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If We Don’t Teach Peace, What Are We Teaching?

Nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can affect the world around them.

Earlier this year, I walked into the university classroom where I teach a course in Peace Studies. Seated in a circle around the room were seniors just shy of graduating. They would soon become doctors, social workers, teachers, community organizers, executives, and leaders.

To open our semester together, I wrote a simple, three-word question on the board.

What is peace?

Silence. Stumped by this tiny question, no one spoke. They did not have an answer, and I would later discover why: It was the first time in their life a teacher had asked them to define peace.

Each year in the United States, millions of students graduate from high school and college, their diplomas certifying years spent studying the principles of science, mathematics, literature, and writing. These are the subjects we value as a society, and therefore we insist that our young people develop knowledge in these areas. Imagine if we graduated seniors who couldn’t read, or do simple math, or write basic paragraphs. Outrageous, right?

Yet these very same students will graduate without ever once studying conflict resolution. During their entire academic career, they will never be required to take a course on making peace, building community, or forgiving an enemy. The principles of violence and nonviolence will not be analyzed, the philosophy of Dr. King will not be discussed, and satyagraha—the practice of nonviolent resistance, which Gandhi called the most powerful force in the universe—will remain ignored.

We are neglecting to teach our students the most fundamental and urgent lesson: how to make peace in the world around them. And by forgetting to do so, we are promoting violence. As my friend and fellow peace educator Colman McCarthy once said, “If we don’t teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

So each day, in the classrooms where I teach middle school, high school, and college students, I work to counter the violence, spark the conscience, and liberate the thinking mind. I teach peace.

Dismantling the Violence

At the most basic level, to teach peace is to teach that violence does not have to happen.

For too long in the West, we have acted as if violence is inevitable, a natural part of the human condition that sticks to us like the skin on our back. Nonviolence is written off as an afterthought—viewed, at best, as do-nothing-passivity and, at worst, as a long-haired fantasy of Woodstock. Responding to violence with violence is seen as the only practical solution, and the result is greater violence.

But this is changing.

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the globe now offer degrees in Peace Studies, with some universities reporting enrollment size doubling in the past few years. At the heart of each program is the declaration that nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can live and affect the world around them. Violence and its dynamics are examined alongside the history, philosophy, and principles of nonviolence. The treasure chest of stories is opened, and like some reverse-Pandora’s Box, the ideals of peace-making are unleashed onto classrooms as students study the examples of Cesar Chavez and Vandana Shiva, Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, Gandhi and Gene Sharp.

From a broader perspective, this academic trend towards peace-making is part of the widespread awakening—what David Korten calls “The Great Turning”—happening in response to the problems of our time.

Those problems are many.

The United States leads the First World in the following categories: prison population, drug use, child hunger, poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancies, firearms death, obesity, diabetes, recorded rapes, use of antidepressants, income disparity, military spending, production of hazardous waste, and the poor quality of its schools (Paul Hawken, who published this list in Blessed Unrest, also points out that the U.S. is the only country in the world besides Iraq with metal detectors in its schools).

For the peace educator, this list is no surprise. Violence spreads like a virus. Contagious by nature, it follows a spiritual law that says that violence plus violence only equals more violence. Violence can never lead to peace, and the more we respond with violence, the more violence we create.

So teaching peace means dismantling this list. One great crowbar comes simply through asking questions.

To Teach Peace is to Teach Gandhi

“Could nonviolence have stopped Hitler and the Nazis?” I ask middle school students in my U.S. history course. Having already examined the philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the students create imaginary European nations whose mission is to develop nonviolent strategies to stop invading Nazis. After they present their plans, I tell them about the citizens of Denmark—so many of them teenagers barely older than my students—who monkeywrenched the entire Nazi plan through nonviolent noncooperation.

During our year together, these 12-year olds have surveyed the landscape of U.S. history. But where most history courses ignore the deep tradition of American nonviolence, my curriculum examines Jeremiah Evarts as well as Andrew Jackson, AJ Muste as well as Harry Truman, Henry David Thoreau as well as Teddy Roosevelt. My course features nonviolence alongside every story of violence. Students develop a long exposure to the people in our history who have resisted violence by following their conscience.

“Which is stronger: love or hate?” I ask high school students in my Democracy Studies course. We’ve already finished the biography of Gandhi, discussing at length the ideas behind satyagraha. Gandhi is the Thomas Edison of nonviolence—he switched on our understanding of this universal force more than anyone prior, and to study and teach peace is to study and teach Gandhi.

