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Archive for the ‘Interreligious Movement’ Category

America Will Be – A Sermon Dedictated to Dr. Vincent Harding and the Face of God in All Others

Dr. Vincent Harding (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post)

Over 300 persons died in Cook County in the past year and were buried by the Medical Examiner’s office because no friends or family were available to receive their bodies. Their names were read in solemn dignity at a memorial service held in their honor at the Chicago Temple, on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The following post is based on the sermon preached by Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, president of SCUPE preached at that service.

Dr. Vincent Harding died this week. This hero of the civil rights movement was a friend of SCUPE. This professor of theology, a Mennonite, from the peace church tradition is credited with influencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against the Vietnam war and with writing the sermon he preached exactly one year before his death at Riverside Church in New York entitled “Beyond Vietnam.”

Vincent Harding on Democracy NowI met Vincent Harding about two months ago in at the Soka Gakkai Buddhist Temple at 14th and Wabash. He had written a book “America will Be…” That phrase comes from Langston Hughes poem “Let America be America Again.” Here are a few lines from the latter part of the poem:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath-
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain-
All, all the stretch of these great green states-
And make America again!

The poem is worthy of deep reflection. I hope you will read it again and again. Speaking to that packed hall Dr. Harding affirmed that he stood with Langston Hughes in the affirmation America will be. But “How is it possible that he make that audacious claim?” he asked. After all, he had just said several times over in that poem that “America that was never America to me.” How could he possibly swear an oath that “America will be?”

I felt very skeptical. We are going the wrong way, I thought to myself. People in our city are struggling to make ends meet. We used to think that it is right that we as citizens pool our resources not just out of our generosity, but because justice demands it, for the sake of the common good or what we used to call our common-wealth. This is why we elect City, County and State governments, to manage our public money, or our common-wealth.

Mother Jones info-grapic on disproportionate share in US national income since 1979But our public discourse has decidedly turned against the common-wealth to support individual wealth. As a result wealth disparities are significantly increasing. Today, the wealthiest 1% owns 40% of the nation’s wealth; the bottom 80% own 7%. SCUPE’sCongress on Urban Ministry will address this very important question when we gather June 23-26 at DePaul University.

This narrative of personal responsibility, of pulling yourself up from your boot-straps has become a religion these days. Yes, personal responsibility is important, but that narrative does not take into account, the structural disparities that put large numbers of people in our city, particularly those in racial minorities, at a clear disadvantage. How can personal responsibility work if there is no level playing field? So, unlike Langston Hughes and Vincent Harding, I wondered, “Will America ever be…”

My organization, SCUPE, trains pastors and church leaders to understand the dynamics of the city. We put our students directly into the streets and communities, and ask them to listen to the stories of people’s struggles, their pain and indeed also their laughter. That’s where theology begins for us, with stories of struggle. We know the stories of single mothers who struggle to feed their children, families who live in food deserts, people struggling with two or three minimum wage jobs, families whose children are incarcerated and children left alone because their parents have been deported. We know people in our neighborhoods who live in constant anxiety, in midst of very real gun violence. And we know the struggles of those who try very, very hard to get out of that situation and we know how discouraging that struggle is. Our students have listened to many persons like the ones whose lives we commemorate today.

Sisters and brothers, the values that we hold, the stories that we tell, the policies that we embrace, the leaders that we elect are based on what we believe, or our theology. If we believe in the Ayn Rand theories of hyper-individualism then we will act in one way. If we believe that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, or that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, we will act another way. If we believe that God comes to us in the guise of another, we will act in even different ways.

The Indian tradition is very clear. When we fold our palms in a gesture of greeting and say Namaste, what that in fact means is that the God that is in me, greets the God that is in you. If we were to put this in language that is common to both Jewish and Christian traditions, I recognize that you are created in the God’s image, and you are a child of God.

On this matter, the Christian story is also very clear. God comes to us as a helpless infant, desperately poor and outcast. God is not incarnate in a kingly palace as the wise men thought, but in a smelly, crowded, stable with live animals, lying in a manger upon the hay that animals eat. Can you just imagine that! Almighty God is incarnated as a homeless baby, and is then run out of town as a refugee. As an adult, Jesus comes to town from a small village called Nazareth, an out of the way place where no good was supposed to come from, and gets crucified by the imperial Roman government outside the city and hangs there in utter powerlessness. If you went out looking for God, you wouldn’t recognize God, because God comes to us in disguise.

