Thursday, June 30, 2016

What is Ramadan teaching me? A letter to God...

God, I want to address this blog directly to You so that You (and those reading this) will know how
thankful I am that You have led me to observe the Ramadan fast fifteen years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11. I remember how terrifying it was to see the images of the Twin Towers falling, over and over again, like a recurrent nightmare. The unholy destruction of that day, and America's violent response to it, filled me with anxiety and dread. As I saw American flags proliferate, and our President calling for us to fight "evil doers" everywhere in the word, my fears increased, and for good reason. Our misguided President and his ill advisers were leading us into what Gore Vidal called "perpetual war for perpetual peace." By November, 2011,  1,200 Muslims had been rounded up, which wasn't as bad as what happened to the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, but I knew enough American history to fear witch hunting spirit that lurks in the American psyche and what it could lead to. I also premonitions of war and destruction spreading throughout the Middle East and coming home to roost.
        That's when I was led to fast, and to reach out to my Muslim neighbors. As I came to know the Muslim community, my fears began to lessen. The Muslims I met were good people, kind and gracious and grateful that I, as a Christian, was reaching out to them in friendship. They invited me into their homes so that I could know them and their religion better. I read the Qu'ran through their eyes, and saw that Islam was at heart a religion of peace and justice. You showed me I had "nothing to fear but fear itself." My mantra became "Perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).
      As I began to know and better understand the Muslim community, I also was led to the interfaith peace movement, and my life was enriched beyond measure. Today I have friends who are Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Bahais, etc. all of us deeply committed to peace and justice. We are truly what Martin Luther King so beautifully described as the "beloved community."
      That's why I am so grateful to you, Eternal One, for leading me to fast during the month of Ramadan. Not eating or drinking during the day is a sacrifice, but not as great as non-Muslims imagine. It essentially boils down to giving up lunch and snacks. During an iftar I was invited to a few years ago, I joked to my Muslim hosts: "God is so gracious. I give up lunch, and God gives me a feast with wonderful friends."
      What I have learned, Eternal God, is that you ask us to make small sacrifices and give us endless blessings in return.  Truly You are "most gracious and most compassionate." But what about this year's fast? What am I learning, and what are You teaching me?

1) My dear Evangelical wife Jill was a little skeptical about my observing Ramadan when we were married five years ago. It didn't make sense to her why I, as a Christian, would fast during a Muslim holiday. But as she grew to understand my commitment to honor God and the teachings of Jesus through this practice, she came to understand and appreciate what I am called to do. She has also seen that I become a little more kind and patient during Ramadan, even though my energy level is lower than usual. Even though I am fasting, I make lunch and dinner for her and any guests we have at our home. I remind her (and myself) that Ramadan is kareem (generous).
           The Prophet Mohammad liked to say that the "best believer is the one who is kindest to his (or her) spouse." I heard this saying from a Palestinian couple who hosted me when I was visiting a refugee camp near Bethlehem, and it was clear from their happiness that they had taken this teaching to heart. Being kind to my dear wife (and to others) becomes my first priority during Ramadan (and I hope, during the rest of the year).
      Thank you, Loving God, for helping me to become a more compassionate person and a better Christian through this ancient practice of fasting.

2) I feel closer to You, Loving God,when I fast. When I get up at five o'clock, it is still dark but I repeat my favorite morning prayer: "Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise...." (Psalm 51) This is a prayer that I recite every morning, but it seems more heart-felt when I recite it before dawn. I feel as if You are in the room with me, a palpable Presence in the darkness. Even though I am groggy, I recall the Muslim saying that "it is better to pray than to sleep." As I get up, I remember to be grateful that I am able to stand up and to walk, and to do my morning chores. I make breakfast--oatmeal with fruit--mindfully, aware of Your presence, and read the Quran as I eat, grateful for its inspiration.  I also drink a lot of liquids since I tend to get very dehydrated during the long, hot summer days. Then I go to my room and pray Muslim-style, with a prayer rug given to me by dear Sufi friends in New Mexico.  Just thinking of them, and of the sweet times when I took Quaker groups to pray with these friends, brings a smile to my face. I bow towards Mecca and say the fatiha (the opening prayer of the Quran) at least three times, and I also recite the Lord's prayer. Passages of Scripture come to mind that have become more meaningful and gut-felt during my time of fasting:

"As a deer pants for water, so pants my soul for you... My meat and drink is to do the will of the one who sent me....Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice..."

Then I sit on a zafu (a Zen cushion) and meditate in silence as the sun rises. Opening myself to You in the silence, as the birds sing out joyfully to herald the dawn, is a precious time. At around 6 pm I go back to sleep  till around 8 pm. This is how I begin and set my intention for the day-- to be fully present and obedient to You, source of life and of my very being. With this intention comes calm and clarity, a sense of peace.

3) Each year I have doubts, and each year  You send signs, showing that You intend for me to fast. Just before Ramadan began, I questioned whether it was still necessary for me to fast and felt an inward resistance. Then came the news of Orlando, and Donald Trump's response to it, and I realize how important it was for me to affirm my solidarity with the Muslim community. Because of my involvement with ICUJP and the Quakers, I had the honor to speak at an interfaith gathering at the Islamic Center of Southern California.
        My biggest challenge was fasting while attending the annual gathering of Quakers at Walker Creek Ranch in Marin County. Typically I spend the week camping out in a tent and attend meals in the dining hall at set times. In the past, I have not fasted during this time because it is simply too difficult. But this year I brought food for breakfast (granola and sardines) and decided to fast from sunrise until 5:30 pm (when dinner was served).
        It gets pretty cold at night in Marin (around 50 degrees), especially for a Southern Californian. When I woke to make breakfast, I could see my breath. Shivering, I wrapped myself in a blanket, like a bedouin. My breakfast consisted of a can of sardines (for protein) and  granola and dried milk into which I poured hot water. Then I would unroll my prayer rug and pray. It was a lonely, but fulfilling experience.
        On the first day of open worship, I shared with 300+ Quakers attending this gathering that I was fasting and praying during Ramadan for the sake of peace. A Friend named Bill from Texas whom I didn't know asked if he could join me. He told me that 20 years ago he had fasted during Ramadan. I told him I would be delighted if he joined me, and showed him where my tent was located. Two days later Bill appeared at my tent while I was boiling water for breakfast. In the predawn light I saw his shadowy but friendly presence as an angel, sent by You, to remind me that I am not alone.
          I made him breakfast (remembering how Abraham prepared a meal for the angels who visited his tent), and invited him to sit in silence and pray with me. This time of prayer was a very precious, and  I felt especially close to You, my Eternal Friend.
          I also felt especially close to You when Jill was asked to preach at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church. Every Sunday night there is a special service that brings together homeless folk with members of the church. After Jill shared a message about her passion to end homelessness, there was a communion service which began just as sun set--the very time I was supposed to break my fast! As I dipped my bread into some grape juice, I felt more deeply connected than every to You, dear Christ, and to my brothers and sisters who broke bread with me. Jesus, I know you and your Father were smiling as tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes.
   
