Friday, October 30, 2015

Delightfully Different Perspectives on the Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City

LA Parliament folks: Deb and Andre Van Zyl,
Shanae Diaz, Jeff Utter, Rev Prof Rose,
Thomas Hedberg
At the Friday Forum of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, eight participants in the Parliament of the World's Religion showed up to "debrief" and share their experiences and perspectives during this amazing five-day gathering of nearly 10,000 religious leaders. Among those present were Paul Nugent (the Aetherius Society), Dick Bunce (retired Presbyterian pastor), Jeff Utter (retired UCC pastor), John Ishvardas Abdullah (Sufi activist), Stephen Longfellow Fiske (musician and interfaith minister), Shiva (Vedanta Society) and Anna Crews Camphouses (United Methodist pastor).

Paul Nugent felt that overall the Parliament was a wonderful experience but it was not without shortcomings,  such as having eight men in suits on stage during the opening session (there was a general consensus this was a bad move). He pointed out that the "global" Parliament was largely English-speaking and mostly American.  What he especially liked was the Langar (free lunch) that the Sikhs provided each day for thousands of participants as a religious service. 

Jeff Utter has attended four Parliaments and observed that the interfaith movement has finally "arrived" and become more widely accepted. He appreciated the various people he encountered and noted how "perplexingly different" people are. He concluded by saying, "I wish a Parliament experience for all of you."

Dick Bunce had a carefully prepared reflection in which he discussed the "new interfaith great awakening" and how perplexingly difficult it was to find one's way around the Salt Palace, opining that it may have been designed by an inebriated architect.  I hope to publish Dick's thoughtful and witty reflection in a later blog. I'm afraid I wouldn't do it justice by paraphrasing it here. 

Stephen Longfellow Fiske spoke passionately about the need for a "revolution of consciousness that sees beyond the walls of separation and religion. That's what the Parliament was about, and what we need to cultivate. It was inspiring to be among brothers and sisters who share that consciousness. How do we magnify that consciouness and share it with the rest of the world?"

John Ishvaradas Abdullah enjoyed the Parliament and took innumerable pictures of himself with his  amazingly diverse array of friends (he is often seen wearing a Sikh turban he donned for this occasion, which the Sikhs provided along with a free lunch). However, John was disturbed that the Imam of Mecca was invited to speak at a plenary session since this spiritual leader is complicit with the many human rights abuses perpetrated by Saudi Arabia. John wrote the following letter in response to the Parliament's self-congratulatory announcement about the grand imam of Mecca.

"GRAND IMAM OF MECCA AT THE PARLIAMENTThis is another first for the Parliament. It is the first time ever that a grand Imam of Mecca will deliver a keynote for the Parliament. It is yet another sign of the growing interfaith movement around the world. The Grand Imam of the holiest mosque of Mecca, Sheikh Saleh Abdullah bin Humaid, has confirmed to be a keynoter at the 2015 Parliament.In the past he has served as the head of all Imams and khateebs of Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has also served as chair of the Saudi Arab Parliament called Majlis AsShura."* * * * * * * * *I am deeply troubled by this announcement ... Are we, at the Parliament, rewarding Saudi Arabia for its dismal Human Rights record? ... Its horrible record of discrimination of faith traditions other than that of the so-called Royal family? Its glorification of public hangings and beheadings? ... Its glorification of disparity of wealth and gender inequality? ... And the list is quite long ...I want to know why this so-called Grand Imam has been invited? And who was involved in the process of inviting him?I would like to raise these questions at the Parliament and invite you to join me ... Thank you ... With love and best wishes, always ...[Please also see on my timeline, the Petition I signed to remove Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Commission and consider signing it if you have not done so already.]

Shiva  spoke next and told us how enraptured he was  by the Parliament. It was his hope and prayer that its spirit would pervade the entire planet.

Anna Crews Camphouse shared her delight that women played such an important role in the Parliament and spoke of her enthusiasm for the interfaith movement. She  has a passionate concern for environmentalism and also attended the Conference "Seizing an Alternative: Towards an Ecological Civilization" that took place in June in Claremont. This Conference was sponsored in part by an environmental group called "Pando Populus," named after a grove of aspen in Utah that is the oldest living creature on earth, nearly 60,000 years old. Camphouse went to see this grove with her friend Bonnie Tarwater, a minister of the church of Mary Magdalene. (I remarked how interconnected we all are, like the roots of Pando Populus: I met Bonnie for the first time at the Parliaent and considered going with this group to see this ancient grove of aspen.)

Lastly, I gave a summary of my experiences at the Parliament, which I have reprinted below.

Afterwards, we had a lively but far too short time of discussion and q and a. We decided to schedule a follow up meeting with Ruth Sharone and Joseph Prabhu when he returns from his teaching stint in Oxford sometime in December. 

A Quaker Perspective on the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions

As a Quaker, I try to find a balance between contemplation and action. I take to heart the words of William Penn, “True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”

During the five days of the Parliament, there was plenty to satisfy the need both for contemplation and for activism. Dozens of religious groups led times of worship, meditation sessions, sacred songs and dances (such as the whirling dervishes), and sacred arts (such as the beautiful sand mandalas of the Tibetan Buddhists). There were also booths with intellectually stimulating books on topics ranging from theology to ecology, from ending war to the spirituality of gardening. Various religious groups led workshops, including my tribe, the Quakers.

Quakers at Sikh Langar
I was pleased that around 50 people took part in the Quaker workshop. It was led by Margaret Frazier (former director of Friends World Committee for Consultation), Barry Crosno (current director of the Friends General Conference [FGC], a national Quaker educational organization), and Dorothy Day (clerk of the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of FGC). After a brief explanation of Quaker history and the Quaker approach to worship, we had a time of silence. This silence was rich and deep, and so was the vocal ministry. After around 40 minutes, people were given a chance to debrief and to ask questions. It was a deeply spiritual time. Many were grateful to have this time of quietness in the midst of so much busyness.

