Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010: reflection for a student-initiated "interfaith solidarity" gathering

In light of recent events and less recent ones, some students at Guilford College, where I teach, organized a gathering for reflection and meditation. The event was simple and included readings from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy scriptures followed by Quaker-style silence with opportunity for anyone to speak. It began with a spoken reflection by a faculty member, who happened to be your friendly Acts of Hope blogger.

Here is the reflection. Bear in mind that

1) it was addressed to a particular audience --in this case, mostly "adult-escent" students and one or two faculty, including a variety of religious, non-religious, I'm-not-religious-but-I'm-spiritual, and other folks, so "pitching it" was tricky;

2) it has some repetitions and will seem a little rambling in places, with questionable sentence structure. I wrote it to be spoken aloud, slowly and somewhat meditatively.

In spite of this, perhaps some of this reflection will be useful to you.

As you may surmise from the words below, I've been teaching Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothee Soelle, Diana Eck, and Eboo Patel these days. And the early centuries of the Christian church.

Shalom. Salaam aleikum. Peace be with you.

Reflections on Interreligious Solidarity
Today and in the Long Haul

We welcome each other to this gathering
to which we come in peace
with both our common humanity
and our profound differences.

I always smile and take a deep breath
when someone says to me
“Well, all religions are the same.”
Actually, they are not.

Our gathering today
is an invitation to open our hearts and minds
and (as Thomas said in his invitation letter) our arms
to those who are
not us.

To learn:
Allah is worshipped by Muslims,
as all-merciful and compassionate.

To learn:
There was a Muslim nonviolent leader
Kahn Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known as Badshah Khan)
in what is now Pakistan
in the same era as the Hindu nonviolent leader
Mohandas Gandhi
(known as Mahatma Gandhi).

To learn:
Jewish law is not a set of rules
but a path of life.

To learn:
The Torah and the whole Tanakh
and Judaism
are not just a prelude to Christianity.

To learn:
Jesus was not a Christian.

To learn:
Orthodox Christians who venerate icons
of Jesus, Mary, and the saints
are not worshiping idols.

To learn:
There have been times and places in history
in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims
have killed in the name of God.

To learn:
There have been times and places in history
in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims
have lived together and learned from each other.
Cordoba. Sarajevo. New York.

To learn:
Muslims worshiped peacefully
on the 17th floor
of the World Trade Center
and were among the dead 9 years ago
along with Christians, Jews, Buddhists,
humanists, agnostics, atheists, and
many people whose faith we will never know.

To learn:
On that day,
an openly gay Franciscan Catholic priest
was one of the people who died
not because he was working in the twin towers
but because he rushed over there
and went in
to help care for and pray for
the wounded and the dead.

To learn:
Long before 2001,
September the 11th was the day in 1973
that a coalition of military generals
toppled the democratically elected government in Chile
and established a dictatorship that ruled with terror
for 16 years, banned trade unions,
exiled 200,000 dissenters
killed thousands of others,
and used its laws against a million native people,
the Mapuche.
The U.S. government, except during the Carter era,
supported the dictatorship.

having said all this,
let me make something clear.

Knowledge alone will not save or heal the world.
Higher learning will not guarantee justice
or alone teach compassion.

That would be to say
that only educated people can be holy
and that all educated people are righteous.

That is not true.

The Nazi doctors had lots of education.
They had medical degrees
from distinguished universities
and they used their knowledge
to torture and kill other human beings
both children and adults.
And then they went home
and listened to classical music.

Education is important
and truth and accuracy do matter.

but I want to raise the question for us today
of what kind of education we need.

More specifically,
I want to ask
what practices
–I’d like to call them spiritual practices
and I hope this is a phrase that has meaning
to all or most of you—
I want to ask what spiritual practices
we need to cultivate
in order to live as compassionate neighbors
in this conflicted world.

The world in which we live
is dangerous as well as beautiful.

The hate which we have witnessed in so many ways
--poverty that kills,
violence that kills,
cultural violence,
the threat of burning scriptures, the Qur’an, in Florida,
the burning of bodies in New York and Washington (and Pennsylvania),
the bodies maimed and raped and murdered in wars
right now
in so many countries,
the hasty language in the comments on news websites,
the swastika that showed up on someone's door
in Binford dorm the other day, right here on campus—
all that hate is not going to go away.

The hate is not going away,
though the good news is that there are
many people and groups
from many religions and places and cultures
who do the work of love,
who embody solidarity,
who exercise humility and who labor for justice.

