Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ tag
Parliament Board Condemns Violence in France and Nigeria; Invites All Faith Communities to Issue Joint Statement
“The Parliament of the World’s Religions vehemently condemns revengeful attacks killing 12 journalists and four Jews in France, and an estimated 1500 women and children in Nigeria. Now this cycle of revenge has engulfed the French Muslims with more than 20 attacks on Islamic buildings. We send our condolences to the families of the victims and to all of France and Nigeria as they grieve.
The Parliament believes that use of religion or any other socio-political ideology to “justify” violence is simply not acceptable.
The Parliament urges the global community to remember that such acts violate the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and asks that faith communities stand together to break this cycle of revenge by speaking out and organizing programs which enhance positive human relationship of compassion and forgiveness.
The Parliament plans to organize special programing in the forthcoming 2015 Parliament in October 15-19th on the cycle of war, violence, and hate. We invite all faith communities to participate in a joint declaration with a clear resolve to do our utmost to develop a movement against war, violence and hate.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Paryushan is one of the two most important religious periods for Jains, the other festival is Diwali (the Celebration of Light). According to the Western Calendar, it begins this year on August 22; depending on the sect of Jainism, it can last from eight to ten days.
In India, the native land of the Jain religion, Paryushan comes during the annual monsoon, or rainy season. During this season, the land teems with new life–earthworms, frogs, mosquitos, and other insects come out of hibernation. Since Jains view all life as sacred, including even insects, extra care must be taken not to harm any living creature. Since the simple act of walking can cause one to inadvertently step on an insect, extensive travel is prohibited for monks and nuns. They stay in town for a period of about four months.
During the Paryushan period, monks and laity observe fasting for up to eight days. Those who can’t observe fasting eat only one or two times during the day. When Jains fast, no solid or liquid food is consumed and only boiled water is used from sunrise to sunset. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse oneself of bad karma (the accumulation of bad deeds and their consequences). During this time period Jains do not eat green and root vegetables. They eat lentils, wheat, rice, and other similar foods. They also cut down on cooking activities, since lighting a fire kills living organisms in the air. Jains believe that life exists in plants, earth, fire, water and air so they reduce the consumption of any of these.
Jains observe complete holidays during this period as they go to temples to pray to god, and to listen to sermons given by monks. They do Samayik and Pratikraman:
Samayik means sitting down at one location for a minimum of forty-eight minutes. During this one cannot eat or drink or do any mundane chores. Instead, one should meditate, read holy books and scriptures, listen to sermons, chant mantras, or count rosary beads.
During Paryushan Jains do Pratikraman twice a day, once in the morning before the sunrise and other one after the sunset. Pratikraman means “turning back, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.” They reflect on their daily lives based on five principles to see if they have done anything wrong. These five principles are non-violence, truth-telling, non-stealing, celibacy, non-attachment to wealth and materialistic things in life, and attitudes expressed toward others—including anger, egotism, deception, and greed. Jains ask for forgiveness from everyone, mentally and verbally, and forgive others who may have behaved unjustly toward them.
The last day of the Paryushan is called Samvastari. It is an annual confession day. Everyone fasts for that day. On the last day of the Paryushan all Jain families get together and do Samvastari Pratikraman following the same daily ritual of Pratikraman, but with special emphasis placed on examining life based on the five principles and behavior with others for the entire year. They extend forgiveness to others, including strangers. They also ask for forgiveness from all the living beings on the planet. Jains believe someone who is a stranger to you in this life may have known you in the past life and you may not have asked for forgiveness during that life time. So asking for forgiveness from everyone during this life time cleanses all the bad karma of all the past lives.
Jains believe that if you have not asked for forgiveness and granted forgiveness to everyone, at least once a year during Samvastari, then your cycle of birth and death will continue forever. You have to break the cycle of life and death to attain Nirvana or Moksha (Enlightenment).
There are about 150,000 Jains in North America and about 30 Jain Temples and Jain Centers. At major Jain centers, scholars from India are invited who will discuss various Jain scriptures for those eight to ten days. Most will stay at the temple from morning until evening reading religious books, doing meditation, and listening to sermons.
