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Archive for the ‘activism’ tag

Sharing 5 Lessons on Non-Proliferation and the Interfaith Movement

By Parliament UN Youth Representative: Tahil Sharma

The United Religions Initiative organized a great panel of activists and ambassadors who work with communities through URI’s ‘Cooperation Circles’ across the globe to make nuclear weapons a thing of the past. People like Jonathan Granoff, a 2014 nominee for the Nobel Peace prize for his work advocating nuclear non-proliferation, and Dot Maver, an activist within the interfaith and peace-building spectrum, gave a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the potentials of nuclear energy and our current capabilities and uses in potentially destroying our world.

This webinar gave tools to productively say “NO!” to the atom and hydrogen bombs which threaten the greatest potential of destroying our environment and our civilization as we know it.

  1. Remembering the everlasting impact – Meltdowns like Chernobyl and Fukushima, the obliterating potential of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the continued tests of nuclear weapons has a lasting effect on many people around the world and our environment. Believe it or not, victims of the atom bombing on Japan today face significant social and political stigma. They are stereotyped and treated as second-class citizens, which is preventing them from speaking out about their experiences. Some of the worst discrimination sees forms of insurance withheld that would help to treat ongoing side effects of the blasts. The majority of society apathetically forgets that our current nuclear weaponry has the potential to destroy the world a thousand times over. (Random fact: Japan has set up a stratified system of coverage for those affected by the bombs based on distance, the manner in which they received any form of radiation poisoning, and depending on the age group. Children within the womb during the blast, for example, are not eligible for coverage or benefits.)
  2. The non-signatories of the NPT – Israel, India, Pakistan, South Sudan and North Korea have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which mandates only the peaceful uses of nuclear energy with the goal of complete disarmament. This plays out as a great challenge for the security and stability of the world, so we continue to find and build movements for non-violence and conflict resolution. Pranab Mukherjee, the then External Affairs Minister and now current President of India, stated in a trip to India in 2007 that “If India did not sign the NPT, it is not because of its lack of commitment for non-proliferation, but because we consider NPT as a flawed treaty and it did not recognize the need for universal, non-discriminatory verification and treatment.” (India Times, 5/23/07) The ambiguity of such a statement can be dangerous, seeing that the continued competition for arms and the instability of peace talks between India and Pakistan could create a sense of discomfort and anxiety in the matter of growing political, social, and economic power. With all of this in mind, the speakers continued to reaffirm our ability as a civil society; as interfaith leaders and activists, we have the power to make a difference and influence the decisions necessary in abhorring and abolishing nuclear weapons.
  3. Storytelling Holds Great Potential – From the personal stories of transformation of the Hibakusha (Survivors of the Atomic bombs in Japan) to live in the 21st century, to the new generations that demand no harm to any innocent human beings, every story has its potential to change minds, strengthen hearts, and move forward. URI UN Representative Monica Willard made note of such power by reciting the poem 20,000,000 by Justine Merritt. In a few succinct moments, she verbalized the potential of annihilation that a nuclear weapon threatens by enumerating the figure 20 million, accounting for the count of lives in the state of California. How profound and bleak a future sounds when you know it can be obliterated in seconds.
  4. The Groundswell of the Common Man – There are a variety of ways that we, as individuals, can work together to change the status quo. Consider petitions like the Peace and Planet Petition for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (that will be presented to the United Nations on April 26th), planting A-Bomb Surviving Saplings in your community and hosting A-Bomb photo exhibitions, and believing we have the potential to stand up against the destruction of humanity and the biosphere. We must engage communities and organizations around the world, and collaborate in activism, education, and service, to raise awareness and empathy in friends and strangers alike. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This same potential can reach the highest levels through encouraging legislators and members of parliaments to join the Parliamentarians for Nuclear non-Proliferation and Disarmament to influence policy and law in the abolition of the nuclear use of weapons.
  5. Reflecting on the Power In Our Hands – Before we began the webinar, Rt. Rev. Bill Swing, Founder and President of the United Religions Initiative, read a prayer that reminded me of the beauty and power of all faith traditions, secular perspectives, and spiritual practices; it reminded me that the power to create and destroy was in the hands of all human beings. My own faith traditions of Hinduism and Sikhism have always reminded me that every good and bad action is accounted for and that I am immediately repaid through the karma I deserve. If it is not in my mind and heart that I must work to change and save the world in every way possible, I am doing a disservice to myself, the world and to the Divine I eternally devote myself to.

