Archive for the ‘interfaith’ tag
Parliament Chair Abdul Malik Mujahid, Former V.P. Al Gore, and National Spiritual Leaders to Conclude Religions for the Earth Conference at Multi-Faith Service in NYC
On Sunday, September 21, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will be speaking at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service at New York City’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
Mujahid’s view that “faith leaders must all join hands to save the only planet we have” will come to life at the service featuring a prestigious group of leaders in the religious, spiritual, and Earth-spiritual communities presented in collaboration with Former-Vice President of the United States Al Gore, who is also slated to speak.
Speakers and attendees will be enveloped in celebratory acts of music, performance and ritual all building toward a massive pledge of spiritual communities honoring the sacred environment in real, practical actions.
As a co-sponsor of the Religions for the Earth conference, the Parliament will be connecting with a strategic assembly of 200 other leaders in interfaith, religious, faith and spiritual organizations. Union Theological Seminary is hosting the conference as part of events kicking off NY Climate Week in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit.
In Mujahid’s view, the growing commitments faith communities are making to advance environmental protections will see more promising results by applying the influence leaders can have in multiple ways.
Mujahid says, “As more than 40 percent of America listens to pulpits every week, we must not only preach the gospel of sharing more and consuming less. But also, we must do our best to influence the guiding institutions to become more serious in urgently developing the relevant public policies. Better public policies and better consumer behavior both are needed. And this will be a major theme in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.”
Religions for the Earth Conference attendees will also participate in the biggest climate march in history, The People’s Climate March, expected to unite over 100,000 environmental stewards organizing from across all social institutions on Sunday, September 21. Faith and interfaith representation at the march will climb into the multiple thousands.
Peace activism in general will reach a global high on September 21, which is the United Nations official observance of International Day of Peace, coinciding with satellite climate events taking place all over the world.
The evening Religions for the Earth Multi-Faith Service is open to the public, featuring speakers including:
- Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder – IceWisdom International, Eskimo, Kalaallit Elder
- Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Sioux 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle
- Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Founder – Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth
- Ms. Dekila Chungyalpa, Environmental Advisor to His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
- Father Edwin Gariguez, General Secretary – Caritas Philippines
- Former Vice-President Al Gore, Chairman – The Climate Reality Project
- Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
- Reverend Dr. James Kowalski, Director – Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
- Iriama Margaret Lokawua, Director – Indigenous Women Environmental Conservation Project
- Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair – Parliament of the World’s Religions
- Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder – Navdanya
- Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder – Sojourners
- Terry Tempest Williams, Writer and Teacher
When: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 6 p.m. EST
Where: The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
Religions for the Earth MultiFaith Service is being presented by host Union Theological Seminary, and co-sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, GreenFaith, Interfaith Center of New York, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, and the Cathedral Saint John the Divine.
Sharing an update with the Parliament about his work in Liberia during the recent Ebola crisis, Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Victor Garpulee, gives us hope that in times of humanitarian emergency, commitment to the Interfaith movement is building support between neighbors. Here is his pictorial essay:
Victor’s Parliament of the World’s Religions group in Liberia demonstrates will and commitment to work with students, as well as religious, social, and other institutions to promote the Parliament’s Faiths Against Hate initiative, and eliminate violence and discrimination.
“The banner above is a working material of Parliament Liberia as we go in communities and institutions where there are people of difference faith to sensitize them about respecting people of other faiths.”
An awareness of the Ebola epidemic that is taking away the lives of the people of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The below letter shows how Parliament Liberia is demonstrating will to work with various institutions across the country.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein on his nomination by President Obama to lead the United States Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom. Saperstein who serves as Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would become the first non-Christian to take the office now vacant for nine months.
Board Chair Mujahid welcomes the unprecedented move of the Obama Administration to advance a Jewish Rabbi to lead the office first established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Mujahid’s congratulatory letter highlights Saperstein’s “admirable record of touching humanity through faith-based justice,” and commends his expert leadership as an example of how progress can be achieved through engaging the guiding institutions.