There are lots of stories in scripture that tells us how God comes to us as a stranger. Jesus himself tells a story about the last judgment in Matthew 25:31ff. When the Son of Man comes as King, he will separate people of all the nations gathered before him as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To those on the left side he would say “Away from me you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels, These people are flabbergasted. Why, some of them may have been devout Christians. “I was hungry, you would not feed me. I was thirsty, you would not give me to drink. I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes. I was naked and you would not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you would not take care of me.” And they answer, “When Lord, did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not minister to you.” You see, they were expecting Jesus to fit into their image, their theology and their religious structure. Now, here’s the kicker: Whenever you did not do it to one of the least of these my sisters or brothers, you did not do it to me.”

Here’s one final story to bring it home.

There once was a little boy who decided he wanted to find God. He knew it would probably be a long trip, so he decided to pack a lunch — four packs of Twinkies and two cans of root beer. He set out on his journey and went a few blocks until he came to a park. On one of the park benches sat an old woman looking at the pigeons. The little boy sat down beside her and watched the pigeons too. When he grew hungry, he pulled out some Twinkies. As he ate, he noticed the woman watching him, so he offered her one. She accepted it gratefully and smiled at him. He thought she had the most beautiful smile in the world. Wanting to see it again, he opened a can of root beer and offered her the other. Once again she smiled that beautiful smile. For a long time the two sat on that park bench eating Twinkies, drinking root beer, smiling at each other, and watching the pigeons. Neither said a word. Finally the little boy realized that it was getting late and he needed to go home. He started to leave, took a few steps, turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was brighter than ever before.

When he arrived home, his mother noticed that he was happy, but strangely quiet. “What did you do today?” she asked. “Oh, I had lunch in the park with God,” he said. Before his mother could reply he added, “You know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world.” Meanwhile, the woman left the park and returned home. Her son noticed something different about her. “What did you do today, Mom?” he asked. “Oh, I ate Twinkies and drank root beer in the park with God.” And before her son could say anything at all, she added, “You know, God’s a lot younger than I had imagined.”

Sisters and brothers, we honor these women, men and children who died in our city not because we want to salve our conscience that we have done something. No. We do this because our destiny is wrapped up in their destiny, our salvation in theirs. When we want to see the face of God, we need to look in their face. When we need to hear God’s story, we need to hear their story. If we are to stand with Langston Hughes and Vincent Harding and have their defiant faith that America will be America again, that requires us to see in all our sisters and brothers, God incarnate among us. Nothing less will do.

Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana

The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.

2014 Congress On Urban Ministry - Building a Just Economy

Parliament Ambassador Bridging Global Interfaith Organizations

As a Parliament Ambassador, Karen Hernandez focuses on illustrating the West Coast’s interfaith work through profiling organizations from San Francisco and beyond. This month’s post features the United Religions Initiative (URI) located in San Francisco.

From left: Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, Parliament Ambassador Karen Hernandez and Father Gerald Musa from the Imam and the Pastor Panel, then presenting on contemporary and historic Christian – Muslim relations in Nigeria and Nigerian History at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia.

Founded by The Right Reverend William Swing, San Francisco-Based United Religions Initiative has been building bridges the last 14 years at the grassroots level around the world. As noted on their website, URI’s Mission Statement says,

URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. We implement our mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our more than 600 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights.

At the crossroads of incredible interfaith work, URI is an organization that, when they say works at a grassroots level, they mean grassroots. Governed by Trustees, with 12 Trustees newly elected, for a total of 28 Trustees from over 16 countries, and with staff in all the major regions of the world including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Multi-Regions/Transnational, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as the North America Region, and with active participants in 640 Cooperation Circles, in over 84 countries – URI epitomizes grassroots interfaith work at its best.

Designed purposefully to enable the voices of those on the ground and those dedicated to the harmony of and in their homelands, the crux of URI is the Cooperation Circles. The Cooperation Circles are holistically independent and they fund, as well as organize themselves. Some circles are less than ten participants, and some have thousands of participants. Some of the amazing work the Cooperation Circles have done worldwide include rescuing child soldiers in the Ugandan civil war; brokering a truce between factions of the Christian church in Kerala, India; helping religious and cultural minorities in the conflict-prone province of Mindanao, Philippines have their voices heard by government officials in Manila; as well as facilitating urban reforestation in New Delhi, India. URI has proven time and time again that working at the grassroots level can and does make quite an impact in the world.