Why Interfaith Organizing Matters: Social Change Starts With Values

Amy Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of "A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement" and is president and founder of ABD Ventures. She worked for nearly two decades in the labor movement and now works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. Photo from Google Images.

by Amy B. Dean
from the Huffington Post

Sometimes, as an activist, you look upon the world and think you will never be able to see the changes you seek in your own lifetime. It’s easy to despair, to succumb to the isolation and self-doubt that come from being a thoughtful person trying to change the status quo.

In those moments, I’ve learned to find renewal and hope not in myself, but in other organizers, in our shared values and experiences. Saul Alinsky wrote, “We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it.” A shared belief in what is actually possible to achieve, despite what others may tell us: that is the organizer’s gift.

In one respect, this principle sounds self-evident. And yet, while our social movements are often full of talk about policy, tactics or messaging, values are regularly left to linger in the background. They become things that are left to theologians to debate, or we allow values to be a walled-off part of the political conversation.

Click here to read the full article

Rebranding Interfaith

NewGroundby Rabbi Sarah Bassin

Inspired. Energized. Confused. Naïve.  I had asked a Jewish audience to share a single word to capture their thoughts of my presentation on Muslim-Jewish relations.  I had spent the last hour painting a picture of the broken communication between Jews and Muslims over the last 20 years – the public spats, the failed dialogues and the wounded relationships.  I devoted the last portion of the session to envisioning a more positive paradigm and cultivating the tools to get us there.

Some people entered the session eager to acquire the skills needed to strengthen relationships with the Muslims who share their city.  They had witnessed the breakdowns but refused to think of “Muslim-Jewish” as synonymous with “conflict.” They walked away from the session recharged.  Inspired.  Energized.

Others entered as skeptics, poised to dismiss interfaith work as a charming but ineffective effort to bridge an unbridgeable chasm of differences.   The cycle of conflict exists for a reason and those who champion engagement with the other don’t understand the threat to their own community.  Openness and vulnerability lead to exploitation.  Interfaith activists are unrooted. Confused. Naïve.

Those words may have felt cutting in the moment but they were also a gift.  It was early in my work as the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change though I had long been devoted to interfaith relations.  As someone who grew up with a mixed religious background, the importance of interfaith was engrained in my Jewish identity.  But my own experience blinded me to the experience of those for whom interfaith was not a self-evident good.  It was beyond my worldview that someone could see interfaith engagement not only as superfluous but as threatening.  I realized that I needed to take a step back and explain why the work matters in the first place.  More specifically, I needed to make a compelling case for why the work matters to them.

There is something that feels base about using the language of self-interest to undergird interfaith work.  I imagine that many of us find ourselves committed to interfaith activism because our highest ideals have led us down this path.  As someone who chose to become a rabbi to pursue a career in interfaith relations, I certainly felt compelled by the holiness of the endeavor.  My tradition demands it of me.  The Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas captures my deeply held belief with his claim that we experience divine commandment through the face of the other.

But I am also in this line of work because I believe wholeheartedly that a commitment to interfaith relations and Muslim-Jewish relations in particular tangibly benefits the Jewish people.  This work is, as they say, “good for the Jews.”

As a teenager and young adult, I despised the “good for the Jews” cliché.  It seemed to be an excuse for isolation, a justification for turning a blind eye to the plight of others.  But those excuses represent a narrow interpretation of what is good.  Those justifications conflate that which is in our self-interest with that which is self-serving.

Asking whether something is “good for the Jews?” is actually a useful question.  As my colleagues in community organizing assert, acknowledging one’s self interest is the first important step to social change.

When I engage Jewish audiences now, I open by speaking to that self-interest.  I lay out the vast overlapping domestic agendas between the American Muslim and Jewish communities and spell out the missed opportunities for collaboration.  I articulate how changing demographics will impact Jewish community relations.  Jews are becoming a smaller proportion of the American population and we will need to rely more heavily on coalitions.  I cite how the younger generations of Jews understand “Jewish values” more universally than their parents did.  Interfaith activism thus has a role in engaging these generations’ Jewish identity.

No part of me imagines that I will transform every skeptic in an hour by framing Muslim-Jewish relations in terms of Jewish self-interest.  But I often see something click for Jewish audiences when I cite the 2010 Gallup poll that directly links anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.  The single greatest predictor for whether someone holds Islamophobic beliefs is whether they also hold anti-Semitic beliefs.  This simple statistic reframes the issue from an abstract good to a concrete need.  Combating Islamophobia is not some altruistic endeavor for Jews rooted in the collective memory of our own historical persecution.  It is a strategic approach to prevent latent anti-Semitism from resurfacing today.

The rhetoric that we use to describe our work serves to undermine or enhance the power of our impact.  Early on, a supporter once described NewGround as “the ones getting everyone to love each other.”  She soon learned that this does not begin to capture what NewGround does.  We equip Jews and Muslims with the tools, space, and relationships to identify what matters to people in both communities– our fears, our values, our narratives and aspirations.  Sometimes, the conversation feels uncomfortable because interests do not always align (for example, we do not expect everyone to agree about how to handle the conflict in the Middle East). But the willingness to articulate what is at one’s core creates the foundation for a more honest and trusting partnership when there is alignment.  At NewGround, we are not the ones getting everyone to love each other.  We are the ones transforming intergroup relations in Los Angeles from a civic liability into a communal asset.

There will always be a core of people drawn to interfaith work for its more abstract ideals – people who need no convincing of interfaith’s inherent value.  But our goal ought to include preaching beyond the choir.  There is no shame in rebranding interfaith as savvy and strategic, substantive and smart.  Interfaith is all of these things and there is much to be gained by speaking of our work from this angle.  Those poised to call us naïve may instead walk away energized.  And those who thought us confused may instead find themselves inspired.

Rabbi Sarah Bassin is the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change.

 

Religious Leaders Press for a ‘Faithful’ Budget to U.S. Congress

by Jerry L. Van Marter
from Presbyterian News Service

More than three dozen religious leaders today (March 22) unveiled a “faithful budget” that they say will address the nation’s needs and priorities rather than partisan political considerations.

According to a press release from the “Faithful Budget Campaign,” its priorities for a faithful budget are a set of comprehensive and compassionate budget principles that will protect the common good, value each individual and help lift the burden on the poor.

The “Faithful Budget lays out ideas for restoring economic opportunity, ensuring adequate resources for the country’s fiscal needs, fostering true security, reducing poverty and hardship, taking responsibility for future generations, caring for the environment, improving access to health care and recognizing the robust role of government in combating poverty,” the group said in unveiling its proposal at a Washington press conference.

“Drafted by Jews, Christians, Muslims and other faith leaders, the ‘Faithful Budget’ embraces our role as a united nation to take care of the most vulnerable among us, while making balanced investments in our future,” said Parsons in a prepared statement read by Nelson after Parsons’ flight was delayed.

“By following our sacred imperative to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves,’” Nelson said, “we not only can pass a budget that makes sense, but pass a budget that begins to create a more just society and a healthier world.”

Endorsed by 37 religious denominations and organizations, the proposal is a call to Congress and the President to enact a budget that “enhances the well-being of all Americans and to make a good faith increase in funding for the impoverished and the vulnerable here and abroad in fiscal year 2013,” the group’s press release states.

“For too long, our nation’s political leaders have fallen into a trap of starting with an arbitrary top-line budget number and then working within its parameters to fund the programs on which we all rely. Rather than follow Washington’s example, the Faithful Budget focuses on our national needs and priorities,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

“We hope our Faithful Budget model can serve as a model that Congress and the Obama Administration can use to help build a more perfect union,” she added.

Click here for more information

Occupy Interfaith: Why Millennials, Including The Irreligious, Need To Care About Religion

by Chris Stedman
from Huffington Post

When I was in high school, civil disobedience excited me. I participated in a school walkout in protest of the Iraq War, staged a demonstration outside of a conference for anti-gay “reparative therapy,” and regularly got together with friends to make T-shirts boasting our political positions. Though the underlying political motives behind these actions were sincere, I recognize in hindsight that a big part of why I was drawn to such activism was that it hinged on solidarity and cooperation.

I was reminded of these efforts this weekend, when I decided to take my Saturday night off to check out the Occupy America (a national movement born out of Occupy Wall Street in New York City) effort in my city.