In addressing the interfaith movement at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, Saperstein hosted an engagement session entitled “The State and Religious Freedom,” and was featured prolifically on panels including:
- Poverty Must No Longer Be With Us with Huruhisa Handa, Jim Wallis, Katherine Marshall, Dr. A T Ariyaratne, Tim Costello, Sulak Sivaraksa and Sr. Joan Chittister
- Democracy and Diversity in Global Perspective with Anwar Ibrahim, Pal Ahluwalia, Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr. M Din Syamsuddin, and Dr. Barabara McGraw
- The Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Public Discourse with Archbishop Philip Freier
Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill,” Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The Center not only advocates on a broad range of social justice issues but provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues nationwide, and coordinates social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.
Read more about Rabbi David Saperstein.
New Parliament Ambassador on Creating California-Based Children’s Interfaith Organization First Drops
Orange County, California area interfaith program First Drops teaches children about a variety of religions through fostering relationships and taking different religious sites and experience it for themselves. The curiosity of children and their eagerness to learn about religion fuels the organization. Parents and community members provide children resources as a means of learning about many religions. They also participate in monthly community service projects including feeding hungry families, as well as many more projects and activities. Recently the children’s filming of “An Interfaith Carol” submitted to the World Interfaith Harmony Week Film competition won in its category.
Farrah Khan, a new Ambassador of the Parliament and founder of First Drops shares the following reflection on how this kind of active interfaith community cultivates respect for everyone.
First Drops was founded in the Spring of 2011. The idea came from the need to answer various questions my son who was in 5th grade had about religions. Even with my knowledge, I knew that it would be best for him to get his information from the source, so I took him to my friend’s church. He enjoyed the experience of attending mass, that’s when I knew I had to do more. I called up a few friends whose kids were the same age as mine and asked them if they would be interested in joining up for small discussions. The group of six kids and parents developed into an organization in less than two months.
Currently, First Drops educates children and their families about the many religions that surround them through site visits. Each site visit is a unique experience. The host facility usually gives an over view of their religion, provides a tour of the facility, and an opportunity to observe or engage in their religious service followed by a Q & A session. Then we usually are invited to a more casual setting where members of the congregation and our First Drops families have a chance to mingle and munch on snacks. This is a great learning experience because the child has an opportunity to experience the religion rather than reading about it in a book. The children have visited during Christmas Mass, Easter Mass, Purim, Celebration of Nirvana (Buddhism), Celebration of Ridvan (Baha’i) and much more. These experiences are what will become a lasting memory.
Our children also engage in community service. Every 2nd Sunday of the month, the children serve 100-150 homeless people in the Santa Ana downtown district. The families prepare the food and the children serve each guest. This has taught the children that respect for humanity comes first. After the first few feedings, the children began looking into ways to help our brothers and sisters living on the streets. So each month, the children come up with ways to help even more. During the rainy season, the children collected 200 rain ponchos and passed them out. These ponchos were either bought by the children’s own money or by asking friends, family and neighbors to purchase them. On Mother’s Day, the children passed out flower bouquets to every woman. The flowers were contributed by Trader Joe’s. We have held several clothing, toy and book drives throughout the year.
The children are welcome to use their own ideas to help foster a more compassionate world. They have produced an interfaith film called “An Interfaith Carol” which won the World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival first place for Youth Film. They are regular participants at the Irvine Global Village Festival and The Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council’s Celebration of Thanksgiving where they sing interfaith related songs.
We are teaching the children that in today’s world, it is important to work with others to improve. We partner with CROP Hunger Walk and collect money to help feed the needy around the world.
First Drops was recently asked to come under the Orange County Interfaith Network’s umbrella. This opportunity will give us access to over 12 interfaith councils and grow the organization.
My personal desire is to bridge the gap between those of us who are currently working in the interfaith arena and our next generation. One day, we will all be on the same page and the world will see peace.
Originally appeared in Milwaukee Journal Sentinal July 17, 2014, as reported by Annysa Johnson.
More than 100 faithful from a variety of religious traditions gathered at Milwaukee’s All Saints Cathedral on Wednesday to pray for peace in the Middle East, a response to the escalating hostilities in Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Worshippers sang “Donna Nobis Pacem,” or “Grant us Peace” in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. And Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Unitarian clergy offered their prayers and insights into what it means to work for and live in peace.