           Ramadan is not over. Tomorrow is Laylat al-Qadr (Arabicلیلة القدر‎‎), the "night of power" when Muslims believe the Qu'ran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad. While pious Muslims will spend all or most of the night praying, we plan to go to a performance by Garrison Keillor at the Hollywood Bowl. For my birthday, Jill bought tickets for me as well as two extra tickets for friends. I'm sure we will have a delightful time, and perhaps catch a glimpse of You in the smiling faces of our dear friends. On Saturday night Jill and I plan to do an Interfaith Interdependence Day walk in Echo Park, sponsored by the Episcopalian Church, where I hope to connect with my spiritual director Dennis, who has been a great blessing and whom I love dearly.
              During these final days of Ramadan I'm sure that You will continue to reveal more of Yourself in ways I cannot imagine. Precious Lord, I can only say, Thank you for taking my hand and leading me on to the light! I love you with all my heart and soul and strength. Continue to be Guide and Teacher and best Friend.  I am grateful beyond words for all you have given me, and I vow to do my best to give back to others so that You will be honored and glorified. Praise and glory and thanks be to You, my Creator and Sustainer, the One who unites us in Joy and Peace.


       
       

       

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Justice Hustle: A New Blog Worth Checking Out

I am delighted and excited about introducing a new blogger into the blogosphere: my friend Hannah Petrie, a UU minister with a passion for social justice. I highly recommend her new blog: Justice Hustle.  She has done a lot of impressive work building bridges with the Muslim community and with the low-income areas of Pasadena where Jill and I live.

She and my wife are currently working together around the issue of affordable housing. I'm thrilled that these two women are partnering to make a difference. Stay tuned to see how this partnership bears fruit!



The Unsexy but Righteous Issue of Affordable Housing

Advocating for the issue of affordable housing is hard, hard, hard. There is all the grunt work of advocacy (advocate meetings, lobbying of city council members, writing letters, going door to door to organize stake-holders) without the excitement of marches and rallies (which is actually just fine with me – I prefer the steady hustle of behind-the-scenes activism). It’s also hard because there are a lot of arcane things one needs to grasp, for example, about  land use and zoning and all the conditions needed to empower an affordable housing project to proceed. When it comes to affordable housing justice, the devil truly is in the details.
          There are times, of course, when getting a crowd in City Council chambers is necessary, and the two women in Pasadena who get people to show up the past two decades and running are Michelle White of Affordable Housing Services (Michelle is an affordable housing real estate developer) and Jill Shook, author of Making Housing Happen. Their commitment is unmatched, inspiring, and educational to all who feel called to work on this issue. Currently they have attracted an attorney who works for Kaiser and is studying the conditions for optimal health (he has found the dearth of affordable housing to be a significant impediment), seminary students from Fuller, people of faith, pastors such as myself, and formerly homeless women who found their way to affordable housing and are giving back.
                I worked with Jill and Michelle a lot about eight years ago when the activist group was known as PAHG (Pasadena Affordable Housing Group) and now I’m getting back in the game with G-PAHG (GreaterPasadena Affordable…). Back then I tackled the issue of granny flats, one piece of the affordable housing puzzle, where affordable housing is created by homeowners able to construct a second unit on their property for affordable rents. Sadly, the city officials didn’t find the political momentum to remove the prohibitive restrictions (your lot must be at least 15,000 square feet!), and G-PAHG is still working on it.
              Since I have “been there, done that” with granny flats, I’ve joined a sub-committee that could have a lot more “bang for the buck” as far as creating the most affordable housing units per project moving forward. Affordable housing is so unsexy there isn’t even a catchy phrase for what I’m trying to describe, but here’s an attempt: Land development for affordable housing. Too bad I can’t throw a bikini on that.
     Land is damned expensive, so one of the most important preconditions for an affordable housing project is to use land the city already owns. Every district in Pasadena has city-owned land that could potentially be developed in this manner (the beautiful new housing you see across from the Von’s on Fair Oaks, near Orange Grove, is one such project). Problem is? City Councilors say, “not in my district!”
         But there is plenty of research showing that mixing low-income dwellings in higher-income neighborhoods have all kinds of good outcomes, especially for the children who grow up there; they are more likely to enter the middle class. Another important point to note is that if we care about keeping Pasadena diverse, then creating more affordable housing is a must. Already, the African American population has been cut in half in Pasadena since the 90’s, because they are priced out.
                  So I am setting up meetings with all the Pasadena City Council members to ask them to look at the land available in their districts, and present solid talking points about the win/win aspects of moving these affordable housing projects forward (among other pieces of the G-PAHG agenda). Thankfully, there is one City Council member who has already seen the light, Margaret McAustin, and the affordable housing project in her district is nearing completion. Setting her courageous precedent will work in our favor.
            I’m also excited to participate in a friendly debate about why the city of Pasadena should have a separate Housing Commission, rather than the matter of housing be relegated to discussion only four times a year in the Planning Commission (which amounts to members being educated but no action taking place). Michelle, Jill, and myself make up the pro-side of the panel. This will take place Thursday evening, July 14th, and I’ll blog more about the details soon.
            That’s enough for now – I’ll make affordable housing sexy, by golly! You’ll see. Until next time, Do the Hustle!
– Rev. At-Large aka Rev. Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Hate Group in Texas Threatens to Kill Muslims – Following an Example Recommended by Donald Trump

This article came to via Sherrel Johnson, a friend and colleague from the Council on American Islamic Relations. 

