Day 1: Parliament of the World's Religions
Summary and reflection on the first day of the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah from the perspective of one student.
I feel that one phrase embodies the spirit of my feelings throughout today: “one family, many faiths.” I saw this phrase upon a pillar while sharing lunch with a newly ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. While this statement engenders all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings of interfaith love, as it should, it also challenges us at the Parliament this weekend to treat our fellow participants as family.
As any of us know, being part of a family is not easy (ask anyone after returning home for the holidays later this year). Family members argue, disagree, and at times may seem like people completely unlike ourselves despite a connection to a common lineage. In the interfaith context, this is even more the case and thus it can be extremely difficult to not only reconcile strongly opposing beliefs, but also to understand the need to do so. However, if we cannot, there is no point to being here and occupying this space. Even though dialogue is often not easy, it is the only way to truly engage meaningfully with others in our human family that have profound differences within the cornerstones of our existence, like religion. A good family also works to understand and be compassionate to one another, a message we can always use in any context when dealing with others.
As I left our hotel for today, I was greeted with the headline “Interfaith lovefest ‘brings hearts and minds together.’” I felt that spirit today as moved through the various talks I attended, the Langar meal provided by the Sikh community, and through impromptu discussions with various individuals throughout the day. I encountered people from all walks of life joined by a unity of purpose and a harmony of practice-to engage that which was strange and unfamiliar to them.
I deeply emphasized with the stories of the many incredible people I encountered today. I was teary-eyed as I listened to a Canadian indigenous man describe the struggles he endured after being placed in thirty-one different foster care homes between the ages of five and nine and losing track of his indigenous faith until rediscovering it as an adult. I trembled with anger upon hearing of abuses suffered by a Sikh man during a panel on the interfaith implications of Holocaust studies. I openly wept upon hearing the words of Dr. Suzanne Barakat, sister of Deah Barakat who was a victim of the shooting at Chapel Hill earlier this year. As a loving sister, I couldn’t imagine what strength it would take to speak with poise and composure about the death of a beloved brother, especially given the awful hate that brought around his death. However, all of these individuals of different faiths of my own pushed me to reflect upon my own faith and how I choose to live that faith out.
For me, the Parliament of World Religions has thus far been fierce, beautiful, and innovative. I await the days to come in awe of what could possibly come next.