The plenaries focused on the major concerns of our time:  women’s issues; emerging leaders; income inequality; war, violence and hate speech; the climate crisis; and indigenous peoples.

There were hundreds of workshops led by over 1200 presenters.  There were so many that it was often agonizingly difficult to choose.  Here are the workshops that I was drawn to.

Indians at Promised Land workshop
1)                  The Promised Land: Decoding the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, a documentary by Sheldon Wildchild. I was drawn to this workshop since I love Native people and am concerned about their rights. This documentary is a powerful indictment of the Colonial domination system that persists to this day. Indians are calling on the Pope, and other Christians, to repudiate the pernicious idea that because European Christians landed where indigenous people lived, they had a God-given right to own this land. I totally agree with Indians who say that land doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the land. Land isn’t a resource, it’s a source of life. We need to heed the deep wisdom of indigenous people and work with them to end the domination system that is destroying our planet.

2)                  Ending homelessness.  I went to a workshop which featured Pamela Atchinson, a woman from Utah who has been a key figure in ending homelessness. I loved this woman and her spirit. She cares deeply about homeless people, knows many of them as friends, and is committed to ending homelessness in her state. Using the Housing First model, and Rapid Rehousing, Utah has reduced its chronically homeless population 90%, from 2000 to a couple of hundred. And there are no chronically homeless vets in Salt Lake City! I wish I had time to tell you more about Pamela Atchinson. Like Jill, she’s one of my heroes

Women's Plenary "Sheroes" dancing
Rev Ignacio Casuera
3)                  The climate crisis was a major focus of the gathering and I was inspired by the many speakers. I took part in a workshop led by Ignacio and Phil Clayton. Needless to say, it was awesome.  
4) The prophetic power of women. I was inspired and challenged by the powerful women at this session: Kathy Kelly, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Vandana Shiva, Marianne Williamson, Grandmother Mary Lyons, Karen Armstrong, et al. I wish I had time to share with you the powerful messages that these women conveyed. 

5)                   I was also impressed by a workshop in which Karen Armstrong, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and Professor Jonathan Brown dealt with what they called “texts of terror” in the Torah, the Christian Gospel and the Quran. This is a topic that Joseph Prabhu invites us to explore: what is the relationship between violence and religion?

Pastor will Barber
6)                  Finally, I was drawn to a workshop led by Pastor Will Barber of North Carolina. He’s the pastor who help start the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina. As you may recall, the Koch brothers poured tons of money into North Carolina and helped to get elected a Tea Party governor and state representatives who began attacking education and the social services. People of faith began protesting on Monday mornings outside the state house. Eventually, there was a crowd of 100,000 and the political climate in North Carolina began to shift. Will Barber is a leading force behind this movement. Some consider him the Dr. King of our time. He is a powerful Evangelical preacher who preaches the doctrine of social justice—the real “good news” of Jesus Christ. At the end of his message, he amazed us by having an “altar call.” In Evangelical churches, an altar call usually involves calling members of the congregations to come to the front of the church and dedicate, or rededicate, their lives to Christ. Will Barber called us to rededicate our lives to social justice.
This “altar call” was the spiritual highpoint of the Gathering for me, and also for David Hartsough and Eisha Mason. David wants Will Barber to light a fire under the Quakers, and Eisha Mason wants him to light a fire under the AFSC. And I’d like Barber to come out here to light a fire here in LA. We need prophetic fire! Thanks to my wife, and to Evangelical leaders like Will Barber and Jim Wallis (who was also at the Parliament),  I have come to appreciate more and more how Evangelicals touch the heart and transform lives through their inspired preaching.

Finally, the Gathering gave us not only inspiration, but also homework. We were given something called “The Commitment Book.” It contains a call to action from the Dalai Lama and declarations of action on each of the issue areas, from income inequality to climate change and indigenous rights, and it provides space in which to write down our resolve and commitments. As a Quaker, I applaud the Parliament for encouraging us to put our spirituality into action. I hope that the spirit of the Parliament inspires and challenges all of us to redouble our efforts to make this world a more peaceful and just place.
Debra and Andre Van Zyl at their art booth

Eisha Mason

Jay Marshall, Dean of the Earlham School of Religion

Michael Birkel, Quaker scholar

Monday, October 26, 2015

Orange Grove Meeting and Whittier Friends Church connect through World Quaker Day

World Quaker Day - FWCC

As the official representative of my Yearly Meeting to Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), I was intrigued to learn about "World Quaker Day." It was started a year ago by the FWCC as a way to help Quaker around the world to feel more connected with each other. World Quaker Day is intended to deepen the spiritual bonds among Friends who have been historically split along theological lines. I find these words very inspiring:

"As the sun rises in each area of the world, we want to remember that Quakers are worshiping through every time zone, celebrating our deep connections across cultures and Quaker traditions. We are united in love and can accompany each other on this special day that draws us together. As we worship, let us hold each other in prayer and thanksgiving, and let our hymns of praise resound across the world." See World Quaker Day

Orange Gtove Meeting Friends
I was led to involve Orange Grove  Meeting (an historic 100-year-old unprogrammed Meeting in Pasadena, a city 20 miles north east of Los Angeles) in World Quaker Day through an "exchange program" with Whittier First Friends Church, a pastoral meeting 20 miles south east of LA and Pasadena. Friends in these two Meetings have had close ties in the past.  World Quaker Day gave us  an opportunity to renew and deepen our friendships.  

