe what it was like to be in the same space with just about every faith tradition and just about every cultural dress and headdress? This interfaith conference drew 8,000 people from 150 countries of the world—producing an incredible diversity of saris, robes, kipot, turbans, hijabs and shaved heads, along with every shade of skin on this earth.
   
How beautiful the religious communities of the world were as men and women from the far corners of the Earth gathered!

 Monk working on a sand painting World Parliament    
There were Sikhs talking with Jews and Christian monks conversing with Hindus. No matter where you went within the Melbourne Exhibition Center, everyone was polite and anxious to find out who you were and where you were from. A Tibetan monk made a sand painting of vibrant colors, right next to the shrine of the Dalai Lama, who was scheduled to be the closing keynote speaker on the last day of the conference.

   

In the midst of these earnest people coming together to share ideas, increase respect, and work together on interfaith initiatives—protesters showed up and proclaimed their slogans outside of the Melbourne center.
   
Atheists shouted: “Human Rights, not Religious Rites!”
   
Fundamentalist Christians flew banners crying: “There’s only one path to God—Jesus!”
   
Their presence reminded us that Religion and Controversy struggle with each other all around the world. Whatever the hateful or fearful messages protesters brought into the streets outside, thousands of us gathered each day inside the magnificent Exhibition Center—and we all came to listen and learn from each other.
   
We shared goals of saving Mother Earth, ending poverty and empowering women.
I loved seeing a group of Sikh students stop Rabbi Brad Hirschfield to ask: “What does it mean to be Jewish?” Together, they spent an hour learning about each others’ religions.

 Sand Mandala at World Parliament

   

I attended a session on Hindu-Jewish Dialogue, bringing together leaders from two of the world’s oldest religions. Rabbi David Rosen (Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs), Swami Avdeshananda Giri, Swami Parmamananda Saraswati and Bawa Jain (Secretary General of the World Council of Religious Leaders) were the speakers at this session.
   
I was intrigued to hear about a large number of Israelis who travel to India, many of them estranged from their own religion as the head to the East. In the process, though, many rediscover their Jewish roots, the speakers said.
   
As if to underline what we might share as people from different traditions, a speaker pointed out that there are very small distinguishing traits among the DNA of human beings. Similarly, our religions have much in common, including values of family, work and faith.

InterfaithHeroes2FrontCover    

I am a retired teacher of English as a Second Language and I am the former coordinator of the Religious Diversity Journeys for Seventh Graders through the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. So, I was quite intrigued with a session called “Innovative Approaches to Interfaith and Multicultural Educational in Schools.” This workshop explored different approaches to multicultural and interfaith education.
   
We heard about a broad range of educational approaches encouraging respect for the “other” through steps such as storytelling, respectful listening and even the use of gardens and nature in children’s education.
   
Simon Oats, an Australian teacher, illustrated his methods of working with youth through the sharing of personal stories—an approach that gives young people time for reflection on the negative experiences of bullying, fear and injustice. I was so taken with Simon’s presentation that I gave him a copy of “Interfaith Heroes” (Volume 2), written by Daniel Buttry, and told him how I had used these stories when I worked with my seventh graders and encouraged them to become diversity heroes!
   
Simon promised to keep in touch with me when his storytelling book is published next year.

   

During the Question and Answer period, I stood up and highlighted WISDOM and the Religious Diversity Journeys for Seventh Graders going on in metro-Detroit.
   
One of the other people at this session was quite taken with Detroit’s interfaith efforts and, after the session was over, he presented me with a DVD for the youth that I work with, entitled “Animating the Golden Rule.” This DVD illustrates how self-directed explorations in art, music, rap and drama can be used to help teenagers explore ways of embodying the core values of “The Golden Rule” shared by virtually all of the world’s great religions. How appropriate this was, as WISDOM’s very first event with youth also focused on the core values of “The Golden Rule” in world religions.

Parliament 2009 Melbourne audience    

I also was impressed with a session led by four renowned rabbis addressing, “Who Do We Want to Be: Exploring the Mission of the Jewish People in the 21st Century.” I was personally interested in this session as a member of the Jewish faith, but it was fascinating to observe that three fourths of the people in the audience were not Jewish (as was evident by a show of hands when the question was asked).
   
Contemporary Judaism, whether as expressed in Israel itself or in the Jewish Diaspora, faces many challenges as it moves further away in time from the identification with the Holocaust and the foundation of Israel. This esteemed panel of rabbis discussed these challenges and the evolving nature of Judaism today.
   
Along with Rabbi David Rosen and Rabbi Brad Hirschfield was Rabbi David Saperstein, designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the United States. Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, the chief rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Australia, was also on the panel.
   
Some of the major conclusions they drew included:
   
Peace in the Middle East is imperative as it is the center of global conflict and the cutting edge of interactions of civilizations. We must break out of the cycle of violence.
   
Jewish teaching affirms that we all are made in the image of God, and we need to work toward making a better world.
   
We are a Noah Generation: facing a world that is cursed with a lack of resources, poverty and the potential destruction of the Earth.
   
We need to embrace the Jewish teaching of “Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world. It is not enough to study our sacred texts. We must live out the commandments we find there.
   
Our central question should not be: Is the world big enough for us?
   
Instead, we should be asking: Are we big enough to embrace the world?

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this journey to the Parliament!

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