To me, religion calls us to appreciate the rich world and the rich blend of humanity all about us.
This past weekend, about a dozen representatives from Columbus and its environs took part in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah. International though it is, this event is deeply connected to southern Indiana.
Columbus people have been part of Parliaments for more than 20 years. In fact, our InterFaith Forum came into being partly as a result of the 1999 Parliament in South Africa. Christine Lemley, Sharon Karr, and Madhu Vedak — who has since moved away — returned home resolved to further peace and wholeness.
The InterFaith Forum they founded has become a model for interfaith organizations.
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This year, other local residents and clergy joined them. Franklin College professor David Carlson presented two sessions. Lemley presented one. For the record, our Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s Minister, Mary Moore, presented at a previous Parliament. Our connection with this major international event is real and profound.
This was my first Parliament. Taking it all in was a wonderful experience, as well as something of a struggle. The event was huge, beautiful and even slightly chaotic.
Ten thousand people and dozens of world religions came from 70 nations. Different languages, different clothing, different races, customs, beliefs and practices. On the one hand it was gorgeous. On the other, it was mind-boggling.
According to its mission statement, the Parliament of the World’s Religions “was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities.” The aim, they write, is to “promote harmony rather than unity.”
Harmony, rather than unity. We’re all different. We will stay different. But we need to work to get along.
Bartholomew County mirrors that richness and struggle.
A Native American holy man, Muslim imam, Hindu priest, Catholic priest, Protestant minister and Unitarian Universalist minister are not going to agree on all matters of faith. They shouldn’t have to.
But in our day, you’ll encounter every one of those people in Columbus.
Harmony among religions, is work. It takes a blend of courage and humility. It’s easy to be courageous out of religious arrogance. The courage to humbly learn from another person’s religion is much tougher.
But no religion gets it right all the time. We have such power to enrich and enlighten one another instead of belittling or harming each other.
The world is getting packed more closely all the time. Columbus is only a few hours by plane away from Earth’s farthest reaches. In these challenging times, religious diversity is more inevitable than ever before.
From a rural town on the plains, Columbus has become an oasis of religious diversity — through the hard labor of making it work. I was honored to play a tiny role in that years ago. The way our richness has evolved dazzles me nearly as much as the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Watching this huge event unfold, I rejoice that it’s well worth the hard work. Working toward religious harmony can change hearts. I’m watching it happen. Without it, we will just keep going down the same old, violent roads of the past. I can’t see how anyone would want to do that.
Five days of convention participation, no matter how holy, wears me out. All the different faces, places, viewpoints really wears me out. But this challenging work is more important than ever. It might also be more wonderful and promising than ever.
The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a community columnist and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He is a recently retired Columbus minister, and remains active as minister emeritus and a freelance writer on art, ethics, religion and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.