Gandhi was skilled at civil disobedience, but he was even better at promoting practical solutions. Gandhi resisted injustice by creating alternatives, what he called “constructive programmes.” His favorite was the spinning wheel, which allowed Indians to forgo British cloth while actively spinning their own.

With a nod to Gandhi’s idea, I ask my students to create their own constructive programmes. Find a problem in the world around you, I tell them, and then create its solution. Further freeing them from traditional academia, I liberate the grade book and allow them to assign themselves a grade. They dive in, and create some powerful actions.

 

  • One student handed out copies of Gene Sharp’s revolutionary (and in some countries, illegal) 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action to people on the streets.
  • One student created dialogue between two opposing groups—the mayor and some frustrated citizens.
  • One student served vegetarian pizza to the homeless community in town.
  • One student planted a garden.
  • One student began providing food and clean water to migrant workers crossing the brutal desert. She was arrested for her work.
  • One student began collecting long-distance phone cards for U.S. troops overseas.
  • One student forgave her enemy.
  • One student began to pray and meditate regularly.

Schools do not have to create a formal Peace Studies course. Just like writing or note-taking, it is an academic skill that can be infused into almost any current course.

But when schools do formalize a Peace Studies program, the door opens wider. At the university where I teach Peace Studies, students read a biography of Gandhi and then Michael Nagler’s formative The Search for a Nonviolent Future. We spend many days wrestling over the practice of forgiveness before measuring the effect inner peace has on external circumstances. Understanding the practice of war-making consumes several weeks, as we examine the media’s role in promoting war, the reasons why war gives us meaning (in the words of Chris Hedges), and also a presentation from local U.S. Army colonels.

Peace Studies does not shirk away from opposing viewpoints. It does not practice partisanship. The study of peace is radical in that all are welcome, for peace is about more than politics. I can teach for months without ever speaking about George Bush and Barack Obama or red and blue states. Peace Studies gets underneath the surface, going deeper into what it means to be human.

And that’s why so many students cram into my classroom to take these courses. Not because of me, but because they are so hungry to study peace.

“I Understand What Making Peace Is All About’’

A few years ago, a student of mine who delved as deeply into understanding peace as anyone I’ve ever taught was participating in a march for reproductive rights in Washington. Thousands were there, including the counter-protestors shouting from the barricaded sidewalk. One man in particular caught her attention.

“Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’’ he shouted, staring right at her.

Breathing deeply, she put down her sign (it read: “Equal Rights for All”) and walked over to him, smiling softly. She put her arms around him and hugged. Then she walked back, picked up her sign and kept marching.

The story does not end here. Months later, at another march, she spotted him again. Again, she was marching, he was shouting. But their eyes locked, and in that moment, all the animosity melted away. He stopped shouting. He softened. He may have even smiled.

“It was in that moment that I understood what making peace was all about,’’ she later told me.

And that is why I teach peace.

David Cook wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He lives with his wife and two small children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he teaches courses on Peace Studies, Democracy Studies, and American Studies. He received his masters degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College, and his work has been featured in The Sun, Geez and truthout.org. He can be reached at david.cook@mail.com.

May 15th, 2015 at 10:18 am

The Power of Love and Compassion to Stop the Violence and Start the Healing

By Jon Ramer 

Shared with permission of CompassionGames.org

Baltimore’s riots this week have highlighted the growing unrest and injustices across America. Many are being forced to rethink assumptions we’ve made about race, power, civility, and compassion.  We seem to have forgotten concepts like fairness and justice as a nation. Without this moral compass to guide us, what’s left?

As video after video surfaces of young black males being brutally treated by police, it makes us wonder if racial discrimination and police brutality can now be tolerated in our society. Empathizing with the police and continuing to ignore the root causes of these problems is all too easy. Mainstream media seems to cater to our worst fears and instincts by amplifying the inexcusable behavior of a few.

From the New York Times:

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, delivering the eulogy of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, spoke of the plight of poor, young black men like Mr. Gray, living “confined to a box” made up of poor education, lack of job opportunities and racial stereotypes — “the box of thinking all black men are thugs and athletes and rappers.”

“He had to have been asking himself: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” Mr. Bryant said. “He had to feel at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him.”

As his voice rose to a shout, and the cheering congregation rose to its feet, Mr. Bryant said that black people must take control of their lives and force the police and government to change.