One of the details in this story--the white extremists dipping their bullets in pig's blood in order to intimidate Muslims--is right out of the Trump playbook, as this article from Time magazine points out:
Speaking in South Carolina ahead of the primary, Trump told his crowd that Pershing, who led U.S. troops during World War I, was a “rough guy,”according to Mother Jones. He then said that during the Moro rebellion in the Philippines (1899-1913, and Pershing served as governor of the Moro Province between 1909 and 1913), Pershing “caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage … and he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood. You heard about that? He took 50 bullets and dipped them in pig’s blood. And he has his men load up their rifles and he lined up the 50 people and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, you go back to your people and you tell them what happened.”
This story is a fabrication, but the facts are almost as disgusting.  To humiliate Muslims, American troops in the Philipines did pour pig's blood on the graves of Muslim killed in battle and Pershing brought a pig's head to a negotiation session with Muslim insurgents.  I is also worth nothing that these insurgents were defending their country against an invasion by a foreign power intent on domination. Therefore, they should be called not "terrorists" but "freedom fighters." I don't know what these Americans should be called other than a "hate group" of the ugliest sort.

Dr. Craig Considine

Hate Group in Texas Threatens to Kill Muslims – And Nobody Asks Where the Group Was Radicalized

Where were they radicalized?

That’s the question we should be asking.

An extremist group of white, presumably Christian men in Texas are training against a non-existent Islamic “uprising” by dipping their bullets in pig’s blood and bacon grease to target Muslims. The fact that consumption of pork is forbidden in Islam is well-known.

The extremist group, based in Irving, refers to itself as “Bureau of American Islamic Relations” (BAIR), an obvious mockery of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which carries out crucial work to safeguard the constitutional rights of Muslims in the United States.

Members of BAIR think that lining bullets with pig blood would ensure that their Muslim victims would “go straight to hell”, according to a video released by AJ+. One BAIR member in the video stated, “A lot of us here are using either pig’s blood or bacon grease on our bullets, packing it in the middle so that when you shoot a Muslim, they go straight to hell”. Another member insisted, “Don’t f*ck with white people.”

David Wright, spokesperson for BAIR, said he was “going to start doing something about Muslims… now”. That’s code word for “I’m going to threaten Muslims with violence”.

Clearly, members of BAIR are misinformed and uninformed. One member told AJ+, “the next step in jihad does not involve random, sporadic attacks… They start killing people”.

Actually, no. That’s not true.

I teach the course “Muslims in American Society” at Rice University in Houston, not too far from Irving, where BAIR is based. Our class, composed of Muslims and non-Muslims, takes a careful look at the various dimensions of jihad. The students, I should add, get alone perfectly fine despite coming from largely Christian and Muslim backgrounds.

Jihad has many meanings. It’s often misinterpreted to mean “holy war”, obvious in the case of BAIR, but jihad really means “to struggle” or “to strive”. A jihad might be waking up when your alarm goes off in the morning. A jihad might be putting up with an annoying relative on a holiday.

A jihad might be turning the other cheek when blatantly Islamophobic groups like BAIR openly call for the murder of Muslims.

It’s true there is an offensive or “violent” form of jihad, but it’s for purposes of self-defense.  The Quran, the Islamic holy book, calls on Muslims to “jihad” against the use of violence. The Quran (5:32) states, “if anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the whole of humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of humanity”. In another Quranic passage (2:190), Muslims are told, “fight in the case of God those who start fighting you, but do not transgress limits (or start the attack); for God loveth not transgressors”.

Members of BAIR live in a fantasy world where Muslims pose the greatest threat to “civilization”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 9/11, white right-wing terrorists have killed almost twice as many Americans in homegrown attacks than “radical Islamists” have, according to research by the New America Foundation.

      BAIR’s perception is not reality. The data, as Loon Watch points out, simply does not support their irrational view that Muslims pose a threat to the United States. On the FBI’s official website, there exists a chronological list of all terrorist attacks committed on American soil from the year 1980 all the way to 2005. According to this data, there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the United States than Islamic (7% vs 6%).

      To put it simply, the threat of Muslim American terrorism is grossly exaggerated.

      Funny, too, that members of BAIR consider themselves Christians. Remind me about the passage of the Bible where Jesus asks people to put pig blood on bullets to kill non-Christians. That’s apparently what BAIR members think. That killing people ensures a seat next to Jesus in heaven.
Let me wrap this up by flipping things around. Imagine if CAIR called on Muslims to kill Christians. Imagine the uproar. Imagine the media coverage, the hysteria. Politicians in Washington, DC and elsewhere would head to the press to pose the question, “where were they [CAIR members] radicalized?”.

     Why aren’t we asking the same question about BAIR?

     This is what we call “double standards”.



Sherrel A. Johnson
Community Relations Manager
Assistant to Director
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Greater-Los Angeles Area Chapter
2180 W. Crescent Ave., Suite F.
Anaheim, CA 92801
O: 714-776-1847
F: 714-399-4587


Surmounting the Limits of Quakerism: an article about the Friends World Committee for Consultation

This article about FWCC appeared in the May/June issue of The Western Friend (the official publication of the three unprogrammed Western Yearly Meetings: Pacific, North Pacific and Intermountain.) Entitled “Surmounting the Limits Quakerism,” this article explores why Quakers split into different branches and what unites Friends today. To learn more about the Western Friend, see https://westernfriend.org/

