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How Does Social, Cultural and Interfaith Weave into One Stand?

Written by Rev. Jerrie Hildebrand
July 6, 2017

I recently attended the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. In my everyday life I live in a city similar to New Orleans. Salem, Massachusetts and New Orleans have histories that bring forth old lessons of tolerance, acceptance, and what it is to work to heal past history that was not so charming. They have a history of events that crushed the spirits of the people of their cities.
Living here, being a UU Pagan, and an ordained minister in earth/nature centered faith traditions, I have been clear the level of deep listening it takes to participate in the interfaith world, in my own community and as an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World Religions. After taking training on listening offered by other Ambassadors and a training company I work with, there is a clarity that talking is only ten percent of real communication and ninety percent is about listening!
During this conference however, I was ever so present to the work it takes to bring the same way of being to one denomination that is a microcosm of what is needed in interfaith work. Some expect you to just agree because of creed, doctrine, or principles. It felt more challenging. This year was especially deep work and it is work that must continue in our larger world too.
Add to the mix, the need to expand my own listening, across the cultural and sociological landscapes of race, age, economic, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and so on coupled with theological differences. Unitarian Universalists are a theologically diverse community welcoming people of Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Humanist, and Agnostic thinking, as well as many philosophical and transformational systems and traditions. For me, I am always clear this is a wonderful training ground for me to let go of my own opinions, and need to respond off the cuff.
I found at this year’s assembly that there was the demand, not just a request or invitation, but a clear demand in the atmosphere for me the just be quiet. I listened to the Spirit inside of myself to train and stay in check about bringing that to dialogue first, front and center. In that quiet, my heart could open to really taking in the words, being said. I could stay present to the human being I was in dialogue with. What I heard paired well with my experience of leading the new Ambassador Connection Calls where we get to know one another. It is that silent presence, that gift of listening which grants the person speaking a sense of being understood. It honors them.
In listening to the various barriers people have in their ways as a collective, I imagined what our world might look like without labels in our beloved communities of faith and religious traditions. What I love about serving the Parliament is the work we do is beyond labels. It is about being a contribution and participating together to bring our human voices to the issues on our planet.  It seems like when we come together from there we come to Spirit from the head. It does not filter into the body in a way that connects our hearts.
The issues in our world to one degree or another, depending on the topic are issues for all human beings. Climate change, clean water, empowering women and young people, holding one another up, creating loving styles of communication and so much more. It seems much more productive to put our feet on the ground, get the work done that we need to get done, and hold one another close for the survival of our planet, hearts and souls.
I am so excited for Parliament participants to come together again as a collective of human beings committed impacting these issues and others. As we start to engage our communities of faith in attending, I invite everyone to look at all all of the kinds of delegations of people to invite. I have learned during the assembly that faith is not exclusively religious. It is a by-product so to speak of it.
Interfaith work in our personal faith communities can be strengthened by working together on social justice issues, in service to the community, and the land we live on. Imagine what kind of world we might have. This is what we as Ambassadors do in our work.
May we inspire in our communities to come together in service to create our hopes for a world that works for everyone.