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Who Isn't at the Table?


Who Isn't at the Table?

by Paul Chaffee

“Who isn’t at the table yet, who isn’t here?” P. Gerard O’Rourke’s voice, a gruff and gentle Irish brogue, asked the question each month at the start of interfaith board meetings. Who isn’t at the table? Father Gerry meant it and raised the issue in all sorts of places in his role as ecumenical and interfaith officer of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. For half a century his voice and example beckoned us to enlarge the table, find those whose voices weren't being heard, become friends and learn to work together for what is important, and claim the joy and satisfaction that comes from close, deep relationships with friends and loved ones from a ‘universe’ totally different than your own.

Given the sharp challenges facing humankind and the Earth, it seems fairly clear that creating healthy interfaith relationships with those ‘outside my circle’ is one of the mandatory skill-sets if we are to survive. But you can’t have relationships with people you haven’t met. Who isn’t here yet? There are legions who have not been invited to sit down at the interfaith table or for various reasons are not able to join. This month’s TIO is a gloss, a sampler for enlarging the interfaith table.

It begins with Bud Heckman’s passionate call to act on the ‘fierce urgency of now’ and make an interfaith difference on the planet. Then comes Marcus Braybrooke’s visit to a concentration camp, painfully reminding him of the precious human beings who never had the chance to sit at an interfaith table. Anashwara Ashok, a graduate student in India, challenges religions to live up to their own professed values, particularly regarding the disinherited, those who have no table at all, much less an interfaith table.

Half of this month’s issue shines a light on the most neglected, often oppressed set of religious/spiritual traditions: the Earth-based and indigenous traditions, all professing a sacred relationship with nature. North and South, East and West, around the world they have regularly been oppressed by dominant religions with a higher tolerance for violence and thirst for dominion than nature traditions. This includes the full panoply of indigenous traditions, a host of Pagan traditions, as well as Daoism and Hinduism.

You’ll also find stories of women caught in the interstices of culture and faith regarding cross-cultural identity and acceptance. Two articles share strategies for enlarging the interfaith table: a thriving Indonesian project focuses on children to nudge people from conflicted religions and ethnicities towards interfaith relationships;  and a new interfaith organization in California that is working to network interfaith projects throughout the state so they can speak with one voice, get to know each other, and give the smaller programs a place in California’s interfaith community.

Finally, two religious giants from Asia – Lao Tzu, the ancient teacher who founded Daoism, and Paramahansa Yogananda, who brought so much Hindu wisdom to the West – each get a piece. They bring great insight into what it will take to fulfill the vision of a healthy, vibrant interfaith culture for our descendents. Most interfaith activists don’t know about them. So invite them to your table! And keep asking who isn’t here yet so you can invite them next time.