The conversation which is a cornerstone of human relationships is crucial to achieving peace in a world of conflict and injustice, Bishop Brian Smith has said.
The Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh was speaking to a packed opening event and service for the 2011 Festival of Spirituality and Peace (FoSP), at St John's Church in the heart of Scotland's capital, on Suday 7 August.
Quoting Emeritus Professor Peter Jones, giving a special lecture to mark the tercentenary of David Hume - Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist - Bishop Smith approved the definition of conversation as "a sacred and improvisatory practice in which the duty to listen precedes the right to speak."
In certain circles, he noted, there were several topics often considered beyond the bounds of 'polite' conversation: namely religion, politics, sex and money.
On the contrary, "if these four are not regular features of our [global] conversation, the world will spin on some very strange axes," the Bishop of Edinburgh suggested.
Warmly welcoming the eleventh year of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, which runs from 6-29 August, he noted that the city's International Festival is now in its 64th year, while the Fringe is now a huge deal on the annual cultural calendar.
Genuine listening is central to all three, he said. And that requires human encounter and first-hand experience. There is all the difference in the world between listening to a recording of Beethoven or watching a comedian on television, and hearing live performances of both with their emotion and electricity, for example.
Similarly, in the quest for for peace and justice, encounter, listening and conversation are essential in working for lasting peace and justice, said the bishop.
They are also central to the 2011 Festival of Spirituality and Peace theme, 'Faith, Hope and Reality', he noted.
"Reading news in the paper is not the same as being caught up in a conversation with those involved," Bishop Smith pointed out.
The Rev Professor Frank Whaling, president of Edinburgh Interfaith Action, officially opened the Festival with the city's faith leaders, and brought with him a special message of support from Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland - who described the Festival of Spirituality and Peace as one of the key international festivals in Edinburgh and beyond.
"Real change is driven by all people who are ready to challenge injustice, prejudice and discrimination," Mr Salmond declared.
After singing a special hymn to mark the launch of FoSP, the 400 strong gathering left to a powerful performance of Japanese drumming.
The Festival will attract some 25,000 people to 300 performances over 200 events in six venues, and is supported by a range of church, interfaith, civic, educational and media bodies, including the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia.
* The full Festival programme is at: http://www.festivalofspirituality.org.uk/ 
* Spirituality Peace and News: http://festivalofspirituality.blogspot.com/ 
* More on FoSP from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/festivalofspirituality 
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