URI and the Parliament have a rich history together. Besides myself as a bridge of both organizations, long-time colleague at URI, Sally Mahe, has been building bridges with both organizations for years, and Sande Hart, URI’s Interim Regional Coordinator for North America, is also actively working with the Parliament.

Building off of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, URI’s Executive Director Victor Kazanjian often speaks about URI as a movement. “Gandhi-ji said, ‘I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.’ Let us work together for this unity and love, and for justice and for peace for all through interreligious understanding and cooperation. For this light, this love, is at the heart of all religious and spiritual traditions, and also at the heart of this movement that we call the United Religions Initiative.”

As I find myself an Ambassador of the Parliament and a Consultant with URI, I am living and working in-between these two amazing organizations dedicated to peace work, interfaith work, and letting people create this work in a way that is tangible, successful, as well as incredibly powerful and life-changing, for people all over the world. Both URI and the Parliament are committed to creating sustainable peace and relationships. This, for me, is incredibly important, and I am proud to serve in this capacity where I can be a witness to this movement in our lifetime.

The Parliament and URI Call for Peace and Prayers in Africa

As our united prayers continue for the peoples of the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Kenya, we now mourn the lives lost through escalating acts of violence throughout the continent.

The global interfaith communities of URI and the Parliament call for love and solidarity to bring our human family closer and to hold our guiding institutions accountable to ending violence.

“We send strength and resolve to our sisters and brothers who work fearlessly in the face of present danger, and offer our support to the interfaith and community-building efforts we know will bring peace and healing to these regions,” said United Religions Initiative’s Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanijan, Jr. in a statement after bombings in the regions of Western and Central Africa this past week.

On behalf of the Parliament, Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson says, ”We call on the common values of love and compassion that arise out of our faith to respond in these positive ways to strengthen and support those who are seeking healing. We pray for the peacemakers, the Muslims and Christians in African nations bravely banding together in the face of violence, upholding faith and their moral will to protect one another.”

The Parliament and URI acknowledge that acts of terrorism and violence run counter to the teachings of peace, love and tolerance that lie at the root of all religious and spiritual traditions.

The global interfaith community welcomes all praying for peace to join us in solidarity.

American Rabbis Unite in Welcoming Pope to Israel

Spanning four full pages in one of Israel’s leading newspapers, over 430 Rabbis and influential Jewish leaders have signed an open letter of welcome to Pope Francis on his trip to Israel. The welcome message will be published Sunday, May 25 in Ha’aretz and presented to the Pope in Israel.

The project is conceived by Angelica Berrie, Chairperson of the Center for Interreligious Understanding (CIU) in association with Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Executive Director of CIU in the U.S. and director of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, housed at the Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome, where the rabbi is also a professor.

Pope Francis’ visit to Israel shows his concern for peace. The message of welcome, signed by rabbis and leaders of all Jewish denominations, underscores interreligious dialogue not merely as an ideal, but as an effective path to understanding.

“There is recognition among Jewish leaders that dialogue is essential to bring about genuine understanding and mutual appreciation. Pope Francis has been clear that he wants to build bridges between all religions to bring about peace in the world,” said Rabbi Bemporad. “The on-going and vibrant commitment to open dialogue continues to not only strengthen the relationship between Catholics and Jews, but my hope is that it can be a model for all interreligious work.”

Having fled Mussolini’s Italy as a small child, Rabbi Bemporad has dedicated his life to interreligious work among Jews, Catholics, Muslims and Christians worldwide. This welcome ad is made possible by the generous support of the New Jersey-based Russell Berrie Foundation and its President, Angelica Berrie. The Russell Berrie Foundation is the primary supporter of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, a leading program of interreligious dialogue and learning.

For more information, contact: Susan Barnett

Text of the letter to Pope Francis:

UNITED IN OUR AGE:
“Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.”
Nostra Aetate
Second Vatican Council, 1965

 

To His Holiness Pope Francis:

With you we are here to build bridges so that we can traverse these bridges of faith together in a journey of hope for justice, equality and peace, and to continually recognize and strengthen the important relationship between Catholics and Jews worldwide.