“This is not the time for us as a people to be sitting on a corner drinking malt liquor. This is not the time for us to be playing lottery,” he said.

“Get your black self up and change this city,” he said. “I don’t know how you can be black in America and be silent. With everything we’ve been through, ain’t no way in the world you can sit here and be silent in the face of injustice.”

What a powerful call to justice. However, it isn’t just a call to African-Americans. If we see ourselves as one multi-cultural society we need a collective action that will lead to effective change. What is society’s role in providing a way out of the poverty, hopelessness and despair that these young men seem to be stuck in?

The pathway out used to be as simple as getting a good education and hard work that might ultimately earn you a fair shot at the American dream. But with the rise in the cost of education and the lack of decent paying jobs, this no longer seems like a winning strategy.  We need to do better as a society, even if it’s more difficult. We need to relearn how to respect our differences and work together: to address these challenges with effective policies, solutions, and on the ground actions that change lives.

The Power of Compassion and Our Interrelatedness

According to Navajo Medicine Woman Patricia Anne Davis,  “the word ‘compassion’ can best be translated into English using the word ‘proxy’, meaning that another person can experience another person’s experience because we are all related by our inherent divinity given to each person equally. It is an all-inclusive experience where there is unity in the natural order and everyone is interconnected.”

We are interconnected to the youth and to the police. Can we find compassion for the police officers who are upholding the law and for the black youth who have the cards unfairly stacked against them?

The challenges we face are personal and spiritual as well as economic, cultural and political. Compassionate action can build this bridge. The role of compassion is not only vital in our lives, it is a key to understanding the circumstances of every perspective and finding a way forward that is just and can heal the rifts in our communities.

In Detroit, Michigan a team called #MetroDetroit participated in the Compassion Games “Love This Place! Serve the Earth Week” Coopetition from April 18 through April 26.

We recently wrote a news post about the organizer of the team Reverend Jim Lee of Renaissance Unity Church titled “Love The Hell Out of Metro Detroit: From the Blame – Shame Game to the Compassion Games.”

metrodetroit2Lee is “rewiring the cellular memory to a place of forgiveness so his city can thrive – so the beloved community can emerge.” Rev. Lee wants to be very clear, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting the past. It doesn’t change what happened. What changes is the interpretation and perception with a new quality, a new tone can emerge to heal us today, so we can move on to the beloved community.”

Lee believes that his community can revitalize and empower itself by bringing the power of love and compassion to bear on their everyday life. Lee says he wants to “Love our way through the pain. Let’s make the pain the lesson, not the reason.”

The #MetroDetroit team committed to participate in the Love This Place! Story Mapping challenge and set out to identify many of the places in Detroit that they cherish and love. The goal was to heighten appreciation of their physical environment, their sense of social cohesion, and their experience of safety and peace within their neighborhoods.

We are happy to report that team #MetroDetroit posted more photo stories than any other city in the world!  Congratulations #MetroDetroit!  You can see all the story photos here.metrodetroit3

We can learn so much from this remarkable team and their accomplishments. We can come together to make just and lasting change by building cultures of compassion and kindness. There are over 300 cities around the world that have embarked on compassionate city campaigns. As people of this remarkable time – filled with great challenges and surprising opportunities – what do we choose?

The Compassion Games supports communities committed to creating cultures that are safer, kinder, and better places to live. You can find out more here www.compassiongames.org Game on!

Jon Eliot Ramer is an American entrepreneur, civic leader, inventor, and musician. He is co-founder of several technology companies including Ramer and Associates, ELF Technologies, Inc., (whose main solution, Serengeti, was purchased by Thomson Reuters) and Smart Channels. The designer and co-founder of several Deep Social Networks, he is the former Executive Director of the Interra Project, and a co-founder of Ideal Network, a group-buying social enterprise that donates a percentage of every purchase to a non-profit or school. Ideal Network is a certified B-Corp that was recognized as “Best in the World for Community” in 2012 by B-Labs. He is also the designer and co-founder of Compassionate Action Network International, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Seattle, that led the effort to make the city the first in the world to affirm Karen Armstrong‘s Charter for Compassion. Most recently, Ramer conceived of and produced the “Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest.” 

May 4th, 2015 at 9:14 am

Homelessness: How Can We Help?