“It was very touching and profound,” said an emotional Mary Kelly of Milwaukee, who is Catholic. “There is just such a feeling of helplessness,” around the issues in the Middle East, she said.
“We have such a long way to go — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Milwaukee. I’m just happy that this congregation saw the need to pull us all together.
The service was organized by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, which works to find common ground among religious traditions. Like other flashpoints in the Middle East, the Gaza crisis has heightened tensions in Milwaukee’s Jewish and Muslim communities, which tend to view the conflict from different perspectives.
Here are excerpts from the prayers offered Wednesday, in the order they were spoken:
The Very Rev. Kevin Carroll, dean of All Saints Cathedral: “We can pray for peace in far off lands. But our prayers will ring hollow if we ourselves fail to model what peace looks like — in our homes, in our families, in our relationships and in our communities. …Peace starts with prayer. But it also starts right here, right now, with all of us sitting in this room.
Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hying, Archdiocese of Milwaukee: Loving and peaceful God, help us to see ourselves and each other as you see us, beautiful; created in your image; open to love; hearts that are made for peace and good will, sacrifice and generosity. … Help us to love as you love, to forgive as you forgive, to be an extension of your mercy and your peace in this world, and to be signs of your kingdom in our midst.
The Rev. Craig M. Howard, Presbytery of Milwaukee: Deliver us from the hardness of heart that keeps us locked in violent confrontation with one another. Give to us your spirit of love so that we may show compassion. Teach us to walk in humility so we might live in peace with our sisters and brothers. And most of all, God, change our hearts.
Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Islamic Society of Milwaukee: Almighty God …we are ruthlessly subjugating, terrorizing and killing each other based upon narrow identities. Guide us to stop this needless violence, terror, aggression, cold blooded murders and destruction. … We beseech you to bring an end to this needless bloodbath and wanton destruction.
Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, Congregation Shalom: Teach us to work for the welfare of all people, to diminish the evil and pains that beset us. And to enlarge those virtues we know will bring dignity and peace to all the peoples of the earth. So bless our striving to make real the dream of peace among all humankind. May we put an end to the suffering we inflict upon one another and cherish the dignity of the soul that abides in each human being.
The Rev. Linda Hansen, Unitarian Universalists: We pray for the power to see that we are all connected … and that we ultimately help or harm ourselves in helping or harming one another. Out of this vision, may we have the will and the courage to work for a just and peaceful world in which every individual is treated with dignity.
The Rev. Stephen J. Polster, Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Church: And so we pray as we gather here … that you will strengthen our resolve to give witness to the truths by the way we live. Give to us understanding that puts an end to strife, mercy that quenches hatred, forgiveness that overcomes vengeance. Impart all of us here and everywhere to live in your law of love.
Swarnjit Arora, of the Sikh community: We are children of one God. … Then how can we say one child is better than the other child. All children in your eyes Lord are sacred. … We pray for peace in the Middle East. Oh God … Give us strength to stand up for peace and non-violence in our world. … We pray for chardi kala, the well-being of each and every human being.
The Rev. Jean Dow, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church: Though we come from different places and express our faith in different ways, give us a common concern, that we may share our deep convictions as people of faith and continue to pray and work together side by side, hand in hand. And Let us pray without ceasing for peace first within our own minds hearts and spirits, so that each of us might also be instruments of your peace and bearers of reconciliation in this city, in our neighborhoods, in our families and in our faith communities.
The Sikhs erected what was a place of worship and education. It was beautifully done in a huge tent-like structure. They offered food to everyone for a noonday meal. Upon entering the structure, we removed our shoes. I discovered that after the meal the shoes had been cleaned! What a wonderful loving gesture.
We were then directed to the floor that served as the dining hall. Long rolls of paper on the floor served as our dining table. Most of us sat on the floor to eat. A few tables were scattered about for those who needed to sit on chairs. But most of us opted to sit on the floor. On the floor were Americans in American-casual attire. Some Catholic nuns were wearing their tradition habits. Some men were in business suits; others wore blue jeans and t-shirts. There were men and women from the East in colorful robes. All were served scrumptious meals and water – as much as anyone wanted. The servers were pleasant, kind and courteous. People of different cultures, faiths and clothing came together in love, with open minds, receptive hearts and smiling faces. It was truly what the culture of the 1960s might call “A Love In.” Peace, love and food – that was the experience (not to mention clean shoes!).
