Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Special worship service on 9/11 at Santa Monica Friends Meetinghouse

You are invited to a time of reflection and worship on Saturday, Sept 11, from 7:00-9:00 PM at the Santa Monica Friends Meetinghouse, 1440 Harvard St, Santa Monica (between Broadway and Santa Monica Blvd, just east of 26th St.). Please be sure to park in the lot, not the street.

Please feel free to invite your neighbors and friends to attend. People of all faiths, or no faith, are welcome.

During this time of worship, we will reflect on the following questions. How do we find inner peace after what happened on 9/11, and after the wars and violence that followed in its wake? What are we doing to help others and the world to find peace--both inner peace and peace with justice? How can we help end bigotry and prejudice? How can we foster understanding and love in our community and in the world?

Our worship will be unprogrammed. There will be no minister or pre-arranged program, as Friends believe the Light is directly available to all, and all may minister. We will gather, still our minds, open our hearts, and settle into a reverent and expectant silence to wait upon the Light. Friends believe that in this opening of our hearts to the Spirit, we are contributing to the common worship of all present, as well as to our own renewal. This time may pass in silence, or individuals may be moved to speak briefly out of the silence. Leaving a space of time between each person speaking allows the ministry of each to be respectfully heard.

May the Spirit help us to live (as George Fox once said) "in that power and life that takes away the occasion of all war."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Poetry, Politics, and the Spirit: from the "Black Art" to the Healing Word

I was asked by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace to give a reflection about the relationship between art and my peace activism. I decided to explore my experiences with poetry and politics and how my attitude towards both has evolved over the years. To my surprise, I discovered that Quakerism--and the practice of meditation--helped me to grow and deepen as a lover and writer of poetry. From the rich Ground of Silence flowers of goodness emerge, synthesize the Light, and bear fruit!

The Black Art
by Anne Sexton

A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands weren't enough;
as if mourners and gossips and vegetables were never enough.
She thinks she can warn the stars.
A writer is essentially a spy.
Dear love, I am that girl.

A man who writes knows too much, such spells and fetishes!
As if erections and congresses and products weren't enough;
as if machines and galleons and wars were never enough.
With used furniture he makes a tree.
A writer is essentially a crook.Dear love, you are that man.

Never loving ourselves,
hating even our shoes and our hats,
we love each other, precious, precious.
Our hands are light blue and gentle.
Our eyes are full of terrible confessions.
But when we marry, the children leave in disgust.
There is too much food and no one left over to eat up all the weird abundance.

Politics and poetry have been two of the great passions of my life. Today I’d like to reflect on my passion for poetry relates to my passion for politics, and how both were transformed by Spirit.

My passion for politics was in my DNA since I am the son of a Greek immigrant who, like many Greek men, loved to argue politics. My father had little formal education—he jumped ship from Greece and settled in New York City when he was only fourteen and learned English from reading the newspapers. Nonetheless, he was a voracious reader and had strong opinions on every political subject. As he grew older, he grew increasingly conservative. He ended up being a supporter of the Vietnam War and of Spiro Agnew, that Greek lover of language who is probably best known for describing liberals as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” My father admired and praised Agnew, which of course drove me nuts. My father and I argued incessantly and passionately until the day he died. We made peace only after his death, in the land of dreams and poetry.

I don’t know where I got my passion for poetry, except that it was somehow related to my love of language. English was spoken in my home since my mother was Scottish—a woman my father met during the war, when he served as a soldier in England. But my relatives spoke Greek and I grew up with the language of Homer and Aeschylus and Plato reverberating in my head. Thanks to the excellent school system in Princeton, NJ, where I grew up, I learned French and Latin while still in junior high school. It was at this time that I fell in love with poetry.

I still remember my first poem as vividly as I remember my first kiss. I was reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and the rhythms and rhymes affected me like a drug. I was utterly mesmerized as I wandered about the school yard repeating the lines: “And the silken, sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before, so that now to still the beating of my heart I stood repeating, ‘Tis some late night visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door. That is its, and nothing more.” I was so entranced with the sound of this poem I learned it by heart. I later learned by heart poems by T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings and Dylan Thomas—all masters of the magic and mystery of words.

In high school and college, I was editor of the literary magazine and aspired to be a poet. But my poetry came from a dark place and a troubled life---a life of drugs and alienation that led me to the brink of madness The poets I most admired all had similarly troubled lives—Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Coleridge, and Anne Sexton. In college Anne Sexton became my teacher and mentor. As you may know, she was one of the most famous of the confessional poets—along with Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. When Sexton attempted suicide and had a nervous breakdown, her doctor recommended that she write poetry as a form of therapy. A brilliant coiner of images, Sexton turned her neuroses into a successful career as a poet. This is something that I and many of her students hoped to do when she came to teach at Boston University. I sometimes describe her class as a gathering of the most creative and gifted neurotics in New England.

Looking back at BU, I realize that my two most important teachers were Anne Sexton and Howard Zinn. It’s hard to imagine two teachers more different than these two, yet such was my divided self that I was drawn to both.

I loved to go to demonstration and protest the war but there was a war within myself that I could not find any way to end. I went to rallies to be in solidarity with the peace movement, but always felt like an outsider, a spy, a figure from a Dostoevsky novel. And out of that loneliness and alienation, I wrote poems that were quirky and intensely personal, just like the ones that Anne Sexton describes in her poem, “The Black Art,”

I suffered a minor nervous breakdown in college just before graduation, and just as my father died of a protracted illness, in 1971. To help overcome my grief and depression, I went on the road to Canada and discovered a new life, a life centered not in my neuroses, but in the Spirit. Inspired and enthusiastic, I wrote a lot of poems, some of which were published, but my urge to write poems petered out about the same time that Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974. Her death took the wind out of my poetic sails.

Instead of writing poems, I went back to college in order to become an English teacher and teach poetry. I eventually earned a Ph.D. in British literature at Rutgers, where I studied with Paul Fussell, who had written a brilliant, prize-winning book about the poets of World War I: The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) By this time, I had stopped writing poetry altogether, except for some poems I wrote in Latin. Yes, I wrote poems in a dead language, which were even published in a learned journal. I suppose that earns me a place in the Dead Poet’s Society’s Hall of Fame.

After earning my Ph. D. I had another major crisis/turning point in my life. I got my first teaching job at Carleton College, and my first marriage ended in a painful divorce. I also got the news that my mother was dying and needed my help, so I returned to Princeton, my home town.
This is where I discovered Quakers and renewed my spiritual life. I became so intrigued by the practice of meditation and prayer I went to live at the Providence, RI, Zen Buddhist center and stayed there for nine months. One of my goals was to wean myself from my addiction to words. To my surprise and delight, I began writing poetry again.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that I got back in touch with my creativity at the Zen Center since the poems I wrote were like the messages that are given in a Quaker meeting for worship. We Friends say that genuine messages come out of the Silence, the deep silence in which we feel connected with Spirit and each other. In this state, words are totally unnecessary because we experience the deep, inner peace that passes understanding. Yet sometimes in this silent place, an inner voice whispers to us words that can heal and bring comfort as well as reveal hard truths that need to be uttered.

During my life as a Quaker, I have written and published numerous poems that come from this place of Silence. If my early poems were about the “Black Arts”—the mystery of death and darkness—these poems are about the magic and mystery of being intensely alive, and of experiencing the Light Within. As Martin Laird says in his beautiful book, Into the Silent Land, "We cannot pass through the doorways of silence without becoming part of God's embrace of all humanity in its suffering and joy."

I no longer feel there is a huge chasm between poetry and politics. We need enlightened poetry just as we need enlightened politics in order to have a full and abundant life. Both come out of an enlightened community where there is a place for contemplation and action, silence and the prophetic word. As a Quaker, I was able to use my passion for poetry in order to edit a book of poems and fiction by Soviet and American writers that helped create understanding and promote peace.

But the world of poetry is still primarily the inner world, the world of feelings and insights that cannot be reduced to political slogans or ideas. Poetry is about the mystery and magic not only of words, but of life itself—the life we live day by day, and the life that we imagine in our dreams, and in our fears and hopes, and in the peace that passes understanding.

