At the Feet of the Monk and the Sheikh

June 19, 2007

(This post was begun on the 13th and finished on the 16th, though not published till later...)

With the whole Global Council here [Antwerp] the past few days, the conversations and meetings have been longer and the time off consequently shorter. That doesn't necessarily mean more productive, mind you! More people always means more patience is required.

Yesterday during a break I went outside and found my friends the Buddhist monk and Sufi Sheikh sitting together on a bench. Not wanting to interpose, I ignored the extra space (large bench) and sat on the grass, remarking that I had never before sat at the feet of either a monk or a sheikh and now had both at once!

We had a wide ranging conversation, particularly focused on the evil that us white men — our ancestors really (though I've benefited overtly) — have inflicted on the world. I say "we" because I tried at first to be an equal part of the discussion. But I soon realized what a special thing I was witnessing — true, open sharing between this committed Muslim and this committed Buddhist. What a rare thing to witness. I'm not sure if I learned anything particularly new and profound in its own right, but the experience itself was certainly profound.

I have not participated in many non-URI interfaith events, but a number of people who have affirmed: this type of open, heart-felt, spiritual sharing sis a particular strength of the URI. Its employment of appreciative inquiry — a model for breaking large groups into two-person, deep dialogues, and then building back up to a shared vision — opens the way for this type of exchange. Its principals, which embody the values of diversity, openness, commitment, and post-tolerance*, work to insure that all aspects of URI work, at all levels, create this ultimate safe space.

* On another occasion, I heard this same monk react to the word "tolerance" reprovingly, asking if we hadn't gotten past mere "tolerance" yet. I would like to think the answer is yes, but I'm not 100% convinced. Still, striving for tolerance seems to me like striving to sit down: it isn't going backwards, but it sure isn't getting you anywhere either.