The 2008 Global Council Is Born

June 28, 2005

Last night, at a fabulous buffet dinner 22 stories above the heart of Seoul, we said goodbye to the 2005 URI Global Council and welcomed in only the second Global Council of the United Religions Initiative. Amidst heartfelt welcomes from our Buddhist hosts for the evening, we were reminded that not only was this weekend the birthday of the UN (60th) and the URI (5th), and the anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War (55th) — but it was also the 60th anniversary of the division of the Korean peninsula itself, which they say was agreed upon in a secret meeting of the Americans and Soviets in Yalta.

Tomorrow we shall truly understand the magnitude of this division, when we visit the Demilitarized Zone and see Koreans who should be neighbors standing at arms only meters apart from one another. It is beginning to sink in that we are in Korea, this divided land that so much wants to find peaceful reunion with its family to the north.

The past two evenings we have driven into Seoul for fancy dinners (sponsored by our hosts, not paid for by the URI itself!), and this has given us the opportunity to see Hyundai following Kia following Daewoo (with nary a Japanese or American car in sight). It has given us the opportunity to see block after block of architecture that could be in any major city in the world, but is covered in distinctively Korean signs, scattered bits of English, and Arabic numerals abounding. And last night, I noticed for the first time the proliferation of American restaurants: I saw multiple KFCs and Dunkin Donuts, as well as Baskin Robbins, Starbucks, and Outback Steakhouse.

Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts, downtown Seoul.

The URI is growing into itself, becoming ever more aware of itself as a part of the global movement to lessen the suffering on Earth, or, as the Purpose statement says, to "create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings." (I might also call it "creating the Kingdom of God on Earth"). Sound overly idealistic? It is idealistic, but I think you will find with the URI that we have people on the ground everywhere who are taking concrete steps to take this message from idealism to reality. We are getting Muslim, Christian and Jew together in Israel; we are marching for solidarity in Pakistan; we are building understanding between all the religions in India and the United States; we are working to temper the backlash against Islamic immigrants in Europe.

These are real people, real actions, and I am proud to be a part of this family just as I am proud to be part of the Bahá'í family. As I type this during a break in the meetings, I feel no less the Bahá'í than if I were never engaged in interfaith dialogue — rather, I feel even more the Bahá'í. And my roommate, the devout Jew from Jerusalem, he feels no less the Jew. We value the distinctiveness of all, even if we do not make it part of our own. We practice respect for differences while working to overcome those which promote violence toward women, men, and the Earth.

(And we always try to have fun while doing so!)

gc2008.jpg The 2008 Global Council (with a head that popped up between me pushing the camera button and the camera actually taking the picture!)