Transcending Event-Interfaith: Brief Address Offered at the 10th Annual InterFaith Run for a United World
The Luxembourg, InterFaith Run for a United World celebrated its 10th anniversary this weekend, May 11–13, 2018.
The InterFaith run is part of the larger, annual, Luxembourg ING Night Marathon, which hosted 16,000 runners this year.
The Interfaith Run for a United World enjoys the perpetual patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the blessing and patronage of Luxembourg, Archbishop, Jean-Claude Hollerich, who graciously welcomed all interfaith runners to his residence on the morning of the run, and presented insightful and stirring reflections for his guests. The inspiration for this remarkable event is Professor Ingo Hanke, of the Luxembourg School of Religion & Society, Centre Jean XXIII, Departement of Public Responsibility, himself a marathon runner.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent his message and address once again this year.
Many profound and exciting stories of courage and adventure from this InterFaith family will soon come on their site.
I was blessed with the invitation to offer a brief address on interfaith during the opening evening, as part of our welcome and encouragement for the runners.
Here is my presentation:
May 11, 2018
[Opening words of introduction]
Dear InterFaith-community. Dear sisters and brothers of a peaceful world! I am humbled and honored for this invitation to offer words of welcome and encouragement in anticipation of this special and unique weekend here in Luxembourg, the 10th international, InterFaith Run for a United World.
While neither a runner nor a Luxembourg native son, I have been blessed with this chance from my recent acquaintance with the great visionary behind this growing campaign, Professor, activist, and runner, Ingo Hanke, who has graciously offered me these few moments together with you.
Ingo has repeatedly implored me to be careful about the time for this talk, as we have a full schedule this evening.
As he did, I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. I am speaking to marathon runners. The one group of people on earth whose sole purpose in life is to reach your conclusion in the shortest possible time. How foolish would it be for me to do anything otherwise.
I received this kind and generous invitation from Professor Hanke due to my life’s work of many decades, dedicated to interfaith, peace building. Over the years, I have been involved in peace negotiations during the Gulf War, peace activism during the Ayodhya-Masjid riots in India, work in refugee camps, discussions with radicalized, separatist groups in Southern Philippines, high-level work among Israelis and Palestinians, and many other such work. This mission brings me into relationships with saints, and fellow travelers for peace, including such people as Ingo, and tonight now, all of you.
In my few moments I want to offer just a couple of thoughts which may be helpful for you, as you already demonstrate yourselves to be visionaries committed to interfaith, and to a better world.
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Most people in the world by now recognize the positive value of love, friendship and collaboration across religious traditions. This no longer is anything new.
This fact, that the natural beauty of an open interfaith heart by now is widespread. And the fact that this now grows to be commonplace, has created a certain oddness or peculiarity in the world of interfaith, which I feel urgently needs to be transcended.
What I feel is odd here is the unending stream of interfaith gatherings, all filled with anywhere from 10 to 10s of 1000s of like minded people, all already believing that interfaith is good, who then spend a day or days all telling one another what all there already believe. That we should love one another despite religious differences.
Surely there is no harm in doing this. People usually feel good following such times, but it seems to me that what is to be gained from doing this for years and years on end, has not been examined carefully enough.
If there are any people left in the world who don’t know the obvious fact that it is better for religions get along, then these throwbacks are the ones who need to hear such speeches. Yet surely they are nowhere to be found at interfaith gatherings as this.
Not addressing this fact is what I am calling odd, and asking us to look together to see if there are ways to bring the wonderful and needed work of interfaith to a higher, more reasonable, more impactful level.
I want to recommend this evening is that the genuine crusade to seek interfaith peace needs to rise above what I will call “event interfaith.” As I’ve said, “event interfaith” is not a bad thing. No one is particularly to blame for this. It is natural, and it has been the vehicle through which this greater awareness has spread. Now however, there begins to settle over such meetings a certain fatigue or cynicism, as observers fail to see sufficient change in the world from these frequent and often costly meetings. How do we fix this?
Let us take all of us here in the room. You all believe in interfaith for sure, or you would not be here. Interestingly enough, you also are runners. I think we all can agree that both interfaith, and running, like everything else in the world can be done well, and can be done poorly, or in an average way. We also know the simple truth that the more someone does something, the better we become at whatever that might be. It can be anything from cooking eggs, to knitting sweaters, or being a dentist, it doesn’t matter. The more we do something, the better we become. The great beauty of runners is how deeply you know that fact. You know the nearly magic power of constant, steady, applied effort.
So here, please allow me to pause for a moment to admire and praise Ingo for his great inspiration to “build a bridge between sports and religion.” Sports people are specialists at improving. So Ingo’s bridge is extremely important.
Back to my point about bringing interfaith to its next higher level.
Participants at this wonderful event, have two primary identities. You are runners, and you are interfaith activists.
Of these two passions, commitments, and identities, which of the two do you think you do more of (remembering that the more we do something the better we become)?
My guess is that the first thought that came to mind is that I run more.
But I would like to recommend that the opposite is likely true. The impulse to imagine that you run more than you do interfaith, would be tied I think to this problem I described earlier as “event interfaith.” I think it has come to be the case, that even committed people tend to think that interfaith activity only happens at events specifically designed to discuss and advance this beautiful ideal.
But unless you run all day long, every single day of your life, the fact is that you probably are involved in interfaith significantly more than you are running. For example: Do you shop for food? Do you take taxis? Do you go to work or attend classes? Do you acknowledge a driver who pauses for you to jog through an intersection? Do you stop a stranger to ask about her breed of dog? Or speak to a tech support person if your phone is acting up? The very high likelihood is that every single one of these daily encounters, are truly, genuine interfaith meetings.
If you see what I am suggesting here, it is very likely that the vast majority of your encounters from morning until night are interfaith encounters. In fact just about the ONLY non-interfaith encounters in your life would be when you actually are in your own church, temple, mosque, or synagogue, and how often does that happen?
Virtually All of life is interfaith encounter. The only problem is that we do not live consciously with this reality in the forefront of our consciousness.
Once we awaken to the reality that our lives are an incessant interfaith dance, we can begin to grow and intensify our contribution to this world as agents of peace, and also personally benefit from the garden of multi-faith, spiritual and religious truth all around us, almost all the time.
As soon as we add this simple drop of awareness into our day to day lives, we enter more consciously and with more abundance into the ever-true stream of growing as interfaith champions. “The more we do something, the better we become.” This gift awaits us all, virtually with the flick of a switch.
I believe such a growing awareness will provide a welcome advance for all interfaith work, and will help rescue the enterprise from diminished impact that comes from limited mentality associated what I have labeled “event-interfaith.”
Once we become sensitive to the reality that the constant encounter of colleagues, friends, and neighbors is interfaith opportunity, we increasingly can orient ourselves to live in the world in a spiritual manner. We heighten our own spirituality by engaging others from the perspective that they too have religious and spiritual lives, dreams, and commitments. They pray for their children or grandparents. They seek the face of God, and try in daily or weekly way’s to become better people. In this way, the opportunities to grow as effective peacemakers shifts from flying to some conference now and then, to something we do and we are a part of all the time.
As we grow in this work, we can help others along this path, and we can call for interfaith-friendly legislation and policy from those whom we choose to represent us, and similarly expect the same orientation from the media we consume, and from the influencers who affect our lives.
Thank you for your time and attention