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Appreciating the Gifts in Our Midst

By Paul Chaffee


With as much violence and tragedy as we witness today, and noting how confused and conflicted can be the relations within and between religions, it is astonishing to monitor the interfaith stories coming from around the world.

Though often set in grim contexts, tackling tough issues, these stories are inspired and life-affirming. You catch your breath at the imagination and courage of people who keep insisting that we treat each other as a loving family. Their stories are gifts, lights on a dark horizon.

For starters this month, at the invitation of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, TIO had a “listening group.” We asked a dozen interfaith leaders from near and far about their most serious concerns at home and for the world. Read their answers and get the details for how to organize you own listening group. Chicago is listening.

For the global interfaith community this year, the two best gifts have to be Malala Yousafza and Pope Francis, both of whom get attention in this issue for the light they bring to this season.

Ruth Broyde Sharone’s interview of Diana Eck, the first in a series of three, is a gift to anyone who cares about interfaith in the world today; Professor Eck led interreligion’s march into the academy, has brilliantly described the transitions in American religion over the last half century, and created a host of resources for starting to understand it all. Clearly a gift. As is Swami Vivekananda, who struck the match to the brewing interfaith yearning in the West back in 1893 with a conception of pluralism that Jeffery Long unpacks this month – another gift.

So are stories from Marcus Braybrooke, William Swing, Wai Kit Ow Yeong, Maha Elgenaidi, and Daniel Tutt. Jay Michaelson’s title may irritate you (meditation as technology?!?) – but try it out. Malcolm Young’s tale of going to Burning Man confirmed what I’d expected but (never having been) had no way of knowing – that the spiritual resonance and ramifications of this annual summer ritual in the Nevada desert are rich and deep.

It was noticed that last month’s issue on “Prayer and Spiritual Practice” tilted Abrahamic, had a bit of the Dharmic traditions mixed in, and quite left out Earth-based religions, including American Indian and Neopagan traditions. This particular omission is not unusual – most of us know next to nothing about Earth-based spiritual practice.