Interfaith and Cultural Events Accompany Peacebuilders Exhibition in Oxford, UK
Between March 21 and 31, 2007, SGI-UK members in Oxfordshire hosted a series of events including interfaith discussions, talks and activities for schoolchildren at Oxford Town Hall, to accompany the showing of the Gandhi, King, Ikeda (GKI) exhibition that introduces the lives of the three peacebuilders.
"I was very impressed by what I learned about SGI President Daisaku Ikeda," said Hugo Brunner, lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire, who chaired an interfaith discussion on March 22, which included speakers from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Mr. Brunner hailed the event as part of a growing number of such initiatives in the City of Oxford that are bringing together people from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds despite increased tension on the international stage.
"In my own work as a social researcher," said Jason Hart, one of the exhibition organizers, "I have experienced several war zones. This has impressed upon me the need to promote thought and debate about how we, as ordinary citizens, can best build peace."
Some 1,300 people from across the UK attended the exhibition. "We may want to ask ourselves, 'Will we let this exhibition change us?'" said Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, president of the World Congress of Faiths, in a lecture entitled "Creating a Culture of Peace: The Relevance of Gandhi, King and Ikeda" on March 21. He went on to say that all three peacebuilders focused their attention on changing the societies in which they lived.
On March 23, a "Change Makers" video screening and workshop on the issue of conflict and violence in our own lives was hosted by SGI-UK in partnership with Oxfam, an NGO working to eliminate worldwide poverty and suffering.
On March 26, British "Woman of the Year" 2005 and SGI-UK member Claire Bertschinger spoke to a packed audience about her wartime work as a nurse. Focusing on key themes of humanity and hope, she commented, "We need to make humanity, not economics, our highest priority. We need to take the lead so that governments can follow. We have to be the change we wish to see." Her book Moving Mountains focuses on her work during the famine in Ethiopia that inspired musician Bob Geldof to stage the Live Aid concert in 1985.
Coinciding with the exhibition, local SGI members worked with nearby schools to stimulate interest in the show through music, poetry and religious education projects. Students at Gosford Hill Secondary School in Oxford prepared two plays by German playwright Bertolt Brecht and performed these at the exhibition venue on March 29.
"Preparing these plays has given the students fantastic inspiration," said Thomas Hollis, head of drama at Gosford Hill. "They have been really enthused by the difference individuals can make to society and inspired by the examples of Gandhi, King and Ikeda."
Singer Malcolm Connell performed songs dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. as part of a concert accompanying the exhibition on March 30. On March 24, other SGI members read peace-related poems by William Blake (1757-1827), Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) as well as the Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef.
Local and international organizations that collaborated with SGI-UK to put on the event included Oxford City Council, Blackwells Bookshop, Banbury People for Peace, the Oxford Peace Research Trust, the International Peace Council, Oxfam, the International Interfaith Centre and the International Institute for Peace Studies and Global Philosophy.
Many families visiting the exhibition decorated the "Tree of Dreams" by tying onto it their own dreams and wishes. Students at St. Barnabas School wrote poems based on the theme "I have a dream," including 11-year-old Robbie Burnett-Stuart who wrote a series of haiku poems expressing his wish for peace.
Also in the UK on February 20, SGI-UK's new Central London Center hosted an interfaith activity when eight students from University College London's Interfaith Society visited as part of their one-day journey around London's places of worship. SGI-UK Men's Division Leader Robert Harrap's brief explanation of Nichiren Buddhism was followed by a question and answer session and several minutes of chanting.
[Adapted from an SGI-UK report. Also reported in the April 23, 2007 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan]