Friday, May 13, 2016

Care-full conversations



      This last Tuesday, I had occasion to visit the
Radha Krishna Temple here in Denver. It is the home of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISCKON)  -- or the "Hare Krishnas" -- in Denver. I was meeting with one of the resident monks, an anglo who had joined the ISKCON movement during his college years. As we talked, he described the "congregation" that gathers every Sunday evening. It was, he said, incredibly diverse, both ethnically/racially and socio-economically. Different kinds of people, all finding answers to their deepest questions there.  Earlier that day I had gone to lunch at our International House, sitting with students from Vietnam, Nepal and Brazil. They were finding "answers" to another deep need - hunger! - but the casual conversation across nationalities was rich and enlightening.
       Yesterday, Thursday, I was in another "religious building" -- a church fellowship hall -- with a gathering of folks from various religious traditions.  The gathering itself was wonderful, because of the religious diversity (as well as a some racial/ethnic diversity). But, as the meeting was winding down, one of the Muslim members commented that over thirty-five different nationalities are represented at the Colorado Muslim Society (the Abu Bakr mosque on Parker). What an amazing diversity! What an amazing opportunity for people with a common bond (their Muslim faith) to learn from one another.
       Also, this week, I listened to an interesting interview with Sister Jenna, one of the initiators of "Meditate the Vote." The project itself is pretty interesting, but it was Sr. Jenna's description of the genesis of the idea that caught me. She said that she was on a mountain in India with thousands of other people from around the world, and what an awesome/inspiring thing it was to be surrounded by so many different people from different faiths and nationalities.  That called to mind MY experience last fall at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City. It was an "alternate universe" with 10,000 people from around the world, from every possible religious tradition, all committed to one thing:  peace, and religions' role in promoting it.
       I am struck by how often we say we value diversity, but how little many of us actually engage in conversations that cross ethnic/racial/linguistic/religious boundaries. I know that I often need a reason to go outside my bubble; certainly the churches I most often attend are pretty mono-cultural. I confess a fear, or at least uncertainty, that I'll ask/say the wrong thing, or that I'll be put in some other kind of uncomfortable position. That fear is almost always unfounded. Indeed, the opposite is generally the case: I am made to feel quite comfortable. And I come away blessed.*       Fear of the "other" besets us all. And there are many who would play upon that fear, as anyone who reads/hears the news from around the world can observe. But how debilitating is that fear! It prevents us from moving forward -- as individuals, as a nation, as a common humanity. We avoid, or silence, voices unlike ours to our peril. What I heard, or experienced, this week in numerous ways was the value of a gentle interaction between "others", care-full conversations that engendered hope in a world that seems hungry to depart from despair.


* I know that I'm often concerned that I won't know the right questions to ask, that the conversation will go nowhere. I've, fortunately, found a list of GREAT QUESTIONS that are easily malleable to any unusual situation!  They can be found at the StoryCorps website.

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