In this world
you will be asked to stand up
for the same values and sentiments
for which you stand today
here in this circle.

You will need to do so
in hostile environments.

Will you be ready?

How will you prepare yourself?

How are you preparing now, while you are in school,
for the kind of witness we give today?

On what (or on whom)
will you draw to help you?

Let me use a word
that will not have a benevolent meaning
to all of you;
it is the word "tradition."
Thank you for bearing with me.

What tradition
or traditions
will you drawn on?

You see, we have company here.

We have company in the way of peace:
in religious peacemaking
and in secular groups devoted to peace.

We have to forge new paths
but we do not have to reinvent the wheel.

People have been here before us.

This is part of today’s good news.
We are not alone, here in our little group.

Both the dead and the living
walk with us and teach us and encourage us
if we will only listen.

We can’t do this work
without community.

And we are not the first.

Our particular community
may be a community of faith and practice,
or a humanist community.
Our communities may be
communities of struggle,
communities of peacemakers,
long established
or fairly new groups
(like the Interfaith Youth Core).

Some of us here
believe that our way
and our community’s way
is the best and the holiest.

are not sure what we believe
or where the way is for us.

Whether we are one or the other
or somewhere in between,
encountering the other
is part of our work in the classroom.

It is also our work everywhere else.

Think of how often
you –let me say “we” here
since of course I do it too.
Think how often we
respond hastily,
inwardly or outwardly,
jump to conclusions,
think first of our own good.

Especially those of us who are privileged
by virtue of our education,
our race, our gender,
and yes, our religion,
if we are members of the majority religion.

are our teachers.

The poor and the uneducated will teach you.

The one you fear will teach you.

Your own fear will teach you.

We have to school ourselves
for solidarity.

It is hard for all of us.

Those of us who are older,
who have some experience and perhaps some wisdom
can lock ourselves inside that experience
and wall off new insight.
We need to remember that wisdom will come
from those half our age
and from territory
where we have not ventured
over the years
out of fear
or habit
or laziness.

Those of us who are younger
who are still figuring out who we are,
building our egos,
shoring them up,
and in the process resisting and reacting,
which is good and part of the journey,
may find out we need to ease up
to let wisdom in.

this will cost you.
This will cost us.

Wherever we draw our inspiration and our strength,
whatever our primary community,
of faith
or blood
or friendship
there will be a cost.

So again,
ask yourselves:

Given the state of the world,
given the misunderstanding, the bias, the hatred,
and given the hope and vision that others
here and elsewhere
have shared with me,
how will I spend these college years?

I urge you,
spend these years equipping yourselves.

And do remind us who teach
that we need to equip ourselves
and school ourselves as well
for the path of peace.

Solidarity is not just today.

Solidarity is a long road.

Learning about each other takes time.

The Torah and the rest of the Tanakh,
the Christian Bible,
the Holy Qur’an:
the riches in them,
the commentaries on them
the disagreements about them
take years to study.

The traditions of the children of Abraham
take years to understand.

So do the traditions of the children of Sarah,
of Hajar (her Muslim name – Jews and Christians call her Hagar),
of Mary, who is also Mariam and Miriam.

Some traditions are written, others not.
They are also part of our collective story
and may take even more discernment and insight
to learn and understand.

Can we take the time for this?

Can we learn
not to make assumptions
about why someone covers her head with a scarf?
Can we learn not to make fun of people
who live by a different calendar from ours
or won’t do business one day a week?
Or of people who lay a mat on the floor to pray
or fall into the joyous ecstasy of Pentecostal Christian worship
or use images in prayer?

Can we learn not to make haste?

How do we learn to discern
when to choose holy patience
and when to choose holy impatience?

How do we learn to listen?

All this requires practice.


More than daily.

Zen Buddhists would call some of this
the practice of mindfulness.

How do we take a breath
and not rush to reaction?

Can we learn
what gives the other person sorrow
but also what gives this person joy?

Can we try to understand
the whole person before us?

Will we also learn to understand systems and communities?

Can we acquire understanding of how
the many media and modes of communication
and of how they shape our perceptions?

Can we learn to understand
our own emotions and reactions?

We can’t do this alone.

We can’t do this without community.

It starts right here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Nossa Senhora Aparecida

A couple of fine friends of mine in Brazil are about to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, in Portuguese Nossa Senhora Aparecida or Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida. Here she is!

She is the patron saint of Brazil.

As you can see, she is a Black figure of Mary. She appeared to three fishermen, Domingos Garcia, Filipe Pedroso, and João Alves, in 1717.