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Column: Festival of Faiths aims to build bridge of understanding

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The summer of 2014 has seen a series of global crises: civilian planes being shot down over the Ukraine, renewed fighting and unrest in Iraq, the ongoing civil war in Syria, terrorist bombings in Nigeria, violence between Gaza and Israel, and renewed fears of terrorist attacks in Europe and North America.

Even for those of us who lived through Sept. 11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this summer has left us shaken at a deep level.

As Americans, we are a nation of doers. We like to fix problems and like to believe that all problems can be fixed. But with so much of the world exploding in violence, we find no answer to our question “What can we do?”

Yet, there is something that we as ordinary citizens of Indiana can do in response to the violence of our world. In downtown Indianapolis from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 7, on Veterans Memorial Plaza, our city will host the second “Festival of Faiths.” In a world where it is more common to read of “conflicts of faiths,” thousands of people of diverse faiths will gather on that day to celebrate our religious diversity.

Do we all hold the same beliefs? No, but all our religious traditions have a similar call for compassion, and that is what we will celebrate on Sept. 7.

Those who attended the inaugural festival last year might have thought that they knew the basic religious landscape of our central Indiana community. Nevertheless, everyone was astonished at the variety of religious groups that call this part of Indiana “home.” Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, neo-pagans and humanists gathered to learn from one another and to stand together shoulder to shoulder in our common commitment to treat one another with respect and compassion.

The festival is an expression of our faiths but also an expression of our hope and conviction that the future of religions will be one of building bridges of understanding rather than walls of fear and hatred.

Truly the world is changing dramatically, and what happens in any corner of the world is known almost instantly anywhere else in the world.

Through media sources, we hear daily about the most recent atrocities in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Gaza, Israel and elsewhere. Certainly, what we hear on the news can discourage us from believing that the future will be different from our present time of violence and hatred.

But news travels in two directions, not just one. Even as we grieve when we hear of atrocities elsewhere in the world, so news of what we do here in central Indiana can travel back to those troubled areas.

Imagine what might go through the mind of those who are willing to attack others of another religion or sect when they learn that thousands of Americans of diverse faiths have gathered to celebrate their religious diversity.

So I encourage everyone who has asked “What can I do about the troubles of our world?” to join in the celebration of faiths on Sept. 7. Let us stand together and send a message of hope and compassion to a war-weary world.

David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World” available in bookstores or on Amazon.com. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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