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A Journey into the Language of Interfaith

By Rev. Robert Hrasna


Time and patience has ruled a journey that seemed to be lost in an abyss. It started in December 2009 while sitting on the floor of the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre in a kindred conversation with Don Benson. We were both exhausted as the Parliament of World’s Religions approached its conclusion. In a moment of inspiration Don posed a proposition that seemed as hopeful as it was monumental.

“What if there was a language of interfaith?”

It was a searing moment for me as I took in the possibilities. Here we were among many of the world leaders and progressives of the world’s religions. Spiritual traditions and indigenous cultures mingled with a representation of faith-based organizations that covered the globe.  Mother Earth, issues of social justice, and the position of the atheist had equal voice as interfaith cooperation became the heartbeat of the Melbourne Parliament event. How could I not be inspired?

The First of Several Parliaments

Huston Smith – Photo: Wikipedia

Huston Smith – Photo: Wikipedia

I could have been a blind man, starting along the path that led me to this moment. Attending a retreat in upstate New York ten years earlier, in 1999, I fortuned into a conversation with Huston Smith as we walked the paths of the Omega Institute. I had but a faint knowledge of his stature and his lifelong immersion in the world’s religions. To my surprise, he wound up inviting me to join him while attending the Parliament of World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa later that year. Seeking to find my way in answering a call to serve Spirit, I said yes.

Between the time my plane left JFK airport for Cape Town and walking across the tarmac ten days later traveling home, my life and view of the world changed. I not only witnessed interfaith being lived out, but halfway around the world I learned about an interfaith seminary in NYC.

Five years later, now a newly ordained Interfaith Minister, I boarded another plane for the Parliament in Barcelona, Spain. There it was clear that the idea of interfaith cooperation had grown significantly. Creating “Interfaith Dialogue” was at the leading edge. Yet I left thinking – Is this what interfaith is to become? Was that good enough?

Not satisfied with dialogue, the next steps quickly showed themselves. Just months after Barcelona I was again with Huston Smith, sitting in a yurt engaged with 12 other souls on the subject of Spiritual Activism. We struggled with identifying a definition of Spiritual Activism and how it can become a reality in today’s world.

On Sunday morning that weekend I drove Huston back to the retreat after sharing breakfast. I said, “After two days of work, we haven’t identified what Spiritual Activism is. What is Spiritual Activism?” Huston looked at me in a way that made me question whether I had insulted him. But instead in a moment he slaps the dashboard of my truck and declared, “It’s shoe leather, we have talked for long enough. It’s time we got something done.”

By the time I reached the Melbourne Parliament five years later, I was an Ambassador of the Parliament and serving as chairman of A World Alliance of Interfaith Clergy. Much had changed. Interfaith was not just the buzz word but the palpable heartbeat of the Parliament. Thousands of people reached out beyond themselves and their traditions and cultures to make connections of understanding and peace. Colors and costumes of cultural traditions filled our eyes, prayers and rituals connected our souls.

Is There a Language of Interfaith?

So at the end of the Melbourne Parliament, I’m sitting on the floor with my friend Don contemplating the idea of “The Language of Interfaith.” He asked if I felt up to the challenge of developing this within the organization I headed. The Parliament was the catalyst, but it was the words of Charles Gibbs, then executive director of the United Religion Initiative (URI) that rang through my head. It took four years to create what is now the inspiring Preamble of the URI Charter. One of the greatest challenges was crafting the first sentence and whether it could be embraced by atheists as well as theists. If it took years to complete that one sentence, how could we craft an entire language? In front of me appeared the abyss.

Later I revisited the idea of a language of interfaith, wrestled with the how-to and prayed for an inspired idea. I was frustrated, seeing myself as a person who gets things done. I am not used to being stifled, and yet, only silence.

Rev. Tammy Monroe provided the example that sparked the Language of Interfaith Project at Wisdom Circle Ministries – Photo: WCM

Rev. Tammy Monroe provided the example that sparked the Language of Interfaith Project at Wisdom Circle Ministries – Photo: WCM

In late 2014 I talked with fellow minister, Rev. Tammy Monroe. She mentioned an exercise that each class went through on the first day at New Seminary: in a room full of strangers, you are asked to mill about the room and come face to face with a new classmate. Take each other’s hands and stare into each other’s eyes. We were to hold until we could see inside the other. To wait until the curtain of “stranger” lifted, revealing the gift of the other. Upon such a moment each would say, “I see you,” with a reply from the other, “It is good to be seen.”

Then it hit me. When we take the time to discern each other in all our full humanity, each becomes a friend, sister or brother. Everything that happens after that is the language of interfaith. I nearly jumped out of my skin. The answer revealed itself, and it was simple. The “I see you” exercise is just the start. There would be more ways to find this recognition of the ‘other’s’ rich humanness. The common bond of our humanity doesn’t tear down the walls and boundaries of religion and culture, it operates as if they never were there to start with. Now what can we do with that?!

Rev. Rev. Claudia Roblee – Photo: WCM

Rev. Rev. Claudia Roblee – Photo: WCM

I turned to another mutual friend, Rev. Claudia Roblee, with this inspiration. As the founder and executive director of Wisdom Circle Ministries she would be interested. The upcoming Parliament in Salt Lake was a golden opportunity for rolling out the idea. We made a commitment to the idea and began working together in earnest on the new Project.

As a multi-region Cooperation Circle with the United Religions Initiative we adopted an Appreciative Inquiry approach to creating an interfaith language. It has drawn groups of people to our online meetings and Pre-Parliament Events to help build and contribute to the reach and content of a languageof interfaith. It felt like destiny when the Salt Lake City Parliament planners launched the theme of “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity” and enthusiastically embraced the Language of Interfaith Project. Next came a call from the Charter for Compassion and The Golden Rule Project, among others, asking to cooperate.

The goal we share: How can we unite to turn dialogue into Spiritual Activism?

The Language of Interfaith as we’re developing it is an emergent, evolving expression of our humanness that transcends the individual and can be a common bond among people. With nearly 5,000 different languages in the world today, it is a mode of communication that speaks to all of humanity.

The language of interfaith is in its infancy. It is an effort that needs every voice that is willing to be heard, and every inspired person that wants to wear out some shoe leather. We will take it this to the Parliament in Salt Lake for its first exposition, but the language of interfaith will never be complete. It will grow and help shape our world. It is not a cause, but rather a commitment.

Developing the Language of Interfaith through World Café Online

“To turn dialogue into activism, we must first see the other from a place of mutual respect of our shared humanity. When we share stories we are no longer strangers, but sister and brother. Everything that follows is the language of interfaith.”

Wisdom Circle Ministries is presenting a series of World Café online events as a lead-up to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake this October. Using Appreciative Inquiry and focusing on sharing ideals, personal stories, and wisdom, the Language of Interfaith Project is being launched. You’re invited!


June 29 – Climate Change & Protections of the Environment

July 27 – Violence and Reconciliation for Peace

August 31 – Artistic Expression & Spirituality

Details here.