And where better to reaffirm that relationship, than in the Holy Land of Israel, a place both religions treasure as part of a shared heritage.

Peace be with you,
Shalom,

Signed by over 430 Rabbis and Jewish leaders

Religious Advisers Supporting Spiritually Diverse Students Aid Interfaith in U.S. Universities

At a time when inviting advisers to serve students of minority faiths at many U.S universities is still making headlines, the University of Chicago has just appointed its third successive Religious Advisor to Pagan students.

Of her new appointment, Rev. Angie Buchanan, who is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament, says in a statement to popular Pagan platform WildHunt,

Rev. Angie Buchanan, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, is now appointed religious advisor to Pagan students at the University of Chicago.

Having a Pagan advisor on staff at a prestigious university such as the University of Chicago supports the mainstream recognition that opens up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions. It also helps secure the establishment of Paganism as a world religion.

Assistant Dean of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel Jigna Shah says paying effort to supporting spiritual diversity is a long-established value of the University she herself experienced personally. In being named the first non-Christian to a deanship role at the Chapel three years ago, Shah reflects, “I am honored and humbled. I take my appointment very seriously and with great responsibility in continuing efforts to diversify and reflect the rich spiritual landscape of our campus.”

Context can be complex in these matters, and an absence of non-Abrahamic faiths in the chaplaincy does not always reflect of a university’s attention to spiritual life and student affairs. Still, in 2011, there were only 30 Muslim Chaplains serving in U.S. universities according to various media, and other prestigious universities were still inviting Hindu advisers to serve students for the first time.

By November 2013, Brandeis University brought in its first non-Abrahamic adviser to the campus chaplaincy after student appeal and expanding celebrations of Diwali and Holi in the appointment of their first Hindu advisor.

Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago

Rallying for the Muslim Students Association at Pennsylvania-based Swarthmore University, Hillel’s Jewish students and campus Christian groups are currently imploring administration to recognize a permanent staff position to advise Muslim students, citing their own benefits from their respective spiritual advisers, also crediting the presence of a temporary Muslim adviser a prevailing reason interfaith activity on campus flourished this year.

Buchanan couldn’t say it better. “With the growing ease of international travel and the advent of the internet and social media, the world is getting smaller. In the United States, we have populations within populations; there are hospitals, prisons, schools and universities, and even social, political, business and special interest groups.

“I believe that as a culture we are recognizing the need for a diverse set of spiritual advisors in multiple environments, and we are beginning to embrace a positive attitude regarding the diversity of religious traditions co-existing in society.”

With an expanded presence of interfaith organizing on college campuses, fostering increased collaborations among staff and students will strengthen actions and overall impact of the movement.

Religious communities and student groups at University of Chicago continue to nominate new advisers for recognition by the University’s Office of Spiritual Life. This year, the office also welcomes Charles Nolley as the first advisor to serve Baha’i students.

The Parliament stands in deep respect to Nolley, who holds the achievement of helping bring the 1993 Parliament to fruition as an early Board Chair, and who undoubtedly lit a fire for interfaith now so imperative to the national higher education system.

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the newest appointment of a Pagan religious adviser at the University of Chicago was a first for the university, and that religious advising is facilitated by Rockefeller Chapel. Spiritual Life at University of Chicago has historically extended recognition to advisers in a student-driven and inclusive manner. The Parliament thanks Rockefeller Chapel for an ongoing commitment to spiritual diversity. Parliament Communications apologizes for the error.

 

 

 

 

Edmonton’s Faiths Coming Together Conference Creates Awareness, Compassion and Justice

“Faiths Coming Together through Awareness, Compassion and Justice” was presented by the Edmonton Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, sponsored by the City of Edmonton, with support from the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, and St. Stephen’s College, University of Alberta.  Event summary is reported by Rob Hankinson, Executive Director of the Edmonton Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. 

Friends from the Manitoba Multifaith Council presented the Edmonton Interfaith Society with a painting and DVD.

“Faiths Coming Together through Awareness, Compassion and Justice” held May 1 -4 in Edmonton, Canada was a great success judging by a Sunday morning conference “wrap up” conversation, and the planning committee’s debriefing meeting.

