Archive for the ‘America’ tag
Attorney Thomas Lemberg of Boston, MA joins the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions at a gripping moment for the movement of interfaith. As advocates within the interfaith sphere work to both strengthen and finesse relationships to the wheels-that-turn our world (like faith houses, governments, and the titans of corporate America), the need for interfaith to clearly communicate the messages of compassion and coexistence to those holding the most influence is a compelling one.
In his new book, Lemberg eagerly endeavors to make sense of challenges facing American democracy with a sage sense of urgency about making the many faiths positive factors in overcoming societal ugliness. After identifying three qualities about modern America Lemberg considers most harmful, the role of faith becomes a towering consideration, and one that can and will enlighten the work of interfaith activism and relationships within the Parliament and beyond.
After relishing Difficult Times, the page-turner Lemberg authored, Parliament Executive Director and co-Trustee Dr. Mary Nelson says “we’re delighted to have Tom on the board with his breadth of corporate legal experience, his own wide-ranging interests, experiences and thoughts, and his down-to-earth practicality in helping us work toward solutions.”
We recently conducted a Q &A with Thomas Lemberg over e-mail to share his spirit as a new Trustee, goals for the Parliament, views of interfaith work, and what his book says about the role of spirituality in healing the cracks he identifies in our modern American democracy.
I was attracted to the Parliament because I believe that its interfaith work is essential to making a better world. We need people of all faiths to understand each other and to tolerate their differences, to see their common ground, especially commonality in values and ethics, and to work together to advance the those values and ethics around the world. So far, I have found my experience on the Board exhilarating. It is a splendid group of good, dedicated, able, wise men and women.
2. You share in your biography that you were raised Jewish, and now consider yourself a pluralist. While this is a buzzword, what does it mean to you, to hold this belief or practice personally?
I had never been particularly spiritual until 15-20 years ago. I am spiritual but not through Judaism (which I much admire and which I am pleased that my children and their families practice). I find the world imbued with spirit without going through any organized religion. While I relate, in different ways, to Judaism and other faiths (hence pluralism), for me, I find my spirituality outside any faith.
3) What goals do you bring to becoming a member of the Parliament Board?
I hope to bring to the Board the value of my legal and business experience as a lawyer and executive in the business world, my perspective as an unaffiliated person of spirituality (I guess we are called “nones”) and whatever good judgment I might be able to offer on the affairs of the Parliament.
4) What would you like to see the Parliament achieve in the next year?
I would like to see the Parliament schedule and plan a Parliament for 2015 or 2016 if possible. I would like to see the Parliament get on sound financial footing (big steps were taken in 2013) and line up donors able to support an enhanced mission. My vision is that the Parliament become the leading interfaith movement in the world to become: (1) the/a leading place where faith leaders would gather for dialogue, advocacy and community action to promote harmony among faiths and faith-based social action and (2) with their imprimatur would engage people around the world to embrace the values of interfaith (tolerance, respect, love, community, etc.) and to advocate for policies to implement the values common to our respective faiths. I hope that we can begin this journey this year.
5) Your book entitled Difficult Times looks at contemporary American democracy with sharp analysis of the religious sphere in the U.S. What have you noticed about the interfaith movement that relates to the three main themes in the book: Secular materialism, extreme individualism, and free market ideology?
I see the interfaith movement as a most important part of helping us to overcome secular materialism, extreme individualism and our worship of the free market in at least two ways: (1) the values of faith serve as antidotes to each of these unhappy sets of ideas; and (2) the experience of tolerance, compassion and cooperation among faiths is one important foundation stone for our moving from angry hatred to productive dialogue and action.
6) Your book uses a lot of song references in our modern pop culture to explain our modern society. Which is your favorite, and why?
I am a Dylan and Beatles man. Of the many great songs I love, my favorites are “My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.
7) Who do you consider your heroes?
Top two: Abraham Lincoln and Bobby Kennedy. Also Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela.
8) Beyond being an author and scholar, you are also a lawyer. How would you argue the case for interfaith?
I try not to argue like a lawyer any more. (I practiced law for years but now I’m in recovery.) But, to be unlawyer-like brief, interfaith has the principles (tolerance, compassion and other central aspects of most, perhaps all, faiths) and it has the facts: it’s a lot better to get along and cooperate rather than to be physically and verbally violent against people who don’t share one’s particular form of faith (or don;t have any faith at all).
Tom Lemberg is an attorney and author. He has been general counsel of several technology-oriented companies, including Lotus Development, Polaroid and UGS Software. At Lotus, he led the creation and growth of the Business Software Alliance, the principal trade association of the software industry. Before that work, he was partner in two Washington law firms. He is now an author and is about to publish Difficult Times: A Fresh Look at Democracy in Modern America, a book on why America is so distressed, angry and divided and why our politics are so badly broken. A Jew by tradition and upbringing, Tom now identifies himself as a religious pluralist who greatly appreciates and seeks to learn from multiple faith traditions.
Through elections held November 15 by the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, author, scholar, and founder of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence, Dr. Arun Manilal Gandhi, is now beginning a 3-year term as a Parliament trustee. A grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, Arun brings an unassuming spirit and illuminating gumption to the Parliament in a partnership for a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Parliament Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid smiles on the news stating, “Gandhi was not known for his silence, and neither is his grandson, Dr. Arun Gandhi. He is doing his best to keep the flag of Satiagraha alive in America, as well as in India, where the voices of hate and anger sometimes seem to be drowning out the voices of truth and humanity. It is our honor to have Dr. Arun Gandhi on the board of the Parliament. We feel enriched with wisdom and connected to an important legacy of our time.”
Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today.
Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife, Sunanda, he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world.
Together they began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987, Arun came to the United States, and in 1991 started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, which was moved to the University of Rochester, New York in 2007.
Arun resigned from the Institute the following year to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will soon open in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org).
Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world.
Publications by Arun Gandhi include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
9mm Golden Calves
by James E. Atwood | January 2013
Originally printed in Sojourners Magazine
BACK IN 1990, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued this warning: “The religious community must … take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns, which overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse.” Two decades later, about 660,000 more Americans have been killed by guns, with a million more injured.
These figures convince me that what was a risk in 1990 has become our reality today: For too many, guns have become idols. They claim divine status; make promises of safety and security they cannot keep; transform people and neighborhoods; create enemies; and require human sacrifice.
Not all gun owners have permitted their guns to become idols or absolutes. In fact, a recent poll shows most gun owners and NRA members, in contrast to public perception, believe personal freedom and public safety are complementary, not contradictory. But those few who hold the microphone at the NRA (the wealthy manufacturers and the gun zealots who do their bidding) have permitted their fascination for guns to supplant God and God’s requirements for human community.
An idol’s followers boldly claim divine status for it. Former NRA executive Warren Cassidy was clear when he boasted, “You would get a far better understanding [of the NRA] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.” Not to be outdone, Charlton Heston, during a speech as NRA president, intoned, “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blued steel—something that gives the most common man [sic] the most uncommon of freedoms, when ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty.”
To turn away from the idolatry of guns will require community dialogue, self-examination, and prayer. One part of our response should also be to enact common-sense gun laws—which, when they have teeth, are very effective. We in the U.S. need two new federal laws, which would almost guarantee an immediate, dramatic decline in gun violence. The first needed law is a renewed ban on the sale of assault weapons. Good citizens have no need for guns that can rapidly fire up to 150 rounds without reloading and are designed to kill great numbers of people in close-quarter military combat. These are the weapons of choice for deranged individuals who are determined to kill. They must be banned in America forever.
A second common-sense law would require all gun purchasers to undergo an instant background check. This is technically feasible today, but it has not been implemented because the Gun Empire considers any law, however wise or minimal, to be a coordinated attempt to confiscate their weapons. Such a law would eliminate the many sales by unlicensed dealers at America’s 5,000 gun shows—dealers who can, in most states, legally sell any weapon to any person with no questions asked. It’s simply cash and carry.
I make no claims of certainty in determining whether or not a particular individual’s spirit has been converted by an idol, but for 37 years I have observed individuals who grow threatened and angry when gun values are questioned; who show little grief for society’s gun victims; who oppose any preventive measures to stop gun violence; and who believe the solution to gun violence is to arm more people. I am confident that such traits indicate that people are, at least, struggling with idolatry as they turn a human-made thing into an absolute that challenges the requirements of the living God. As Jesus taught us, we cannot serve two masters.
James E. Atwood, a retired Presbyterian pastor, is a gun owner, author of America and its Guns: A Theological Exposé, and chair of the Greater Washington chapter of the anti-gun- violence group Heeding God’s Call.
Image: Christmasstockimages.com Licensed for Re-Use
by Jahnabi Barooah
from The Huffington Post
This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the work of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), an organization whose mission is to engage in “seva, interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice and sustainable civic engagement to ignite grassroots social change and build healthy communities.” Seva, which means “service” in Sanskrit, is an important aspect of the Dharmic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama issued a “call to serve,” Anju Bhargava, a Hindu American resident of Livingston, NJ, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. HASC is a result of that collaboration, and was designed to strengthen and put a spotlight on civic engagement and community service efforts in the Dharmic community.
Despite the White House’s support and guidance, HASC did not have the easiest start, and their success over the past two years can be attributed as much to creative theological thinking, as to the Dharmic community’s desire to be fully accepted in the American community.
“The Hindu community didn’t have a faith-based infrastructure [to perform community service],” Anju Bhargava, the founder of the HASC told The Huffington Post. Even though many Hindus were engaging in community service through informal means, Hindus did not have access to sustainable community service programs that were faith-based. If the goal was to bring seva to the forefront and make it relevant in the American context, the challenge was that the Hindu-American community was so fragmented because of its varied religious and philosophical beliefs, Bhargava told The Huffington Post.
from Voice of America
Religious faith is both deeply personal and a community experience. In the United States, religious communities of many kinds co-exist and sometimes work together in interesting ways.
This week, learn about Buddhism in America. The ancient religion has its roots in India. Today, many forms of Buddhism are practiced in the United States. Hear what American-born clergyman Kusala Bhikshu has to say about the religion’s popularity.
In the state of Tennessee, members of the Catholic religious group, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia’s, lead simple lives of work and service. Not much has changed in their community over the years. But more young women are joining. Some see this as a sign that young people are placing growing value on faith and service.
But first, we hear from Muslim students at a Christian university here in Washington DC. Christopher Cruise tells us how students are dealing with the differences in their religious beliefs.
By Gary Laderman
from Religion Dispatches
It’s that time of year again. Shoppers are looking for gifts, It’s a Wonderful Life is starting its endless loop on television, families are making plans to come together for the traditions that mark the season, and the pervasive awareness that another year has passed is creeping into our collective consciousness.
For as long as I can remember, the buildup to the New Year in holiday media coverage has included one particularly poignant element that now, as I come ever closer to 50 years old, haunts me more than arouses curiosity—the rollout of the year’s important deaths.
The lists this year are noting the deaths of Joe Frazier, Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, Bubba Smith, Andy Rooney, Clarence Clemons, Geraldine Ferraro, and many others—some rich, some poor; some famous, some rather obscure; some young, some really old.
So why do the dead crash the holidays, year after year?
I do not know the longer history of these year-end death lists, or why media both old and new have embraced this annual practice. The lists are neither exhaustive nor comprehensive—most of them are cultural repositories of once living people who are no longer, ghosts now brought to the public eye and representing… what? Fame? Accomplishment? Impact? Tragedy? All these are relevant, no doubt.
by Joshua Stanton
from Huffington Post
Hinduism is hardly new to the United States. Swami Vivekenanda is thought to have first introduced it when he visited as part of the World’s Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He received a standing ovation from the 7,000 people in audience, whom he declared his “Sisters and Brothers of America.”
In spite of Vivekenanda’s reception, subsequent series of lectures, and ultimately the establishment of the Vedantic Society of New York, with satellites in Boston and San Francisco, Hinduism remained a tiny presence in the United States for decades. It was but a demographic trickle. Only after 1965, with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which eased immigration from India and the rest of Asia to the United States, did the population of Hindus begin to grow. They now comprise a reputed .4 percent of the U.S. Population or, depending on whose arithmetic, 1.2 million people.
And what a population it is! According to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, nearly half of Hindus living in the United States in 2009 had a post-graduate degree, by far the highest percentage of any community and five times the national average. As a population, they appear to be socially mobile and rising quickly within American society.
Hindu communal organizations similarly appear to be burgeoning; there may be as many as 1,600 Hindu Temples and centers across the country. And now the Hindu community is developing a national infrastructure.