I will be working on a complete report soon, but am still so dazzled by the recent Connect in Atlanta that I want to share a few highlights now.
The opening sessions provided genuine opportunities to get to know about NAIN [see video], meet our fellow attendees, dine well, and hear inspiring keynotes from Tayyibah Taylor [Azizah Magazine] and Dr. Ben Johnson [Program Director for Immersion Experiences for our hosts ICI]. Then Daniel Shorr taught us the transcendence of tango!
Early risers experienced Interfaith Contemplation, followed by three slots of four workshop choices each. Detailed reports to follow. “A Complicated conversation: The Hard Questions” discussed a deeper level of interfaith where we go beyond ‘feel good’ moments.
This theme was exemplified in several workshops, especially the Tuesday session, “Extending the Bridges Not Burning Them: Interfaith Dialog and GLBT People”, which was a standing room only, truly frank, yet respectful discussion of several viewpoints. In our concluding evaluative exercise, every group mentioned this willingness to broach the deeper issues as valuable.
The presence of the young adult scholars and other young adults in attendance made our entire Connect an intergenerational sharing. This has become an important emphasis of NAIN. The YA Scholars participated in a panel discussion during lunch.
In many ways, the field trips were the hallmark of this Connect. These included visits to the centers of two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, perhaps the only two in the world so close geographically.
Monday we visited Historic Ebenezer Church and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College. This powerful re-visit of the Civil Rights movement was further deepened at dinner at Providence Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley moderated a series of remembrances by C. T. Vivian, who preceded and then worked alongside Dr. King. The evening concluded in the sanctuary with interfaith prayers followed by singing “We Shall Overcome” holding hands with our interfaith neighbors. For me, and I suspect for most of us, this was a lifetime high.
On Tuesday, we visited the Atlanta Community Food Bank for lunch and a tour. It is a phenomenal and inspiring operation that includes community gardening, tax preparation, and school supplies with the more usual food supply.
We then visited The Temple, on the Historic Register. One of the six Rabbis spoke with us.
The final Tuesday visit was to the Carter Center, where grandson Jason Carter’s stories of his grandparents were a very personal tribute. The Carter Center displays the history of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, their political achievements and their extraordinary post-presidency impact “doing the things no on else wanted to do”. They have safe-guarded elections in troubled countries and nearly eradicated the guinea worm disease.
Keynote speaker Andrew Young completed our re-visiting of the history of non-violence and the Civil rights movement. In a quiet, unassuming and loving way, he outlined how peace could be negotiated and conflict avoided. He said that the white supremacist movement was a sickness and you could not hate sick people, but that you could win the war with love. He acknowledged the importance of our interfaith movement and suggested that the next big issue facing all the religions was the role of women in the faith.
The evening concluded with a tribute to Bettina Gray, outgoing NAIN Chair and one of the founders of NAIN.
Wednesday’s NAIN General Meeting was followed by a panel of World Pilgrims who described the interfaith intimacy developed on their trips together. This intimacy was very evident as an underlying cohesiveness of the Atlanta team who put together this extraordinary event.