Sarah Rose House and Shayne Lightner of Orange Grove Meeting went to Whittier Friends Church along with Hulda Muaka, a Kenyan Friend who attends Palo Alto Meeting (in Northern California). Hulda spoke and Shayne showed his documentary about the World Conference of Friends in Kenya. During the worship service, the Whittier Friends Church choir sang a hymn in Swahili--which deeply moved Hulda since that is one of her native languages.

Deanna Woirhaye of Whittier Friends Church came to Orange Grove and shared about her
Deanna, Anthony, Jill, Sarah, and Gretchen
experiences at the World Conference. She and I had gotten to know each other at this Conference and have become friends. I shared a slide presentation about World Quaker Day and the FWCC Mexico gathering I attended along with my wife Jill. 

Deanna shared that she was relatively new to Quakerism--she had married a Quaker--when she went to Kenya for the World Conference and it was a life-changing experience.

I explained that "Quakers around the world are incredibly diverse ethnically, racially and theologically, but we are committed to being friends despite our differences and FWCC helps us to stay connected." 

Asked what Quaker around the world have in common, I replied, "I believe that one of the important things that connects Friends world-wide is our Peace Testimony. This was especially clear when we went to Kenya and saw the amazing work that Kenyans are doing to promote peace and nonviolence."
Jill with Kindred Gottlieb and Orange Grove kids

After the adult study, Jill and I talked about FWCC and shared about their experiences in Mexico with the children of the Meeting. There was a lively discussion and the kids  made pictures and learned to say "hello" in French, Spanish, Chinese and Swahili. Jill told the kids what she learned when she went to Mexico for the FWCC gathering, which was followed by a field trip conducted by the Casa de los Amigos. She and I went to little village called Vicente Guerrero, where the Quakers had been involved since the 1980s. There courageous Mexican farm workers had stood up to Monsanto and helped to get GMO corn banned in their state, and eventually all over Mexico  through a class action law suit. The children shared what they learned with the adults at rise of Meeting. Then we met in the library for a group picture. It was a good day!

I'd like to conclude with a poem about Quaker worship that "speaks to my condition" and touches my heart. It was written by a Quaker in Kigali, Rwanda:

Siting .silent .still .waiting
Eyes closed ears open
My heart’s ready my mind’s prepared
I sit and listen not to what is out there but to what is within
A verse is read, a hymn is sang and a ministry is shared

My frown has been turned upright my face has been transformed
I feel peace I feel joy I even feel excited
My morning has turned to light I am the salt of this world
I feel a little proud hope that’s n
ot immoral

Sitting .silent .still .waiting
I stretch my arm out wide and a hand shake is what I receive
I look next to me and a friendly face is what receives mine
I look to my left and a gracious smile is what I see

I look to my right and loving eyes is what meets my gaze

Friends we gather in the light seeing that of God in one another
Seeing that of good in each other
Seeing that of truth
Friends we gather to smile with each other and know that a gift of laughter can bring peace to us all
In my quest for peace I found friends
In my quest for spiritual growth I found the process

Sitting .silent .still .waiting
In silence I listen to my inner being
In a circle I see the truth, simplicity and love
Holding hands we share our diverse cultures in unison
Holding hands we [feel] transforming power
Simplicity, integrity, equality, community and peace is the space we choose to create

We are the seeds of this earth, the light of this community, the salt of this world
We sit in silence to listen to our inward teacher
We wait expectantly, we wait faithfully and we wait meaningfully
We wait for spiritual deepening,
because that is the Quaker way…

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The first day of the Parliament of the World's Religion: the dawn of a new age, or just talk?

In December 2009 I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religion in Melbourne, Australia,               and was so blown away by this experience that I wrote an article for a Quaker magazine                   addressing the question: “Are we on the dawn of a new age of global spirituality?” See  
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is an amazing gathering of between seven and nine thousand religious leaders, activists, scholars, mystics, idealists and seekers from around the globe who have been coming together every six or seven years in a major world city since 1993. These inspiring events have a huge effect on countless people but receive little or no attention in the media. This unique gathering deserves to be better known.
Despite having had a wonderful experience at the Parliament gathering in Melbourne, and having written a book called Quakers and the Interfaith Movement, I was initially hesitant about going to this year’s Parliament in Salt Lake City. I am no longer very active in local Parliament activities. This is partly because my new wife Jill is an Evangelical Christian who works tirelessly for social justice, but doesn’t see the point of interreligious dialogue. She wants to see action, not mere words. (The Dalai Lama agrees with her and keeps insisting that the Parliament move beyond talk.)

