By Paul Chaffee
This month marks the fiftieth issue of The Interfaith Observer (TIO), and the time has come to take a breath and a break from ‘business as usual.’ Instead, for the next five months, from March through July of 2016, TIO will look back and gather the work by and about five of our most prolific writers, one a month. Next month we will feature the work of Marcus Braybrooke.
As usual, we will not publish in August, returning to business as usual in September, refurbished and strengthened, I hope. In the meantime, your editor will be taking a partial sabbatical. The sabbat is to rest, refresh, and reflect how interfaith culture has changed since TIO emerged five years ago. It’s a partial sabbat because the next half a year will be used to firm up TIO’s corporate identity and to clean up and improve a website that’s had its fifth birthday and needs some polish.
As we rethink what TIO is and what it might become, we will be looking for your input. Particularly about how to improve the publication in coming years. In March we’ll be circulating a brief questionnaire to facilitate your suggestions. What does it mean to be a broad-based communications platform for an emerging global interfaith culture? How can we make TIO better as interreligious challenges grow day by day?
Interfaith’s Next Chapter
This interim period for TIO comes just as the ‘interfaith movement’ seems to be writing a new chapter. The 1993 centennial Parliament of the World’s Religions is noted as the start of the modern interfaith movement. That same year United Religions Initiative planners were moving into gear, Harvard’s Pluralism Project took off, Religions for Peace escalated globally, and myriad grassroots interfaith projects began cropping up across the Americas and the world.
Eight years later the tragedy of 9/11 took issues of interreligion to a much higher level. It motivated a host of extraordinary interfaith efforts, putting the movement on the map and enticing major media to pay attention. It’s assumed today, I think, that a well-read person will know the difference between Shia and Sunni, for example, and know that Evangelical is a subset, not a synonym for Christianity. Five years ago? Probably not.
The 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions was a kind of huge tent covering a magnificent if overwhelming plethora of issues, practices, resources, and performances the interfaith world has developed since September 11, 2001. The program guide in Salt Lake City four months ago weighed three pounds and had tiny type!
Since then the intensity has gone up another step: the bloody terrorism one evening in Paris less than a month after the Parliament has prodded the attention of people everywhere, becoming a horrifying symbol of the religiously related violence which has invaded communities everywhere, communities we always thought were safe. Paris, followed quickly by the bloody carnage in San Bernardino a few days later, inspired hundreds of grassroots interfaith activities, as TIO highlighted last month.
Since then the pace of interfaith programming has jumped to the thousands of events, across the United States and in dozens of other countries. The call for dialogue and closer relationships between the traditions – particularly among Abrahamic communities – is ringing universal. Interfaith issues are in the crosshairs in hundreds of countries today, and thought leaders and pundits are finally paying attention to what has happened with religion in general and interfaith relations in particular.
So yes, the interfaith world in 2016 is a far cry from where we were in 2011. Those of us who write for TIO and are preoccupied with interfaith culture need to ponder where our time and energy should be directed now, and that is one of the goals of this sabbatical. I would welcome your thoughts, particularly as they apply to how TIO can do a better job at communicating the growing edge of interfaith relations. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a hint about the future that I hear over and over again in the interfaith vineyard: the need for collaboration. Climate change activists, for instance, come from every religious, spiritual tradition on the globe, and they are beginning to work collaboratively. And they probably don’t even think of themselves as ‘interfaith’ most of the time, though that is exactly who they are, an interreligious community building relationships in support of a healthier world. It seems agreed that the challenges we face are way too big for any of us to handle alone. So we need to get acquainted quickly and go to work. On climate, on economic justice, on racism, on peacemaking, and so very much more.
In this dark night of human history, there are multiple sources of light generating remarkable activities focused on healing the Earth and all living beings. TIO is published because we think the light will prevail, no matter what the difficulties. For the next half year I invite you to join me in pondering how we might support the light all around us.