The day after Samvastari, which is ninth day, people break their fast and celebrate the end of the Paryushan. They also give a donation to poor and needy.
The following prayer of forgiveness, Khamemi Save Jiva, is recited at the end of each Pratikraman:
I grant forgiveness to all living beings,
May all living beings grant me forgiveness.
My friendship is with all living beings,
My enmity is totally non-existent.
Let there be peace, harmony, and prosperity for all.
Kirit Daftary is a Trustee of the Parliament of the World Religions, Board member of Greater Waco Interfaith Conference, President of Anuvibha of North America, and the Past President of JAINA (Federation of Jains Association in North America)
As conflict continues to batter civilians in the Gaza strip after a short ceasefire broke down overnight, Interfaith leaders of Judaism and Islam are calling the masses to stand side by side in prayer today, a joint day of fasting that falls on both religious calendars July 15.
Interfaith activists, please share this urgent call for peace.
- In stating a brave interreligious solidarity, all participating can radiate the power of reconciliation. Religion News Service and other-like media outlets highlighting the interfaith perspective on the Gaza conflict seek angles of human commonality across communities while sectarian media only engulfs masses in biased information. Grieving parents comforting each other on both sides become symbols of forgiveness shared widely on the internet.
The Huffington Post is one of the outlets focusing on the parents. An article about Interfaith prayer for peace today reads, “Sanity must prevail. Inertia cannot take over,” wrote Robi Damelin, in a July 10 editorial in The Huffington Post. Damelin, who lost her son, David, to the conflict in 2002, concluded, “We must come out and demonstrate to the powers that be. Stop the violence. As part of the Parents Circle-Family Forum, Damelin meets with Palestinian and Israeli families who have all lost children in the conflict.”
- The religious definitions of today’s fasting is explored in The Times of Israel article reporting more on the “Choose Life” movement promoting today’s peace demonstrations:
“The 17th of Tammuz, a fast day that commemorates the breach of Jerusalem’s walls before the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, falls out on Tuesday. It’s the start of a three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av, a more well-known fast day that marks the destruction of the temple.
Tuesday is also the 18th day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast from dawn till sunset each day for the entire month.
The joint fast “is not a sixties anti-war thing,” said Shaul Judelman, one of the Choose Life organizers. ‘It’s coming from a religious place, which is tricky when rockets are falling. But our future seems to be here together, and no one’s going anywhere.” (Read more on The Times of Israel…)
Those in the United States wishing to join a public prayer demonstration and fast, seek opportunities like the following being organized in D.C. and Chicagoland:
- Joint Jewish and Muslim Fast and Prayer Against Violence in Washington, DC : In the past month the Jewish and Muslim communities have been shattered by the terrorist killings of four boys: Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, and Muhammed Abu Khdeir.
In response, Jewish and Muslim clergy of the DC area are joining together as part of an international effort by religious leaders to pray for an end to the violence. On Tuesday, July 15th the Jewish and Muslim calendars are united in a day of fast: the fast of 17 Tamuz, and the fast of Ramadan. For both traditions this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, and for self repair, communal purification, and repentance.
As we join together we hope to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a “peak day” – a day in which each man and woman will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision.
Please join Maharat Ruth Friedman and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue, Rabbi Etan Mintz and Chava Evans of B’nai Israel Congregation, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center on Tuesday, July 15th at 5pm in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC to offer prayers for peace and comfort. Leaders and members of all faith communities are encouraged to attend.
- JEWISH-MUSLIM FAST FOR PEACE, JULY 15 - Fountain Square, Evanston, IL 6:00pm
Friends – In response to the current violence in Israel/Palestine, Jews and Muslims in Chicago will join in a collective fast on Tuesday, July 15, when our two calendars converge:
The Fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (for the Jews this is a fast commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed) and the middle of the Fast of the Muslim Month of Ramadan.
Chicagoland Jews and Muslims will meet in Evanston, at Fountain Square (corner of Sherman and Davis, just steps from Davis CTA and Metra stations), at 6:00pm.
We will show empathy for each other’s pain and share in a collective prayer for peace, and a better future which our peoples deserve.
