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Bob Boisture Addresses the Closing Plenary

August 18, 2023

Bob Boisture addresses the Closing Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA. The Closing Plenary was sponsored by The Fetzer Institute.

Oh Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight. What a joyful honor it is to be here in this glorious culmination of this amazing Parliament. It’s an honor to be able to share some thoughts with you, but before I do, just on behalf of all of us, I want to express a huge word of gratitude to all of the people who have made this happen.

What an amazing labor of love and what a huge gift to us and to the world. You’ve seen our name, the Fetzer Institute, around all week, so you may be curious about who we are. And a brief introduction can also be helpful here in letting you know where I’m coming from in the remarks I’d like to share.

From a corporate point of view, we’re a U.S. foundation, but I think the truer description, the one that animates me, is that we are an inclusive, spiritually grounded community of love and hope. We’re headquartered two hours east of here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We have a beautiful conference retreat center there. I hope in the future we’ll be able to welcome many of you. We are a staff community of about 70 because we have a conference center that includes a wonderful culinary team and facilities team, operations team. And I say that because it is the context in which we work what we view as, in our little microcosm, the central challenge facing the human family. How to be in radically transformative spiritually grounded relationship across all the dimensions of our differences?

For the last 10 years, we’ve taken a morning a week and we’ve brought all 70 of us together to live into that challenge. Our mission is helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Our guiding purpose is to support each other in awakening into and serving spirit for the transformation of self and society. We’ve learned over those 10 years that we have to walk and chew gum at the same time, that there are two challenges that go hand in hand.

The first is finding and deepening our spiritual common ground. The foundation on which we then go out into the world with this audacious mission. But the second equally important is honoring, indeed celebrating the fact that we get to that spiritual common ground on radically different paths. And we need to support each other in going deeper on our individual paths and open to each other to be enriched by others’ paths.

And that brings me to the reflection I want to share that’s been growing in my heart all week.

When I got here, I got the same registration package you did. It had this beautiful, thin booklet towards a global ethic, a foundational statement adopted by the Parliament 30 years ago when it resumed after 100 years, hiatus. It’s a beautiful, compelling statement. It suggests a common bond that draws us together. But as I’ve moved through this week, I’ve had this growing sense that what really draws us together is something much deeper, much more profound, much more radically transformative. It is our shared experience of the sacred. It is, I think, a shared sacred story that animates each of our lives.

I’d suggest that each of us lives within the riches and depth of our own traditions, particular story, but that at this moment in history, we have to celebrate, embrace, and bring into the world the shared sacred story that unites us all. At Fetzer, we’ve come to a verbal formulation that we recognize, even as we say it, as profoundly inadequate because our experience of the sacred is ultimately beyond words and beyond concepts. But the best we’ve done, and I think it’s pretty good, is that we, Fetzer, are drawn into community by our shared experience, that there’s more to reality than material reality, and that that something more infuses our lives, indeed, infuses the cosmos with deep meaning, purpose, sacred connection, and calls us to a life of love.

Why do I lift up this story? Because truth be told, we don’t live at the level of ethical consensus. We live within our stories about the nature of things, and we live in a world where the dominant story that drives the incredibly destructive global engine we’ve created is a radically different non-sacred story, a materialist, secular story that denies that deep, meaning, purpose, sacred connection that counsels self-interest rather than love.

And the second truth, at least from my perspective, is although we all live within sacred stories and we probably recognize that shared story, we’re not out in the world shoulder to shoulder bringing that sacred story to confront this dominant, destructive, secular, materialist story. And what’s the effect? I think, unfortunately, we have denied spirit a strong voice. Our smaller voices tend to cancel each other out. They’re true, they’re rich, we live within them, they give us life, but in the great contest of our time, they’re losing. And so this session is a call to action.

I’ll recall that this Towards a Global Ethic, I think presciently, is subtitled an initial declaration of the Parliament. My hope and dream and prayer that I’d like to leave with you this afternoon is could we come back together at the next Parliament and celebrate not just our ethical consensus, but the transformative shared sacred story we have about the radical transformative power of opening our hearts to the sacred mystery. That’s a story on which we can build a world and a life that’s truly one of shared flourishing.

Thank you very much, blessings on all of our work.