After a few days, it started to feel like normal, to be in a crowd where so many were wearing their religion on their sleeve—or head—or entire body.
• Sikhs in turbans of many colors
• Buddhist monks and nuns in saffron or maroon or brown robes
• Muslim women in a wide variety of hijab
• Muslim men in flowing robes and skullcaps
• Native Americans in traditional dress
• Free-spirited North Americans in free-spirited get-ups
• Rabbis, male and female, wearing kippot
• Priestesses in white vestments and jeweled headgear
• One tall Jain monk in a simple white robe with his mouth covered with a lavender-colored face mask (some Jain monks forsake clothing altogether, but I didn’t see any in Salt Lake City)
• The angels, walking single file through the crowd in their angel costumes
(Okay, I admit the angels never felt like normal to me. The electric lights on their wings made me imagine a high-tech Christmas pageant!)
It was the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions, and I was among the least notably dressed of the nearly 10,000 participants. But after a few days, that didn’t matter, either. I stopped looking at people’s attire and paid more attention to their faces. And their faces expressed freedom and joy. Freedom, because in this community of about 50 different religions, all traditions were respected. Joy, because in this gathering of people from over 80 nations, the unity of the human race was tangibly experienced.
Mitakuye oyasin, “All my relations,” said Lakota Chief Arvol Lookinghorse when he greeted the assembly. Yes, we are all related. The clothing we wear, the languages we speak, the way we pray, the color of our skin, our gender or ability or age or size—all these attributes make us interesting, but do not obscure our common humanity. For five days in the heart of Salt Lake City, we lived this truth. We talked about hard realities—income inequality, war, violence and hate speech, climate change, the status of women, and the situations of indigenous peoples—and were challenged to join with others in our home communities and through networks of interfaith action to address these realities.
And after a few days, it started to feel normal to feel hopeful that peace, justice, and sustainability could be realized, for all our relations.