For both traditions, this is a day dedicated to taking an accounting of the soul, to taking responsibility, for correcting and purifying, to turning in repentance. The plan is to direct two peoples on this day to a kind of summit, during which everyone is invited to take part, to fast in identification with the suffering, the violence, the pain of one’s self and the other, to ask how we will break the cycle of violence and to create a vision of hope.
As one author (who lost his son in war) recently said: the situation is too desperate for us to drown ourselves in despair.
from The Times of India
by Barkha Mathur
For the extremely religious Jain community, the next eight days are significant for fasting, praying and asking for forgiveness. Paryushana, which means self cleansing by removing all negativity like raag, dwesh, moh and maya, begins on the Bhadrapada Shuklapaksh Chaturthi. It is sacred as it marks the beginning of the eight days when the dashalakshana vrata is undertaken by devout Jains.
The two Jain sects, Shwetambar and Digambar, follow this period on different days. As the calendar this year has an adhik maas, there is a gap of nearly a month between the Paryushana of the two sects.
As these eight to ten days fall during Chaturmaas most saints settle in one place. This gives the community an opportunity to listen to their sermons. Describing it as a time for performing dharma, city businessman Nikhil Kusumgar says temple visits and attending sermons is an essential part of the prescribed rituals. “We follow the dincharya suggested by Lord Mahavir. This includes fasting and satsang.”
|Tuesday, March 13, 2012
10:00am U.S. Central Time
This webinar offers participants the opportunity to develop a greater awareness of our own responsibility for peace in our lives and to acquire more skills to apply around us.
The webinar will address our own responsibility for war and peace and the role forgiveness plays in releasing cycles of violence. Through personal reflection, we can experience those aspects of ourselves that are not fully contributing to peace and harmony and how to release and transform them through forgiveness. By doing so, we can also unblock the gifts we have inherited, in order to use them and appreciate them more fully in our lives.
As a witness of the pain of the civil war in Lebanon (1975–1991), Alexandra Asseily decided to explore her own responsibility for war and peace and became a psychotherapist. Her focus is conflict resolution—whether in the individual, family, tribe or nation.
In August l997 she was profoundly moved by a vision she had concerning the repetitive nature of conflict—that consciously and unconsciously held grievances are received by each new generation through an ancestral “contract” that can only be released through forgiveness and compassion. This vision inspired the Garden of Forgiveness in Lebanon to which Asseily has been committed since 1998. The garden is under construction in the heart of Beirut. It lies between three cathedrals and three mosques and amongst the archaeological ruins of 3,000 years of human living and dying.
She is a governor and a founder of the Centre for Lebanese Studies, Oxford University, and on the Board of the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, an Advisor on the World Religions and Spiritualities Advisory Council of the Fetzer Institute, and a former member of the Advisory Board of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. In 1978 she was co-ordinator of International Aid Organisations in Lebanon after the first Israeli invasion.
Title: What Is My Responsibility for Peace in the World? Five Steps towards a Peace Process
Date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.
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Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
In the spring of 2012 the Cherokee Healing and Wellness Coalition is collaborating with the United Keetoowah Band and Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma for a Journey to Forgiveness and Healing. The journey is an effort for the Cherokees to retrace the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma in 1838 back to Cherokee original homelands. They will be stopping at significant places along the way where the Cherokees camped for healing up healing ceremonies. There will be conferences in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and Cherokee, NC with presentations about historical grief and intergenerational trauma and its effects.
The Journey to Forgiveness and Healing is one way to address how historical events, i.e. Trail of Tears and boarding schools, have continued to affect the Cherokee people for generations and how these events caused an almost near loss of our culture and identity primarily because of the forced removal, assimilation and acculturation process. These past events have caused substance abuse, domestic violence, and various health and mental problems that continue to plague the Cherokee families today.
One of our objectives is to educate those who have experienced oppression through trauma on the psychological, physical and emotional levels. They will become aware how this experience can have generational affects physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
Sermon for Erev Yom Kippur 5772
by Rabbi Brant Rosen
Cedric Cal was born to a single mother, in a family that lived below the poverty line on Chicago’s West Side. His father had left the family, married another woman and had very little to do with him. His mother Olivia worked constantly, doing her best to keep her family together. As the oldest of four, Cedric became the de facto father of the family and was entrusted with protecting his younger brother, who was legally blind.