In addition, I have taken to heart what the theologian Marcus Borg once said during a national Quaker gathering I attended: “The real challenge is not interfaith dialogue, but intra-faith dialogue.” This is sadly true of Quakers as well as other Christians. In the 1820s American Quakers split into two opposing groups—Hicksite and Orthodox—and continued to fissure throughout the nineteenth century. Ironically, when the first Parliament of the Religions took place at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, two delegations of Quakers showed up, and they weren't on speaking terms! The division between Hicksite and Orthodox Quakers wasn’t healed until 1953—around the same time that the World and National Council of Churches were formed. Today there are still deep divisions among many Christ-centered and Universalist Quakers over matters of theology and issues such as homosexuality and abortion. For this reason, my wife and I are part of an effort (led by the Friends World Committee for Consultation) to foster understanding and dialogue among these diverse Friends.
This is just one of my many commitments. Since “retiring” six years ago, I have been active full-time, working for peace and justice on various boards and for numerous causes. I wasn’t sure I had the time or energy for one more mega conference.
But my heart (and Spirit) knew better. A couple of months ago I went to a gathering of interfaith friends at the home of Rev. Jeff Utter, a dear friend, to meet the new director of the Parliament. We met under a great spreading live oak tree and had wonderful conversations—Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Bahais, and Buddhists laughing and gossiping and sharing stories like a big family reunion. Finding myself among old friends who mean so much to me, I realized that if I did not go to the Parliament, I would feel a huge loss. My heart yearned to connect with my interfaith world once again.  
After registering, I had the opportunity to travel to the Conference with Ignacio Castuera, a retired Methodist pastor who is involved in the Process Theology Center in Claremont and helped organize a conference called “Seizing the Alternative: Towards an Ecological Civilization.” Over 2000 people from all over the world, including China, attended this gathering. As a follow-up, many of its attendees (including me) contributed essays to a book responding to “Laudato Si,” the Pope’s encyclical on the climate crisis. So we had lots to talk about during our eleven hour drive. Ignacio is Mexican who is brilliant and a great storyteller. Andrew Schwartz, a grad student involved in process studies, also had fascinating things to share during our long road trip.
The landscape was also endlessly interesting. As we drove from Claremont, California, to Salt Lake City, Utah, we saw breathtakingly  beautiful desert country from predawn almost to sunset: red rock mesas, drifting clouds of deep rich colors that countless artists have tried in vain to capture, shadows moving across the desert floor, sudden cloudbursts, and grateful cactus and sage turning from gray blue to pale green.  
And then the works of man: giant bill boards and arrogant golden skyscrapers in Vegas, and small oasis desert towns along riverbeds blossoming with greenery.
And finally, heavenly sunsets that are to die for!
We arrived in time for the opening of the Parliament on Thursday night. The Salt Palace was packed with 7000-8000 people, all eagerly anticipating what was to come. The opening grand procession was led by the Indigenous nations of Utah, drumming and dancing on stage, as well as Scouts and other young people with banners and flags.  The Indigenous elders welcomed us to their ancestral land and reminded us to be mindful of our obligation to care for Mother Earth. This has become a tradition at the Parliament—honoring the aboriginal people whose land was stolen from them by Europeans intent on conquest and domination.
After this powerful procession, there was an expectant pause and then a gasp as nine men in business suits walked on stage. They seemed incongruous after the colorful and energizing display. It was very puzzling. Where are the women? Is this some kind of joke? Having men in suits open the Gathering reflected the power structure that is all too common in today’s world. Some were politicians, like Mayors McAdams and Ralph Becker and Governor Gary Herbert. Some, like Indarjit Singh and Rabbi David Saperstein, were internationally known religious leaders. They spoke as important men usually do, with great seriousness, but hardly connected at all with each or with the audience. The exceptions were Saperstein, a powerful orator, and Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid , the executive director of the Parliament, who spoke like a politician, asking us repeatedly, “Are you with me?” He assured us that more than half the speakers at the Parliament would be women, but we wondered: why weren’t more of them in the opening session?

After the important men gave their speeches, others gave prayers, including two women, a Catholic lay person and a Jewish rabbi named Lynn Gottlieb.
One of the first women in history to be ordained as a rabbi, Gottlieb is a passionate, courageous and often controversial advocate for social justice. She began her prayer with a moving chant in Hebrew and then told a story about her trip to Tehran. A rabbi going to Tehran (seen by many as a place hostile to Jews) is already a powerful political statement, but her being woman rabbi adds yet another dimension. Here is what she said:
“I was taught by my ancestors that it isn’t enough just to talk, we must act. So I want to share a story. I was the first woman rabbi to go to Iran ever. There I met many Jews and Muslims. I went to a synagogue and when I left I was greeted by a young Imam who told me, ‘This place was holy to us because it has a well of waters in which the Mufti appeared.’ I said, ‘Al hamdullilah” [‘Praise God’ in Arabic]. He said, ‘You have a custom like this in Jerusalem. We tie red ribbons on the well and you tie notes on the wall in Jerusalem.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This place is holy but it’s not intrinsically holy. The whole earth is holy.’ I said, ‘Yes, we believe the same. Jerusalem is not intrinsically holy, it belongs to everyone. The whole world is holy.’
The imam then quoted a Muslim source saying if you harm one human being you harm the whole world, and Gottlieb responded with a similar quote from the rabbinical tradition. She then turned around and saw 300-400 Jews listening, no doubt in amazement, as a Shia imam and a Jewish rabbi spoke these words of peace. She quoted a rabbi who said, ‘Where is peace? Wherever you let peace in.’ Then she concluded with this powerful prayer:
“So may the wounds of the people of the holocaust and other genocides be healed and may there be justice for my cousins the Palestinians. And may this be the year that there is justice for the people from Ferguson to Gaza and may we bring down all the walls that separate us and make justice happen in our time.”
The crowd went wild at this deeply moving and prophetic words. It was, for me and many others, the high point of the first evening.

Overall, however, the opening to this year’s Parliament was a bit wobbly. As we went back to our motel, I wondered what role women were going to play and whether this year’s Parliament would address the most important issues of our day in a meaningful way.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Can peace-loving people ever support military intervention?

The crisis in Syria and other parts of the Middle East raise troubling questions, such as what can we do to respond to the brutal violence spreading throughout this region? Are there ever times when peace-loving people can support violence in order to prevent genocide or other bloodshed? This was the theme of an ICUJP Justice Luncheon that took place on October 13. My fellow panelists included HUSSAM AYLOUSH, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Southern California, and RABBI DR. ARYEH COHEN, Professor of Rabbinic Literature, American Jewish University. For more info, see  ICUJP Justice Luncheon