When I asked [Western Friend editor] Mary Klein if I could write an article about the Friends World Committee on
Consultation, she suggested that I write about it for the issue on “Limits,” with April 1 as the deadline. My initial response was: “Is she kidding?” I was grateful for her offer, but something in me bristles at the word “limits.”
As I reflected and prayed about this topic, however, I realized that some limits are Spirit-led and necessary for our spiritual health and social well-being. Deadlines, for example, are limits that magazines set to stay in business, as I learned when I was editor of this magazine.
At a deeper level, there are divinely inspired or mandated limits, such as the idea of Sabbath. Sabbath sets a limit on our human tendency to workaholism, and also on the tendency of employers to impose limitless work on their employees.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a leading interfaith peace and justice activist, explores both the inner and outer dimensions of Sabbath in his compelling book Journeys of Freedom: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia (2011). He notes that Pharaoh made the Hebrews work seven days a week, well beyond their limits; and when they were finally freed from bondage, God gave this community of newly freed slaves a day off. This day was called Sabbath and was considered holy, part of the very fabric of the universe (even God rested on the seventh day of Creation!). Sabbath also has an inward dimension: it is a day in which we are commanded to refrain from work so we can enjoy our families and commune with God. How liberating, and yet how hard for those of us who can’t say ‘no’ to requests to do good but sometimes overwhelming committee work!
Sabbath also imposed limits on debt and land use. Every seven years there was a Shabbaton, a Sabbath year, in which the land was to rest and debts forgiven. Every seven times seven years, there was an even bigger Sabbath, called Jubilee, in which land was to be re-distributed so that the poor who lost their land would regain it. The ultimate goal of Jubilee, and thus of the Jewish people, was to end poverty. “There should be no poor among you, for the LORD your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession” (Deuteronomy 15:5). To fulfill this divine mandate, Jesus began his prophetic ministry by saying: “I have come to proclaim good news to the poor…. And the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18). Scholars agree that the “acceptable year of the year” meant Jubilee. In other words, Jesus’s mission was to bring about Jubilee—the redistribution of land and wealth—and that’s why his followers sold their property and shared their wealth “so there was no poverty among them” (Act 4:34-35). The Bible also makes it clear that there are limits imposed by God on the accumulation of wealth, with the ultimate goal being social and economic equality. Sounding like a socialist, Paul say, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” (see 2 Corinthians 8:14).
Limits are also necessary in our personal and lives. Those in the counseling professions call them “boundaries.” To be psychologically healthy, we need to establish limits or boundaries so we feel safe and secure. We also set limits on ourselves when we assume, or discover, our identity. For example, when I became a Quaker, I realized that some behavior was “un-Quakerly” (like sarcasm and violent speech); and I needed to refrain from doing and saying certain things. Moral and ethical codes require setting limits on our behavior.
Some limits stand in the way of our spiritual and psychological growth, however. For example, when we try to define God, or when we exclude people based on our personal prejudices or ideological assumptions, we are setting limits that aren’t divinely sanctioned.
Quakerism began as a movement that tried to dispense as much as possible with man-made limits, such as rituals and dogmas.  Because Quakerism aspired to be a Spirit-led religion, it was hard to define and therefore was suspect to many Christians. Spirit is mysterious, unpredictable, and beyond our control. Unlike rules and “guidelines,” Spirit cannot be defined, it can only be experienced, like a breeze blowing through a room.
As Quakerism evolved, especially in the United States, this lack of clearly defined doctrines began to trouble some Friends. If we don’t have dogmas, required beliefs that define who were are, are we really Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian, or a Quaker? What defines the boundaries of our faith?
Power struggles occurred over who could set the boundaries of Quakerism.  In the 1820s, Quakerism in America split into two opposing groups: the Orthodox and Hicksites. Followers of the charismatic Elias Hicks wanted Spirit and the Inward Light to be the ultimate authority, while Orthodox Friends felt that the Bible and traditional Christian beliefs should be authoritative. Over the next century, Quakerism in America split into multiple groups, each with boundaries based on more or less clearly defined beliefs and practices.
These splits were about setting limits to Quakerism. Some felt that if you didn’t profess certain beliefs, you weren’t a real Quaker. Others felt if you engaged in certain practices, such as hiring a pastor, you weren’t a real Quaker. Defining what it means to be a “real Quaker” led to painful divisions that persist to this day.
At some point, Friends grew weary of this game. They recognized that real differences exist among Friends—different spiritual needs, different understanding of Quaker faith and practice—but we could “still be friends” and we need to work together. In 1917, feeling the urgent need to affirm the Peace Testimony in the midst of a terrible world war, London Yearly Meeting invited Friends from throughout the world and across the various branches of the Religious Society to come together. An All Friends’ Conference took place in August 1920, hosted by London (now Britain) Yearly Meeting. This was the beginning of efforts to heal the divisions among Friends.  In 1937 Rufus Jones help start an organization called Friends World Committee for Consultation to facilitate ongoing dialogue among Friends. This organization has helped many (including myself) to have a deeper and broader understanding of Quakerism.
When I first became a Quaker thirty years ago, I had a pretty clear idea of what Quakerism was, based on my experiences in unprogrammed meetings and reading Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years.  Later, when I came to California and attended Whittier Friends Church, I saw that some Quakers had paid pastors and an order of worship similar to those of other Protestant churches; and my sense of what it meant to be a Quaker broadened. As I studied Quaker history and moved more widely in Quaker circles, I had to readjust my thinking about what “real Quakerism” means.
My leading as a Quaker has been to practice a ministry of reconciliation. In the 1980s I reached out to Russians and after 9/11 I reached out to Muslims. But something was missing in my reconciliation work. I was on friendly terms with those of other faiths, but I had little or no connection with Evangelical Friends. Something felt wrong with this picture!
This need to reach out to Evangelicals led me to become involved with FWCC, and perhaps also to marry my wife Jill, who is an Evangelical Christian. Over the past five years I have attended numerous gatherings sponsored by FWCC, including the World Conference of Friends in Kenya (2012), the Section of the Americas gathering in Mexico City (2015), and the World Plenary in Peru (2016). I have also attended Section meetings in Philadelphia, Indiana and California. Through these gatherings I have come to appreciate the beautiful and sometimes perplexing diversity of Friends. Jill has accompanied me to gatherings in Latin America and has helped me to deepen my friendships with Evangelical Friends.
Experiencing the diversity of Quakers has led me to wrestle with the question: What do Quakers have in common? I have come to accept as a fact that Quakerism arose as a Christian movement, and that Christianity is still an essential part of Quakerism’s DNA. Even in unprogrammed meetings where many are non-theists, humanists, or universalists, our core Quaker practices and beliefs derive from profoundly Christian roots.  World-wide, the vast majority of Quakers are not only Christians, but Evangelicals. But because Quakerism has no required dogmas, there is room for spiritual seekers and practitioners who are non-Christian, or even non-theist. This, too, has a biblical foundation. The Gospel of John affirms that “The Light that shines in everyone was coming into the world…..”  Quakers have interpreted this passage to mean that everyone has access to the Inward Light, whether they call it the light of Christ, the light of the Buddha, or simply the light of conscience. This universal Light shines in us all and can lead us to unity.
Two distinctive Testimonies unite us. First and foremost is the Peace Testimony. This is what brought together the first World Conference of Friends in 1920, and it is still a core part of our Quaker identity world-wide.
The second Testimony that unites us is Sustainability. This is a more recent Testimony, but it is implicit in our Testimonies on simplicity and community, as Doug Gwyn makes clear in his recent book A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation (2014).
During recent FWCC gatherings, Friends have come to unity on minutes relating to the sustainability. During the 2012 Friends World Conference in Kabarak, Kenya, FWCC produced a powerful statement calling for "peace and eco-justice." This statement emerged from a deeply felt sense that Spirit is calling us to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis. "We must change, we must become careful stewards of all life," insists this statement. It evokes biblical language as well as Quaker tradition to remind us "we are called to be patterns and examples of peace and eco-justice, as difficult and decisive as the 18th and 19th century drive to abolish slavery." Powerful as this call is, it lacks specific advice on how Friends can become the change we so urgently need.
Since the 2012 consultation, there has been a growing sense that FWCC needs to offer concrete recommendations on what Friends can do to make a difference. During our 2016 gathering in the Sacred Valley of Peru, the spiritual heart of the Inca civilization, we became aware that local rivers are polluted, insecticides and pesticides are poisoning the farmland, and indigenous people are protesting the mining that is desecrating their sacred mountains.
Feeling deep pain in the midst of a breathtakingly beautiful Andean landscape, we wrote: "Our hearts are crying out for our beloved mother Earth, who is sick and in need of our care."
This pain was felt by the people of Israel when they failed to follow divine mandates, including the Sabbath; they lost their land and wept bitterly over this loss in the “Book of Lamentations.” Paul describes the pain felt by whole creation because it has been held in bondage to “corruption” and is groaning, like a woman in childbirth, “awaiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (this passage from Roman 8:19 was the theme of our conference). 
Feeling the pain and the eager longing of creation for restoration can lead us to take action to heal the earth. As a starting point, we came up with 27 specific actions that individuals, monthly meetings and yearly meetings can take to foster sustainability. They range from "grow your own food and plant trees" to "support Quakers in politics and international work." Hopefully, we will also support and partner with non-Quakers who are doing important environmental work!
During this World Plenary of Friends, we acknowledged our diversity of worship styles, cultures and theological understanding of Quakerism, seeing them not as limitations, but as opportunities for spiritual growth. We also found unity in the Spirit that brought us together for a purpose greater than any of us could imagine.  I’d like to close this reflection with words from the 2016 Plenary Epistle that sums up the spiritual heart of our work:
“We are one. We are one in the spirit of God which does not wash away or hide our differences, but allows us to celebrate them and enables us to move beyond the spiritual boundaries that may separate us. We are able to do this by coming together in worship where, while its form may be unfamiliar, God was present throughout. Through listening deeply and tenderly to each other and to God we reached a place where we can hear and sense where the words come from even when we may not understand the tongue they are spoken in….”
“In making the choice to come together and be willing to share deeply, pray boldly, and listen lovingly together, we seek to move beyond our differences, see beyond our labels and find ways to connect with each other ….”
In coming together, and following the leadings of the Spirit, I feel we truly became Friends. I hope others will join in FWCC’s ongoing work of reconciliation.