Cedric’s family moved around a lot and he learned very early on how to make friends quickly. He liked sports, particularly baseball – and when his family lived on the West Side, he played sports in the local Park District. When they moved to the South Side, however, there were no Park District services available, so sports were not an option for him. Still, no matter where they moved, Olivia became very adept at finding ways of getting Cedric and and brothers into decent public schools. From 5th to 8th grade, he attended Alcott Elementary. Minding his younger brother, he took the public bus every day on a long trek from the West Side to Lincoln Park.
Cedric’s mother taught him how to fill out applications and interview for jobs, but there really weren’t any to be found. And those that were hiring certainly weren’t hiring African-American teenage boys. He was never really successful at finding a real job, but when he was 14 he learned that he could make money dealing drugs. He knew that his mother would be beyond furious if she ever found out, so he made sure to keep his drug dealing and his growing gang activity secret from her. Cedric never, ever, brought his earnings into their home – his mother had made it clear that drug money was not welcome anywhere near her house. Even when he bought a car, he parked it far away from their home.
I met and spoke with Cedric two weeks ago at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. He explained to me that as he continued to sell drugs, as he continued the gang life, little by little, he became “desensitized to the things my mother had taught me.” It was quite poignant and sweet to listen to Cedric speak about his mother. “My mother,” he said, “has a lovely spirit,” adding: “I was scared to death of my mother.” He told me of one instance in which Olivia confronted drug dealers on a street corner with a two by four in her hand. Cedric laughed and said that even the toughest gang members in the neighborhood were scared of his mother.
The incident that changed Cedric’s life forever occurred in 1992, when he was 17 years old. According to court testimony, two individuals confronted what would become the three in front of a house on the West Side. In the ensuing gunfight, they shot and killed two of the men and wounded a third. Following the incident, the surviving victim, who was gravely wounded, identified Cedric and another man to the police as the shooters. They were both arrested – and although Cedric was legally still a minor at the time of the shooting, he was sentenced to prison for life without possibility of parole. There has never been any physical evidence – or any other evidence for that matter – that linked Cedric to the shooting and Cedric has always maintained his innocence.
There’s something of a twist to this story. Nearly twenty years later, the wounded witness, Willie Johnson, recanted his testimony. He came forward and testified at a post-conviction hearing that he had wrongly identified Cedric and his co-defendent. He explained that he did this only because the actual murderer had threatened to kill him and his family at the time. The judge however, rejected Johnson’s revised testimony and refused to reverse the convictions. (In an even more perverse twist to this story, although his recanted testimony was rejected, the witness was subsequently charged with perjury.)
When he first entered prison, Cedric joined a gang for protection, as many inmates do. He told me his first few years inside were enormously difficult until he met a man who would have an powerful impact on his life – an ex-gang leader who had become a devout Muslim. Cedric’s new mentor gave him book after book to read, and he read them voraciously. Cedric was particularly affected by “The Autobiography of Malcom X.” He identified deeply with Malcolm’s journey and struggle and was especially moved when he read about his religious awakening in prison. Like Malcolm, Cedric was inspired to convert to Islam and turn his life in a different direction.
As it turned out, his new found Muslim faith took him down a fairly dangerous road in prison. After making the decision to live as an observant Muslim, his fellow gang members approached him and told him he would have to choose between his gang and his newly acquired faith. Cedric chose his faith, knowing full well that this would obviously mean the loss of his protected status. In a very real sense, he was now putting his life in God’s hands.
The next major spiritual transformation for Cedric occurred when the Million Man March took place in 1995 in Washington DC. He was deeply moved by the sight of hundreds of thousands black men, gathered together nonviolently in one place, publicly atoning and taking responsibility for their own lives and for their families. After he witnessed this moment, Cedric decided to embark upon his own journey of repentance.
