Wow oh wow oh wow. I just spent 3 days at the Parliament of World Religions and my brain is just exploding with everything I saw, heard, and experienced there.

I have to admit, until I got there, I didn’t appreciate what a big deal this was. The Parliament happens once every six years in a different country each time. The last time it was in the US was in 1993. It brings together some of the top religious leaders and scholars in the world. At this one, they are reporting there 9500 people, representing 80 countries and 50 religions.

The speakers were amazing – Rabbi David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom brought everyone to their feet when he said, “The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles but girls reading books!” This thought was echoed by author Marianne Williamson who said, “Passionate freethinking women have never been appreciated by the religions of the world, because they raise freethinking children, and freethinking children grow up to be adults who cannot be controlled.”

Other notable speakers included Karen Armstrong, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Jim Wallis, and Jane Goodall. In one forum, Karen Armstrong, Rabbi Gottlieb, and Jonathan Brown (Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University) discussed the context of difficult texts from the Qu’ran, Torah, and Christian Scriptures. When asked by an audience member, “‘Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism,” Jonathan Brown asked incredulously, “What world are you living in? ALL Muslim scholars condemn ISIS.”

This type of blunt, refreshing, honesty was woven throughout the Parliament. And yet it was also one of the most grace-filled, joyous events I’ve ever experienced. Live Oak member Donna Durbin was also there, and she and I marveled at the “langar” put on the Sikhs every day, where they generously fed all of us – thousands! – a delicious lunch … and then thanked us for allowing them to do so.

May we at Live Oak find our own way of giving generously to the world, and seeing the opportunity as a gift to ourselves.

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