Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Harvard and Hometown

(Photo of the panel discussion, "The Next Generation Speaks" at the Harvard Divinity School Symposium, "A Time to Speak". I'm the young brother second from the left)

I promised to give a summary of my participation in the Harvard Symposium "A Time To Speak" and to let my readers know how my preachin' at the Unitarian Church in my hometown, Norwich Connecticut went. Here goes..

"A Time to Speak" was just plain awesome! I started to morning meeting all kinds of interesting African American students and alumni of my alma mater, Harvard Divinity School. Everyone was as fascinating and brilliant as you could imagine. The first portion of the symposium was entitled, "The Elders Speak" and brought together luminaries from a variety of faith traditions to talk about their theological understanding and approach to crisis. Highlights included testimony about the challenges of serving the black community post-Katrina, understanding how the foundational worldview of Pilgrims has impacted black/white relations, an model of interfaith social justice ministry, the importance of self-knowledge, and the balance between moral and practical in approaching public policy. I've been to many interfaith panels, and this was one of the best I've attended.

Next was an award luncheon and the annual meeting of the Black Alumni Network of Harvard Divinity School. The world famous Peter Gomes received an award and gave a hilarious acceptance speach and the new executive Board of the Black Alumni Network was voted in, including yours truly.

We then went on to the next panel called, "The Next Generation Speaks" which included emerging religious leaders. This panel included a Muslim, two Christians from different denominations and a Baha'i (that was me). Notable themes from the other panelists included the importance of charity, service and justice in Islam, challenges of the new urban ministry and the importance of mental health and healing in the black community. I've decided to include my notes so you can get a gist of what I basically said. Here they are:

In order to discuss the Baha’i perspective on crisis I would first have to explain the Baha’i teaching on the spiritual and historical significance of the Day in which we are living. Baha’is understand history as the story of the evolution of consciousness and civilization through the teachings of the Spiritual Educators of humanity sent to us by God from the beginning of time. These Educators are those transcendent Figures commonly viewed as the Founders of the world’s religions, such as Moses, Jesus Christ Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. These Educators have guided humanity through stages analogous to infancy, childhood, and adolescence, toward the age of maturity in which we can finally become conscious of the oneness of human kind and establish a global society, a divine civilization that will reflect God’s Will and Purpose. In biblical language, the Kingdom of God on Earth. As with most adolescents making the transition into adulthood, the human race is passing through a stage of great turmoil and upheaval.We are in crisis! Baha’is see these global crises as “aspects of a larger Plan whose Source is God..whose theatre of operations is the entire planet, and whose ultimate objectives are the unity of the human race and the peace of all humankind.” This process involves a dynamic of crisis and victory, of integration and disintegration each propelling the humanity towards its destiny. America, in Baha’i teaching has a special role in the fulfillment of God’s Will in this Day. It is destined to pass through purifying tests and trials that will prepare it to become of land of spiritual distinction and leadership, a champion of justice that will rally the other nations of the world into that Most Great Peace promised in all the Holy Books. So when I think about tragedies like Hurricane Katrina I have to remember these purifying tests and trials and what they are preparing us to do. Where do African Americans fit into all this? Baha’u’llah has compared people of African Descent to the black pupil of the eye that is dark in color, but a fountain of light and the revealer of the contingent world. Black people are seen in the Baha’i Faith as having been “richly endowed” by God with “great gifts of mind and heart” that are of particular importance at this time in history. Like all humanity, the crises afflicting the Black community are part of that dynamic of crisis and victory and serve the same purpose, preparing us to play our role in establishing a global civilization.

My remarks were well received. The symposium wrapped up with a discussion about career choices for current students and a simple and beautiful interfaith service!

As for preachin' at the Unitarian Church in Norwich, everyone seemed to have a wonderful time and it was especially sweet because it was my mother's birthday and my wife's parents came down for the day as well. My sermon was entitled, "Clash of Civilizations or One Common Faith? Religion is One." I started of by explaining the origin of the "clash of civilizations" concept as emerging after the end of the cold war and leading thinkers predicted that global conflict would now be defined by culture and religion. I spoke of the warning given by the Universal House of Justice to the religious leaders of the world that with everday the possibility of a worldwide conflagration based on sectarian hatreds is increasing and that we must free ourselves from "fixed conceptions inherited from a distant past." I then noted nine of the basic fixed conceptions that I have identified and contrasted them with the Baha'i perspective on the reality of religion as a unitary knowledge system revealed by one God. It was simple , direct and even funny at times.

There you go my friends, now on to the next adventure.