Specifically speaking, this meant following an eight stage atonement process as developed by Minister Louis Farrakhan. As part of his atonement, Cedric wrote letters. First he wrote a long letter to his mother, in which he apologized for betraying the values she taught him and for the shame he had brought to her through his actions. He vowed that he would devote the rest his life to bringing honor back to her and the family. He wrote similar letters to each of his brothers, apologizing for being absent to them as a big brother and as a role model. He also wrote a letter to his entire community – published in the community paper – and apologized, among other things, for bringing drugs, crime and gang activity into their neighborhood.
I asked Cedric to define forgiveness for me. He said that for him it was all about relationship. Seeking forgiveness meant repairing his relationships with others – and first and foremost, his relationship to God. He added that prayer plays a very central role in this process and that over time, his prayers have helped him achieve a spiritual cleansing – an unburdening his soul. He said that atonement is a never-ending process. He told me, with simple determination in his voice, that he will never stop working at making things right with others and with God.
Cedric is a warm, genuine and open-spirited man. He was happy to tell me his story and clearly took great pleasure in relating his spiritual journey. When we first met, I explained to him that I was interested in hearing his story because I wanted to give a sermon about his experiences during a Yom Kippur service. His lawyer began to explain what Yom Kippur is and he smiled and said, “Oh, I know all about Yom Kippur. It’s coming up in two weeks, right?” My conversation with Cedric was a true pleasure and I was genuinely sorry when our time was up. He gave me an affectionate hug before leaving the visitor’s room.
I’d like to tell you about another prisoner I met that day in Stateville – a 36 year old man named Addolfo Davis.
Addolfo grew up in an even more at-risk environment than Cedric. He was born to a single, drug-addicted mother who severely neglected him. Before he turned 10, Addolfo was running away from home and turning to local gangs for protection. He was just 9 the first time he robbed someone for money to buy food, which resulted in the first of many run-ins with the juvenile justice system.
Addolfo was eventually taken from his mother and placed under his grandmother’s care, where he lived in a one-room, dirt-floor cellar apartment, which already housed three other family members. Around this time, a DCFS social worker reported that he was becoming a danger to himself and strongly urged that he be placed in a contained foster home. Despite these recommendations, Addolfo was eventually removed from his grandmother and placed in a group home.
Addolfo’s incident occurred when he was barely 14. He and two older boys went to the apartment of a rival, reportedly to discuss a turf dispute. When they entered the apartment, the two older boys took out guns and shot four people, killing two. According to witness testimony, Addolfo was present but did not shoot a gun.
Later that day, the police apprehended Addolfo and interrogated him without an attorney present. The only person there to represent him was his mother, who was no longer his legal guardian and who later testified that she was intoxicated at the time. The interrogation ended with his signing a confession, though both his and his mother’s poor literacy skills likely prevented either of them from fully understanding what he had signed.
Although he was only a minor, a juvenile judge ruled that Addolfo’s case be transferred to adult court. This ruling was apparently influenced by the testimony of a therapist who cited his past criminal history and cast doubt on his ability to be rehabilitated by the time he reached the age of 21. In the end, 14 year old Addolfo was tried as an adult for felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
I was told that Addolfo Davis was small, traumatized eighty pound teenager at the time of his conviction. The Addolfo I met two weeks ago was a grounded and articulate man. I had the opportunity to be present when he spoke with his pro bono lawyer as they prepared his application for clemency from Governor Quinn, which is his only legal recourse now that his appeals have been exhausted. As they spoke, it became obvious that Addolfo had been spending a great of time in the prison’s law library. He clearly had a far reaching knowledge of the legal aspects of his case and of the complicated clemency process. At times, it actually seemed that he was advising his lawyer rather than the other way around.
My first question was to ask Addolfo how he found this obvious inner peace. His answer was utterly unexpected. He said that his first few years in prison were horrid. He was frightened and aggressive and spent much of his time fighting with other inmates and just trying to survive day by day. As a result he was sent to the Tamms Correctional Center – a so-called “super max” prison in Southern Illinois – where he would spend four and a half years.