The following poems were published in Quaker publications: “Quaker Hymn to Spring," "All the Time In The World," and "Exiles" appeared in Friends Journal; "Desert of the Heart" in Rebirth of Artemis and in Journal of Humanistic Psychology’; “All the Time in the World” in EarthLight: Spiritual Wisdom for an Ecological Age (Friends Bulletin, ed. Cindy Spring and Anthony Manousos); “Surrender Garden” in Enlivened by The Mystery: Quakers and God (Western Friend, ed. by Kathy Hyzy); "Song to Benjamin Linder" was set to music and recorded by Sharon Sigal in an album entitled January Sunbeam.

All the Time in the World

It takes all the time in the world
to enter the water and the wind wholly,
to let fall the imaginary boundaries
and return to the source and the destination.

It takes infinite patience to be the forest,
to cry with the chickadees and crawl with the ants,
to stalk with the cat, and forage with the bear,
to let the slow, timeless sap flow through your branches,
and feel roots and tubers pierce you like a lover...

Nothing begins or ends here: there is only the circle,
widening, calling back its own.
When you walk the path, you must be the path.
Do not be proud. Even the centipede knows this.

Everything that you touch changes
and changing, changes you.
Everything you think fill the air with its smell.

As you build you tipi or your city,
remember that knowledge and skills cannot save you.

When night falls, you must be the night.
When day breaks, you too must be broken.


(For Ramon, an El Salvadoran)

Walking upland through snowy woods
we used only the simplest words:
Cold, frio. Trees, arboles. Snow, nieve. Sky, cielo.

Using only such speech as exiles speak,
feeling the same cold, the same wind,
we climbed higher, slipped on the wet snow, laughed,
and clambered on.
Our sanctuary lay ahead, some lichen-spotted boulders.
We sat down without a word.

But echoing in my mind like wind trapped in a cave
were words Ramon repeated often:
"I have lost my God, I have lost my God."
Marriage, children, country, God--all lost,
like last fall's leaves.
What could I say?

Here, as we sat among the ancient stones,
nothing needed to be said.

With a smile Ramon got up,
wrote his girlfriend's name in the snow,
then leaned back against a rock and
disappeared into his poncho.

I continued to watch the trees:
buds, like tiny nipples, slept on tips of branches.

Quaker Hymn to Spring

(for Yuki Brinton)

The sunlight seemed to sing out in a weeping cherry tree
that spring day I arrived at Pendle Hill.
Someone had hacked it halfway down, and yet it sang to me:
"There's that in me no one can ever kill." (Repeat)

I stood amazed and listened until someone told me how
a widow old and small but hardly frail
had hurried to this spot when she had heard the horrid sound
of a chainsaw and its silence-shattering wail. (Repeat)

This tree her husband planted, and it now was in her care.
Some say she climbed it like a mother cat.
Some say she brought the woodsman down with just a piercing stare.
This much I know: this broken tree still stands. (Repeat)

In the stillness of the morning, in the stillness of my heart,
it sings its light-filled song to joy and spring. (Repeat)

The Desert of the Heart

To what desert can one go
to escape the desert of the heart?
There's no extinction, no forgiveness, here:
everything that's born suffers and dies,
returns and, returning, turns in our minds again,
until we learn to look with love,
and without desire or fear,
at each lizard and rock,
each dry well and prickly pear.

What we know, or think we know,
brings death, sudden or slow.
Old newspapers blow across the proving grounds
scorched with our well reasoned fears.
Each mind contains a holocaust;
with each heartbeat a world's end nears.

What we don't know
gives life and peace and hope
beyond mere words.
A man tickles a beetle
with a stick, and lightning leaps across the skies.
A woman sits so quietly she can hear
dust settle on her face,
and in the earth below
invisible seeds await the unthinkable rain.

--- Providence Zen Center, 1986

Ben Linder

(set to music by Sharon Sigal in her album, "January Sunbeam")

Ben Linder was an all-American,
a hero, builder, and clown.
He loved the folks of Nicaragua,
and the contras gunned him down.

He loved to build, not destroy.
He was a true engineer.
He knew that life is a narrow bridge,
wouldn't give way to fear.

He loved to ride a unibike
and balance on a rope.
He liked to try the impossible
and never gave up hope.

He wouldn't work for Boeing,
wouldn't hustle for Star Wars.
Kid, you'll never get rich that way,
said his friends who knew the score.

He was only twenty-two
and five-foot four
when he went to Nicaragua
and saw poverty and war.

He stayed in a war-torn village,
made power from a creek,
lived in a shack and dug Dire Straits
like an old-time '60's freak.

For the kids of El Cua
he juggled beans, tortillas and rice
"Eat balanced foods," he told them.
They thought he was crazy but nice.

He liked to pick wild orchids,
and walk alone by a stream,
joke with friends,
lie in the sun, and dream.

Some say he was a dreamer,
but to me he was wide awake.
He knew that life is the kind of game
that we play for mortal stakes.

He didn't win any medals,
He didn't have any secret funds,
He didn't kill or lie for a living,
Sell drugs or bonds or guns.

Ben Linder was an all-American,
A builder, a hero, a clown.
He loved the folks of Nicaragua
and the contras gunned him down.

The Surrender Garden

(for Wendell Berry)

I farm a room-sized plot of earth
where once a factory stood.
In spring, I'm met by eager volunteers--
onions and leeks, swiss chard and kale
green and sweet as those in paradise.

But as I turn the soil for the first time,
bricks the size and shape of potatoes
stick in my digger's stubborn teeth.
My brow sweats. My winter-weary muscles ache.
I feel the effects of the fall.

My seeds are scattered to the sound
of kids and cars, trolleys and boom boxes.
I use my hands instead of a digger
because I love to mold and stroke the earth,
to feel it touch my skin.
I sit in my garden like a kid in a sandbox
and think of my Greek grandfather
for whom gardening was no game.

With the sun and rains
weeds rise up like angry peasants
insisting on their squatter's rights.
I can't blame them.
I've been an absentee.
Down on my knees, I make a space
for my seedlings as I pull the weeds
carefully by the roots,
roots that go on and on
like my compulsions and obsessions.
This is the work that never seems to end,
the work my father and his father handed down.

Some evenings I come here simply to sit alone,
and watch things grow.

It's quiet and still as a church.
At the far end of the garden
a woman waters her flowers,
and the smell of wet earth rises
like a prayer, an offering,
into the darkening sky.

Philadelphia, 1985

Haiku written at the Providence Zen Center

harvest moon
entering the dark temple
i bow to shadows

in silence
awaiting the teacher's bell

our shadows on the floor
pass so quickly..

chips scatter!
he whacks away at his still
unfinished Buddha

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering Kathleen Ross and her dedication to interfaith peacemaking

Today marks the 14th month since my beloved wife Kathleen Ross passed on, and it's also the midpoint of Ramadan. During this time of fasting and prayer I can't help remembering how Kathleen supported my interfaith work and fasted during Ramadan (which caused some Methodists to worry about her health!). I am including an article about her fast that appeared in Circuit West, the Methodist newspaper.

During her final year, Kathleen showed her respect for Muslims by wearing an hijab during Ramadan (this was partly to cover her head, which became bald due to chemo). Our Muslim friend Sherrel Johnson supplied her with beautiful silk head scarves, for which we are eternally grateful. I might add that Sherrel is a member of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and one of the most deeply spiritual and kind people I know. When she learned of our cancer journey, she wrote us an email expressing a profound, though challenging truth: "God must love you a lot to send you such trials." She also added lovingly: "If there is anything I can do for you, if you need a place a stay, please let me know." Such is Sherrel's heart, and the heart of the Muslim faith.

We received many outpourings of love during our cancer journey, but none moved me more deeply than when our dear friend Shakeel, the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, came with his wife to visit and pray for Kathleen on Mother's Day at the City of Hope. Kathleen was in ICU and heavily sedated, but I am quite sure that she heard with her spiritual ears Shakeel's deeply felt prayers. I will never forget that act of unexpected kindness, coming at a time when I needed the prayers of a true friend.

