By Paul Chaffee
READ THE SPIRIT'S DIGITAL BREAKTHROUGH
Interreligious calendars, any grassroots interfaith organizer knows, are critical for planning. No one would think of scheduling a multifaith event on Christmas, Easter, or Yom Kippur – but what about the Buddhist, Muslim, and Pagan traditions, and dozens more? If you choose to gather when your neighbors from another religion are celebrating high holy days, you could be in trouble.
When the internet started becoming our global library, digital interreligious calendars were among the first resources to emerge. The Interfaith Calendar, started in 1993, is one of the most reliable. Since 1995 it has been written and edited by Delton and Joan Kreuger. It is particularly useful because it provides dates, names, and traditions for sacred celebrations extending all the way to 2021.
Lots of calendars exist today. Most are utilitarian but do little to educate us. TIO’s monthly calendar announces holy days two months in advance, providing a line or two or explanation for each – useful for chaplains and anyone working on a daily basis with people from different faiths.
A Digital Transformation
Twenty years ago – when the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions opened the door to interfaith relations, when the Pluralism Project showed up on the internet, when the first stirrings of United Religions Initiative began – a new resource like the Interfaith Calendar seemed miraculous. But oh what a digital difference two decades has offered!
Read the Spirit (RTS), though not nearly well-known enough, is providing more high quality, interfaith-friendly, progressive religious news and features on the internet than anyone else. Huffington Post Religion goes to many more readers on the back of its AOL database and publishes excellent religious news, opinion, and features. But take this test and make up your own mind about the depth and breadth of coverage: click on the RTS homepage, and scroll to the bottom. That’s just the beginning – if you surf the site, you’ll find numerous ‘departments,’ including an engaging interactive series on Our Values.
For this reader, the most compelling room in the RTS mansion is the Religious Holidays & Festivals department, written by Stephanie Fenton. She has taken our bare-bones religious calendars and filled them out in a huge canvas of stories, beautifully illustrated, about the holidays and festivals that fill our lives.
This month Diwali was celebrated on November 3 by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhsaround the world. That much you’ll find in almost all interreligious calendars. RTS, though, provides a series of short articles and photos about Diwali – how the three traditions each approach Diwali, variations on the holiday in different regions of India, and how this Festival of lights is celebrated in Australia, Europe, and North America. Lots of links are included to keep exploring.
In the same issue, you’ll find articles about what Halloween means in different cultures and faiths, along with short articles on Samhain, the Pagan and Wiccan harvest festival – again with beautiful photos to tell the story.
An In-depth Approach to Religious Calendaring
RTS made the decision early on to include secular holidays and days that people memorialize each year. This month, for instance, features the 75th anniversary of the terror known as Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” November 9-10, 1938. Thousands of synagogues and Jewish buildings in Germany and Austria were destroyed and 30,000 Jews sent to concentration camps. Again the RTS stories, told with an interreligious sensibility, become a compelling continuing-education series of resources, the kind we so often lament lacking. Here it is, and for free.
The way to access the RTS calendar is simple. Go to Religious Holidays and Festivals. On the left side of the page are listed various traditions. Click on any one of them; you’ll be sent to that particular tradition – but the file begins with a three-month multifaith calendar of dates, notices particularly important 2014 dates, and then features stories related to the season and the tradition you selected.
Month by month a whole library of stories related to the important days of our lives is accumulating. You are invited to send in your own stories and notice of festivals not yet identified by RTS. This is an extraordinary work-in-progress, a gift to us all.
Human beings love celebrations, rituals, ceremony, festivals, and all that they bring to community. Now we can access and learn about these wonderful events from all the world’s traditions, not just “the dates,” but the extraordinary stories, images, and traditions that they each have to offer.