As at most super max prisons, prisoners at Tamms are forced to live alone, 24 hours a day, close to seven days a week in 8 x 10 concrete cement cells that contain concrete beds, stainless steel sinks and toilets. Although each cell has a window, the windows cannot be opened, and the only way to look out of them is to stand on the bed. The doors to each cell are designed to completely isolate the prisoner inside his cell. When I did a little research, I discovered that when Tamms was first opened in 1998, the warden, George Welborn was quoted as saying “Tamms is not about rehabilitation, it’s about punishment.”
So you can imagine my amazement when Addolfo told me “For some people it’s the worst – but Tamms was the best thing that ever happened to me.” He explained that as a result of his stay there, he actually experienced real solitude and inner peace for the first time in his life. Whenever he felt himself growing claustrophobic, he taught himself how clear his mind and calm himself down. He also started writing and reading. The book “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch had a particularly strong spiritual impact upon him.
I asked Addolfo if he identified with any particular religious faith and he told me no. He said, “I believe in God with all my heart, but I don’t belong to any religion.” He said it all comes down to “love your neighbor,” adding that “God is a caring, forgiving God. God will straighten everything out in the end.”
Addolfo told me he read the Bible and the Koran every day, and that in prison he was learning the true meaning of spiritual struggle. Every day, he said, is a challenge for him to hold on to his humanity in an inhumane world. He quoted his grandmother: “When you turn yourself over to God, the devil works overtime to pull you back.”
Although he is very, very happy to be out of Tamms, Addolfo did say that it is much harder to find the same kind of solitude in Stateville. He said sometimes he’ll just put on his ear buds and listen to music, sometimes even just static, and he can get back to a focused, clear minded place.
As I did with Cedric, I asked Addolfo for his definition of forgiveness. He said that the first step in forgiveness was forgiving yourself so that you can take personal responsibility for your own actions. When he was in the solitude of Tamms, he said, he learned that once he forgave himself, he was able to forgive others more easily and not simply point the finger of blame. Once he quieted down his mind, he found forgiveness for his mother, realizing that her drug use was not her. He was then able to see past her actions to her inner humanity.
Addolfo also said to me that since he never had a childhood, he was learning how to be a kid. And more than anything, that meant learning how to love unconditionally. As he put it, his challenge is learning how to truly love someone who isn’t ready to take accountability yet. It is not a simple process, to be sure. His approach, he said, is: “I love you, I forgive you, but I’m gonna keep my distance. When you’re ready, I’m always here for you.” He makes a point of talking to everyone, even members of rival gangs, which is not considered a particularly advisable thing to do in prison.
Needless to say, most of the prisoners aren’t used to this sort of attitude from an fellow inmate – but Addolfo said he has found that when they get used to it, they eventually respond. That is essentially his struggle: learning how to live the faith of “love your neighbor” each and every day.
I’m telling you the stories of Cedric and Addolfo tonight for two reasons. The first is because I believe they are truly my spiritual teachers. Indeed, I believe they are spiritual teachers for us all. I say this with some hesitation – only because I do not in any way want to patronize them or over-romanticize their situation. Still, as we find ourselves in the midst of this season of forgiveness and reconciliation, I can’t help but wonder if there are countless spiritual teachers out there just like Cedric and Addolfo, locked far away from us, forgotten by everyone but their families.
This Yom Kippur, I’m thinking of Cedric’s letters to his mother, his brothers and his community – and his burning desire to bring honor back to his life and to those he loves. I’m thinking about Addolfo sitting alone in a cell in a super max prison, finding inner peace for the first time, and struggling to live up to the teaching “love your neighbor as yourself” in a place almost wholly devoid of anything resembling love.
Of course these spiritual lessons come at a huge price – to them and to us all. And that brings me to the second reason I’m telling you their stories. It’s because I sincerely wish to God they weren’t my spiritual teachers. They shouldn’t be. And if they are, then shame on us.
I don’t know any other way to say it: we live in a country that loves to lock people away. The US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. We’ve locked up 2,000,000 people in our country. And to our further shame, 70% of these inmates, like Cedric and Addolfo, are people of color.
