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A Higher Collaborative Imperative

By Paul Chaffee


Focusing on ‘collaboration’ in an interfaith publication may seem redundant. All interfaith activity is collaborative, you might say. Collaboration is ‘who we are’! True enough. But we need to notice how we practice what we preach. We live in the midst of siloed interfaith organizations, many of whom don’t know each other and have weak relations with faith organizations as well. Institutionally we lack the connective tissue that will give the interfaith movement its real identity and voice(s). We’re badly in need of seeing the larger picture.

Today the ‘other’ is not just the Muslim or Pagan or atheist I don’t know. It’s also the natural colleagues/ agencies I don’t know or cooperate with. In my own tradition, those ‘conservatives’ or those ‘liberals’ may be the ‘other’ for me. We can’t afford this kind of fragmentation any longer and must create ways to share the big tasks and let the ‘smaller’ issues have a vacation.

Collaboration among people of good will has become imperative for our survival, whatever our differences. A ‘higher’ collaboration is called for in the face of climate change, species extinction, Ebola-type plagues, exploding refugee figures, as well as escalating global violence, poverty, and religious oppression. When a Tsunami devastates a region, people all over the globe step forward to help. That’s the high kind of energy and collaboration we’ll need in the future, starting now.

My own sense is that the interfaith movement is the training ground for a much rougher 21st century than we once imagined. The skill sets being developed, the levels of dialogue being explored, new synergies, the growing appreciation of diversity among different religious and spiritual communities – these factors and more are becoming increasingly important. As the stories in this issue demonstrate, new kinds of transformative bridge-building are developing in a variety of arenas.

Taking them as examples, I hope the next step in the interfaith movement, globally and locally (where it’s most active), will be increasing collaborative action among colleagues and peers, like-minded causes, competitors and strangers, within traditions and between traditions. The wisdom of the traditions, alive in us, can fuel our ability to care for each other and share the looming work ahead. 

In these pessimistic times I’m betting we can afford to be optimists. Interfaith executive directors increasingly are as supportive of a shared global vision of peace as of their own organizations. They are becoming masters of inter-sector, inter-agency partnerships. Digital tools allow us to do what our grandparents couldn’t have imagined. Interfaith-friendly millennials today have little patience with too much talk: “What are we going to do now to make things better?” “If we use all three of our e-lists won’t it be good for everyone?”

Collaborative energy is TIO’s subject this month. How it works. How to support it effectively in real time. Surveying the benefits. Considering exemplars. The thematic material begins with a profile of visionary Duane Elgin and essays by Justine Huxley, Kay Lindahl & Kathe Schaaf, and Sally Mahé, remarkable contributions focused on empowered, transforming collaboration. Following them, you’ll find stories that exemplify what we are learning about this higher collaboration in a variety of contexts, including the world of children. Happy reading.