By Parliament Staff

Homelessness remains a pressing issue in America. According to the most recent data available, at least 100 million people around the globe are considered homeless. More than 3.5 million people residing in the United States are homeless and 25% are under the age of 18. Whereas homelessness is rooted in poverty in countries like India, Nigeria, and France, the U.S. has seen an increase in homelessness due to a variety of factors. They include – but are not limited to – veterans returning from armed conflict overseas, the 2007 housing crisis which left thousands of families without homes, and those suffering from mental illness without access to housing and necessary treatment.

Homeless prevention legislation in America has yielded mixed results. Cook County (IL) Sheriff Tom Dart halted foreclosure-based evictions during the winter of 2008 to protect rent-paying tenants, consequently compounding problems by making lenders less likely to extend loan payments to the most vulnerable.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, an alternative method was employed. The city provided its chronically homeless individuals with housing and counseling, saving the state an average of $8,000 per homeless person. By utilizing this program model, homelessness in Salt Lake decreased by 72% between 2005 to 2014.

In other states, some governments are criminalizing the homeless by passing reactive legislation. The cost of enforcing the criminalization of homelessness costs more than housing the homeless. The practice spars public outcry because it is ultimately worsening the situation. This is why community groups and interfaith leaders are stepping in to help fill the gaps.

Interfaith groups have provided social services to assist the homeless through food banks and food drives, soup kitchens, shelters, and even counseling and rehabilitation. In order to address the issue proactively,  interfaith groups are now also working to prevent homelessness. An interfaith group in St. Petersburg, Florida is finally able to launch a rotating shelter for homeless families after establishing the program within the last several years. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, community leaders held a forum between the homeless community and residents that want to help them. By opening the dialogue in this manner, both homeless advocates and those they serve have a voice.

Without discussion and brainstorming, problems like homelessness cannot be successfully addressed. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs donated $3 million to Interfaith Community Services to further the organization’s mission of erasing veteran homelessness. Right now, an Interfaith Resource Center is planning the construction of a year-round overnight shelter for the homeless in Columbia, Missouri. Additionally, a couple in Athens, Georgia is hosting a week of fun activities and learning opportunities to help raise funds for Interfaith Hospitality Network Athens, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless.

Helping the homeless remains a major priority for faith communities. Although homelessness may continue to be a problem in the future, the call to “live compassionately,” as Karen Armstrong says, means one should remain uncomfortable so long as his or her fellow brother or sister is suffering. Interfaith cooperation can achieve a sharp reduction in homelessness if communities continue to think and act together. All faith traditions are called to serve the needy in their doctrines and teachings. Presently, tracking homelessness remains a challenge for agencies and governments. But with the assistance of faith communities’ cooperation, effective and innovative models for eradicating homelessness can be implemented.

Parliament interns Shani Belshaw, Nafia Khan, and Daniel Wolff contributed to this article.

April 24th, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Interfaith Activity Is Growing

From The Bellingham Herald

On Sept. 11, there was a remarkable gathering in Olympia. With only a few days’ notice, a standing-room-only crowd assembled at the Unitarian Universalist Church to stand with our Muslim neighbors and to listen to Imam Nabil read from the Quran.

Interfaith friends from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and other communities were present, and many held copies of their personal Quran. Following the translation, reading and comments on the text, an opportunity was presented for clergy to speak. Later, lay people were asked to comment. A general spirit of oneness and support pervaded the sanctuary. Without the threats to burn the Quran by a Florida-based minister, it’s not likely that this gathering would have happened. Those attending saw firsthand how threats and hatred can catalyze a spirit of curiosity, camaraderie and support. How many Americans met on or around the anniversary of 9/11 to stand with our Muslim neighbors?

It’s noteworthy that media coverage for the pastor threatening to burn the Quran appeared in newspapers, on the Internet and television for days. The gatherings for interfaith support representing hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States barely received a column on the back page of newspapers or comment on television news programs, yet the emergence of meaningful interfaith gatherings is a reality in our world.

On Dec. 3, 2009, 10 months earlier and halfway around the world, I was present for the opening of the Parliament of World’s Religions, in Melbourne, Australia. Our gathering was a long-delayed vision of religious leaders who attended the first of these four gatherings in Chicago in 1893. At that time, to even consider religious leaders from distinctly different faith traditions meeting together, talking together, praying together and discussing the role both of themselves and their religions in the major issues of the world, was at best fanciful. Perhaps more to the point: unfaithful, undesirable and dangerous.

