Saturday, October 24, 2015

We ALL Matter!

      Last week, as many of you know, I was in Salt Lake City, attending the Parliament of the World's Religions.  It was an AMAZING experience (more on that in a bit)!  Prior to the beginning of the Parliament, however, I also attended the annual meeting of the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA).  This is the yearly gathering of my "peeps" -- those folks around the country who are University Chaplains or Deans of Chapels or Religious Life.  I'm always enriched by this gathering; it's so nice to be surrounded by folks who "get" what it is we all do, and who are willing to share questions/concerns/suggestions.
      A usual feature of our time together is a conversation about what has been going on at our respective institutions -- what are the hot-button issues.  As it happened, in my sub-group of 20 or so folks, the answers to the question began my left and continued in a clockwise direction.  In other words, I was the LAST person to be able to respond.  That not only gave me a lot of time to hear others' voices, but also to consider whether or not I would simply say "Ditto".  While I might have been tempted to do just that, since most of the attendees were from campuses east side of the Mississippi, their concerns were slightly different than mine.
       Given all that has gone on this last year that has made national news, a couple of the most frequently mentioned issues that galvanized campuses were (1) the Israel/Palestine conflict (and divestment debates), and (2) the "Black Lives Matter" movement.  I heard those numerous times as the answers were given around the circle. When it finally came to me, however, I had to say that, while these issues WERE present and discussed at DU, there were a couple of others that I'd seen/heard more often: the debate over our Mascot (or lack thereof) as well as our historical ties to the Sand Creek Massacre.
       As I thought about that discussion in the days following, and especially as I roamed around the Parliament with ALL of its diversity (racial, ethnic, religious, political), it became clear both (1) how intertwined are so many of our debates with our discomfort with difference, as well as (2) how singly we can be focused in one area that we miss how our concern THERE is not reflected elsewhere.  Yes, the "Black Lives Matter" movement was/is present at the University of Denver.  Yes, there IS concern about the Israel/Palestine conflict.  But I find it troubling that some folks who are concerned about the marginalized in those two current issues often do not extend that concern to more immediate parts of OUR history.  For example, some folks who might call for the removal of the Confederate Flag (in the context of "Black Lives Matter") miss the symbolism that clings to DU's former mascot.
        As I attended the various programs and events of the Parliament, I was overwhelmed by the goodness of all that I met.  Whether it was in the program on the "Three Forms of Prayer in Islam", or the one on how to support returning veterans, or the early morning Sikh service, or the exuberant singing and dancing of the devotees of Krishna, I became keenly aware that these people -- similar to, or different from, me -- had the same root qualities:  a desire for peace and fulfillment, an inherent goodness, a commitment to hospitality, and many more.  And I was humbled as I realized that I can easily see the goodness in one group, while missing it in another about which I know less.
        Leaving both ACURA and the Parliament was difficult.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to learn more about all of those groups, all of those people, especially those with whom I had the least in common.  Our ignorance -- my ignorance -- does little but harm us all.  We ALL matter, and we need to live with that as a grounding principle.


PS   The photo above is of people at the Parliament standing in line to eat lunch at the "Langar", provided by the Sikhs. All who came were fed, no charge. Everyone covered their head out of humility. Everyone sat on the floor in parallel rows. Everyone was served by someone else. Everyone mattered.

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