It is an honor to be here with such distinguished panelists. I am grateful to have the opportunity to present a Quaker perspective and to share what I have learned from being part of ICUJP. Each Friday morning leading peace activists come and speak to us, and it’s like being in an intensive course on peace studies. Come and join us if you want to learn how to be peace activist!
We’re here today, I think, because all of us are deeply concerned about how to bring peace to the Middle East and other parts of the world. The situation in the Middle East, and especially in Syria, is tragic, and worsening every day. We see ample evidence that violence is not working: hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees fleeing their homeland and risking their lives to escape, testify to what Pope Francis calls “the madness of war.” In the face of such suffering, even peace-loving people are tempted to ask: could the use of force be justified if it could bring about an end to the violence in Syria or in other areas of the Middle East? Could peace-loving people ever justify the use of force for humanitarian purposes, to bring about a speedier end to a conflict and to insure a just outcome.
This is a complex question, to say the least, and many books have been written on this topic. With regards to Syria, ICUJP took the following position two years ago:
Any military attack without the prior consent of Congress would violate our own Constitution, as well as international law.  Committing a crime as a reaction to a crime brings us and the Syrians no closer to peace or justice.  A military strike by the U.S. would not make any Syrians safer. It would not bring the civil war closer to an end. Such a strike, without Security Council approval, would be completely illegal, regardless of any “coalition” Washington may cobble together.  We must demand diplomacy and new talks to end the war, not more military attacks. There is no military solution to the crisis in Syria, and more arms to any side would mean more civilians would be killed.
Any U.S. military intervention holds the threat of unplanned escalation, and ultimately a quagmire. It is much easier to send planes, bombs and missiles in than it is to get out – especially if a plane is shot down or a pilot captured. There is no exit strategy for Syria, and even a “no-fly zone” could easily become a costly quagmire.
The situation in Syria today is full-scale civil war, which denies the people of Syria their right to choose their own government and leaders. Other governments arming and financing the two sides will not restore that right; it will only makes things worse.
Most Americans agreed with ICUJP at this time. The American public made it very clear to their elected officials that they didn’t want to become involved in another war in the Middle East. But with the rise of ISIS, accompanied with beheadings and other atrocities, public opinion shifted; and the US and its Arab allies began bombing Syria in September, 2014, ostensibly to oppose Islamic extremists. The US has been dropping bombs and sending military supplies to Syrian rebels over a year, with no positive results. In fact, US bombing is probably what led Russia to begin bombing Syria, for which the US of course condemns the Russians. As we all know, American bombs are peaceful and well-intentioned, while Russian bombs are devious and self-serving. The goal of US bombing is to destroy ISIS and bring about the fall of Assad. The goal of Russian bombing is to destroy the rebels who oppose Assad. Assad has also done his share of bombing, killing civilians and causing millions to flee Syria. Rebels have also bombed and killed innocent people. Such is the nature of modern warfare. The only ones who benefit from war are the arms manufacturers and undertakers.
ICUJP called for a different approach, negotiations that would bring all the parties together for a political solution. Before dismissing this approach as naïve or unrealistic, let’s look at what military experts and peace experts say about foreign intervention in civil wars. Then let’s look at the alternatives.
Are no fly zones effective? With increasing pressure on President Obama to impose a no fly zone in Syria, the question arises: would such an action save lives in Syria? Would it help bring about a speedier end to this bloody conflict? A 2004 Stanford University paper published in Journal of Strategic Studies, "Lessons from Iraq and Bosnia on the Theory and Practice of No-fly Zones," reviewed the effectiveness of the air-based campaign in achieving military objectives. The paper's findings were:
1) A clear, unified command structure is essential.
2) To avoid a "perpetual patrol problem," states must know in advance their policy objectives and the exit strategy for no-fly zones;
3) The effectiveness of no-fly zones is highly dependent on regional support.
The situation in Syria doesn’t meet the criteria of this study for a successful military operation.
1) First, there is no possibility of “unified command structure” or an internationally sanctioned authority, such as the UN, to enforce a no fly zone. A no fly zone in Syria would be essentially a US action, with support from its Gulf state allies. But this support is not unified: although our Gulf allies officially oppose ISIS, Kuwait and private sources from Saudi Arabia contribute financially to ISIS and Sunni extremists in Syria. All sides in this conflict are using US arms to fight.
2) The US has no clear policy objective or exit strategy for Syria. Is the goal of the no fly zone to bring about regime change? If so, it would put the US in direct opposition to Russia. Is it to crush ISIS? If Assad is deposed, ISIS and other extremist groups would have a golden opportunity to take over Syria.
3) Would the no fly zone have regional support? Iran and Russia strongly oppose a no fly zone imposed by the US. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states would support it. The whole region is deeply divided and oversupplied with lethal weaponry.
As ICUJP’s statement made clear two years ago, attempting to enforce no fly zone in Syria would probably draw the US into a quagmire, possibly even into a war with Russia. This could lead to a world war, possibly even a nuclear war, given the increasing tensions between the US and Russia.
What about US support for “moderate” forces? So far, the track record for US support of moderates has been a disaster. In fact, no one can clearly define what “moderate” means in this context. Factions are fighting each other, and Assad, opportunistically. Assad and his opponents seem to want the same thing: power.
Foreign intervention in civil wars seldom work, as numerous academic studies make clear.  When President Obama felt pressured to bomb Syria in 2013, he commissioned the CIA to study the effectiveness of US intervention in civil wars.  The CIA could cite only one example of “successful” US intervention: the arming of the muhaiyadeen against the Soviets. This intervention eventually led to the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaida.
Does bombing ever help? Western powers claim that NATO bombing of Kosovo in the 1990s saved lives and brought the war to a close. But Noam Chomsky shows that fallacy of this accepted wisdom. David Hartsough, a Quaker peace activist who spoke at ICUJP a couple of weeks ago, spent considerable time in Kosovo and points out that there was a nonviolent resistance movement there that was ignored by Clinton. If the US had supported this nonviolent movement, would bombing have been necessary?
One fact is certain: every US intervention in the Middle East since 9/11 has had disastrous consequences and destabilized the region, causing tragic suffering, loss of countless lives, and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This is a major reason why the Russians support Assad: they fear what would happen if he were deposed and chaos ensued. Would Islamist extremists take over Syria? Look at the track record for violent intervention. Today Libya is a failed state, half of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban, and Iraq is unable to defend itself against ISIS.
If war is still not the answer, what might help bring some measure of stability and justice to this region?
I think the Nobel Prize Committee has given us an answer. They awarded this year’s prize to the so-called Tunisian Quartet. It sounds like a hip Classical music ensemble, but they are actually a coalition of human rights activists, lawyers, trade unionists and business people who helped bring harmony to their discordant country. In 2010 things were so bad in Tunisia that an unemployed street vendor immolated himself as a protest. This sparked an uprising in Tunisia that led to the rise of an extremist Islamist government. The country seemed poised for a civil war when groups of Tunisians called the Quartet began to organize themselves to promote democracy. This broad-based coalition was instrumental in achieving a peaceful transfer of power by advocating dialogue across the political spectrum. They helped to draw opposing parties together. Today Tunisia is only success democratic story in the Middle East.