This is the impression that stayed with me: One could talk about peace, diversity and understanding. There were fantastic speakers, programs and performances, but in the communal meal, lovingly served without being for a donation, we experienced what was the best of interfaith. Hungry people were fed. Diversity was honored. People were happy and were filled with love and nutritious food.
What remains with me is the conversations I had with attendees at the end of the Parliament. Yes, we loved the venue on the coast of Spain. We loved the city of Barcelona. We loved the gatherings. And what I heard most from the fellow-attendees was the langar. People prepared and served the food. Participants ate, met, mingled with others and were filled. It was a palpable example of peace and loving service in action. Five years before the Barcelona Parliament, I had gone to Cape Town by myself. I came home aglow with love and appreciation for all faiths. I really wanted my wife to have a similar experience. I went to my denomination’s headquarters to plead with them to have a large presence in Barcelona. They did and I was proud of them. It is one thing to talk a good talk, but the Sikhs walked their talk.
Someone has said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” What I saw was people serving one another and loving one another. I was honored to participate. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my reminiscences. Diverse cultures and religions, good food and humble servant leadership — what could be better? I can’t think of one thing!
Reverend John Strickland attended seminary at Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO. In 1999, Rev. Strickland’s representation at Unity’s delegate to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa marked a strong interfaith commitment. By 2003, Rev. John received the Light of God Expressing Award, the highest honor within Unity, at the Annual Minister’s Conference in Kansas City. During December of 2009, he led a contingent of Unity members to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. At present, Rev. Strickland resides and serves in the Atlanta, GA region.
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.
Looking back, I never would have imagined that my introduction to the interfaith movement would change the trajectory of my undergraduate career. Now, as a new graduate of Saint Louis University, I find myself at odds with this transitional moment in my life. For the past four years, the interfaith work in which I have been so thoroughly involved helped me find a voice for my passion and put my values into action. But more importantly, it allowed me to cultivate a community out of solidarity.
Interfaith organizing on a college campus can sometimes feel surreal. On a college level, I have had access to student groups, allies, and resources that help mobilize like-minded individuals to action. It’s easy to feel like you’re making a difference. The frustrating part can be when you feel like you’re preaching to the choir. Yet, at the end of the day, I can confidently say that my interfaith work has allowed me to strengthen my own leadership. It has helped me build a coalition of inspired young people, who are ready to create change.
The truth is, I feared not knowing how to access similar communities once I graduated. One of the biggest criticisms that the interfaith movement, like many other movements, is that it can tend to be idealized and focuses more on dialogue and less on action. I worried that this would become a reality for me without the network and resources I had previously worked so closely with.
This past month, I was one of two students who were selected as the St. Louis Citizens for Global Solutions Chapter Essay Contest winners. In the essay, we were asked to speak about what the US can do to solve our global issues. I wrote about the role that a global ethic could play towards creating a new cadre of religiously and culturally competent citizens around the world, and how it could serve as a call to action for faith and secular communities.
While in Washington D.C., we learned about a variety of issues including world federalism, international treaties, and grassroots leaderships. We attended a conference sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions, and lobbied on Capital Hill. I was most surprised on the last day of the conference, when I attended a workshop about how the major World Religions can help establish a peace system of a democratic world federal government. Dr. Oughton, the guest presenter, referenced the Parliament of the World Religions’ Global Ethic as a guiding document to action.
I was, like everyone else in the room, truly inspired by the notion that interreligious dialogue can help build peace and justice in our global communities. I now understand that interfaith action is something that applies to all communities – both domestically and internationally. The world’s religions are responsible for building a foundation of peace by promoting the ideals of a global community through the teachings of the Golden Rule, the Global Ethic, the Charter for Compassion, and so forth. Interfaith is not limited to one network or community; it is all encompassing and inclusive to any worldview. As I begin this transition to the working world, I am certain that my motivation for interfaith action will continue to shape my experiences and interactions.