Representatives from six western Canadian (Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria) and Mexican (Guadalajara’s ‘Carpe Diem’) interfaith organizations and councils joined with their Edmonton colleagues in “partnering” our collective interfaith experiences and learnings, and in contemplating future ways of working together for “peace and friendship, harmony and understanding,” according Nasim Kherani, President of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre.

Dr. Amir Hussein

 

 

Amir Hussain from California and Christine Boyle of British Columbia captured the imagination of all attendees with their keynote addresses: “Stories of our Faith Neighbours” (A.H.) and “Faith in our Shared Future” (C.B.). These presentations are upcoming on the Edmonton Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions page.

Thirty workshops and panels were offered on topics as widely ranging as

  • “Improving Dialogue between Atheists and the Religious”
  • “Promoting Interfaith Literacy”
  • “an End to Homelessness”;
  • “the Sweetgrass Journey” where aboriginal women demonstrated their traditional customs and rituals
  • “the Role of Faith Communities in counteracting Abuse and Bullying”
  • “Healing- a natural and expected outcome of religious faith, understanding and practice”

Also included were:“Voices of Indigenous Women,” who reflected on the impact of residential schools on their families in light of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; “Peace moving forward for Refugees and Immigrants,”  stories from those persons who have recently come to Canada; “Deconstructing the arguments of conservative Muslim leaders on same-sex relationships in a legal contract”; and  “the John Humphrey Centre Peacebuilders: Creating Youth Interfaith Dialogue.”

Four films: “the Imam and the Pastor”(from Nigeria); “DUMP, Edmonton’s unique recycling plant”; Manju Lodha and Ray Dirks’ “Leap in Faith”; and the recently released Edmonton production “Gently Whispering the Circle Back”; together with “Prayer Writing” seminars; Expressive Arts’ opportunities; and musical expressions in faith traditions celebrated the “monto” (spirit) in our “pehonan” (gathering place) (Lewis Cardinal, Parliament Board Vice-Chair).

From “Gleanings of Wisdom and Encouragement for the Future,” the Sunday morning conversation among the hundred attendees, a sampling of responses includes:

  • “impressive young adult leadership”
  • “strong emphasis on the environment”
  • “encouraging mentorship of new people on interfaith committees”
  • “thanks to the academics present who engaged the public square”
  • “appreciated the feminist dialogical activism”
  • “enlightened faith communities nourish each other with amazing tenacity”
  • “this has been a sacred space for all of us”
  • “we are planting seeds for a better world”
  • “the dialogue with young people whetted our appetite for more”
  • “what grieves us about our own faith tradition?”
  • “there is no shame in being different”
  • “interfaith must work to attract others”
  • “We need to be sharing life with our neighbours” – Amir Hussain

One of the weekend’s art projects.

The event concluded with a concert by Edmonton singer-songwriter Anna Beaumont including her personal compositions based on the poetry of Rumi, and finishing with one based on words by Marianne Williamson:

“It is my light, not my darkness that most frightens me. Who am I to be brilliant? Who am I meant to be? I am a child of God. We are children of God.”

And then aboriginal Elder Pauline Paulson dismissed us  as she had commenced our gathering, with a blessing, a song, and a prayer for “a better world.”

We look forward to further events and “gatherings” as we approach 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The Parliament and URI Issue Joint #LoveAlert for #Kansas

Global Interfaith Movement Acts for Kansas on Holy Weekend

 

We, the global interfaith community, cherish the principle of shared humanity and champion the Golden Rule as the guiding principle of each of the world’s great spiritual and religious communities. We unite as neighbors in our call for harmony, compassion, and peaceful relationships everywhere.

Sunday’s tragic hate shootings in the Kansas City area urgently signal why interfaith cooperation must become stronger to ensure all people are exposed to the beautiful lessons we learn from each other in diverse communities.

We invite all people to join with the United Religions Initiative (URI) and the Parliament of the World’s Religions in coming together to amplify action for peace:

“The hearts and prayers of our interfaith and inter-cultural family go out to those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., Executive Director of URI.  “Around the world, we affirm our promise to cultivate peace in the midst of difference, to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, and to show love in the face of hate.  May peace and healing find those shaken by this loss.”

