A Veritable Feast
The Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City provided a marvelous opportunity for us at the Graduate Theological Union. Founded more than 50 years ago by Protestant and Catholic seminaries,
the GTU has now become intentionally interreligious, growing far beyond its Christian roots to include the study of Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Chinese religions. As the nation’s largest and most wide-ranging center for the academic study of religion, we have scholars who run the gamut from the study of ancient texts and cultures to new religious movements of our day.
Thus, this year’s Parliament was a wonderful occasion for the dozens of GTU faculty, students, and staff who attended, providing a veritable feast of religious beliefs and practices, old and new, from all over the world. We had a chance to speak with many potential students and interfaith partners, and we learned a great deal about the good work people are doing worldwide. It was inspiring to be with so many people of faith who are committed not only to interreligious understanding, but also to working together to help solve some of the biggest issues facing our world: climate change, income injustice, and the dignity and rights of women.
Beyond the metaphorical “veritable feast,” I loved the actual feast that was provided each day by the Sikhs. Langar is the long-standing Sikh practice of feeding all comers, no questions asked. It was begun centuries ago by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, as a profound act of generosity and equality. At the Parliament, Sikh volunteers fed a delicious free lunch to many thousands of us each day.The organization of the langar was impressive! We would take off our shoes, be fitted with a head covering if we lacked one, be seated in long rows, and given a tray. Workers would then come by with large stainless steel buckets and fill our trays with mouth-watering food.
More than 9500 people from 80 different countries attended the Parliament, and the people of Salt Lake City were wonderful, welcoming, and well-organized hosts. The Rev. Bob Thompson, who is a new member of the GTU Board of Trustees, and is also chair emeritus of the Parliament of World Religions, told me that this Parliament was a great success; in fact, it “stands head and shoulders above all the previous ones.” That’s partially because it was so well organized; but more than that, Bob found himself energized and inspired by the call to “go home and DO SOMETHING,” to find a way to make a difference. There was a new sense of urgency at this gathering. He says, “The emphasis on the Charter for Compassion and compassionate action created a unified vision and call to action that is unprecedented.”
Like many others, I am already looking forward to the next Parliament of World Religions, which is scheduled for 2017.