I was quite heartened to see the gathering. This past Wednesday about 50 people collected in a large classroom at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Overland Park, Kan., to spend most of a day learning about the many world religions practiced by people in the Kansas City area.
Clearly, these were people who understand that the mandate of this century in America is to find ways for people of various religious traditions to live together in harmony.
Who are all these people? That's the question I put to Shannon Clark, executive director of the event's sponsoring organization, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. At least a third of them, she said, were hospital chaplains.
Of course. Hospital chaplains each day face the task of responding to patients with all kinds of religious commitments (including none at all). Increasingly in recent years these chaplains are coming to understand the need to pay attention to the different needs and customs of people from a variey of religious backgrounds.
In addition, she said, there were other clergy and simply adults (the crowd was mostly middle-aged or older) who have an interest in learning more.
I couldn't stay for the whole event, but was glad to be there to hear the Rev. Vern Barnet (pictured here) provide a broad outline of religious approaches and to describe which religions could be put under which category. Vern's primary three were Primal, Asian and Monotheistic. He acknowledges the categories are imprecise and there's some overlap, but they can be helpful learning tools.
A few other points Vern made:
* Although there is much evidence that religion can be the source of strife, "I think religion can be the source of the wisdom that can lead us to peace."
* In a shrinking world, "we have access to planetary wisdom. But there's a lot of crap out there, too." That includes some textbooks that simply get some facts about religion wrong.
* It's worthwhile asking people what is sacred to them. By sacred, Vern means "that on which our lives depend. What we can't do without. It is the source of ultimate meaning in our lives." Vern believes each of the three religious categories has insights into what is sacred and we need to draw on those insights to help us solve the various crises humanity faces, including the environmental crisis.
I wish everyone could find ways to learn about many religious traditions -- not so people can convert from one to another but so they won't live in fear of what they don't understand.
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A QUALIFIED VATICAN AMBASSADOR?
There's a new American ambassador to the Vatican, just received by Pope Benedict XVI, and he's a theologian. Miguel Humberto Diaz is Cuban-American, born in Havanna and raised in Miami. He has taught theology. Good. But wouldn't it be nice if all American ambassadors knew as much about their subject?