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Jerry White Addresses the Community Plenary

Jerry White addressed the Community Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Greetings and thank you Aina-Nia and thank you for the great work and thank you for the interfaith community and thank you for friends and co-conspirators in faith and spirit.

I think actually our work here as interfaith and interspiritual people can be dangerous as we’ve been hearing. In my case when I was 20 years old I went on a spiritual pilgrimage, an Abrahamic pilgrimage to the Holy Land and I ended up stepping on a landmine and I lost my leg in that explosion. I was young and I didn’t understand why there were landmines, tens of millions of them buried around the world. So later I went all around the world and studied for about 10 years how to recover from trauma in war zones and what does it mean to build resilience as an individual and as a community.

And after studying in 20 different countries and 10,000 different war-traumatized survivors there were three main things to summarize that came up in the resilience literature and whatever your favorite word is, well-being or flourishing. The science and the research bear out that there are three main requirements or categories. 

Number one, connection. No one survives alone. We need each other. Number two, security. Without basic psychological and physical safety we’re constantly under threat, can’t thrive. Number three, maybe a funnier word, they call stimulation. Creativity, aligning with nature, song, dance, culture. So we here at the parliament have that. We have connection. we have security, and we have co-creation in cultures. That’s wonderful. So this feels like a flourishing week together and an honor to participate. What I want to remind us though is how precious it is.

In other countries around the world, in authoritarian regimes, in actually increasingly many places, these booths out here and all of us could be put in jail for doing this. Our booths would be burned down. People would die. I’m not trying to be depressive. I’m trying to say there’s a shadow in the reality of the danger of being an interface pilgrim on a journey in the world today.

So for example, do you think the Uyghur could be here if we were hosting in China? Do you think the Hai and atheists could convene something in Jordan or Iran? Do you think the Yazidis or brothers and sisters in Iraq could pull off a parliament there in Nineveh province? The Rohingya, even without citizenship, do you think they can come? Coptics, the list goes on and on about the attack on religious minorities, the basic violation of their human rights. And what we face today is this threat that I call “religicide.” And if spirituality and our diverse religions are destroyed through the murder of religions and spirituality.

We will not be able to address the other three existential threats facing us today. Number one, war and nuclear annihilation. Number two, climate annihilation. Number three, youth annihilation. The alarming rising rates of suicide, addiction, overdose, depression, anxiety, among our young people, shocking. And how many of you heard maybe this question or comment coming out of your children or your grandchildren or nieces and nephews, friends, young people saying, “I don’t think it’s responsible to bring children into the world today.” Well, that doesn’t bode well for our species’ annihilation.

So we have to get back to our connection, get back to providing security, and get back to co-creation. The world needs interfaith resilience and our movement and interspirituality more than ever to address these things. And that’s the reason why I personally and professionally committed my life as the new executive director of United Religions Initiative, URI.

And I’ve been doing this job for a year. Why? At first, I thought interfaith might be a little too fluffy and talking about rainbows and beauty and affirmations. And was it dealing with the shadow? But at URI, I think the recipe has the three ingredients for resilience. 

Number one, connection. We build community and interface cooperation circles all around the world. All you need is three different fates, seven different people, stir it up in a circle, and voila, work on a problem in your backyard in the local community. Connection, local, community. Boom. Daily interfaith cooperation is what we call it. 

Number two, end religiously motivated violence. Boom, religiocide. The good news is a science of violence says that we, if we treat violence as an epidemic ‘cause it’s contagious, and take a health approach, not a moralizing approach, to detect and contain and prevent the spread of this disease, the epidemic of violence in the world, we will do much better. We can save together millions of lives by combining spirituality and science on the ground where violence takes place. Thank you. 

And number three, a little bigger in the third part of our mission statement, creating cultures of peace, justice, and healing. For the earth and all living beings, so eco-healing to prevent climate annihilation, we need to co-create as interface interspiritual beings alive and go dance and go play and go sing.

So the recipe, I believe, is about building community resilience for moving from victimhood, all the bad headlines and sadness around the world that are real, 20 million people around the world facing right now, threat of destruction and religiosity. But moving from victimhood to survivorship, where we all learn to live positively, dynamically, interspiritually in the face of death, disease, disaster. 

So I just want to close by saying there’s hope. Let’s go out and let’s actually connect with each other and others. Let’s protect each other, ourselves, and others. And let’s co-create an interface movement around the world that the world needs more than ever before.

Thank you so much.

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