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Interdependence Day Walking Meditation on July 2

As a Quaker, I was very pleased to learn of this "Independence Day" event, sponsored by the Episcopalian Church. When I began my journal seven years ago on the 4th of July, I spoke about Interdependence Day. I have also written a blog explaining why Quakers didn't celebrate the 4th of July, and paid a price of their refusal to do so. See http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2012/06/why-quakers-did-not-celebrate-fourth-of.html

What I do celebrate as a Quaker is our interconnectedness and interdependence. That's why I support this upcoming event and hope to attend. I hope you will join us!

Leaders of Los Angeles religious traditions will conduct the fourth-annual Walking Meditation on Interdependence around Echo Park Lake, L.A., on Saturday, July 2 at 7 p.m., sponsored by the Los Angeles Interfaith Consortium, an emerging media resource informing and uniting the Southland’s vibrant spiritual community. Prayers and reflections in seven traditions – Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh – will be offered along the way, with special intention for refugee relief worldwide. Participants are invited to observe silent meditation and prayer while walking between the stations. The walk will be preceded by a 6 p.m. interfaith dialogue with the Future 50, a program of theInterreligious Council of Southern California and the University of Southern California Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and followed by an interfaith Iftar (breaking of the daytime fast observed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan) from 8:10 to 9:30 p.m. The dialogue and Iftar will be held in the Great Hall of the Cathedral Center, at 840 Echo Park Avenue. For more information and reservations (requested), contact Robert Williams, Interreligious Council president. Above: Buddhist U.S. Naval Chaplain Aroon Seda leads prayers near a lotus bed in Echo Park, with the downtown skyline in the background. Photo / Bob Williams

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Way of a Pilgrim: Reflection on my Greek Orthodox Roots and Quakerism





I am grateful to my parents, and to God, that I was baptized into the Greek Orthodox faith. I wasn’t always grateful, however. When I was several months old, my parents took me to St George’s Orthodox Church in Trenton, NJ. There a strange man in a dark robe with a white beard stripped off my clothes, plunged me naked under water, and I gasped for air and screamed. Since then, I have attended such “sacraments” several times and am familiar with the routine, which takes nearly an hour. First, the priest exorcizes any demons that might have entered the church to thwart the baby’s salvation. Then he recites liturgies in Greek that go back to the early days of Christianity. After being prayed over and dunked, the child is given a fresh set of white clothing, declared a Christian and confirmed as a Greek. My family celebrated this rite of passage with a huge party.
In my childhood I attended a number of Orthodox celebrations—mostly weddings and what we called “Christenings”. Orthodox rituals and art are inexpressibly beautiful and have lingered in my soul, but were largely meaningless to me as a child growing up since I didn’t speak Greek.
My Scottish mother took me to the Episcopalian Church which also had a lot of rituals, but at least provided me with some grounding in Christianity through Sunday school classes where we heard bible stories in a language I could understand. My mother liked to tell the story that when I came to the Episcopalian church as a preschooler, and was introduced to the priest, I said emphatically, “He’s not a priest.” My mother and priest were surprised by my strong reaction, and asked me why I didn’t believe he was a priest. I replied, “He doesn’t have yenyas,” “Yenyas” was my way of saying the Greek word for beard (γενειάδα). From this story, I conclude that even at an early age, I had strong opinions, which were not always correct.
By age 12 or so, I had begun to read voraciously and to think critically, and was not impressed with the history of the church. I read about schisms and Crusades and inquisitions and religious wars and witch hunts, and decided that the church was part of humanity’s problem, not the solution. I found Marx and socialism much more appealing than Christianity, even though the history of Communism also has its dark side.
I stopped going to church, but I still had a yearning for some kind of religious experience. In my high school and college years, I turned to psychedelic drugs, which seemed to expand my consciousness but ultimately led me down a dark alley of drug abuse and despair.
 It was after college that I had a truly transformative religious experience. After graduating from Boston University, where I studied poetry with Anne Sexton and aspired to be a poet, I went “on the road,” travelled across Canada by rail, and had a “road to Damascus” experience in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In this low-key prairie city that was utterly different from the frantic pace of eastern cities like Boston and New York,  I felt my New England anxieties lift. Out of curiosity I entered an empty church, perused a Bible that was open on the altar, and suddenly felt the power of the Holy Spirit. My eyes welled up with tears. I realized that Jesus was more than just a teacher. His words could revolutionize the world, and my life. I experienced the Living Christ, and my life was never the same.
This happened apart from church, but a few years later, after I returned to Princeton, I became churched when I married my first wife, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. During my graduate school days at Rutgers I attended the Presbyterian Church in Princeton, NJ, which was highly stimulating intellectual experience but not particularly spiritual. During these days, I read authors like Bonhoeffer and Tillich and engaged in intense theological discussion with my father-in-law, a brilliant professor of religion and philosophy, who drank far too much Scotch and died of alcoholism.
After earning my Ph D, I got a job teaching at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, but this professional success led to a life-changing crisis.  My marriage broke up and my mother became terminally ill and needed my help. I returned to Princeton, where I had another transformative spiritual experience. Asking for God’s help, I discovered the Quakers and once again experienced the living God through silent worship. I also became editor of an interfaith magazine called “Fellowship in Prayer” and had the opportunity to interview many religious leaders and teachers who opened my eyes and heart to many spiritual paths, including Zen Buddhism.
The Quaker experience of silent, unprogrammed is as far from Orthodox practice as can be imagined. Yet as I entered more and more deeply into Quakerism, I was led to Orthodox spirituality for the first time.
This happened around 1984 when I became involved with a Quaker peace and reconciliation project. Appalled by Reagan’s sable rattling and imminent threat of nuclear war, I was led to join a group of Quakers who were reaching out to form spiritual links with the Russian. We began working on a joint book project with the Soviets called the “Human Experience,” a collection of stories and poems about everyday life in both countries that showed we are not enemies with horns, but people with families and the desire for peace. It was during my trips to the Soviet Union that I started going to Orthodox churches and reading about Orthodox spirituality.
One work that had a profound influence on me was the Way of the Pilgrim, a classic 19th century work about a Russian seeker who wants to learn how to “pray unceasingly” and finds a teacher, a staretz or elder, who introduces him to the Jesus prayer. The pilgrim’s quest for God was similar to my “dharma bum” days after college, and the Jesus prayer was very similar to the mantras that I was learning about through my explorations of Eastern religion. I began using the Jesus prayer as a way of centering down, and letting go of the chatter in my head. I still use it from time to time and find it helpful.
As I delved more deeply into Orthodox spirituality, I found interesting parallels with Quakerism. The Orthodox have a tradition known as hesychasm, meaning inward stillness. It is based on Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray.” Hesychasm has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.
This is similar to our Quaker practice of worship, except that we do not seek to be silent as much as attentive to the Inward Light or Christ Spirit within us. That’s why our form of worship is sometimes called open or listening worship rather than silent worship.
I’d like to conclude by lifting up an orthodox spiritual leader who speaks to my condition, the
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. This humble, erudite and deeply compassionate man of God has become the symbol of unity for the Orthodox Christian churches throughout the world. He is well known for his commitment to protecting the environment, and for opening communications with other Christians (especially the Roman Catholic Church) as well as with Muslims and other religious groups. 
I loved his book Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today,  which was published in 2008. (The Quakers published book with a similar title called Enlivened by the Mystery, which includes some Zen poetry I wrote.) Bartholomew’s work opened my heart and mind to the Orthodox tradition in many new ways. I was especially impressed by what he said about interfaith dialogue. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of his message was: When we dialogue with others about the ineffable  mystery of God, we need to be utterly humble since what we know about the infinite is extremely limited. He also summed up Orthodox theology in a way that spoke to me as a Quaker. The whole purpose of theology, he said, is to bring us to such wonder at the awesomeness of God that we are silent.
I could talk at length about other experiences like going to Greece with Jill and partaking of Orthodox Easter, but Bartholomew’s call for silence seems like a good place for me to end this reflection on my Orthodox roots. I hope that during our spiritual practice time we can enter into a silence that brings us closer to each other and to the Infinite.