Since Kathleen's death, Shakeel has graciously invited me to his home for a family iftar (fast-breaking meal) during Ramadan--an act of kindness for which I cannot thank him enough. He makes me feel a part of his wonderful family (he has three teenage girls and a boy, as well as a lovely and devoted wife).

Before our meal, Shakeel and his family always face Mecca and bow down in worship to God, the "most caring and merciful." And I feel blessed when I bow down in worship with them, After the formal prayers there is a time of spontaneous prayer or supplication (dua) during which Shakeel always lifts up "Uncle Anthony" and "Aunt Kathleen who is in the highest place in paradise." Just thinking about his words, and the feeling behind them, brings tears to my eyes.

Perhaps this is why my heart breaks when I hear the malicious lies that are being spread about Muslims, and the hate-mongering and scape-goating being spread by Fox news and right-wing politicians. And that's why I have devoted a lot of my time during this Ramadan to combating the Islamophobia that is poisoning the soul of America.

In my blog (
http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2010/08/quran-burning-and-other-issues-of.html_) I talk about the rise of Islamophobia and what we can do to counteract it. I am quite concerned about a Florida preacher who is threatening to burn Qurans on 9/11--such a stupid and hateful act could spark a violent reaction among Muslims around the world. Which is exactly what Islamophobes would like to see happen, so they can say: "See how violent and terrible Muslims are!"

My Quaker Meeting in Santa Monica plans to host a time of worship sharing and reflection on Saturday, 9/11, at 7:00 PM so we can have some healing. Sadly, as a nation, we did not make time to heal after 9/11; instead, we rushed into futile wars and ended up causing millions of Muslims to lose their homes, and hundred of thousands to lose their lives. America has also suffered grievous loss since it embarked upon this disastrous course action--the loss not only of American lives, but also of many American souls.

Kathleen believed deeply, as I do, that war is not the answer. War can only destroy lives--it cannot resolve conflict or bring justice and healing. The answer is to take seriously the teachings of Jesus, and of the prophets (including Prophet Mohammad), and to treat others as we would wish to be treated, with respect and love. If this were the basis of our foreign policy, as well as of our daily lives, the world would be a much more secure and friendly place.

Methodist Pastor Observes Ramadan Fast, Prays with Muslim Community for Peace on Earth

(an article that appeared in Circuit West, the Methodist newspaper)

Dec. 8, 2002: Rev. Kathleen Ross, pastor of the Walteria United Methodist Church in Torrance, California, decided that she would observe the Ramadan fast. From Nov. 6-Dec. 6, she neither ate food nor drank any liquid during the daylight hours.

“The best part of Ramadan were the times we broke fast with our Muslim friends,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to get better acquainted with a culture and a religious tradition that I had not had much first-hand experience with. After September 11th, it seemed very important to show Muslims that Christians respect their faith.”

This September Rev. Ross and her husband Anthony Manousos led an interfaith curriculum developed by the California Council of Churches. They invited local Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Orthodox Christians to share their faith journey with members of their Methodist congregation.

“During these times of religious strife and misunderstanding, we feel that it is important to build bridges between people of different religious traditions,” explained Pastor Ross. “Methodists have been on the forefront of interfaith work. We are a very diverse group (Methodist preachers in the Long Beach area preach in over forty languages on a given Sunday) and we believe in celebrating diversity!”

Rev. Ross decided to observe the Ramadan fast in part because her husband Anthony (a Quaker) was also doing so. When he had observed the Ramadan fast after September 11th, many Muslims were surprised that a non-Mulsim had enough self-control to fast.

“Fasting used to be an important part of our Christian faith,” explained Pastor Ross, “but many of us Christians have become too self-indulgent to give up our addiction to food. That’s why I wanted to try fasting during Ramadan. It wasn’t easy, especially the getting up before dawn part and not drinking any liquids. Fasting not only teaches self-control, it also helps us to experience what it is like to be poor and hungry and thirty—the condition of the majority of the world’s people.”

During the last week of Ramadan, members of Rev. Ross’s church accompanied her to the South Bay Islamic Center in Lomita, where they were graciously welcomed. Each evening of Ramadan, mosques provide food for those who come to break fast and worship together. It is a powerful bonding experience.

Since Muslim men and women eat and pray separately, Pastor Ross and the Methodist women dined with the Muslim women while her husband Anthony and Wally O’Brien, one of the lay leaders of the church, dined with the Muslim men.

On Eid, the final day of Ramadan, Rev. Ross and her husband joined several thousand other Mulsims at the LA Convention for closing prayers. Afterwards, they broke fast with a Muslim family from Kashmir.

Eid is a lot like our Christmas,” said Rev. Ross. “Gifts are exchanged, and everyone acknowledges their gratitude to God. Because Ramadan has not been commercialized like Christmas, it is easier to remember that this is a religious celebration, a time to affirm God’s presence in our midst. It is often hard for Christians to reclaim Christmas from our consumer culture.”

Rev. Ross concluded: “Observing Ramadan has been a very important learning experience, and I am still trying to figure out how to apply some of its lessons to my own faith as a Christian. At the mosque I learned that many Muslims memorize the entire Qur’an word for word in Arabic. At the Islamic Center of South Bay, even a teenager had memorized the entire Qur’an! It’s hard to get Christians to memorized verses from the Bible, never mind the entire Gospels! We Christians need to take our Bible as least as seriously as the Muslims take the Qur’an. And we need to re-claim some of our traditions of fasting and prayer. I think that learning more about other faiths can help us to become better Christians as well as become more tolerant and respectful.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Peace and Justice Concerns of California Quakers

As the incoming clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee (PSO) of Pacific Yearly Meeting, I am posting the minutes of our summer gathering so that Friends and others will have a sense of what Quakers in California are doing to promote justice and peace.

The Peace and Social Order Committee (PSO) encourages and assists Monthly and Quarterly Meeting in undertaking peace and service activities. With the approval of Yearly Meeting, it coordinates activities that express Friends’ testimonies on unity, equality, simplicity, peace, and community. The committee seeks to balance its efforts between peace and social order concerns. It may provide programs during a plenary session or sponsor interest groups to heighten awareness of issues and concerns, share activities, and encourage corporate action on proposed minutes.

The current clerk of PSO is Anthony Manousos, Santa Monica Monthly Meeting. He can be reached at
interfaithquaker@aol.com. PSO plans to have monthly conference calls and a blog with weekly postings on Quaker peace activities. All are invited to take part.
In recent years, PSO has presented several minutes (statements) that were approved by the Yearly Meeting. These minutes included:

· A call for affordable, universal health care,
· An end to torture, and of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2010 the Yearly Meeting approved the following minute regarding interfaith peacemaking:
“Pacific Yearly Meeting encourages Friends to take part in interfaith efforts to foster peace and understanding both locally and internationally. Friends are encouraged to send representatives to local interreligious councils, to reach out to those in other faith traditions in the spirit of friendship, and to engage in interfaith peace and justice efforts.

“Pacific Yearly Meeting also authorizes the clerk of PYM to write a minute of support for the interfaith work of Anthony Manousos, who has traveled in the ministry with this concern both in the United States and internationally.”

Other concerns raised during the 2010 annual session included:

Friends Peace Teams (FPT) - The purpose of FPT is to invite, challenge, and empower individual Friends and Friends churches and meetings to participate in Spirit-led peace team work locally and internationally. African Great Lakes Initiative of FPT - Strengthens, supports, and promotes peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda). Rachel Fretz (Santa Monica MM) and Cassilde Ntamamiro spoke about these concerns and recommended that Meetings include Friends Peace Teams as budget line item donations. Invite FPT to present about their work at monthly meetings.

2) Friends Committee on Legislation of California (
http://www.fclca.org ). Laurel Gord (Santa Monica MM) spoke about FGC, noting that this Quaker lobbying group is the leader in Sacramento on criminal justice issues. Their legislative advocate, Jim Lindberg, is the single key advocate in Sacramento on these issues. She recommended letter writing to California state legislators.