But our shame grows even deeper than this. Our country – the United States – is the only country in the world – in the world – that sentences children to life in prison without possibility of parole. Right now there are approximately 2,570 child offenders serving life without parole throughout the US. 99 of them are right here in Illinois. The total number in the rest of the world is zero.
The shame yet deepens: outside of the United States the practice of handing down juvenile life sentences has become so unthinkable, it is now illegal as a basic principle of international law. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – which the US has still not ratified – prohibits life imprisonment of children. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice requires that imprisonment of children can only be imposed as a last resort and that it be limited to the shortest length of time necessary to protect society. And the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, requires that in sentencing children, states must “take account of their age and the desirability of promoting their rehabilitation.”
Now when it comes to innocence cases, I think we can all agree on the clear injustice that is being committed. No one condones imprisoning the innocent – least of all children. However, when it comes to locking children up, the injustice should be no less obvious to us. There is compelling evidence, for instance, to indicate that Cedric Cal is totally innocent of the crime of which he was convicted. But in a deeper sense, this is not and should not be the issue. The issue is that when we sentence children to life sentences for their crimes – even of murder – we as a society are essentially giving up on them..
It should come as no surprise that there is clear racial component to this shame.Here in Illinois, for instance, 82% of our imprisoned child offenders are people of color. And as my stories to you obviously indicate, there is an obvious socioeconomic component to consider as well. But again, on a deeper level, if we look deep into the heart of it, even this should not the basic issue. We simply should not be locking away our children and throwing away the key. When we lock children away without even the possibility of parole, we affirm that they are no longer our problem, that they simply do not matter to us any more. When we lock them away, we deem them irredeemable.
We say this even though we know there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Science has shown that teenagers are not yet completely formed, either physically or emotionally. Although children are able to grasp the concepts of “right” and “wrong” at a very young age, the nuances of weighing long term risks and benefits are lost on even late adolescents, making them more prone to take risks, more vulnerable to peer pressure, and less likely to understand the perspective of others or the consequences of their decisions.
We also know, through neurological research, that the brain does not fully develop until late adolescence, around or after the age of 18. Doctors have now provided a medical reason for the various behaviors identified as typical in adolescents: they are not capable of behaving like adults because they lack the developed brain structure to do so.
Psychological research also tells us that, it is precisely because their characters are not yet fully formed that children are uniquely susceptible to rehabilitation. It is reasonable to assume that given the chance, many child psychology experts say, even those young adults who commit the most serious crimes will be able to grow into mature and responsible adults.
When we deem our children irredeemable, we ultimately treat them as somehow disposable. Now anyone who has ever parented an adolescent knows that there are those moments when we are tempted to go to these dark places. But of course we resist these impulses because we know it would simply be unthinkable – unthinkable – to give up on our children.
And yet that is just what we are doing to our children in this country. In 26 states – including the state of Illinois – we are locking our children away and telling them they will have to live the rest of their natural lives in prison. We are the only country in the world that locks away its children forever.
I know these aren’t easy issues to talk about. Violent crime and criminal justice are perhaps the most gut-wrenchingly painful issues there are. The violation that results from violence goes deep and lasts life long. But having compassion for victims does not an should not exclude our compassion for perpetrators. We can and we must hold them together, especially when it involves children. This is, after all, the very essence of reconciliation – a spiritual ideal we have been wrestling for the past eight days. How can we, how will we, dig deep and discover reservoirs of compassion for all?
I’m sharing Cedric and Addolfo’s stories with you tonight because I believe we have much to learn from them this Yom Kippur. They have a great deal to teach us about how we might live our lives – and the ways we should live as a society. On this night of our vows, we must vow to do better by them, and by all the “child offenders” that are locked away in prisons throughout our state and our country.
I’d like to end by reading a letter. I received it from Cedric just this week:
Salaam Alaikum (Peace be unto you)
Dear Rabbi Brant,
May this missive find you in good spirits and health. Thank you for coming to spend a moment in time with me, to hear some of my life story to share with your community. Thank you for acknowledging our humanity. For we who are incarcerated are human beings that lost our way who are trying to find our way back. As you celebrate Yom Kippur as an individual, community and a nation, I hope that the spirit that comes forth from such activity gives you a determination to serve the voiceless and disenfranchised who desire to reconcile with the community and become productive citizens.