Ms. Sara Rahim, is a Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Rep to the UN-DPI, and a recent graduate of Saint Louis University in Public Health and International Studies. Sara’s passion for social justice expands to global health, interfaith, and refugee/migration issues. She has studied Arabic in Egypt, offered healthcare in Honduras, and spent a semester in Morocco, where she conducted a study on access to healthcare for undocumented sub-Saharan migrants. She later returned to Morocco to work with grassroots NGOs that focus on sub-Saharan female migrants’ health. On campus, Sara has spearheaded the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge for the past two years, while organizing student interfaith programming. Off campus, Sara has interned at Interfaith Youth Core coaching students to be leaders of interfaith action, and she has worked in refugee resettlement at World Relief. In the future, Sara would like to pursue a career in global health and international development, with a focus on communities in conflict, and she hopes to use interfaith as a tool towards sustainable development.
By Kevin Childress
There simply was no diversity in the small southern town I grew up in. Virtually 100 percent of the population was white, middle-class Baptists. The most “exotic” people in town were a small number of Lutherans, including my close friend Laura and her family. Hearing how people talked about Lutherans, I wanted to defend them, and I started seeing myself as an outsider like them. From that time onward I have identified with outsiders.
As an adult, my life has taken me around the world (for example, I lived in Armenia for two years, working with the Peace Corps). I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Russia, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. And in all these places I have witnessed expressions of hatred and superiority that one group of people directs at another. No country is free of it. But in those same countries I witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sympathy and respect for outsiders.
When I finally got around to it in my 40s, I went back to school to formally study comparative religion (the comparison of doctrines and practices of the world’s faith traditions). It was something I had always wanted to learn more about, perhaps because of my commitment to respecting outsiders. I never wanted to solely study a particular religion, as it is the diversity in particular that most fascinates me, and what I wanted to center my work around.
Two years ago, I read a blog by Lisa Sharon Harper (a columnist with “Sojourners”) about her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan. The idea was appealing to me, as it clearly conveyed a message of respect for, and solidarity with, Muslims.
When I decided to fast last Ramadan, I posted something about it on my Facebook page. That was all I initially said about it to anyone. I prepared myself for fasting with what I thought was practical planning – figuring out schedules for when I would prepare and eat food. I am such an organized person (one of those people with a Master List of smaller “to do” lists), and I dove into it with enthusiasm. For a while it was pretty easy. And I learned a lot of tips. For one thing, it helps to have ready-to-eat food on hand. Late at night, I sometimes just didn’t have the energy to cook. And it’s important to be sure to eat when the time arrives – missing the mealtime window can make for a very uncomfortable day.
Some people say they gain spiritual insight during fasting. It might sound odd, but I have to say that during my fasting time, I found myself reading more poetry, and thinking about the world around me in poetic terms. I rarely ever write poetry, but during fasting I found myself writing haikus about the smell of summer rain, or the intricacies of a well-made shirt. I developed a kind of stillness in my mind that allowed me to “unpack” an idea, to hold it to the light and attempt to see it more clearly. Some people might joke I was simply experiencing protein deficiency or something, but I don’t think that was it. I think I was just a little closer to what I call the “eternal,” and what most people call God.
My post on Facebook attracted a bit of attention. Muslim friends sent me the obligatory “High Five” comments in the beginning, and checked in with me on occasion to see how I was faring. Muslims I hadn’t met before sent me friend requests, because they’d seen something about my fasting on their friends’ Facebook pages. As Ramadan went on, people started sharing with me how fasting was altering their views of the world and themselves, often (to my surprise and pleasure) using poetry as a means of communicating their feelings. One friend on Facebook quoted the Sufi poet Rumi, who compared the fasting person to a musical instrument ready to be played: “We are lutes, no more, no less.” I had often heard that fasting during Ramadan brought Muslims together, spiritually and emotionally (through their shared experience), and physically (in breaking the fast every evening). It was interesting to discover the same type of thing happening virtually.