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For our spiritual practice, I’d like us to use a variant on the Jesus prayer. This prayer is simply: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Whether are not we believe in God, or in the concept of being a sinner, we all recognize that we are fallible human beings in need of forgiveness and compassion. So let’s direct our minds and hearts towards the God of our understanding, the Inward Light, the Inward Christ,  the Buddha nature, or however we conceive our higher power.  Let’s breathe in mercy and compassion for ourselves, and breathe out mercy towards others. I suggest we use words like “Have mercy on me.” And “Let me have mercy towards others.” If we are comfortable with the word "God" or "Christ," let's use it. And let's began and end with silence. 

Minutes of Concern and Our Quaker Polity




There appears to be confusion at our Yearly Meeting over the question of what authority or power a Quaker body has when it approves a minute of concern. Some are uneasy when the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) or Pacific Yearly Meeting (PYM)  approves a minute calling for monthly meetings to take action.  To help bring clarity, I’d like to share my understanding of Quaker “polity” (the form of government by which a religious body makes its rules or decisions). My understanding is based in part on the diagram above, which you can find at the Southern California Quarterly Meeting website.
First, a quick explanation of a “minute of concern.”  For Quakers, a concern arises from a leading of the Spirit, usually involving an issue of justice. This concern causes the individual or the body to express its views and usually to take or call for action.  This concern usually arise in an individual or group of individuals in a Quaker body (such as a monthly or yearly meeting, or a Quaker organization, like FCNL or FWCC). Spirit usually calls on Friends to share this concern either with the Quaker community and/or those in power.
What is the process for discerning a minute of concern, according to our Quaker polity? As aforementioned, concerns usually arise from an individual who feel Spirit or the Inward Light leading or compelling them to take some action. The individual goes to a Meeting to discern if this is a genuine leading, and if so, whether it is an individual or corporate concern. If the Meeting unites with this concern, it may decide to bring it to Yearly Meeting so it can be shared with the larger body of Friends.
It has been the practice of Pacific Yearly to give the Peace and Social Order Committee (PSO) authority to discern which concerns should go to the Yearly Meeting. PSO brings forward a concern only when three or more Meetings unite, or when a Quaker body such as FWCC or FNCL asks for a concern to be brought forward. This process insures that Yearly Meeting’s annual session recognizes and honors “that of God” in the monthly meetings and in the Quaker bodies to which we send our representatives.
This year it was decided by M and O to let the Spirit work directly by giving Friends the opportunity to raise minutes of concern during Listening Sessions at the Yearly Meeting annual session. I have no objection to this new practice and see merit in it, but I am troubled that we seem to have abandoned a practice that recognizes and honors how Spirit is at work at the monthly meeting level. Our new practice raises questions about our Quaker polity.

Is Quaker Polity Bottom up, or Top Down?

Modern Quaker theology stresses the primacy of the monthly meeting over the Yearly Meeting. Most Friends reject the hierarchical idea that the Yearly Meeting is a “higher body” that can dictate to monthly meetings. But this hasn’t always been the case among Friends. In the past, Yearly Meetings had much more authority and power than they have today. In Woolman’s time, when Philadelphia Yearly Meeting united in a minute calling for Friends to cease and desist from owning slaves, most Friends felt obliged to do so. I don’t know if there were any penalties for not complying with this minute, but the pressure was such that many Friends either gave up their slaves or left the Society of Friends.
It’s worth comparing our Quaker polity that how many churches operate today. For example, if the General Conference of the Methodist Church says it is contrary to church doctrine to have gay pastors or perform same-sex marriages, every constituent church is obliged to follow that decision. Failure to follow that decision results in consequences, such as a trial that could lead to a pastor losing his status as a pastor.
Quakers do not operate in this way now. When FWCC or FCNL or a Yearly Meeting comes to unity to support a minute on same-sex marriage or sustainability, it can make requests or recommendations to monthly meetings but it has no authority to enforce such a request.
Our polity has changed over the years. During virtually every war from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq invasion, Yearly Meetings have affirmed our Peace Testimony. At one time, Friends were pressured to leave the Society of Friends, or at least repent, if they joined the military or even if they married outside the Society of Friends (which was considered an equally grievous offense--which shows that our Quaker discernment process isn't infallible). In the 20th century we no longer have such requirements. We uphold our Peace Testimony, but individual Quakers have joined the military, while others became COs or war resisters. We do not reject a Friend who has served in the military, or require an allegiance to pacifism. We simply affirm our Peace Testimony, urge Friends to refrain from war, and then leave it up to individuals to do what their conscience and Inward Light require. This is our 20th century polity and I happily embrace it.
Modern Quaker polity can be imagined as a series of concentric circles of different sizes (as the above diagram shows). The individual (who has access to the Divine) is the smallest and central circle, the monthly meeting is larger, and the Yearly Meeting or Quaker organization is much larger. Each circle is on the same level. Each circle can communicate with and make requests of other circles of Friends. But these requests are non-binding. They are simply appeals to the Light Within.
So I am not troubled when FCNL or FWCC ask me to take action. I know that these bodies have gathered in the Spirit, have come to unity around a concern and feel led to share this concern with Friends. When they ask me to take action, it is up to me to inquire within and ask myself, “Can I unite with this minute of concern? Do I feel led to take action myself, or to support others who are taking action?”
Some Friends may feel pressured, but perhaps that may be because they don’t fully understand our Quaker polity. Because I know our Quaker organizations are doing their best to be faithful to Spirit and are asking (not requiring) me to do likewise, I am grateful to these bodies for encouraging me to ask such questions.  They remind me how important it is to wrestle with difficult issues.
I love our Quaker polity, as it is practiced today, because it is all about equality. A monthly meeting can make a request to yearly meeting and a yearly meeting can make a request to monthly meetings. Each body is equal. This is consistent with Jesus' teachings that we are to call no one a leader except God (see Matthew 23: 29-31).

Do Local Meetings or Larger Quaker Bodies Have More Clout?

The world doesn’t embrace our equality testimony, however, and we need to be clear and honest about this fact. When FWCC or FCNL takes a position, it is seen as representing the Religious Society of Friends. Because FWCC is a world-wide body, it carries more clout in the world that if a little meeting with, say, twenty souls approves a minute of concern. That same is true of FNCL, AFSC, etc. That’s why it’s very important for us to choose carefully the representatives we send to these bodies and to voice our concern if these bodies take a position we cannot unite with.
When FWCC unites in a minute on sustainability not once but twice in four years, we can be pretty confident that this is a continuing revelation. We are seeing a new testimony emerging from Spirit and uniting Friends around the world. Therefore, we need to take it seriously. But we aren’t required to do anything about it.

The Choice is Up to Us

Thankfully, I see our sustainability testimony becoming increasingly crucial to Friends. Meetings like Claremont are taking extraordinary actions, like putting up solar panels and partnering with a local group to get rid of their water-wasteful lawn and plant fruit trees sustainably. But the impending environmental crisis is so scary it is very tempting to hide our heads in the sand and do nothing and hope it will go away. For this reason, I am grateful for FWCC, QEW, FCNL and concerned individuals who keep reminding me that our mother earth is indeed very sick, we are the cause and we need to do something about it. I have lived in denial myself for many years, but now that the veil has been lifted, I thank God I can see clearly. 
It’s like the excruciatingly painful moment when the doctor told my wife and me: “That growth in your chest is cancer.” We were devastated, but once we knew the truth, it set us free to act wisely and make the right choices. We didn’t blame the doctor for the diagnosis and for prescribing treatment. We thanked him and were glad that the doctor gave us his recommendation. We knew it was up to us to do what we felt was right.  That’s what a minute of concern is all about.

Recently I went to a documentary about the climate crisis called “Time to Choose.” It showed the horrors caused by our fossil fuel addiction—its catastrophic effects on the poor in the developing nations—and then showed how wind and solar could provide us with a clean, healthy lifestyle.  Seeing this stark contrast, and its implications for our future, I was glad that the film maker reminded me that it is “time to choose.” I hoped others would see this film and take its diagnosis and prescriptions seriously. What came to my mind were the words spoken through Moses to his people: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deut 20:19). Each generation is forced to make this difficult choice:  do we choose the comfortable path that leads to death and destruction, or do we choose the more difficult path that leads to life? My hope and prayer is that our Religious Society will choose life so we and our children will live in peace and harmony with nature and with God.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hundreds gather at the Islamic Center of Southern California to grieve, to express solidarity with the LGTBQ community and to call for gun control in the wake of the tragic Orlando shooting



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On Monday, June 13, I took part in a vigil sponsored by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and the Islamic Center of Southern California. As we reflected on the tragic mass shooting that took place in Orlando, Florida, hundreds of people took part in this media event, including religious leaders of diverse faiths--Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, etc. Many condemned our culture of violence and called for gun control. Most expressed solidarity with the LGTBQ community. It was especially gratifying to hear Muslim leaders speak out so strongly in favor of gay rights since in many Muslim countries gays and lesbians are being persecuted. “There’s no room for LGBTQ violence in any of our faiths,” said Salam Al-Marayati, President of Muslim Public Affairs Council who called what happened in Orlando “the most vicious of hate crimes.”  He passionately denounced ISIS and all it stands for. Check out this article:Voice of America on the ICUJP vigil

I felt honored to be among those who gave a two-minute reflection at this event. Pictured above are many of my dear interfaith friends and colleagues. In the front row: Sihk Nirigian, Rabbi Comes-Daniel playing guitar, Ruth Sharone, Salam Al-Marayati, Grace Dyrness and myself (behind Grace).


Here is what I shared during this gathering:

                                                                                      ******

It was shocking to learn of the tragedy in Orlando, the 133rd mass shooting in the US since January 1st. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims, and also to the LGBTQ community. They need our prayers and our support. Let us not forget to pray as well for the family and friends of the shooter, and of the Muslim community. During these times of violence and fear there is a great temptation to scapegoat and blame whole groups for the actions of a dangerous and demented few. Our Muslim brothers and sisters need our prayers and support. That’s why I am here.

I am here with my friends in the interfaith community to let our fellow Americans know that we stand in solidarity with Muslims who are as appalled as we are by senseless violence. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has not only condemned this act of hatred and terror, it has called on Muslims to donate blood to aid the injured and to extend their giving and prayers for all those affected by this mass shooting, including the LGBTQ community. (See letter below.)

I stand here with people of conscience, people of many faiths, to speak out against all forms of violence and bigotry. Gun violence, and "violence of the tongue."

We should not tolerate intolerance, whether by a follower of ISIS, or by a Presidential candidate who says "Islam hates us" and  Muslims should benot allowed to emigrate to this country.

I stand here as a Quaker and as a Christian who has committed my life to ending war and violence. For the past fifteen years, I have fasted during Ramadan to express solidarity with my Muslim friends and neighbors. I have vowed to continue fasting till there is peace in Israel/Palestine and the Middle East. Through fasting I have come to appreciate even more Jesus words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” Let us redouble our efforts to work for justice and oppose all forms of bigotry so that those who died in Orlando will not have died in vain.


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This is a statement by Salam Al-Marayati, the President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)


Today, our hearts are heavy with the horrific news of a hateful homophobic mass shooting targeting a gay club in Florida, which has taken the lives of 50 people and injured at least 53 others. We join with the LGBTQ community and all Americans in expressing our profound outrage, grief, and condemnation of this sickening act of senseless violence that violates all human decency. Hate, bigotry and violence are our common enemy.
We send our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased and injured, and stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ community as we deal with the aftermath of the despicable crime. We are in touch with federal and local law enforcement about the investigation surrounding this tragedy.
We urge Muslim Floridians to donate blood to aid the injured and to extend their giving and prayers for all those affected by this mass shooting.
MPAC and many other American Muslim groups around the country have strong ties with LGBTQ communities and groups, and have worked together to oppose hate, intolerance, and bullying which impacts both of our communities.
As we all grapple with this senseless tragedy and we learn more about the motives and facts of the case, we will be reaching out to LGBTQ communities with condolences and solidarity. As President Obama said at his press conference this afternoon, let us stand together in our grief and outrage, and our solidarity with the victims and their families.
As Muslims, we believe in religious freedom, civil rights, and human rights. We reject violence, hatred, and discrimination toward anyone on the basis of race, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. We support civil rights for all people. May God guide us all as we strive in His cause.