By Paul Chaffee
REPORT FROM NASHVILLE
The “interfaith seminary” movement profiled in these pages last September has developed into a national community of clergy, scholars, and seminarians. Sixty of them gathered early this month at the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee, for the second “Big ‘I’” conference sponsored by OUnI (Order of Universal Interfaith). Eighteen presenters were each given 18 minutes period! – which left time for rich Q&A sessions that continued into the dining room.
Familiar interfaith figures like Paul McKenna talked about the Golden Rule and the GR poster now in many languages. Adam Bucko described ministry among homeless kids in New York City as a new monasticism. Kurt Johnson presented twice. His The Coming Interspiritual Age, profiled here last November, is an Amazon Books top ten performer. Skype video and a digital projector allowed us to hear live, interactive mini-presentations from interfaith leaders in Australia, Mexico, and Uganda, an awesome achievement for the uninitiated.
Even more interesting, over and over one heard “this is one of the best interfaith conferences I’ve been to!” One after another, presenters caught our attention. A publication of the presentations is planned.
Thomas Thresher, who attended a traditional seminary and pastors a progressive Protestant church in Snohomish, Washington, brought life to the “integral” part of the Big I. His new book Irreverent Reverence is a remarkable synthesis of integral theory, as developed by Ken Wilbur and others, along with a workbook on how to use this theory in a congregation. The content is applicable and useful for any worshipping community which deeply cares about the spiritual nurture and transformation of each member. Thresher’s work, though clearly Christian, is interfaith-friendly and interspiritually resonant.
The “Big I” is new fruit in the interreligious vineyard, and this conference, though small, indicated bigger things to come. There was an excitement in the room and a banquet of ideas and experiences. None of us expected Nashville to be frigid, but we were equally surprised at how very warm, friendly, and engaging the whole event turned out to be. Rev. Tim Miner and Rabbi Rami Shapiro (both TIO contributors in months past) were the sparkplugs that made it all happen, and those who attended were deeply appreciative.