Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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We Have Work To Do: A Reflection on the Parliament

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

I am finally reaching a point where I can begin to unpack my feelings concerning this year's Parliament of the World's Religions. On many levels this was a life changing experience, and one that I won't soon forget. I have read several other posts concerning the event as folks return home and back to daily life--taking the time to unpack their own feelings and put them in words. The majority of what has been written is positive, which I won't deny is a good space to hold for all the amazing occurrences and connections that were made. But allow me to be a dissenting voice for a moment...because despite all the positive aspects of this event, there is work yet to be done.

I'd like to start by quoting one of my favorite professors: "Stop focusing on what all religions have in common, and start doing the work of learning to live with the differences. Some religions are concerned with reaching the top of the mountain, others don't even care that there is a mountain." --Jacob Kinnard

I say this because these events tend to draw many like-minded individuals who are excited by the idea of interfaith dialogue and social action, but when these are put into practice we see the cracks in the foundation.

I have heard from many folks who attended the event that they loved the enthusiasm and the message, but now they are at a loss as to how to integrate these larger ideals into a sustainable daily practice, or even how to implement aspects of social justice into their daily lives. (As a side note to this, I will include some links to various resources at the end of this post). That fire is truly a great thing to cultivate, but we must find ways to use it before it dies from lack of oxygen and inspiration. 

For me personally, it was both amazing and daunting to be a part of the Pagan turnout we had this year. I loved hearing that we had a positive influence and it was noticed. However, I also noticed the subtle (and not so subtle) ways we were ostracized, ignored, and sometimes outright disrespected. At the Circle Sanctuary booth I fielded questions and engaged people of all walks of life as they approached or walked by. Many, many people were interested and asked questions which was uplifting. But I did receive the "Why are you here?" "Do you sacrifice animals?" "Who is your prophet?" "Is that even a religion?" and my favorite diatribe about how I will burn for being a non-believer.

While watching the concert held in the Mormon Tabernacle, I happened to be sitting not too far from the choir. I watched their faces (which, consequently, did not include one person of color) as the different cultural and religious traditions performed on the stage. One of my favorite performances of the evening were the African Burundi Drummers, who will never know the looks of disdain they received from those sitting higher than them that night.

I say this to underline a point I made when I entered seminary: "The other point I’d like to make has to do with the idea of religious pluralism.  This idea is different than religious tolerance because tolerance in itself has the negative connotation of just “putting up” with something.  When we speak of religious tolerance we are still putting up walls to another’s beliefs but smiling politely to their face about it.  Religious pluralism goes so far as to say our beliefs may be different, but yours are equally as valid as mine.  I may not know everything there is to know about your relationship with God, but I can be present at your Sunday worship service and enjoy every aspect of how you worship.  It’s how those Saiva pilgrims took the time to find a holy site of Buddhism simply to experience the sacredness of that place.  It is the first step to truly getting to know someone else and forming bonds of respect.  I’m not sure we do enough of that on a daily basis, though we’d like to think we do."

There is still work to be done. Half the battle is showing up, and the other half is the never-ending listening, loving, holding space, educating, and standing up for what it means to be different. Stop pretending we are all one religion with different aspects. Start asking for the understanding and the respect to be unique and legitimate.












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Denora is currently a full-time wife, mother, and chaplain. She is an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, an avid writer and blogger, as well as a fire spinner. She is an active member of Circle Sanctuary's Military Ministries team and the Lady Liberty League Military Affairs Task Force. She is also the Ecumenical Program Director for Oak Spirit Sanctuary of Missouri.


  • Earl Nissen
    Earl Nissen Friday, 30 October 2015

    Thank you for the reflection. I like "asking for the understanding and the respect to be unique and legitimate." I also enjoyed the resource links.

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