This is not surprising to those who have studied nonviolence. Social scientists Erica Chenoweth has done a comprehensive study comparing over 200 violent and nonviolent resistance movements in the 20th century. She provides evidence showing that nonviolence succeeded twice as often as violence, and the outcomes were usually better. Violent opposition to oppressive regimes often produced another repressive regime, while nonviolent opposition usually produced a democratic outcome.
These results prove what our faith traditions teach: the way of love is more efficacious than the way of violence and hate. I am a pacifist because I believe that war is not only evil, it destroys those who resort to it. Jesus said: “Those that live by the sword perish by the sword.”  We have abundant evidence to show that Jesus was right. Militarism ultimately destroys societies that are addicted to war. Empires inevitably fall.
Hassan Hatthout, a Muslim leader I deeply respect, called for the abolition of war, based on his astute reading of the Quran as well as his understanding of modern warfare. After pointing out how strict the rules of war were for Muslims, he concludes, “Since modern warfare is so devastating, war itself should cease to be an option in conflict resolution. War should be obsolete just like slavery” (p. 102).
Nadim Nassar, a Syrian priest who spoke at an ICUJP luncheon last year, made it clear that the only way to end the violence in the Middle East is to end the arms trade and funding of belligerent parties, and to focus on negotiation: Violence breeds only violence and revenge. At the moment, both sides are determined to destroy the other; inevitably this will lead to the destruction of the entire country, as we have seen elsewhere. I believe more than ever that the only way to resolve this conflict is for Syrians to meet at the table of dialogue and negotiation, and for regional and international powers to facilitate and encourage this dialogue without actually taking part.”
I’d like to end with my favorite example of how nonviolence and prayer can bring about regime change far more effectively than bombing.
If you have any lingering doubts about the power of nonviolence, or of women, I urge you to watch the documentary called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  It’s about the nonviolent campaign in Liberia that earned two Liberian women a Nobel Peace Prize. Fifteen years ago Liberia was dominated by a dictator named Charles Taylor who was every bit as vicious as Assad. He went to church and professed to be a Christian. He was opposed by war lords who professed to be Muslim, but violated every tenet of Islam in their way of life. Taylor and the war lords recruited child soldiers, gave them drugs and told them to go out and rape and pillage the country. The people of Liberia lived in terror of their own children. Finally, the Christian women of Liberia had enough and decided to launch a nonviolent campaign for peace. They prayed, wore white clothing and demonstrated in public places chanting a simple chant: “We want peace, not war.” The Christian women were joined by Muslim women and this created a broad base of support. These women of faith were amazingly courageous and creative in practicing nonviolent techniques. They even took a page from the Greek playwright’s playbook “Lysistrata” and withheld sex from their husbands unless their husbands opposed war. In the end, the Liberian women prevailed and drove out Charles Taylor and the male war lords. They elected a women president, a United Methodist educated at Harvard. This is the only woman elected democratically in Africa, and she is still in office. This is a huge success story. The women of Liberia deserved a Nobel Prize.

I believe that the women of Liberia and the Tunisian Quartet have demonstrated that nonviolence is the answer, not war. We need to study nonviolence, apply proven techniques, and not forget what our faith traditions teach us. The best way to overcome injustice is through nonviolence and treating others as we would wish to be treated. As the Holy Quran says in Surah 41 (34), “Repel evil with something that is better—and lo! the person you regarded as your enemy will become a true friend.” Turning an enemy into a friend is the goal, and the highest teaching, of all our faiths. It is hard to do, but not impossible. And it is definitely worth trying!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jesus for Revolutionaries: Did Jesus really expect us to love our enemies

On Sunday, October 11, at  10 am, Jill and I will be give a presentation for a group called "Jesus for Revolutionaries" led by Robert Chao Romero, a UCLA professor who has written a remarkable book showing just how radical Jesus is.
We will be discussing Jesus and nonviolence. Our presentation will take place at Agape Court, an affordable housing complex in Pasadena, located at 445 N Garfield Ave. We will focus on the following Bible passage:            
 Matthew 5:44…"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…" These are our notes....

Did Jesus really expect us to love our enemies?

Objective: to help us explore how this commandment can be applied not only in our personal interactions, but also in bringing about systemic change in a violent, unjust society.
1) Jesus’ commandment to “love our enemies” is hard but doable. Gandhi and King called this commandment “nonviolence.”
2)  It works to transform us in our personal relationships.
3)  It works to transform society locally and internationally
4)   It requires much practice and a community that helps us to hone our skills and give us hope and encouragement. King called this the “beloved community.”

Opening (10 minutes): Jill and Anthony share how we have tried to apply this commandment in our personal lives and as activists.

