The Junaluska Conferences

Last week Sylvia and I were heavily involved in two conferences at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center a few miles from our home. Both occurred in pouring rain (a good omen in India’s traditions!) and both were very rewarding for us all. Here are a few thoughts from those experiences.

The Peace Conference was an interfaith endeavor among the three “Abrahamic” traditions — Jewish, Christain, and Muslim. Speakers from the three traditions — Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour, and Dr. Sayyid Syeed — led us into deeper understandings of their traditions and ethical resources for peacebuilding.

In addition, we were enriched by artistic and musical contributions from Cantor Debra Winston, several dance groups, and other artists. Sylvia and her team prepared installations that created a “Tent of Abraham” atmosphere in which we met.

Over 400 people came together for this gathering, not only from the Southeast, but from Oklahoma, New York, and other states. Students from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries further broadened our horizons.

This was clearly only a small beginning. The gaps of understanding are enormous, and the emotional investments in protecting our own turfs often seem to overwhelm our common hope for a more peaceful world. But we generated real desire to continue the journey.

We hope that each person who was at the conference will begin or further energize interfaith initiatives for peace in their local communities.

After two days of rest, we moved on to our first “Chatauqua” experience at the Lake — the Evans lectureship, hosting Bishop John Shelby Spong. Sylvia and I were very fortunate to have some time with them as we brought them back from the airport.

Bishop Spong, for 24 years Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey, has been much attacked (sometimes viciously, in my judgment) for his outspoken and eloquent support for equal rights for Gay and Lesbian people and for progressive Christian thought.

Thousands of people, however, have been able to retrieve a wholeness of faith and life because of his witness. In his (and Christine Spong’s) time among us he revealed the pastoral care and genuine interest in people that is at the core of his work.

He reviewed, with wit and economy, the huge changes in culture that require a radical rethinking of Christian thought, liturgy, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, ethics. For Spong, the scientific revolutions of the past 500 years require this rethinking, whether they pertain to biological or astronomical discoveries.

In addition, working with a historical and critical re-reading of Scripture, he argues that the core experiences of Jesus’s life and ministry require it. I myself, wanted to pursue the question of how political changes also require and shape this reconstruction, but that is a conversation we will have to have separately. (A future blog, perhaps.)

Well, that’s a brief report!

1 thought on “The Junaluska Conferences”

  1. Hi Bill, good to read about your events! John

    PS Vague plans for a visit to Atlanta next year around October/November.

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