3) Single payer health care. Sally Seven and Betsey Coffman for the League of Women Voters outlined the current single- payer health care bill in the California Legislature – SB 810 (Leno, S.F.). They noted that the United States is ranked 37th in the world in health care delivery, and that adoption of a single payer plan would provide health care for all, and save billions of dollars. They recommended that Friends write and lobby members of the Appropriations Committee, and all California legislators for this bill.4) Nonviolent Peace Force. Michael and Linda Dunn (Inland Valley MM) spoke of this innovative, nonviolent approach to conflict resolution. Their organization has 2- year paid positions. Outlined their activities in Civilian Peacekeepingand Civilians Protecting Civilians. Further information at:
http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/, or contact David Grant, Strategic Relations Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce at: +1 202 577 3145 or DGrant@NVPF.org

5. War Tax Resistance Bob Runyan (Chico MM) said that Quake war tax resisters are asking monthly meetings to approve their supporting minute. They would like to see 200 Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends “pay under protest” their federal tax.

6) American Friends Service Committee (
afsc.org/) and Friends Committee on National Legislation (fcnl.org). Stephen McNeil, AFSC staff person from San Francisco MM, spoke on behalf of AFSC and FCNL, mentioning that FCNL features the Indian Report, and it is one of the few Friends groups active in Native American issues. He recommended that Friends contact U.S. legislators in Congress to oppose the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. (2) read their report, “Never Again” on genocide, authored by Madeleine Allbright and William Cohen. (3) personally visit a Senator or Congressperson to discuss with them one of AFSC’s and FCNL’s issues.

7) Interfaith Peacemaking. Anthony Manousos (Santa Monica MM) is willing to travel give presentations at quarterly and monthly meetings (as he did in May 2010 at the San Jose Monthly Meeting in May 2010). Contact:

8. Homelessness. Lucia van Diepen (Live Oak MM, Monterey County) urged Friends to undertake activities supporting the homeless. She quoted Gandhi: “poverty is the worst form of violence.” She recommended cooking meals for the homeless in your area on a regular basis.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Quran Burning and Other Issues of Religious Freedom

"Islam is a religion of the devil," proclaims a sign on the "Dove World Outreach" church in Gaineville, FL, which is planning to burn Qurans on Sept 11 and encourages others to do likewise. Its pastor, Terry Jones, also opposes homosexuality. (The mayor of Gainesville is gay.)

Jones is publicizing his incendiary call widely via facebook and the internet and it is possible that others might follow his example, especially since politicians are stoking the fires of biotry and hatred.

The National Association of Evangelicals has condemned this call to desecrate the Quran and urged Jones to reconsider this action, but so far he is adamant. I have crafted a statement condemning Quran burning which is being considered for endorsement by the South Coast Interfaith Council, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, and of course my Quaker meeting.

If Qurans are burned on 9/11, and pictures of this heinous act circulate around the world, there could be a violent backlash, as there was when Danish cartoonists published disrespectful pictures of the Quran. This concerns American Muslims.

"We are not worried so much about how American Muslims are going to behave," one Muslim leader told me. "But there are many uneducated, poor Muslims around the world who will be very offended. Many of them cannot read the Quran, but they take it very seriously. There could be violence, and that would be terrible."

Another Muslim leader told me that much as he reveres the Quran, he values human life more: "If 1000 Qurans are burned, it is not worth the loss of one human life."

Muslim leaders are trying to figure out ways to counter this threat through education and raising public awareness.

For more info see http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/07/29/florida.burn.quran.day/index.html

Another concern troubling moderate Muslims: Ramadan ends on Sept 10 or 11, depending on how you calculate the beginning of the moon. Some Muslims use astronomical calculation, others insist on an actual moon-sighting. Some Muslim leaders are worried that if Muslims are seen celebrating on Sept 11, how will that play on Fox News?

Several Muslims have confessed to me that it's hard to be a Muslim these days, and that to be always on the defensive about one's religion is exhausting.

Even Disneyland has been drawn into this controversy. When a young Muslim woman asked to wear a hijab at a Disney restaurant, she was refused permission and this became a question of religious freedom for her and for others. Fox news reports: "Imane Boudlal, 26, of Anaheim, Calif., has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming Disneyland violated her rights when it ordered her either to remove her hijab or agree to work where customers couldn't see her at Storyteller's Café at the resort's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa."

Last night the Islamic Shura Council honored her for her courage in standing up for her beliefs. She wept as she told her story.

"Whether you wear the hijab or not wear the hijab is your business," said Dr Maher Hathout, chair of the Shura Council, as he gave her the award. "No one has the right to force you to cover or uncover. That is a matter of your conscience. We support and honor you for having the courage to follow your conscience."

These are the words of one of the most respected leaders of the Muslim community in California, and the USA. Those that imagine that Muslim men coerce woman to wear the hijab should take note that here in the USA, this is definitely not the case.

Also honored at the banquet was the president of the interfaith council in Temecula who stood in solidarity with Muslims who are facing opposition from some of their fundamentalist neigbors.

Muslims in America have often faced opposition when they have proposed building a mosque, but in the past their neighbors have used zoning requirements as an excuse for their opposition. Now they are openly expressing their fears and prejudices about Islam. This is both troublesome and an opportunity for education. A lot of work needs to be done to educate Americans about the true nature of Islam in our country and around the world.




See also: http://www.mpac.org/


Letter Opposing Quran Burning

We support the right of people of all faiths to practice their religion as their conscience dictates, to build houses of worship where they wish without being subjected to discrimination, and to be free of harassment and “hate speech” because of their religious views and practices.

We are grieved, appalled and outraged that a pastor in Gainesville, FL, purporting to be an Evangelical Christian, has called for the burning of Qurans on September 11th. We grieve because such an act is hurtful not only to the one whose sacred text is being desecrated, but also to the one who does the desecration. We are appalled because history shows that the burning of books can lead to violence. As Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German playwright, wrote prophetically: “Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people." And we are outraged because we honor and appreciate all sacred books and consider them worthy of respect and appreciation. As Paul expressed it so eloquently: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:19).

We feel that the burning of the Quran is a form of “hate speech” that could incite violence. As people of conscience committed to peace, we reject all forms of violence—whether physical, verbal or symbolic.

We therefore join with those of various faith communities, including The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest body of evangelicals, in condemning the call to burn Qurans. We urge people to read scriptures of other traditions with an open mind and heart, and to respect and appreciate the many ways in which people are being led to the One who is the source of Truth and Compassion.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Enduring Hope: The Quaker School in Ramallah

I just learned that an old friend of mine from high school (whom I just reconnected with through facebook) has a daughter who went to Earlham College and also to Ramallah, where the oldest and most prestigious Quaker school in the Middle East is located. For her and for others who are looking for hopeful signs in Israel-Palestine, I am posting this review. May the Ramallah Friends School thrive!

Enduring Hope: The Impact of the Ramallah Friends School by Patricia Edwards-Konic. Friends United Press, Richmond, IND. 2008. 138 pp. $15.00. Reviewed by Anthony Manousos, Santa Monica (CA) Friends Meeting.

The most common image of Palestinians depicted in the US media is that of terrorist or victim. In her book Enduring Hope Patricia Edwards-Konic, a Quaker minister and journalist, helps to dispel these stereotypes by showing Palestinians deeply concerned about educating their children and making a positive impact on the world. Palestinian voices seldom heard in our media—the voices of teachers, parents, and students—speak movingly about their values, their formative educational experiences, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Enduring Hope describes a remarkable Quaker educational experiment that began in 1889 in the Arab village of Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem. Deeply committed to gender equality, Quakers opened a school for Palestinian girls in order to provide them with the same education that was being given to boys. The school was so successful that a Quaker school for boys was opened in 1901. Since then, Ramallah Friends School (RFS) has grown to over 1,000 students, K-12, and has become co-educational (highly unusual in the Middle East, where segregation by sexes is the norm). It is also the only school in Palestine to mainstream students with special needs. Furthermore, the school is one-third Christian, and two-thirds Muslim; and everyone gets along, thanks to a carefully developed, values-based curriculum that stresses religious pluralism and toleration.

