You ever walk away from an experience and have a deep sense that something HOLY just happened? My trip this week to the United Nations was one of those. First of all, how in the world did I get to this place, at this time, with these people? Well, watch the video and then read my answers and observations from the day below. Thanks for listening. And reading. And praying. And supporting this important work that is full of wonderful surprises.
1. How did I get to this event? Seriously a little over a week ago, I received a WhatsApp message that looked initially suspect. But as I asked questions I found out that my name was recommended by a dear Muslim friend here in Seattle who thought I’d be a good person to join this conversation. They were looking for “thought leaders.” Yes, that’s one of my surprises.
2. Who was at this meeting? This was a meeting, predominately but not exclusively, of important leaders from the Shia tradition, many who actually came from places like Najah, Karbala, and Baghdad. In other words, present day Iraq. There were also a few notable academics and activists who now live in the US but mostly from the Shia world. There were a few Sunnis, and I observed maybe 3-4 Christian leaders, and a few Rabbis as well.
3. What was the conversation? What did you talk about? The day’s program listed 3 panel discussions focused on: i) Thought leadership, ii) Social justice, and iii) Heritage. This last one dealt with several things including the promotion of a heritage of friendship within and across religious traditions to foster peaceful societies.
4. Take away #1: This was a genuine conversation, not just a PR campaign. I found the Muslim panelists somewhat confessional (like “we’ve not done this well in recent times”), yet prophetic (we must return to our true mission in this world. One speaker mentioned, “the highest form of Islam is to be in service of humanity”).
5. Take away #2: There was a lot of talk, and reference to the Quranic text which I hear a lot in these types of gatherings: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct.” (Sura 49:13).
6. Take away #3: There was a bedrock of understanding on many facets of the day’s conversations that I fully support. One key point is that our values embedded in our respective faith traditions should transcend religious boundaries. In other words, love should be extended to all, not just my religious, or national, tribe.
7. Take away #4: They recognized, like I do in many Christian gatherings, that going from meeting to meeting, conference to conference to just talk about this stuff means little if we don’t attach actionable plans to our ideas and DO SOMETHING other than meet and talk.
8. My concluding, and I think important take away: I heard echos of what I experience in the Christian world–we’re struggling with an identity crisis because we’ve allowed outside influences, loud personalities and movements which use the name of our faith to say and do things in the name of our faith (and Holy Books) which totally contradict the teachings of our scripture. Totally.
And that is what happened (at least a short summary) at the UN last Monday, October 8th. I had private conversations which gave me goosebumps, a sense of the Holy Spirit having prepared the encounters and conversations. I found a deep affinity with these new friends and a desire to work together to restore true peace, with social justice for all in our communities and world.