The first Parliament of the World's Religions coincided with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. One hundred years later, Chicago hosted the second parliament. The third was in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999.
Those involved in the interreligious movement are quick to correct a misconception about their work: that it seeks to unify all religions. Although some participants may combine beliefs and practices from a variety of traditions, most are solidly grounded in a single religion. Learn more at www.cpwr.org and www.cpwrglobal.net.
"We're not about unity," says Bill Lesher, chair of the parliament board. "We're about harmony among religions. The people who tend to be open to this kind of movement tend to be pioneers. They are willing to reach out and think about what they're learning and being told of people from different faiths. The fact that this sends them back to their own faith to think, sometimes anew, about questions they've never thought about before can only be a positive thing."
• ELCA global mission bibliography on Islam.
• ELCA interreligious work and Jewish-Christian dialogue.
• The popular www.beliefnet.com offers general information, user forums and resources for interreligious families.
• The BBC's religion site is worth visiting for headlines such as "Sikhs and the City" and an irreverent quiz.
• How to Be A Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2002) provides information on religious beliefs, services and celebrations.
In a hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) student Tom Odom replies to the knock at the door with a challenge: "What was Luther's 53rd thesis?"
The Lutheran students, professors, pastors and lay people gathered on the furniture and floor of William Lesher's hotel room laugh at Odom's question.
Lesher is chair of the organization behind the event that has brought them to Barcelona, Spain: the Parliament of the World's Religions. He's also president emeritus of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Fifty ELCA members have come from as far as Hong Kong to join 7,000 participants at this once-every-hundred-or-five-years event, July 7-13. Even more have come from other world Lutheran church bodies.
The hotel window offers a view of Barcelona's international convention center, where some participants' brightly colored clothing stands out among the purples and reds of the Spanish architecture. A flash of midnight blue may be a group of Sikhs, while a cluster of saffron could be Buddhist nuns and monks.
From above, the differences are easily discerned and dismissed.
From within, they implicate and inspire.
Lesher's position affords him both vantages. He's "absolutely delighted" at the scene of interreligious harmony unfolding below. "It's a feeling that we are on the edge of mission in a pluralistic age and also in an age of terror," he says.
The "edge of mission" is convening the world's religions to work for peace. A mission, Lesher says, that is pan-religious in its urgency and consistent with the heart of the Christian message: peace on Earth.
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