Thank you for asking Jill and me to share with you our reflection on nonviolence.  I believe that nonviolence is the most powerful force in the world, a revolutionary force, and that the teachings of Jesus are grounded in nonviolence. Nonviolence is the way of the cross, the way of self-sacrificial love, that turns people and societies upside down. During this brief time I’d like to share with you how I became an advocate of nonviolence,  and how I have applied nonviolence in my work as a Quaker peace activist. Thirty years ago, when I was teaching English at Carleton College in Minnesota, I was summoned home to take care of my mother, who had terminal emphysema and was given a year to live by her doctor.  My mother and I had a tumultuous relationship, and sometimes we’d get in such bitter fights we wouldn’t speak to each other for days or even months. But we loved each other and I wanted to help her so I decided to move in with my mother and sister to help them out. Being with my mother was so difficult I nearly went crazy. Finally, I asked for God’s help. God led me to the Quakers and it changed my life. The silent worship helped me to get in touch with my deep feelings and yearnings. It helped me to hear the voice of God in myself and others. Little by little I went from being a compulsive talker to a compassionate listener. As I learned how to listen to my mother’s heart—her fears, her desires, her hopes—our relationship improved. I was finally able to love and help her to pull her life together. She lived not one but seven years, and we never had a bitter quarrel during that whole time period. This experience convinced me that compassionate listening is a powerful tool for peacemaking. If my mother and I could become peaceful, so could Russians and Americans, or Israelis and Palestinians. Quakers also taught me about what they call the Peace Testimony. In 1660, the Quakers renounced violence and became a Peace Church.  For Quakers, the Peace Testimony is not simply passively refusing to engage in war and violence, it also means reaching out to one’s “enemies”  in love and trying to connect with “that of God” in them. During the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and the threat of nuclear Armageddon loomed large, I became involved in Soviet-American reconciliation work (sometimes called “citizen diplomacy”). I became editor and publicist for a book project that was jointly edited and published in the Soviet Union and the US. It was first such collaboration and it brought together leading writers in both countries. This project was not just a literary one, its purpose was to createdtrust and understanding. It also gave me the opportunity to witness to my faith. Many Russian writers wanted to know about Christ and God and I gladly shared with them. I believe that citizen diplomacy like ours played a major role in helping to end the Cold War.

After 9/11, I felt terrible fear and anxiety about where the world and my country were heading. The words of scripture came to me over and over again: “Perfect love casts out fear.” What did that really mean? How could I practice perfect love in the face of terrorism? To purify my heart, I fasted during Ramadan and read the Quran to learn more about Islam. Then I went to mosques to meet my Muslim neighbors. They were so amazed they invited me into their homes. As I got to know my Muslim neighbors, I realized that Muslims are not terrorists and they are “the enemy.” They are our brothers and sisters, made in the image in the God just like us. I became involved in the interfaith peace movement and took to heart the words of the Catholic theologian Hans Kung who said: “There can be no peace without peace among the religions. And there can be no peace among the religions without dialogue. And there can be no dialogue without a common ethic.” The “common ethic” that all religions share is the Golden Rule: treat others they way you want to be treated.

During this time, I edited a book by my friend and mentor Gene Hoffman who pioneered in Compassionate Listening. Gene had studied pastoral psychology and applied it to the peace movement. She realized that many peace people had unresolved inner conflicts. (Raise your hand if you have inner conflicts.) She also realized that terrorists are not monsters, they are people with grievances they feel will never be heard. Terrorists also have unhealed wounds from past traumas. To help them move beyond fear and terrorism, we need to listen to them compassionately. Gene developed techniques called Compassionate Listening that have been successfully used in Israel/Palestine and other conflict zones. In 2006 I went to Israel/Palestine as part of the Compassionate Listening Project and listened to Israelis and Palestinians. We went to a settlement, a kibbutz, a refugee camp. We talked, and most importantly, we listened to all sides. Such listening is an important form of peacemaking. It creates trust and understanding.  Listening from the heart, especially to those we disagree with, is a form of peacemaking rooted in the commandment: “Love your enemies.” Learning to be a compassionate listener is hard work and requires training, but it’s worth it. It has not only helped me in my work as a peace activist, it has helped me be a better husband!

Jill: College: Nuclear Freeze (a group support, today Golden Rule); Campus minister: Central American Study group; Seminary: Dr. Vernon Grounds; Pasadena First Baptist: Dr. Glen Stassen (the support of a group) and peacemaking. Marriage: practicing peacemaking—Anthony married someone a lot like his mom—a nuclear personality.

Possible Songs (5): “Lay Down my Sword and Shield Down by the Riverside,”

(10 min) In practicing “nonviolence” in one’s personal life.

Show picture: What is this animal known for? What are the negative and positive aspects of its character?

We have a hard time with certain personalities. Which animal do you most identify with in your own way of relating? Which one is hardest for you to deal with?  Describe a time in which you had a conflict or painful disagreement with someone and instead of reacting with anger or judgment, you tried to have understand the positive aspects of that person’s negative traits and then you able to have a conversation with that person and understand their point of view. What happened?

Lectio divina/meditation on the prayer of St Francis (15 minutes).

(10 min?) Discussion of how nonviolence is applied locally and internationally through faith-based lobbying and organizing, AVP, Nonviolent Peace Force, etc. (10 minutes)

In my five minutes, I’d like to talk about David Hartsough and nonviolent resistance. The principles of nonviolence are grounded in having “the courage to love” (MLK’s term) when confronted by injustice. Speaking truth to power in love. Nonviolent campaigns work better than violent campaigns because they have a broad base of support and morally disarm their opponents. How can you kill crowds holding flowers or candles? This is based on Jesus’ principle of “walking the extra mile,” disarming your opponent by doing what is not expected.