But 116 years and four parliaments later, more than 6,000 attendees arrived in all their costumery despite the distance, despite the recession, despite the political tensions between countries. Greetings were shared across the vast spaces of the brand new convention center in Melbourne as Sikhs and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, Christian and Buddhist greeted one another, friends from previous gatherings.

Monks created their sand mandalas. A scroll to be delivered to the Copenhagen Climate Summit spanned 40 feet or more, ready to receive signatures. We ate together, laughed and prayed together. We watched one another’s documentaries and listened to one another’s hearts. We listened, not to convert or change, but to understand. Aware that we share the common ground of love and kindness, we discussed major issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples, availability of water, peace on the planet and climate change.

The program book we received had 360 pages and 650 sessions. There was a lot to talk about and even more to learn from one another. The president of the United States sent a team to ask questions and learn how to support peace through the wisdom of faith leaders and programs already in place. Interestingly, most of the news coverage focused on a small group of people outside the convention protesting the use of public space for religious use.

Click here to read the entire article.

CPWR Chair Emeritus Rev. Bill Lesher Weighs In on Park51 Debate

FROM FIRE STORM TO ILLUMINATION:

Interreligious Reflections on the New York Center and Mosque Project

William Lesher, Chair Emeritus, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

What some in the media have referred to as “a fire storm” over the mosque debate in lower Manhattan is turning out to be a catalyst to launch a much needed national discussion (and tutorial) on Muslims in America.

Since this discussion was intensified by the exaggerated rhetoric and distorted claims of Pamela Geller, a conservative blogger in her post on May 6, a consensus seems to be forming among constitutionally committed citizens across the political spectrum.  Fair-minded people are agreeing that the Imam and his wife in charge of the mosque project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Daisy Khan and their supporters, have every right to expand their center and include a new worship space on the site.  They have worked from and worshipped in this place for many years, two blocks from the World Trade Center disaster.  Even though current polls claim that 7 out of 10 Americans oppose the project, opponents can hardly argue that the project planners do not have a constitutional right to carry out their vision.  As one letter to the NY Times editor put it, “As a legal matter, there is nothing to debate.  If a church or synagogue could be constructed on this site, so may a mosque.  Period. The first amendment means at least that.”

The location of the proposed Islamic Center touches the raw nerve that has elicited often shrill claims ranging from insensitivity to the families of the 9/11 victims and desecration of hallowed ground to an international Islamic conspiracy to subvert the nation.  Given the fact that the vast majority of Americans know little of Islam and know almost nothing of the history and intentions of the center planners in lower Manhattan, it is not surprising that the barrage of misinformation that initiated and continues to stoke the current national discussion has filled this vacuum and created the sharp negative and often heated responses.

But now, as the national discussion continues, one might cautiously hope, even anticipate, that the time is right for a nation-wide learning process to unfold.  This could become a time for Americans of fairness and goodwill to take the time to listen and to learn from people in the interreligious community and from Muslims themselves about the importance, the variety, and the beauty of this second largest religion in the world. And to hear as well, about the healing potential for having a thoroughly American expression of Islam close to the site of Ground Zero.

The Interreligious Movement in the US and around the world has been building bridges of understanding among religious communities, including Islam, for the last few decades.  Many religious people in the US are affiliated with local interreligious councils or with national and international organizations like United Religions Initiative (URI) or Religions for Peace (RFP) or have participated in one of the four modern Parliaments of the World’s Religions (PWR) with which I am affiliated. These people have led the way in this historic movement to develop knowledge, understanding, and respect for religious and spiritual communities of the world, many of whom have growing numbers of adherents in our towns and cities, states and nation.

People affiliated with the growing interreligious movement know about the great diversity that exists within Islam, not unlike the wide spectrum of beliefs, traditions and behaviors among different sectors in the Christian and Jewish communities. They know what William Dalrymple wrote about in an illuminating Op-Ed piece in the New York Times entitled, “The Muslims in the Middle,” that Islam is not a monolithic religion.  Rather it is as complex as Christianity and Judaism, with as many, perhaps more divisions, sects and traditions, some in opposition to others, as is true of every major religious group. Dalrymple helpfully teaches in his article how “Feisal Abdul Rauf…is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahabism of the jihadists.  His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God and reconciliation…..But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshipping apostate…”

Members of the interfaith movement are also leading the resistance to the resisters and need to do so more and more.  In another New York Times article describing protests against mosques in several communities around the country, Laurie Goodstein focuses on Temecula, Ca.  There she writes: “In late June …members of a local Tea Party group took dogs and picket signs to Friday prayers at a mosque that is seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby.”  She goes on to say that an estimated 20 – 30 people turned out to protest the mosque.  But then Ms. Goodstein states what many of us think is the real story in Temecula, “that the protesters were outnumbered by at least 75 supporters” who affirm the right of the Muslim congregation in Temecula to expand their mosque.  Something good is happening in Temecula when, less then a decade after 9/11, local citizens know and act on the difference between their mainstream Muslim neighbors and the terrorists whose actions violated the most basic tenants of Islam. It’s too bad that the NY Times headlined the Goodstein article, “Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Resistance” and missed the positive thrust of the Temecula story.