Dr. Mary Nelson, Executive Director of the Parliament concurs, “in the face of violence and hate, we people of spirit and faith are challenged to proactively reach out in love and reconciliation.  Now is the time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

From Thursday April 17 through Sunday, April 20, we call for #LoveAlert messages to spread the goodness of interfaith cooperation around the world.

Ways to observe your solidarity include:  Fasting, lighting candles, and inviting your neighbors to your interfaith community events.

Use our tools to overcome hate! The Parliament’s  Faiths Against Hate webinars  train interfaith advocates and URI’s Talking Back to Hate campaign’s toolbox is full of effective best practices in a variety of materials.

Interfaith cooperation is happening; we as partners in the movement for peace affirm that deep interfaith relationships bring everyone closer together to overcome fear and embrace others as neighbors.

By bravely speaking out and acting together, we at the Parliament and URI invite all to work with us to correct injustice and make peace possible for all.

 

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council Expresses Message of Hope in Light of Tragic Events

Kansas City, MO (April 15, 2014) – We extend our deepest sympathies for the families and friends of those killed and injured in the recent shootings in Overland Park at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom. This is the time of year for celebration and commemoration in many faiths, a time when communities look to the renewal of spring and hope.

Our hearts go out to the Jewish community, as well as the victims and their families, to the victims’ own faith communities, the entire Kansas City area, and all the world touched by this tragedy.

When confronted with senseless and vicious acts of violence we can get overwhelmed by confusion, grief and anger, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council is offering prayers for peace, healing and understanding. We honor the rich diversity of culture and religions that enhance our lives, and we speak with one voice of peace and respect for all.

The Council wants everyone to know the outpouring of emails and calls from interfaith communities around the world has been inspiring and gives hope. These groups and individuals want everyone in Kansas City to know they care and are ready to support in whatever way they can.

We celebrate the gifts of pluralism in our city, celebrating the interconnectedness of all life.

Whatever our individual faith traditions, we simply can’t imagine being separate… we can’t imagine our lives without each other.

We invite the people of our community, in every church, temple, synagogue, home, and wherever you may be, to come together in a Prayer for Community Peace at 1:00pm CST on Sunday, April 20. We offer the enclosed prayer and invite all people to join in all or part of this prayer, offered in the spirit of peace and community.

Prayer for Community Peace

We come together in prayer to acknowledge
the Source of comfort in suffering, who forever summons
our human community to justice, peace and forgiveness.

While we may stand today in the shadow of ignorance and violence,
finding our way through hatred, fear, and blind rage,
we know we are not alone.
We extend our loving compassion to all life throughout the world
so that the memory of those lost may be a blessing to us forever.

Almighty Love, you call upon us to love one another,
and to bring mercy to those burdened with sorrow and grief.
You have created us for community, diverse according to your will,
so that we can only be whole together.

Do not let our anger divide us now from one another,
or turn us aside from our abiding purpose.
Rather, let every heart be filled a bright reflection of your everlasting love.
Let every heart that lifts this prayer to you today,
by whatever name it calls upon you, be filled with divine peace.

As we pray this prayer, make these words your own:
In word, spirit and deed I honor you.
Your presence is a blessing, your commitment inspiring.
From this moment forward, I carry my intention to know and be known,
finding peace within so that I might create peace without.
And so it is.

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council is a non-profit organization that is building the most welcoming community for all people. The Council is made up of 15 Directors from 15 various faith traditions from A to Z (American Indian to Zoroastrianism). We strive to provide programming to educate the Greater Kansas City area about the many diverse faith traditions represented in the community by joining forces in religion, spirit and community.

Morehouse Inducts Parliament Board into MLK Jr. Chapel Hall of Fame (PHOTOS)

The Board of Trustees of the Parliament are building new plans after meeting in the historic library of Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel during the soul-stirring 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers and Laity over April 2 and 3.

Surprise visitor Dr. Karen Armstrong stepped into the meeting and encouraged the Board to embrace an “uncomfortable” sense of Compassion – helping to frame the real, urgent, and measurable priorities at hand. Exciting happenings continued as Morehouse inducted the Board to the College’s Board of Preachers, Sponsors, and Colloquium of Scholars in a formal ceremony.

