Letter to TIO Readers
Powerful Rays of Hope
by Paul Chaffee
Dear Friends of TIO,
Some of you may not know that TIO takes August off, so we wanted to drop this note, letting you know that the September 15 TIO will be showing up on time in your e-mail.
Meanwhile, month by month the case gets stronger that our communities, the nation, and the world are in dire need of the art of building friendly relations regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or culture. The cover of this week’s TIME magazine lists 256 places in the US where mass shootings have occurred this year so far. Governments around the world are becoming fearless in persecuting the poor and the weak, and climate-caused natural disasters fill the news every day.
To be sure, this is a summer of mourning. But countless voices are making the case that grief must not disable us, that our condolences best serve as preface to peacemaking, Earth-nurturing activism. Humankind and Mother Earth cannot afford despair.
This past Monday, NAIN (North American Interfaith Network) held its first virtual conference (thanks to Zoom technology) on the theme “Interfaith Community in a Polarized World.” A presentation from Brian Farr focused on the personal development of interfaith peacemaking. Rorri Geller-Mohamed unpacked the complexities of interfaith/interracial marriages and families as well as the art of peacemaking with your kin and community. Michael Kinnamon, a distinguished global ecumenist and teacher, had critical advice about the quality of dialogue when you confront xenophobia and fake news.
Young Scholars, a group always featured at NAINConnects, as usual bowled me over. This year there were three, Alisen Roberts joining the call from Jerusalem, Elias Gonzalez from Mexico, and Thomas Vargese, at Harvard Divinity, who grew up in India. Alisen unpacked the dynamics of who we are, how we self-identify, and the power relations worth our attention. Elias suggested that we should back-pedal our religious identities and focus more on friendship building in our own communities. He made the case that universals always come burdened with cultural values that can do great harm when prescribed for everyone. Thomas, with a rich career in international development before enrolling in seminary, talked about reconciling the West’s secularism with the spiritual resources of the world’s religions.
I didn’t expect the day to wow me. I was wrong. Interfaith culture is alive and well in new kinds of ways, the world is finally starting to pay attention, and the goodwill and unending efforts of peacemakers around the world is a ray of hope for us all.
We’ll continue the discussion next month in TIO!
Header Photo: Unsplash