For once one atones, he/she has entered into God’s mercy and is absolved from past sins and transgressions and is free from it never to be judged again. I was a rebellious youth who lacked knowledge and suffered great chastisement from Allah/God. I believe I have atoned to God but yet I’m still despised and rejected by society because of being convicted of a crime. What will be the atonement process of prisoners and society at large? What will wipe the slate clean like God does for the Jews after Yom Kippur?
How long shall a child be held responsible for these transgressions? I was a 17 year old boy but I am 36 years old now. As a child, I thought as a child – now that I am a man I put away childish things, so says the Scriptures. I never experienced manhood outside the confines of prison. I truly desire the opportunity to be a father, the opportunity of marriage and to have a wife and children. To vote in an election. To own property, have a bank account. All these little thiings we take for granted, some of us have never even experienced.
I humbly ask that you lift your voice to deliver youth from inhumane sentences. We are your children. A mistake or error should not, must not, define our lives. We are redeemable. We are the product of society’s neglect and degenerative culture. I have been ashamed, abased for being such a child. I’ve repeated and made the determination to never return to such past transgressions again. I need society to give me a chance to prove myself worthy to be accepted back into the community.
I hope your speech to the larger community takes on the spirit of forgiveness and mercy. Then the action of bringing your collective voices to change a law that is against the principles of atonement. It would be a great demonstration of your forgiveness of us who transgressed the community. And a great proof that God is Most Merciful of those who show mercy.
May Allah (God) bless us all with the light of understanding.
This article was originally published in it’s complete form on rabbibrant.com
From The Huffington Post
A mantra is a sound, syllable or group of words which, when recited, are regarded as capable of producing spiritual transformation (or so says Wiki). Actually, mantra is a word common in the eastern world and is itself made up of two words: man meaning “mind,” andtra meaning “instrument.” So, a mantra is “an instrument of the mind.”
In eastern religions, and to a lesser degree in the mystical traditions of Christianity, meditators use mantras to center themselves and so bring health and wholeness to the inner self (or, greater unity between the mind, body and spirit). Benedictine monks regularly use scripture in this fashion. For example, they might recite in meditation over and over again the words, “The Lord is my shepherd” (from the 23rd Psalm).
by Elizabeth Bonney
from State of Formation
The topic for my seminar class on the evening of November 8th was “Forgiveness and Reconciliation.” We sat around the table that night discussing the various theological perspectives on the topic, commenting on the many theories proposed by top scholars in the field, and offering our own insights into the intellectual conversation at large. We do that well, here in divinity school; we easily get lost in the theorizing and intellectualizing, often forgetting to ask what these theories really mean for us.
You see, something else happened on that Monday here in New Haven. Earlier in the day, in a courthouse just a few blocks down the street from the hill where we found ourselves that evening, jurors approved that the death penalty could be applied to a man convicted of many counts of sexual violence and the murder of three (a mother and her two young daughters). The crimes for which the man was found guilty are horrendous, and there is no doubt in my mind that he should be held accountable for his actions.
However, as I sat around the seminar table that evening, I found my stomach painfully knotted with questions and an aching sense of responsibility. I kept asking myself: As a person of faith, what is my responsibility to forgiveness and reconciliation, and what does that look like? To whom should the faithful extend forgiveness? Are there limits to that forgiveness? I believe in justice, but I do not believe in vengeance. What is the role of faith communities in creating a space safe for the victims’ family to feel grief and long for vengeance, while maintaining a commitment to justice that their grief cannot? What about the jurors? Who is caring for them? In three days, they decided a man’s life was worth taking. What does that do to someone spiritually? How do we care for them?
Father Leonel Narvaez takes on the challenge of writing about a complex issue at depth. His op-ed for Eureka Street begins with the difficulties of establishing peace after 54,000 Colombia insurgents agreed to cooperate with the Commission of Reparation and Reconciliation. Narvaez goes on to discuss the necessity for both forgiveness and reconciliation in any progress to a genuine and lasting peace.
To read the full op-ed, click here.