Global Ethic- Grassroots Hope (A Star Trek Reality at Interfaith Convention)

With the fires raging in California, a city-wide Yahrzeit for eleven funerals in Pittsburg, and the country seething over an abyss just before midterm elections, my wife Julia and I crossed the border into Canada to present and perform for the 2018 Parliament of World Religions. Entering the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where the Parliament was held felt like entering a Star Trek reality.

The people walking the halls together were not from other planets (that we were aware of) but they represented almost every nation and culture, adorned in turbans, yamakas, headdresses, collars, beads, medallions, and robes that spanned and included the LGBTIQ rainbow. People of every faith and a staggering amount of alliances and coalitions advanced the infrastructure for a Global Ethic amidst makeshift teepees and Hindu temples. The feeling of peaceful cohabitation was not forced. The colorful pageantry throughout the building was an accepted fact, like watching the United Federation of Planets on Star Trek.

Julia and I presented a program called Hidden Saints and Drunken Sages: Celebrating Love on the Narrow Bridge Between Faiths with Stories and Songs. It was a great honor to be there and sing for such a receptive audience that embodied varied perspectives. There were representatives from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, members of the group Abraham Jam, a minister from the Center for Spiritual Living and friends from the Science of Spirituality, and that was just in the front row!

What we were fortunate enough to take in yielded too many treasures to relate, but is still giving us cause to pause and to ponder a reality whose grassroots are spreading even as we are bombarded with atrocities and outrage on a daily basis.

The theme of this year’s Parliament was The Promise of Inclusion and the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change. That thread ran through each panel discussion and session we saw. We were reminded that the real work was not about reforming anyone other than ourselves. Statements such as, “My face was unclean but I was obsessed with cleaning the mirror,” (-Imam Jamal Rahman) and “Let us see with the 20/20 vision of the soul, not with the cataracts of the mind,” (-Dr. Andrew Vidich) were appetizers that prepared us to delve in deeper to see what, in our own sacred texts and tribal stories, causes us to be biased towards one another. Allowing for interfaith friendships that aren’t absurdly polite, but authentic, Rabbi Ted Falcon suggested asking questions such as, “What hurts you when it comes from another group or community?”

We were introduced to organizations such as Walking the Walk that bring youth from mosques, temples and churches together to learn about each other’s faith and do community service, side by side for 27 weeks, providing authentic nurturing. Those youth may be the ones able to answer Elijah Brown of the Baptist World Alliance, who asked why people of faith are blessing the bullets and the bombs and why fear and a desire for power overshadows moral concerns for refugees, hunger and persecution of religious minorities.

Author Karen Armstrong, in discussing the dangers of nations becoming isolated, pointed out that, after Brexit, hate crime went up 48% in London. “We are all linked together,” she said, “You cannot confine your compassion to your own group.” She said that a compassionate city should not be a comfortable city because in allowing ourselves to be disturbed, we are not cut off from our humanity but are aware of one another’s suffering. She further pointed out that, “MLK and Gandhi were highly flawed individuals, but look what they did… Buddha didn’t want to teach but traveled the world endlessly to heal the world’s pain.”

Karen Armstrong

Meditation and self-introspection were other suggestions that weaved themselves throughout the Parliament as solutions to our seeming separation. Science has shown that meditation thickens the prefrontal cortex, increases neuroplasticity and serotonin levels in the brain while decreasing cortisol levels which cause stress. Some schools have turned detention halls into meditation halls and anger and depression among the “troubled” students has gone down.

Of course, meditation, compassion and anything that upholds the peace we wish to embody is not instantaneous but an on-going process. During the first day we were there, a five-minute meditation was announced. Julia pointed out my ironic but somewhat derisive laugh as someone began talking at the back of the room. My laugh clearly said, “What, you can’t refrain from yakking for five minutes while we all meditate?” The “yakker” turned out to be our teacher. The following day, a one-minute meditation was announced. As soon as we shut our eyes, my phone buzzed. Seeing it was a friend I had earnestly wanted to talk to for almost a year, I tried to minimize my jangling as I extracted myself from the room thinking, “What, you can’t sit still for one minute to meditate?”

My takeaway from the Parliament is that heartening inroads are being built towards a Global Ethic. A Global Ethic that emphasizes: Respect for Life, Economic Justice, Truth and Compassion, Women’s Rights, and Care for the Earth. Not only am I a part of this work but I am grateful that I have a sense of humor that allows me to see that I am in no position to become complacent.

A reporter in Las Vegas quoted the Imam Jamal Rahman, of the Interfaith Amigos, as saying, “Like in the Far East, can we share 3 cups of tea?” However, instead of reporting that those cups of tea were: Listen, Respect and Connect, the reporter said the cups were: Lipton, Respect and Connect.”

The Interfaith Amigos

It is easy for all of us to get it wrong from time to time. Empathy and understanding are a lifelong commitment. Still, with a little humor and a whole lot of persistence, I heartily believe there is hope for us yet!

The Interfaith Amigos

It is easy for all of us to get it wrong from time to time. Empathy and understanding are a lifelong commitment. Still, with a little humor and a whole lot of persistence, I heartily believe there is hope for us yet!


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