“We were taught about all religions,” reports Michael Karam, a 1957 graduate who now works as a medical doctor. “Christians and Muslims were all studying the same things. It taught us tolerance and how to accept differences in people.”

RFS has become one of the most prestigious and successful schools in Palestine and has a world class reputation. Teachers from around the world have come there to teach, including Max Carter, director of Quaker Studies at Guilford College, who writes a fine introduction to this book (and leads groups to the school and to Israel/Palestine each year). Over 98% of RFS graduates go to college, many of them to first-rate universities abroad. It is the only school in Palestine that offers an international baccalaureate degree. Over the years thousands of Palestinians—many of them leaders in business and government—have gone to RFS and have been instilled with “Quaker” (really universal) values such as nonviolence, religious tolerance, equality, creativity, self-discipline, and community service.

After presenting a brief history of the school, Edwards-Konic weaves together the impressions of sixty graduates of RFS to show how this school has molded their hearts and minds. That is for me one of the best parts of the book. Students reminisce about their school days and how RFS made a difference in their lives. Writes Akel Biltaji, a 1959 graduate: “It was at the Friends Boy’s School when I started to learn how to live in a larger family, how to share, and most importantly, how to accept and respect the other. It was the grounds where I found peace within myself and others...”

RFS encourages students to give back to the community. Students do service learning projects, like volunteering at the Amari refugee camp. They also take part in fundraising events for the less fortunate, even during the dark days of the intifada, when an Israeli missile “accidentally” hit the school, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

For the most part, Edwards-Konic avoids dwelling on the all too familiar horror stories of Israeli occupation. She does mention that after the 1967 invasion of the West Bank with the ensuing turmoil and closure of the borders, the school almost closed. She also alludes to an 8-year-old student who wrote an essay about his experiences under Israeli occupation and was threatened with arrest by the Israeli army for expressing his views! For Palestinians living under Occupation, such incident are all too common, as I learned first-hand when I visited Israeli-Palestine and RFS in 2004.

What Edwards-Konic emphasizes is the extraordinary support the school has received from various sources, including prominent Jewish entertainers. Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame) is just one of many celebrity musicians to have performed at the school. In 2001, at the height of the most recent intifada, Daniel Barenboim, the famed Jewish Israeli conductor and pianist (and close friend of the great Palestinian educator/intellectual Edward Said), came to the RFS and helped to help launch the first Youth Orchestra in Ramallah.

RFS has become a center for cultural, social, and athletic activities in the West Bank—a source of hope and pride.

It was disturbing to note that most of the bright, articulate former students interviewed in this book no longer live in Palestine. They live abroad, where they can have a normal life and prosper. “The number of Palestinians living outside Palestine who are working for nonviolent change is enormous,” writes Edwards-Konic. “But there are also many alumni who remain in the Palestinian community and live lives of nonviolent resistance and change.” Joyce Aljouny, the current director of the school, is a good example of an alum who has chosen to stay and make a commitment to the community. I wish more of these alums had been interviewed.

Because RFS has such a long tradition of excellence and such deep roots in the community, some families choose to return to Palestine so that their children can attend RFS. Ghada Dahir writes: “I left the USA when I was seven years old, my two sisters and brother, to what they called our ‘home.’ Upon arriving in Palestine, all sorts of crazy things went through my mind, like what in the world are we doing here! It was only after we were enrolled in the Friends School, did everything seem better than alright.”

Reading this book, one is reminded of the words from the Gospel of John: “The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness was not able to extinguish it.” In a region where despair and violence are so pervasive, it is gratifying to read about a Quaker school which offers Palestinian children and parents a sign of hope and a vision of a peaceful future.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peace Among the Peoples: an ecumenical conference organized by Mennonites

I was encouraged by the following report about an ecumenical peace conference sponsored by the Mennonites and Quakers. Tom Paxson, a member of the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference, sent this detailed report which sums up the rich theological discussions about pacifism and nonviolence which took place during this conference. I was especially intrigued by the warning "not to adopt methods of empire, but rather to become termites, eating away at the foundations of empire." I'd never heard of peace activists compared to termites before! The important message I drew from this report is that when empires are in decline, they focus on what they are against, rather than what they are for. We in the peace movement need to counter this negativity with a positive vision of a world without war--a world rooted in the values of the Gospels and of the other great religions--a world where compassion, economic and social justice, and environmental sustainability prevail, and where the sacredness of each and every living being (including termites) is honored.

Peace Among the Peoples, 28-31 July 2010, an ecumenical conference organized by Mennonites, primarily, was hosted by the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN. FGC co-sponsored the conference through the Historic Peace Churches/FOR Consultative Committee, of which Friends General Conference is a member. Seen in part as a follow-up to the January 2009 gathering in Philadelphia, Heeding God’s Call, “Peace Among the Peoples: Overcoming the Spirit, Logic, and Practice of Violence,” drew people from a reported 28 different church traditions. It was designed with two purposes in mind: “to discuss North American perspectives on Christian participation in war” and to contribute to the World Council of Churches’ 2011 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. Thursday the focus was on theological foundations for peace; Friday, on ecclesiological foundations; and Saturday, ethical foundations. The format included plenary addresses, small group discussions, and working groups planning for future action. Participants ranged from church officials and academicians to activists working at different levels, from local to international.

Plenary speakers included Rita Nakashima Brock and Philip LeMasters on alternative approaches to ‘Christians and war,’ Stanley Hauerwas and Gerard Powers on ‘just war and pacifism in dialogue,’ Guillermo Kerber and Kent Yoder on the World Council of Churches and its Decade to Overcome Violence, and Brian McLaren and Paul Alexander on new views/visions for peacemaking in North America.

The conference opened with the sad news that Friends Peace Teams activist Art Gish had been killed in a tractor accident on his farm in Ohio and the sober warning that empires in decline have a great need for enemies which permit them to replace visions of what they are for with visions of what they are against. Peaceworkers were warned not to adopt methods of empire, but rather to become termites, eating away at the foundations of empire. Mary Jo Leddy suggested that the desire for peace has to be sustained by real experiences of peace in our own lives.

THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS: Rita Nakashima Brock offered a vision of regaining the ancient Church’s understanding of the Christian message that paradise is available now: abundant life within the beloved community through the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. She contrasted this message with the post-Carolingian message of deliverance from sin through the death of Jesus Christ and repentance for one’s complicity in that death. The former view was linked to a theology of peace; the latter, to a theology of war. To address the moral injury suffered by soldiers and veterans struggling under the weight of acts committed during war, she argued for the value of acts of ritual penance that would that make their moral suffering public and invite support by their faith communities.

Philip LeMasters presented an (Eastern) Orthodox perspective, harkening back to early church demands to resist participation in war on the grounds that human beings are living icons of Christ and that we are called to participate in the peace of heaven even as we live on earth. He explained that the Eastern Church never developed a just war theory, let alone a Crusading theology, as did the Western Church, nor did it formally embrace pacifism. Instead it held that killing other human beings was morally wrong and that those who did kill others removed themselves from being in communion with Christ and were forbidden to participate in Communion until after a three-year period of penance. While monastics and clergy were never permitted to use violence, the Church accepted that there were occasions when soldiers and police needed to use violence to defend the innocent. The “necessity” was not seen as making the violence just, however, and repentance was still required. In time, he observed, Eastern churches sometimes became so closely associated with the state that war was seen as a defense of Christianity-- a confusion of state and church that he lamented. He argued that the Orthodox are called to incarnate peace, not just pray for it.

ECCLESIOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS: JUST WAR AND PACIFISM IN DIALOGUE: Stanley Hauerwas presented a critique of Just War Theory, arguing that Just war theory is customarily defended on the grounds that pacifism is unrealistic but, Hauerwas argued, the assumptions of just war theory are themselves incompatible with realism. If the theory were taken seriously it would be clear that no state, including our own, comes close to satisfying the requirements the Just War Theory imposes. If the US took the theory seriously it would have to restructure the government so that it was equipped and prepared to utilize all practical alternatives to war. In addition, public education would have to change to instill in citizens the virtues required-- not least those necessary to support politically the restraint and patience to prepare, train for, and try alternatives to military force. We would have to dismantle “the sacrificial system” whereby soldiers who die in battle are depicted as having “sacrificed their lives” for their county -- a sacrifice, it is then held, that must not be in vain. The appeal to validating the sacrifice of soldiers already killed is completely outside the just war theory, Hauerwas argued, but is perhaps the major political narrative Americans use to justify war. “...We live in the worst of all worlds. Realism is used to dismiss pacifism and to underwrite some version of just war. But it is not at all clear that the conditions for the possibility of just war are compatible with realism. At least it is not clear that just war considerations can be constitutive of the decision making processes of governments that must assume that might makes right. Attempts to justify wars begun and fought on realist grounds in the name of just war only serve to hide the reality of war.” He concludes, “Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror, or perhaps because it is so horrible, can be so morally compelling. This is why the church does not have an alternative to war, but rather the church is the alternative to war.”

Gerald Powers reflected on the use of Just War Theory by U.S. Catholic Bishops to seek to curb U.S. tendencies toward unilateral military action however disguised by coalitions of choice or otherwise. He noted that Papal envoy Cardinal Pio Laghi presented a message from the Pope to President Bush on Ash Wednesday 2003, saying that war with Iraq was not the answer and that the matter should be handled by the United Nations. “In applying the Church’s contemporary understanding of just war, [Cardinal Laghi] concluded that military intervention would be illegal and immoral, and decried ‘the grave consequences’ of going to war in Iraq: ‘the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military operation, a further instability in the region and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity.’” But President Bush responded that war was the answer and dismissed the warnings of dire consequences. Gerald Powers reflected on several issues that underlay that exchange. For example, the Pope viewed war as a failure of politics; the President, as an extension of politics. He also noted that Catholic theologians have paid much more attention to nonviolent alternatives to military action in light of “the dramatic and unforeseen success of non-violence in the Philippines, the Soviet bloc, and South Africa.” This greater attention to nonviolence is reflected in the report of the international Catholic-Mennonite Dialogue, “Called Together to Be Peacemakers,” issued in 2003. As for withdrawing from the war in Iraq, Powers argued that the United States took on a heavy moral burden in
occupying Iraq, a burden that those who seek a quick exit ignore. He insisted that the military component of this responsibility is just one part.

WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES. Guillermo Kerber and Kent Yoder discussed the World Council of Churches and its Decade to Overcome Violence. Guillermo Kerber, from the WCC’s Geneva office, presented a view of the larger WCC context for the Decade to Overcome Violence, pointing out that war and peace have been concerns since the dawn of the WCC following World War II. He noted that the WCC has been ambivalent, though it declared early on that “war is contrary to the will of God.” It has never been able to unite on an absolute condemnation of war. For example, while it approved the Decade to Overcome Violence in its 1998 Harare Assembly, it also expressed concerns about the Responsibility to Protect vulnerable populations, leaving open the possibility that such protection might require military intervention such as the UN failed to employ in Rwanda, and did employ after a time in the former Yugoslavia. Kerber then reviewed the Decade to Overcome Violence, with its different focus each year. The focus of 2004 was on the United States. He was careful to explain that the Decade to Overcome Violence sought to direct the churches’ attention to the full range of violence, from violence within the family all the way to international warfare, and to facilitate the sharing of information among member churches with respect to the various efforts to address the many dimensions of violence and their interconnection. There is no peace among the people, he noted, without peace in the communities and in the market place, i.e. without established mechanisms of social and economic justice.

Kent Yoder followed up on Guillermo Kerber’s narrative by noting that there is today a common commitment to peacemaking among many Christian traditions and communities, but then turned to identify what has yet to be accomplished. He also wondered whether the churches were shifting their ecumenical energies away from the WCC toward bilateral discussions. Among the positive outcomes of the Decade to Overcome Violence that Yoder identified were the following:

1) The definitions of peacemaking and of violence used by the churches have steadily expanded to be more comprehensive.

2) Many churches have taken more seriously the call to be peace churches.

3) The Decade to Overcome Violence has brought peacemaking to the forefront in the
National Council of Churches and in the WCC all program coordinators devote
significant time and energy preparing for the International Ecumenical Peace
Convocation in 2011, intended to be the culminating event of the Decade.

4) North American Mennonites have become more involved with the World Council of
Churches in spite of not being members. (The German and Dutch Mennonites
have been active members of the WCC from the beginning.)

Friday Morning was devoted to concurrent sessions and small group discussions. The concurrent sessions addressed ten quite different topics, including, among others, chaplaincy, the Eucharist and peacemaking, just policing, nationalism and idolatry, the responsibility to protect, and selective conscientious objection.

Friday afternoon Fundamentalist and Pentecostal Peacemaking Perspectives were presented.
Brian McLaren spoke from his Fundamentalist background about the importance of “framing stories” through which people interpret events. He discussed six such framing stories popular in America that structure people’s understanding of peace and security: domination, revolution, purification, victimization, isolation, and accumulation. These stories, he argued, are often camouflaged in churches through the use of Biblical language. In contrast with these, he submitted, is the story Jesus brought calling us to become protagonists for the common good. See his book, A New Kind of Christianity. To win people over to peacemaking, he held, it will be necessary to unveil the framing stories and to replace them by a story celebrating action for the common good.

Paul Alexander spoke on “What Pentecostals can do for Peace Among the Peoples.” He reported that the Pentecostal Peace Fellowship has been growing steadily and that about ten to twelve percent of U.S. Pentecostals are reported to be pacifist. Considering the large number of Pentecostals, there are many more pacifists in the U.S. who are Pentecostals than pacifists who are Quakers. The Pentecostal Peace Fellowship is linking American Pentecostals with Palestinian Pentecostals. Paul Alexander showed a video of a visit by one group of American Pentecostals to Israel/Palestine, including statements by the Americans after the trip about how their views had changed as a result. Alexander considers this approach the most effective way to counter “Christian Zionism.”

Domestic and International Peacemaking in Perspective.

Jarrod McKenna of the Anabaptist Association of Australia spoke about the “Peace Tree Community” that seeks to live out the Sermon on the Mount, and that draws inspiration from Bonhoefer’s insistence that we need an alternative imagination through which we can envision a peaceful world. The Community collaborates with Orthodox Jews, Gandhians, the military, and all sorts of other people interested in community, social justice and related concerns on issues of shared interest. For example, the Australian military is concerned with global warming and has permitted the “Peace Tree Community” and its partners to plant vines and fig trees, literally, on military bases and to advocate for other “green” measures. Jarrod represented Quakers at the Historic Peace Church meeting in Indonesia, the Asian meeting in the Historic Peace Churches’ series of meetings around the world held in conjunction with the Decade to Overcome Violence.
Lina Gehman Peachey high lighted violence against women, a concern of the WCC for the last two decades. She focused on three areas: sexual violations, particularly in the church and in families of church goers; murder and violence within families; and the physical punishment of children. She identified several areas where theological work needs to be done to address these problems: There is too much talk of suffering and too little of resistance and of standing with those who suffer. She proposed replacing a theology that sees suffering as a requirement for salvation with a theology seeing suffering as of value only if it is a consequence of non-violent resistance to abuse and injustice. Similarly, she suggested that forgiveness and reconciliation need to be considered within a context of truth-telling to perpetrators of injustice, not as a substitute for it. The truth-telling might include a critique of the myth of patriarchal entitlement that takes women for granted, including their use, misuse, and abuse. The theological challenge, she suggested, is to give more attention to systemic (and perhaps structural) sin within families, within communities, and within nations.

