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It has been an amazing day at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, but nothing has been more moving to me than the six Sikh junior high students from an Indian religious academy who interviewed me about what it means to be Jewish. It got really interesting when their teachers joined in and what followed was an hour-long conversation that addressed everything from why I wear a kippah to the fact that at some point real monotheism and sophisticated polytheism are not only very similar, but may be identical!
As I write this however, Shabbat is approaching in Australia and I am still processing the encounter so actively that I will have to wait until Sunday to say more about it. Suffice it say that for it alone, it was worth the 12,000 mile journey. In the meantime, a quick run down of the formal presentations I am giving here. I share them because in many ways, they are about the big religious issues with which we all struggle and I am interesting in what you have to say about the questions as they are framed. So here goes:
On 9:30 Sunday Morning I will be addressing Who Do We Want To Be: Jewish Mission in the 21st Century. This session focuses on how any community identifies and pursues it’s mission, and while it uses the experience of the contemporary Jewish community as it’s primary example, the issue applies to any group that confuses it’s big picture mission, with small picture tasks e.g. improving people’s lives or the world in which we live, vs. how many people attend communal worship, or marry within the faith. The latter issues are significant (probably), but they are hardly the reason why any spiritual community should exist.
At 11:30 I will be presenting with Sister Joan Chittister and Imam Feisal Rauf on Sacred Envy, an approach which encourages us to examine both that which we love in both the faiths we follow and in those we don’t, especially when they are not the same things. It teaches us to acknowledge the beauty even of that which we do not share and to appreciate the unique gifts of each spiritual path. They are NOT all the same, and genuine interfaith encounter is NOT about figuring out that they are. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Real interfaith work demands that we see difference, celebrate what others do better than we do, and struggle with the difficult differences which may always divide us, without becomes divisive.
On Monday, I will address what it means to be spiritual leaders, whether lay or professional in the 21st Century. What does spiritual leadership mean at this moment in human history and how is it best exercised?