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Making it Happen in an Interfaith World

By Paul Chaffee


The interfaith movement is full of high hope and good intentions. But as T.S. Eliot put it, “Between the idea… and the act falls the shadow.” After enthusiasm and inspiration die down, the heavy lifting (and real satisfaction) comes in actually embodying our visions, working seedtime to harvest, and sustaining our commitment over the long term. TIO’s stories this month are about interfaith activists with those qualities, people who “get it done” and “make it happen” in a variety of contexts.

Charles Bonney had the idea for a Parliament of the World’s Religions: John Barrows, with Bonney’s full support, made it happen in 1893. In the process they inspired thousands of interfaith conferences and organizations which have followed in its wake, not the least of which are the modern Parliaments. The same interfaith imagination and gumption we witness in Bonney and Barrows finds expression today around the world in all sorts of ways.

Incredible poverty and religious conflict brew a violent concoction in urban Manila when peacemakers bring dreams of interfaith harmony into the hood. And then…?

We read about a man who speaks Arabic, English, and Spanish, a Muslim, elected last year to be mayor of a Catholic Latino community in southern California. How could that happen?!

What would it take to inspire dozens of congregations from different traditions to agree on their root values, then successfully craft ways to improve their neighborhoods and strong-arm politicians into getting it done? Read about it!

What happens if over the long term you seriously explore and engage in healing practices from different religions, with faith that all human beings have healing capacities?

And much, much more.

This collection concludes with a Buddhist answer to this riddle: What is required to create a huge interethnic, interracial, interreligious public event that is deeply moving, a spiritually resonant experience for thousands, even millions of people watching from afar? The Shinnyo-en response is exquisite.

Happy summer! And remember, no TIO in August.