Concurrent Working Sessions included two sessions that reviewed drafts of important ecumenical documents related to just peacemaking: “Christian Understanding of War in an age of Terror(ism)” (an NCCC study document) and the “Just Peace Declaration” drafted for next year’s International Ecumenical Peace Convocation of the WCC. One session examined violence against women and its intersection with peace movement theology and thought. Other sessions explored the establishment of a Global Ecumenical Peace Network and a North American Peace Center.

Worship: Each evening there was a worship service open to the public. The first was held at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, the venue for the conference, but other nights the evening worship was held in a different area church each evening, in an effort to engage the community in the Conference. The sermons by Mary Jo Leddy, Itonde Kakoma, Bogdan Bucur, and Andre Gingerich Stoner were integral parts of the ecumenical conference. In addition, each day began with formal prayer in the Seminary’s chapel.

The hope of the organizers was that the efforts of the working sessions would transcend the conference itself. It is too early to tell whether anything will come of the proposals for a Global Ecumenical Peace Network and for a North American Peace Center, though the groups working on these proposals reported preliminary next steps. The sessions reviewing the draft ecumenical documents of the NCC and WCC were led by people involved in the drafting, so the sessions themselves provided feedback directly to representatives of the relevant NCC and WCC drafting committees. In addition, the Conference brought together activists and theologians from a wide variety of Christian traditions, providing a useful occasion for rich sharing of experience, thought, perspective, and encouragement.

Report submitted by Tom Paxson

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"A Common Word": Muslim and Christian scholars call for love of God and love of neighbor

During this time of escalating Islamophobia, fueled by self-serving politicians, my heart leaped for joy to see the publication of A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (Eerdman: Grand Rapids, MI, 2010). This book, consisting of essays by leading Muslim and Christian scholars, offers hope that the two largest monotheistic religions (comprising over half the world’s population) can overcome their historic antagonisms and build a culture of peace based on the Two Commandments shared by all three Abrahamic faiths: “Love God and love your neighbor.”

Sound too good to be true? No one in this book says it will be easy to convince the extremists (and the ignorant) on both sides to embrace love rather than hatred, but “A Common Word” is certainly an important step towards building a world-wide consensus among believers that Islam and Christianity can get along peaceably.

This unprecedented Muslim outreach to the Christian community began three years ago, on October 13, 2007, when 138 Muslim scholars sent out a letter (entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You”) to leaders of the Christian faith, calling for peace and understanding. (Since then, there have been more Muslim signatories, bringing the total to over 300.) These noteworthy signatories represent a broad range of nationalities and theological perspectives. According to its author, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammud of Jordan, this letter represents a “normative Ijma [consensus] by the Ummah’s [Muslim community’s] scholars,” that must be taken seriously by Muslims everywhere.

A Common Word was written a year after Pope Benedict XVI gave a controversial talk at the University of Regensberg in which he criticized Islam and quoted derogatory remarks about Mohammad made by a Byzantine emperor. Although the Pope disavowed these incendiary sentiments, they nonetheless provoked a strong backlash in the Muslim community.

Prince Ghazi (an extraordinary scholar who received a BA summa cum laude from Princeton and a Ph.D from Cambridge University) wrote a conciliatory response that was endorsed by major Muslim scholars around the world. As a result of this letter, Pope Benedict went to Jordan where he visited a mosque (an historic moment) and was warmly welcome by the Prince and other Muslim dignitaries.

Christian theologians responded to A Common Word with a thoughtful and encouraging rejoinder. This so-called “Yale Response” appeared in the New York Times (November 2007) and is republished in this book with a commentary by leading Yale scholars, Miroslav Volf, Joseph Cumming, and Melissa Yarrington.

Thus began a series of dialogues and colloquia among the world’s top Muslim and Christian religious scholars that is ongoing. (Jewish scholars were also invited to take part as observers so they wouldn’t feel excluded. Muslim-Jewish dialogue is also taking place in the same conciliatory spirit.) Some of the best papers from these “Common Word” conferences are published in this book.

Unless one is theologically trained, these essays don’t make easy reading. But it is nonetheless fascinating to read how finely trained theological minds work, and how they explore the intricacies and complexities of such a seemingly simple statement as: “Love God and love your neighbor.” What is meant by “love”? What is meant by “God”? Or “neighbor”? Do Muslims and Christians mean the same thing by these words? Scholars engage the text and commentaries in a myriad of provocative ways to provide intriguing answers to deep theological questions. For example, many Christian scholars argue that Christianity sees God in terms of Love, while Islam sees God in terms of justice. Rez Shah-Kazemi counters that while the word “Love” as understood by Christians is problematic for many Muslim scholars, Islam sees God as “lovingly compassionate and merciful” and he gives examples both from both mainstream Muslims and Sufis to make his point. Miroslav Volf deals with the question of the Trinity from the standpoint of Love. If God is Love, how could God love before the creation of man and of the universe, unless God were somehow both unitary and triune in nature. These simplifications don’t do justice to the subtle ways that these arguments were woven, but I found these discussions heartening. When scholars come together to explore theological ideas in a respectful manner, they are promoting love and understanding—which, as John Kerry points out, is surely “God’s work.”

There is of course a political subtext to these theological discussions, as Tony Blair and John Kerry explain in their foreword and epilogue to this book. These scholars do not address many sensitive political issues, such as the occupation of Muslim lands by Western armies, and the lack of religious freedom in many Muslim countries. One hopes that as trust builds, and understanding grows, it may become possible for scholars to deal with these thorny issues in constructive ways.

To find out more, I recommend that you not only read this book but also go to the website: acommonword.com. There you will find a wealth of statements, news items, and endorsements by notable scholars from around the world, all calling for peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. (You will also find bigoted responses from close-minded believers, but that only shows why this theological heavy lifting needs to take place.)

This is an ongoing project that has already borne much good fruit. For example, you can see a video of Prince Ghazi welcoming Pope Benedict to a mosque in Jordan, an historic moment since he is only the second Pope to visit a mosque. The news item page notes that an historic conference of Muslim scholars met to repudiate a reading of the Quran that has be used by violent extremists like Osama bin Laden to justify their personal calls for jihad. It was also encouraging to read that a leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism in London in March 2010. Such reports refute the idea that Islamic scholars support terrorism and jihad. Some of course do (just as some Christian leaders promote war against Islam), but the vast majority of Muslim scholars oppose terrorism and are calling for peaceful dialogue.

It is heartening to see so many leading Christians and Muslims as signatories and participants in this important dialogue. I was especially pleased to see a response by British Friends, but I was disappointed that the response by American Friends was not included, even though one was sent out two years ago. Here is the text of the American response, published here for the first time:


The Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee (CIRC) of Friends General Conference of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) welcomes and celebrates A Common Word between Us and You. The truly diverse group of Muslims who gathered and signed this history-making document should inspire Christians to work among themselves to find how they can, despite their many differences, come together and agree on a statement affirming the need for peace among the religions of the world, and particularly between Muslims and Christians, who together account for such a significant portion of the world's population.

CIRC therefore wants to affirm A Common Word between Us and You and the spirit of reconciliation that informs it.

Relationships between Quakers and Muslims go back many years. Friends have a long heritage of educating for peace. In the Friends School at Ramallah, which has been in existence for over 100 years, Christians and Muslims have studied together and cooperated to better their lives. In response to a plea from the United Nations, the American Friends Service Committee initiated a relief program to serve refugees in Gaza in 1949. Quaker service has continued there since that time. In addition to emergency relief work, a current focus is the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, which has worked closely with local non-governmental organizations, Palestinian Ministries, educational institutions, and international organizations to enhance opportunities for marginalized Palestinian youth. Quakers in Ramallah have also founded a Peace Center that works promote peace and understanding.

The Quaker presence in the Middle East is also felt in Christian Peacemaker Teams, such as those in Hebron and in Iraq. Tom Fox was a Quaker martyr for peace.For us, our labors to promote understanding between faiths is an expression of our peace testimony.

Early Quakers expressed their convictions on peace in a statement to the king of England, Charles II, in 1660:"We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, either for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world."

George Fox, commonly regarded as the founder of Quakerism, spoke of living in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars."