Dr. Karen Armstrong was keynote speaker and honoree of the prestigious Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Award, at the evening Interfaith “Celebration of Compassion” featuring presenters Chapel Dean Lawrence Carter (Parliament Trustee Emeritus), Martin Luther King III, a representative of the Gandhi family, and the special representative of Dr. Ikeda.

Celebrating the “glocal” Compassion movement turns the spotlight toward Chair Emeritus of the Parliament, Rev. Bob Thompson, who spearheaded the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta to recruit the Atlanta City Council to adopt a Compassionate City resolution. Thompson’s working approach to organizing grew out of the simple sentiment, “If you want to change a community, you have to change the conversation.”

The Parliament will build upon Atlanta’s achievements (thanks to Rev. Thompson) thrusting the Faiths Against Hate campaign into a new realm of possibility as the Parliament sustains its partnership with Compassionate Atlanta and the wider movement.

Seizing the moment, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid co-conspiring with Charter for Compassion’s Executive Director Andrew Himes penned a joint agreement to strategically partner. The joint statement pledges to support action advancing the compassionate cities movement and was ceremoniously signed by Dr. Armstrong and Imam Mujahid in a conference reception.

The uncomfortable (and imperative) programming to be planned will keep the Board busy until its next retreat, but revitalized in its commitment to keep the Golden Rule central to the mission of the Parliament’s: a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

Deepest appreciation to the Morehouse Martin Luther King Jr. Community and the Parliament’s partners in compassionate action worldwide is shared with all.

See all the photos of the Parliament Board in Atlanta. 

The Future of Jewish-Muslim Relations on College Campuses: Hope or Hopeless?

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, one of only 11 full time Muslim chaplains at a U.S. University.

by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli

I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.

Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.

I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.

But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.

I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?” Growing up in Turkey, the first book that I read about Jews and Judaism was at the age of 12 or 13 — a children’s version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was very sophisticated propaganda that put modern pictures of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities atop verses from the Torah and other Jewish teachings, in an attempt to prove the inherent evil of Judaism.. Not every single Muslim is born and raised as an anti-Semite. But it’s not uncommon.

I spent a number of years believing that something is innately, irredeemably wrong about Jews and Judaism. But believing in a God of love and God of mercy and compassion, I was able to go through a life journey that removed that poison from my system. I still consider myself a recovering anti-Semite because old habits die hard and modern challenges keep scratching the old wounds.

Rising bigotry is not unique nor is it one-way. Islamaphobia among the Jewish community is increasing, too, poisoning many Jewish hearts and minds and taking deep root here in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.

As Muslims and Jews, we have every reason to be worried about the future of our religions. Vis-à-vis Jewish-Muslim relations, we have every reason to do all that we can to build bridges between our communities. As Jews and Muslims it is in our self-interest.

I see the 20th century as the time when world Jewry came to terms and reconciled with Christianity. I see the 21st century as the time Jews and Judaism can come to terms and reconcile with the global Muslim community.

That brings a moral imperative to America’s shores. Yes, anti-Semitism may be poisoning Muslims around the world and it’s changing us for the worse.  But it is American Muslims and American Jews who must model what the 21st century will look like. We live in a country with influence and civil liberties; on college campuses in particular, Jews and Muslims have the room to exemplify a fruitful Jewish-Muslim engagement for the rest of the U.S., world Jewry, and the Ummah, the Muslim world.

An important place to start is to diversify our sources of information about each other. I invite you to consider, when does Islam as a religion and Muslims as people come to your attention? Or when do Jews, Judaism and Israel come to Muslim attention?

When it comes to information on college campuses, we have to stop inviting fringe speakers who only serve to firm up extremist images of the other. There also needs to be bilateral Jewish-Muslim conversation. Interreligious sharing is wonderful, but Jews and Muslims share similarities, a common history, as well as similar theological and judicial foundations. Bi-lateral discussions, especially on U.S. college campuses, are a must if we are to be an urgently needed light for the world.

A Voice from Sinai is calling on American Jews and American Muslims, “If there’s going to be any reconciliation, any coming to terms, it will be you. You will exemplify this to the rest of the world.”

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli is this year’s Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue honorary lecturer; this commentary is distilled from that lecture. The JP II Center is located at The Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City hosted this year’s lecture. Educated in his native Turkey, Imam Antepli is an international leader in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.