Personal Transformation at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Over the dates November 1-7, I had the privilege of attending the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada—“The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change.”  I will be posting a series of blogs about my experiences there, which were extraordinary.  I am not the same Swedenborgian I was before the Parliament.  I understand my own tradition differently, understand religion differently, understand more fully all the richness that God’s world is.  I learned in general that encountering other religions is much more than intellectually inquiring about beliefs.  I learned much about many traditions and perspectives.  But it would be a mistake to think that one now understands a tradition that others have spent their lives growing into.  The Parliament of the World’s Religions is a taste, not a meal.

The seminars were divided into 10 categories: 1) Justice, 2) Women’s Dignity, 3) Global Ethic, 4) Next Generation, 5) Countering Hate and Violence, 6) Sacred Space, 7) Indigenous Peoples’ Program, 8) Climate Action, 9) Interfaith Understanding, 10) Science and Religion.  As is always the case at these kinds of gatherings, you can’t do everything.  There are several seminars going on at the same time.  It took me about an hour and a half to figure out how to read the program guide and to decide on the seminars I would attend.

Sometimes what happens in the hallways between seminars, at conferences like the Parliament, is as valuable as what happens in the seminars themselves.  Previous to the formal opening, I had delightful conversations with a few people in the convention centre lobby while we were all looking over the 380-page program guide.  One couple from Washington State told me that they were from the Unity tradition, among other interfaith groups.  I asked them how their church was doing.  “If by ‘church’ you mean what is tied to a building, that might be questionable; but if you mean ‘church’ as a movement, I’d say it’s doing wonderfully well.”  Already, I’d learned something.  From my own tradition, I thought about what the New Church really is.  We were joined by another couple who were interfaith ministers.  They said that their outlook on religion is “not ‘instead-of,’ but rather, ‘in addition to.’”  By that I understood varieties of religion to supplement each other, rather than compete with each other for who’s right is righter than who’s.  I was off to a good start.

Attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions was spiritually transforming for me.  Such a compressed, intense exposure to leaders of other faith traditions must have a powerful impact on a seeker with an open mind.  Nevertheless, reflecting on my experiences, I realize that however intense my exposure was, my grounding is in my own tradition.  My own understanding has been given a good jolt in a positive direction.  Areas of my own faith that weren’t working for me, have been adjusted by techniques from other religions that do work.  I am enjoying seeing the world differently than I saw it before the Parliament.  I am enjoying the world more than I had before the Parliament.  I am enjoying my fellows here on earth better than I did before the Parliament.  It will take some time before I fully integrate my experiences at the Parliament into my spiritual life.

I didn’t expect to be so moved by the Parliament.  I did expect to learn and celebrate, but not to be transformed.  I will share meaningful experiences from those remarkable seven days in the upcoming posts.  It is my story, but others may find meaning in it, and may find inspiration to further investigate truths from the traditions I experienced by their own methods of spiritual questing.

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