Speaking from the experience of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Spain focused major attention on the issue of Religiously Motivated and Experienced Violence.  After several days of intense workshop discussions, participants from across the interreligious spectrum, agreed that the minimum responsibility of religious communities  is to come to the aid of any religious community whose house of worship is the target of an attack, vandalism, threat or destruction.

The recent Parliament in Melbourne, Australia in 2009 featured a strong focus on IslamImam Feisal Abdul Rauf himself was a major presenter leading or participating in six interreligious programs with the following titles: “Applying Islamic Principles for a Just and Sustainable World”;  “Sacred Envy Panel: Exploring What We Love about Our Own Faith, What We Admire in Others and What Challenges Us in Both”;  “Purifying the Heart and Soul through Remembrance of Allah”; “Dhikr As An Islamic Devotional Act for Inner Peace”; “How Islam Deals with Social Justice, Gender Justice and Religious Diversity”; and “Islam and the West: Creating an Accord of Civilizations.”  How much could such a teacher of Islam help to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding about this great faith tradition by continuing his long and much admired ministry in lower Manhattan where he has built an international reputation for promulgating a modern version of Islam?

So, while some call it a “fire storm” and do their best to make it so, there are other voices that seem to be gaining strength.  Among the shouting and the uninformed outrage that sometimes seems ubiquitous, I sense that  responsible media outlets and people in the interreligious movement are grasping the significance of this moment and are helping to seed the discussion with historical facts, accurate information and a commitment to understanding and respect.  If this trend continues we will all learn important things about ourselves and about the most recent global religious tradition to enter the mainstream of American life.

A Reflection on the Parliament Indigenous Assembly

From Earth Spirit Voices

by Andras Corban Arthen

One of the most important events of the Parliament of the World’s Religions – the Indigenous Assembly – was, quite likely, the least visible: attendance was by invitation only, and it was held in a former convent several miles away from the Exhibition Center, where most of the other programs took place.

In keeping with one of the Parliament’s seven main themes (and as mentioned in these pages prior to the event), the idea of convening an Indigenous Assembly in Melbourne was, from the beginning, a major focus of the Indigenous Task Force’s plans – we wanted to create a space wherein the international representatives of Indigenous traditions traveling to Melbourne would get a chance to meet with their counterparts from Australia and the South Pacific to discuss issues of mutual relevance, and perhaps even come up with a joint statement to be delivered during one of the Parliament’s plenary sessions. Our initial plans called for a three-day assembly which, for the first two days, would be limited exclusively to the Indigenous delegates, then opened on the third day to include representatives from other cultures and religions. Unfortunately, budgetary and time constraints forced us to scale back our plans and keep the assembly to one day.

Early in the morning of Monday, 7 December, about fifty Indigenous representatives, volunteers and translators traveled to the Abbotsford Convent near Victoria Park, some six miles away. Most of us had already had breakfast, but upon arrival we were offered juice, pastries and other refreshments as we waited for everyone to arrive.

The proceedings started with a brief introduction by Task Force chair Omie Baldwin, followed by a traditional welcome to country by Auntie Joy Murphy Wandin, senior elder of the Wurundjeri people who are the traditional “owners” of the land that includes Melbourne. Wominjeka Wurundjeri Balluk yearmen koondi bik (“welcome to the land of the Wurundjeri People”), she intoned, as she did probably a dozen more times during the course of the Parliament; but each time she spoke those words they were like music, as fresh and as heartfelt as if she were saying them for the very first time, and we felt, indeed, very welcome. Auntie Joy had some very kind words to say to those of us who served on the Task Force and organized the event, and gave each of us an Aboriginal flag as a gift.

Click here to read the entire article.