We strive to live in that same life and power. We perceive that same desire in your outreach to the Christian world in A Common Word Between Us and You.

In conclusion, we hope to be your partners in promoting understanding between our communities of faith. Both your Scriptures and ours call us top peacemaking. "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9a). As the Qur'an states (49:13), "People, we created you from one man and one woman, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may get to know one another. In the light of God, the most honored of you are the most mindful. God is ll-knowing, all-aware."

We shall urge members of the Religious Society of Friends to create opportunities for deep listening and dialogue with Muslims in their communities in order to improve our mutual understanding and to work together with Muslims (and others) to make a more just and peaceful world. CIRC commits itself to spreading knowledge of A Common Word Between Us and You as widely as possible among Friends. Additionally, in CIRC's ecumenical work, from the local to the national and international level, it will be an advocate to call Christians to share the concern for peace between Christians and Muslims that is so powerfully expressed in your document.

25 April 2008

Monday, August 16, 2010

California Peace Activist Speaks in Des Moines

Michael Gillespie sent me this article which appears in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (Sept/Oct, p. 66). He also took this picture of me looking amazingly happy. Thanks, Michael, for capturing how I feel when I am following the Inner Light!

Anthony Manousos of Culver City, CA spoke to Iowa peace and social justice activists at the Des Moines Valley Friends Meetinghouse on June 28.

“I study the Koran and I hang out with Muslims,” said Manousos, flashing a smile.

The Quaker activist speaks with unabashed enthusiasm about his continuing interest in other religions and his involvement in interfaith activism.

“After 9/11, I felt led to fast during Ramadan. That was my entrée into the Muslim community. I told Muslims I was fasting and they were so excited. They invited me into their homes. I decided to continue fasting during Ramadan and have done so now for 10 years,” said Manousos.
The former English teacher and editor is touring the USA, speaking about the growing interfaith movement and his experiences at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which convened in Melbourne, Australia in 2009.

The author of a pamphlet published by the Friends Bulletin and titled Islam from a Quaker Perspective and Friends and the Interfaith Movement (Updated 2008), Manousos told his Des Moines audience that he had spoken about the Israel/Palestine crisis and his experience in the Holy Land in the context of his presentation about the Listening Project at the 2009 Parliament.
An accomplished and experienced activist, Manousos serves on the boards of the South Coast Interfaith Council and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace in the Los Angeles area and is vice-chair of the executive committee of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. He is also active in the Quaker Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Friends General Conference, a national organization.

“When I heard about the Parliament, I knew I needed to go. The Parliament is kind of like the Olympics of interfaith. It’s held every five years and it attracts major religious leaders and spiritual leaders,” said Manousos.

Australia had not been high on his list of places he wanted to visit, said Manousos, but when he learned that the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s largest interreligious gathering, would convene in Melbourne, he was intrigued.

“I e-mailed Quakers in Australia and got such a friendly response that I ended up staying for six weeks. I went not only to Melbourne but to Canberra, Sydney, and eventually to Adelaide where I spent a week at a national Quaker conference,” said Manousos.

The Parliament features hundreds of lectures, workshops, forums, and panel discussions by people from all the various religions. Manousos noted that several religious leaders from the USA attended the Parliament in Melbourne, including Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and internationally renowned author and lecturer on peace and justice, spirituality, and women’s issues, and Michael Lerner, a rabbi, political activist, and editor of Tikkun magazine, a progressive Jewish and interfaith journal.

And we now have a Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions who is a Muslim, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, said Manousos.
Manousos says he is encouraged that so many people from so many different faith traditions are interested in the rapidly expanding interfaith conversation.

The Parliament in Melbourne “drew about 6,000 people, which was very good given the [distant] location and the economy. A lot of conferences were cancelled, but this one went on because there was a lot of strong feeling, especially since 9/11, very strong feeling that this one needed to go on, a lot of passion,” said Manousos.

The theme of the Melbourne Parliament was “Helping each other, healing the earth,” said Manousos.

“You can’t turn around the whole world overnight, but what we can do is be supportive when people are moving in the right direction,” said Manousos.

Manousos blogs at http://LAQuaker.blogspot.com. He has published a report on his experiences at the Parliament in Melbourne in Universalist Friends, the Journal of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship, which is available on-line at http://www.universalistfriends.org/journals.html.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Supporting the right of Temecula Muslims to build a mosque

Islamophobia reared its ugly head not only in Manhattan, but also closer to home, in Temecula, CA, a bedroom suburb in the high desert of Riverside County between San Bernardino and San Diego. This community of 100,000 souls is best known for being conservative and fundamentalist Christian, but those of other faiths live there as well, including Mormons and Muslims. In fact, there is a thriving interfaith council.

When the Muslims decided to build a mosque in Temecula, some of their extremist Christian neighbors began making unfounded accusations about Islam, associating it with terrorism or even "illegal" Mexican immigrants. But moderates in the local communtiy defended the right of Muslims to build a house of worship. And many outside groups, including the Quakers of Santa Monica and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, also expressed their support. It's good to know that we can all stand together as Americans and as people of faith to support each other's right to worship as our conscience dictates. That's what makes America truly great, a "holy experiment" (in the words of William Penn).
Here are letters of support from Santa Monica Friends and ICUJP.

See http://www.icotv.org/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/us/08mosque.html).

Imam Mahmoud Harmoush
Islamic Center of Temecula Valley
42188 Rio Nedo, Suite #A,
Temecula, CA 92590

To the Members of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley:

Peace be unto you, salaam aleicum, from your Friends (the Quakers) of Santa Monica Friends Meeting. As members of the Religious Society of Friends, we practice a faith rooted in our testimony of equality: every person is equal in the sight of God, and therefore deserves fair and equal treatment. We therefore support your right to build a mosque.

One of the early leaders of the Quaker movement was William Penn, who established a colony named after him (Pennsylvania) in which people of all faiths were permitted to practice their religion freely. This kind of tolerance was highly unusual, almost unheard of, during this time of religious war and persecution among Christians in the 17th century. It was no accident that a century later our nation was founded upon the principle of religious toleration in the Quaker city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly (and sisterly) love.

We therefore join with other people of faith to stand in solidarity with you in your efforts to worship God as your conscience dictates. One of our members, Anthony Manousos, has been fasting during Ramadan since 9/11 and has developed close bonds of friendship with the Muslim community. He has invited leaders of the Muslim community, such as Shakeel Syed, to share their insights with us, for which we are deeply grateful. May the blessings of peace be with you always!

Signed: Stanford Searl, Anthony Manousos, Darlene Lancer, Fred Buell, Don McCormick, Molly Hood, Kathryn Forsman, Sarah Rose House-Lightner, Celia Carroll, Debbie, Nancy Fuller, Henry Yang, Irene Webb, Elizabeth Cocca, Cynthia Waite, Heather Scotland, Jeff. Graceon.

To the Members of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley:

Peace be unto you (salaam aleicum) from your friends in the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP.org), an organization founded after 9/11 in the belief that religious communities must stop blessing war and violence. This is to let you know that we fully support your efforts to build a mosque in Temecula where you can worship God according to the dictates of your conscience.

We oppose Islamophobia in all its forms and are grieved that many Muslims have become targets of prejudice caused by misrepresentations of you faith. We also are saddened to learn that the many Americans are so blinded by fear and prejudice that they cannot treat their neighbors as they would wish to be treated.

It is heartening to learn of the support you have received from a range of community and faith groups. We affirm our commitment to promote interfaith understanding and respect so that our nation, and the world, can be a place of justice, peace, and Love.

Signed: George Regas, Steve Rohde, Edward Fisher, Phillip Way, Carlean Anthony, Carol Frances Likins, Tom Honore, Paul Nugent, Bonnie Blustein, Jon Turesky, Jan Honore, Anthony Manousos, Karen Millett, Margaret Lungren, Lydia Lopez, John Forney, Stephen L. Fiske, Rita Lowenthal, Maricela Guzman, Fran Wilson, Father Chris Ponnet.