Song (5 minutes): “Christ in Me.”
 Discussion of how nonviolence is applied locally and internationally through faith-based lobbying and organizing, AVP, Nonviolent Peace Force, etc. (10 minutes)

During my first talk, I discussed Compassionate Listening as a peacemaking tool. Now I’d like to talk about nonviolent resistance. Recently Jill and were visited by a dear friend named David Hartsoug. David is a Quaker, a preacher’s kid, and an amazing practitioner of nonviolent resistance. I highly recommend his book “Waging Peace”: it’s a real page turner. David met MLK when he was 15 years old and decided to join the Civil Rights movement as a teenager. He went to Howard University, one of the few whites to do so, and became involved with the lunch counter sit ins in Maryland and Virginia. He learned how to respond to hatred with love. At one point during a sit in in Virginia an angry white man threatened to kill David with a switchblade knife. With the man holding a knife poised over his heart, David prayed and the following words came to his lips, “Do whatever your conscience tells you to do and I will try to love you.” The man’s jaw dropped and he walked out, a changed man. From this moment on David became convinced that nonviolent resistance is more powerful than any knife or other weapon. For the next fifty years David took part in every nonviolent movement. He and traveled all over the world, to Germany, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Ten years ago he started the Nonviolent Peace Force and recently started a new initiative called “World Beyond War.” David believes that war can be abolished, just like slavery was made illegal, and he has brought together some of leading peace activists, scholars and experts to find ways to transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace. I am working with this group and others to end war. I believe that nonviolent resistance is what Jesus meant when he told us to “turn the other check.” He didn’t tell us to run away or to be doormats. He told us to stand up to violent people with courageous love and faith, like David Hartsough did, and trust that love will prevail.

A lot of research has been to done to show us that nonviolent resistance works, and  we can move from a war system to a peace system. I’ll share some of these books with you later. For now I’d like to share two stories of how nonviolence works. First, I’d like to lift up the women of Liberia who helped to end the Civil War there.

If you have any doubts about the power of nonviolence, or of women, I urge you to watch the documentary called  “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  It’s about the nonviolent campaign in Liberia that earned two Liberian women a Nobel Peace Prize. Ten years ago Liberia was dominated by a vicious dictator named Charles Taylor. He went to church and professed to be a Christian. He was opposed by war lords who were mainly Muslim. Taylor and the war lords recruited child soldiers, gave them drugs and told them to go out and rape and pillage the country. The people of Liberia lived in terror. Finally, the Christian women of Liberia had enough of this war madness and decided to launch a nonviolent campaign for peace. They prayed, wore white clothing and demonstrated in public places chanting a simple chant: “We want peace, not war.” The Christian women were joined by Muslim women and this created a broad base of support. The women were amazingly courageous and creative in practicing nonviolent techniques. They even took a page from the Greek playwright’s playbook “Lysistrata” and withheld sex from their husbands unless their husbands opposed war. In the end, the Liberian women prevailed and drove out Charles Taylor and the male war lords. They elected a women president, a United Methodist educated at Harvard. This is the only woman elected democratically in Africa, and she is still in office. This is a huge success story. The women of Liberia deserved a Nobel Prize.

This week we learned that a group of  Tunisian peacemakers won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010 things were so bad in Tunisia that an unemployed vegetable vendor immolated himself, burned himself alive, as a protest. This sparked an uprising in Tunisia that led to the rise of an extremist Islamist government. The country seemed poised for a civil war when groups of Tunisians began to organize themselves to promote democracy. Labor leaders, human rights activists, lawyers and a business organization got together and were instrumental in achieving a peaceful transfer of power by advocating dialogue across the political spectrum. They helped to draw opposing parties together. Today Tunisia is only success democratic story in the Middle East.

 All of the violent campaigns, all of the violent interventions by foreign powers, have failed miserably, in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria. Not all nonviolent campaigns have succeeded, of course. Egypt didn’t turn out well, but at least there wasn’t a lot of bloodshed and refugees fleeing the country. So I’d call Egypt a partial success and Tunisia a success.

Our country teaches us that we often need violence to bring about freedom or security, but this is a lie. Erica Chenoweth, a social scientist, did rigorous study comparing over 200 violent and nonviolent movements in the 20th century. Her careful research shows that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent ones. And the results of nonviolent campaigns are usually more democratic and lasting than violent ones.

So the good news is that Jesus’ nonviolent methodology works better than violence.  Nonviolent campaigns work better than violent campaigns because they have a broad base of support and morally disarm their opponents. It is difficult for armed supporters of an unjust regime to fire on crowds of people holding flowers or candles. If they do, public opinion turns against the unjust regime and sooner or later they tend to fall.  Jesus advocated this principle as a way to oppose the Roman empire. He called it “turning the other cheek” or “walking the extra mile,” disarming your opponent by doing what is not expected—responding not with fear or violence, but with courage and love.

We Americans need to learn this lesson and apply it in our foreign policy as well as domestically. Guns don’t make us safer. In fact, Jesus tell us, “Those who live by violence die by violence.” What makes us safe is having good relations with our neighbors, and with other countries in the world. This is true Christian realism.

In your five minutes, maybe you can talk about your work (democracy is a form of non-violent direct action that empowers a broad base that in turn changes the fabric of society)
Example from my experience—Inclusionary Housing Ordinance
Example in my book—the Nehemiah Housing Strategy in New York.
Also Walter Wink’s “Engaging the Powers.” Examples of nonviolence that work in the Bible and in history. (Moses--let my people go, Esther--saved her people from destruction, the prophets—all spoke to kings and those in authority, Jesus confronted the authorities 27 times).  Shepherd and sheep leading the way—a little child will lead them—Natalie Brown

Sharing of resources on nonviolence (5 minutes).

(5 min) Song:  “Lift Every Voice in Song.”

Jill: Close with prayer for ourselves, our communities, our nation and our world. (10 minutes).