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim Discuss Thomas Berry, CPWR

From The Wisdom of the Labyrinth

Acclaimed cultural historian, cosmologist, Passionist priest, and Earth scholar, Thomas Berry, was among the first of our world’s religious leaders to suggest that the earth ecological crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. Thomas Berry dedicated his life to The Great Work of our time which he described simply as “moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or mutually enhancing presence.” Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker and Dr. John Grim, co-founders and co-directors of The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale and The Thomas Berry Foundation, join host Robin Bradley Hansel to share their stories and reflections on Thomas Berry’s life, his work, his writings, and his passionate dream for our Earth community.

Click here to hear the broadcast.

2009 Parliament Statement of Indigenous People

An Indigenous Peoples’ Statement to the World

Delivered at The Parliament of the World’s Religions

Convened at Melbourne, Australia

on the Traditional Lands

of the Wurundjeri  People of the Kulin Nation

December 9, 2009

PREAMBLE

In keeping with the theme of this year’s Parliament: “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth,” We, the Indigenous Peoples participating in this Parliament hereby issue this statement:

We are Indigenous Peoples and Nations who honor our ancestors and care for our future generations by preserving our lands and cultures. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have maintained a fundamental and sacred relationship with Mother Earth. As peoples of the land, we declare our inherent rights to our present and continuing survival within our sacred homelands and territories throughout the world;

We commend the Australian government’s recent support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We call on all governments to support and implement the provisions of the UN Declaration.

Since time immemorial we have lived in keeping with our sacred laws, principles, and spiritual values, given by the Creator. Our ways of life are based on thousands of years of accumulated ecological knowledge, a great respect for our Mother Earth, a reverence and respect for all our Natural World relations and the survival of our languages, cultures, and traditions.

The Indigenous instructions of sharing and the responsibility of leadership to future generations are wise and enduring. As the traditional nations of our lands we affirm the right to educate our children in our earth-based education systems in order to maintain our indigenous knowledge systems and cultures. These have also contributed to our spiritual, physical and mental health;

Indigenous peoples concept of health and survival is holistic, collective and individual.

Indigenous Elders

It encompasses the spiritual, the intellectual, the physical and the emotional. Expressions of culture relevant to health and survival of Indigenous Peoples includes relationships, families, and kinship, social institutions, traditional laws, music, dances, songs and songlines, ceremonies and dreamtime, our ritual performances and practices, games, sports, language, mythologies, names, land, sea, water, every life forms, and all documented forms and aspects of culture, including burial and sacred sites, human genetic materials, ancestral remains, so often stolen, and our artifacts;

Unfortunately, certain doctrines have been threatening to the survival of our cultures, our languages, and our peoples, and devastating to our ways of life. These are found in particular colonizing documents such as the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493, which called for the subjugation of non-Christian nations and peoples and “the propagation of the Christian empire.” This is the root of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery that is still interwoven into laws and policies today that must be changed. The principles of subjugation contained in this and other such documents, and in the religious texts and documents of other religions, have been and continue to be destructive to our ways of life (religions), cultures, and the survival of our Indigenous nations and peoples. This oppressive tradition is what led to the boarding schools, the residential schools, and the Stolen Generation, resulting in the trauma of language death and loss of family integrity from the actions of churches and governments. We call on those churches and governments to put as much time, effort, energy and money into assisting with the revitalization of our languages and cultures as they put into attempting to destroy them.

The doctrines of colonization and dominion have laid the groundwork for contemporary problems of racism and dispossession. These problems include the industrial processes of resource exploitation and extraction by governments and corporations that has consistently meant the use of imposed laws to force the removal of Indigenous peoples from our traditional territories, and to desecrate and destroy our sacred sites and places. The result is a great depletion of biodiversity and the loss of our traditional ways of life, as well as the depletion and contamination of the waters of Mother Earth from mining and colonization.

Such policies and practices do not take into account that water is the first law of life and a gift from the Creator for all beings. Clean, healthy, safe, and free water is necessary for the continuity and well being of all living things. The commercialization and poisoning of water is a crime against life.

The negative ethics of contemporary society, discovery, conquest, dominion, exploitation, extraction, and industrialization, have brought us to today’s crisis of global warming. Climate change is now our most urgent issue and affecting the lives of indigenous peoples at an alarming rate. Many of our people’s lives are in crisis due to the rapid global warming. The ice melt in the north and rapid sea rise continue to accelerate, and the time for action is brief.