I decided to go because I have been tracking it online for some time, and many of my friends and peers have been involved from the beginning. While the participants I encountered on Saturday ranged in ages, Occupy America has frequently been referred to as a “youth-driven” movement, and the statement isn’t without merit. Though participation has been and continues to be intergenerational, there seems to be a particularly strong representation from young people.

As a 24-year-old, I’m part of the Millennial Generation – the generation following Generation Y, born in the 1980s and 1990s. We’re a generation that, according to studies by Pew and others, is supposed to be unconcerned and unengaged with the political process. Yet we defied such classification by coming out in droves for the 2008 Presidential election, and I believe that the Occupy America movement is demonstrating once more that we can surprise prognosticators and muster up unanticipated energy and organization to mobilize for social change.

Still, we remain a generation that is, in some ways, defined by apathy. This is perhaps no more obvious than it is in Millennials’ relationship with religion.

Click here to read the full post

Why the Buddha Touched the Earth

Eco-Buddhismby John Stanley and David Loy
from Huffington Post

“The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the Earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise — then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.” –Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

“The term ‘engaged Buddhism’ was created to restore the true meaning of Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is simply Buddhism applied in our daily lives. If it’s not engaged, it can’t be called Buddhism. Buddhist practice takes place not only in monasteries, meditation halls and Buddhist institutes, but in whatever situation we find ourselves. Engaged Buddhism means the activities of daily life combined with the practice of mindfulness. –Thich Nhat Hanh

In one of Buddhism’s iconic images, Gautama Buddha sits in meditation with his left palm upright on his lap, while his right hand touches the earth. Demonic forces have tried to unseat him, because their king, Mara, claims that place under the bodhi tree. As they proclaim their leader’s powers, Mara demands that Gautama produce a witness to confirm his spiritual awakening. The Buddha simply touches the earth with his right hand, and the Earth itself immediately responds: “I am your witness.” Mara and his minions vanish. The morning star appears in the sky. This moment of supreme enlightenment is the central experience from which the whole of the Buddhist tradition unfolds.

The great 20th-century Vedantin, Ramana Maharshi said that the Earth is in a constant state of dhyana. The Buddha’s earth-witness mudra (hand position) is a beautiful example of “embodied cognition.” His posture and gesture embody unshakeable self-realization. He does not ask heavenly beings for assistance. Instead, without using any words, the Buddha calls on the Earth to bear witness.

The Earth has observed much more than the Buddha’s awakening. For the last 3 billion years the Earth has borne witness to the evolution of its innumerable life-forms, from unicellular creatures to the extraordinary diversity and complexity of plant and animal life that flourishes today. We not only observe this multiplicity, we are part of it — even as our species continues to damage it. Many biologists predict that half the Earth’s plant and animal species could disappear by the end of this century, on the current growth trajectories of human population, economy and pollution. This sobering fact reminds us that global warming is the primary, but not the only, extraordinary ecological crisis confronting us today.

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Do Only Religious People Have a ‘Calling’?

From State of Formation

In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, musician Jack White (of the White Stripesand other bands) reflected on his “calling.”

“I was thinking at 14 that possibly I might have had the calling to be a priest,” said White. “Blues singers sort of have the same feelings as someone who’s called to be a priest might have.”

That he connected his sense of a calling to a career in ministry isn’t surprising. The word “calling,” or “vocation,” has explicitly religious roots; derived from the Latin vocare, or “to call,” the terms originated in the Catholic Church as a way of referring to the inclination for a religious life as a priest, monk, or nun.

During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther broadened the term beyond ministry to include work that serves others, but still couched it in a religious framework.

Today, “calling” has become common currency in the American parlance, its meaning expanded to refer to the realization of an individual’s passion or drive. Though the term has long had religious associations, it is used just as often to refer to secular work as it is religious.

Click here to read entire article.

Venerable Dharma Master Hsin Tao Calls for Climate Change Action

The Age has written an article on Parliament major speaker the Venerable Dharma Master Hsin Tao.  Recounting the Master’s personal experiences as a child soldier for Kuo Min Tang, the piece also describes his monastic vocation and ongoing interreligious work and activism.

Speaking on climate change, Hsin Tao observes that “if we can achieve a common understanding of the real problems — the ecological problems facing the earth — then the other problems will solve themselves.”

To read the full article, click here.