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A Sampler of Where We Have Come


A Sampler of Where We Have Come 

by Paul Chaffee

In the quarter-century since the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, often noted as the beginning of modern ‘interfaith movement,’ religion in the world has changed significantly. Not the least of these changes has been the growing understanding that we are heir to dozens of religious/spiritual traditions and that claiming any one of them as the only truth, the exclusive truth, consistently evokes disharmony and violence.

Growing up 100 years ago meant knowing almost nothing about the world’s spiritual traditions except your own. That world is mostly gone from us, never to return. This shift was celebrated by the Parliament in 1993 in an effort that continues this November in Toronto, pictured above. The shift has opened floodgates to new possibilities for each of us personally and for all humankind. It has given us access to the rich treasures of learning about each other’s traditions, discovering shared values, and finding common cause around justice issues, starting with our overheating planet.


Last year The Interfaith Observer published about 150 stories and summarized an equal number of interfaith news items that typically don’t make it into major media. And we barely cover the tip of the iceberg. Since the Chicago Parliament 25 years ago, interreligious relationships and interfaith culture have become huge arenas – today interfaith stories range from Muslim fashion options showing up at Macy’s to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar to collaborative multifaith responses to the climate crisis around the globe.

So selecting a handful of TIO’s best 2017 stories is finally folly – we could start all over and come up with a splendid alternative collection. That said, this month’s TIO is a fascinating sampler of the compelling issues and activities we barely dreamed about 25 years ago.

Bill Lesher’s Contribution

Literally thousands of leaders, men and women in countries around the globe, have made this seemingly spontaneous interfaith growth and development possible. Among such a gathering of saints, few stood out more brightly and effectively than William Lesher, who died in Claremont, California last month.

Bill, talking with Dada J.P. Vaswani at the Melbourne Parliament in 2009 – Photo: Complete Wellbeing  

Bill, talking with Dada J.P. Vaswani at the Melbourne Parliament in 2009 – Photo: Complete Wellbeing  

Joseph Prabhu’s tribute to Bill in this issue fills in much of the detail about his global leadership. For decades, Bill officially and unofficially represented and promoted interfaith culture in general, and the Parliament in particular, to religious, spiritual, and secular leaders in dozens of countries. He took the lead in insisting that interreligious relations need to be on the agenda in every sector of society, including business and government. He pushed back boundaries and made connections with a disarming charm, informed by the deep spiritual foundation Professor Prabhu shares with us.

More than 30 years ago, my wife Jan and I were invited on two occasions to Bill and Jean Lesher’s home in north Berkeley for interfaith ‘soirees.’ Jean, who survives Bill, is an author, peace activist, and has always stood strong with Bill in their interfaith commitment. On those special evenings, you arrived and saw a table covered with exquisite food from different cuisines. Eight or ten of us gathered, all deeply committed to interfaith, some old friends, some new. After eating in rooms around the house, we sat in a circle in their living room and spent the evening in deep discussion, where spiritual journeys and critical issues at hand mixed easily. TIO featured Bill and Jean in a profile last April. 

Because of the Leshers and thousands of others like them, we have a global interfaith playing field that is enlivening, hopeful, depressing, stricken with violence, yet overgrown with peace and hope. TIO offers a few of the stories out there.

Header Photo: Wikimedia