The Earth’s resources are finite and the present global consumption levels are unsustainable and continue to affect our peoples and all peoples. Therefore, we join the other members of the Parliament in calling for prompt, immediate, and effective action at Copenhagen to combat climate change;

On September 13, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In support of this historic event, the Episcopalian Church in the United States adopted a resolution at its 76th General Convention in July 2009, repudiating and disavowing the dehumanizing Doctrine of Christian Discovery. By doing so, the Church took particular note of the charter issued by King Henry VII of England to John Cabot and his sons, which authorized the colonizing of North America. It was by this ‘boss over’ tradition of Christian discovery that the British crown eventually laid claim to the traditional territories of the Aboriginal nations of the continent now called Australia, under terra nullius and terra nullus. This step by the Episcopalian Church was an act of conscience and moral leadership by one of the world’s major religions. Religious bodies of Quakers and Unitarians have taken similar supportive actions.

In Conclusion, we appeal to all people of conscience to join with us: We hereby call upon Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican to publicly acknowledge and repudiate the papal decrees that legitimized the original activities that have evolved into the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Dominion.

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A Church for the 21st Century

From Soul’s Code

Soul's Code

BY DAVID RICKEY — Recently two events have changed my center of gravity. First, attending the Parliament for the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia in December of 2009 and then going to Haiti for the first time in June of 2010 and, at the same time, reading “The God Theory” by Bernard Haisch.

The Parliament gave me the opportunity to experience people from an amazing variety of spiritual perspectives, all talking and sharing in a way that opened my eyes further to the truth of the “interfaith” reality of TRUTH.

My trip to Haiti was my first encounter with incredible poverty as well as the resilience of the human spirit that I could see in the faces of the Haitian people. My reading “The God Theory” gave “solidity” to my own questions and emerging answers about this amazing mystery I call God.

To work backwards through that, it now seems clear to me that God is nothing less than “absolute intelligence” seeking to express itself and to experience this infinite possibility, especially, from a human point of view, through humans!

Taking this as my starting point, the world’s religions and spiritual paths then are the variety of ways in which human beings have tried to express their emerging awareness of this incredible wisdom, energy, presence, and creativity.

How we’ve made “God” work for us

We human beings, especially the sages among us, intuit this divine reality and then express it in whatever images and stories work for us. But the stories and images are limited to the level of awareness and the available images of the time they are formulated. And therefore, human development is reflected in the stories, really much more so than “ultimate truth”. This is not to say the stories are wrong, or not of value, but that they are limited, and perhaps their value is relatively short-lived.

On the other hand, the resilience of the human spirit, as experienced in the Haitian people, is a testament to the vast creative potential that lies “behind” all life, especially all human life. My experience of being among these wonderful people, especially the children, brought into sharp focus the amazing potential for creativity and responsiveness that is available to us.

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Faith Leaders Gather For Creation

The Rev. Dan Krutz, of Louisiana Interchurch Conference dips his hands into the oily waters of Barataria Bay.

The Rev. Dan Krutz, of Louisiana Interchurch Conference dips his hands into the oily waters of Barataria Bay.

From The Times-Picayune

Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy leaders from around the country cruised through the oil-fouled upper reaches of one of the nation’s richest seafood nurseries Wednesday, and some came away saying the BP Gulf oil spill looks to them not only like an accident, but also a sin.

“From my perspective, it’s an insult to God and a sin against creation,” said the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, an Episcopalian priest and environmentalist from San Francisco who heads Interfaith Power and Light, a nonprofit agency that helps congregations and communities adopt energy-saving techniques.

Bingham and almost a dozen others motored through the upper reaches of Barataria Bay on Wednesday, a day after assembling at First Grace United Methodist Church for a prayer service calling for restoration and renewal of the Gulf Coast.

“This is not a spill; it’s a spoilage” of God’s creation, the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, told the congregation.

Oil spill a wake-up call

Bingham, Wallis and others framed the oil spill as a wake-up call with not only economic, but also moral dimensions to people of many faiths.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Rabbinical Assembly and its 1,600 Conservative rabbis nationwide, said the larger lesson of the spill is a call to reduce energy dependence on petroleum. “We all need to turn from short-term gratification … rather than indulge ourselves with this unlimited consumption,” she said.

Bingham, Wallis, Schonfeld and other visiting clergy from Washington, Chicago, California and elsewhere assembled in New Orleans on Tuesday for a three-day visit to see first-hand the effects of the spill.

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July 11th, 2010 at 4:00 pm