My first invitation to attend an Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) came from someone I had met on Facebook. At that Iftar, I met numerous people who in turn invited me to other Iftars. Thanks to these invitations, I could easily have gone to a different one every evening, and quite a few of them were interfaith iftars – some hosted by city politicians who weren’t even Muslim. And it was in the gathering together with people to break the fast that I knew I was engaging in something marvelous and important: around the table, as we met and got to know each other, we changed from strangers into neighbors.
As Ramadan continued, what started to be a problem for me were encounters with people who didn’t know I was fasting. I would show up at someone’s home and they would have this lovely lunch laid out. “I made lasagna because I know how much you love it,” a friend said. It reminded me of a time in Armenia when a poor village family had invited me over for a meal. In honor of my visit, they had killed their only goat, and fried its liver. They brought the dish to the table with such pride, and I remember feeling queasy just looking at it. But, in knowing what it cost them – and what it meant to them to serve me – I ate as much of it as I could. So when faced with the lasagna, I made a quick decision to eat it. Later I felt bad about breaking my fast, thinking I had failed. But then I realized I had sacrificed something that was important to me in order to offer my respect and regard for another person. Maybe I hadn’t failed after all.
For the rest of Ramadan, I fasted as much as I could, but I broke fast when situations like this arose. A Muslim would never make such concessions, of course – and they would rarely face such situations anyway, since most people know they are fasting. But for me, my fasting had been successful because it prompted me to be mindful of food, and to think about the function of food in society. The sharing of food can break the ice between strangers; it can be a gesture of hospitality, and an indication of trust and respect. And it certainly helps us to celebrate joyful moments in our lives, when people come together around a table to share a meal.
Beside fasting during Ramadan, there are countless ways a person can join in experiencing the faiths of other people. Guests are warmly welcomed at the Jewish Passover Seder, Christmas Mass, a Sikh Diwan, or the annual Hindu Diwali. But what I learned from my Ramadan experience is something that perhaps leaders and members of faith communities should keep in mind: for the people outside your doors who are interested in sharing your faith – they need to be invited. An implicit and generic “We are always open to visitors” isn’t really enough. Much better to issue an explicit and specific invitation, a “We invite you to join us next Tuesday” type of thing. Like a meal, the sharing of faiths requires a proper invitation.
About the author: Kevin Childress is the sole proprietor of SocialNet Works, LLC. While his academic background is in Comparative Religion, his professional background is in Business, with more than a decade of experience in Information Technology, Public/Media & Donor Relations, Executive Management and Finance. He has extensive knowledge of digital imaging, including video production and, of course, all avenues of social media. A 22-year resident of Manhattan, Kevin has worked with religious and civic leaders in every borough of New York City.
By Rev. John L. McCullough and Rev. David Beckmann
Via “The Hill”
As religious leaders and faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) committed to promoting the dignity of every human being, we are keenly aware of the irreplaceable role American leadership plays on the world stage. The work we NGOs do would not have nearly the impact it has without U.S. government leadership and funding, which, through our own leadership and private funding, we leverage every day.
Together we are helping build healthier generations in even in the most desperate places. Our work does not just alleviate the emergency at hand, we work to mitigate disasters before they hit. Building strength and resilience in anticipation of unavoidable catastrophes prevents avoidable deaths. It helps populations make a fast comeback so they can get back to the act of living and not just surviving until the next catastrophe strikes.
Take Africa’s Sahel, infamous for its history of famine. Because “building resilience” is underway, during the massive 2011 drought, children did not die by the tens of thousands as they tragically did in areas we have yet to reach, such as Somalia. Our public and private partnerships across the region have made it better able to weather the recurring cycle of droughts. How? With health centers that provide nutrition when it’s needed most; more resilient drought-resistant crops; diversified food sources; improved livestock survival rates; preserved food stocks; safe water storage; roads that get crops to market and keep local economies afloat.
Foreign assistance can dramatically reduce the need for expensive emergency relief, and, most importantly, it saves and improves lives for the long haul. Foreign assistance from the U.S. and many other countries around the world is making smart investments that enable communities to thrive and momentum is on our side:
- Six million fewer children died last year from preventable diseases than in 1990 and a record-breaking number of children around the world now live past their fifth birthday. Nutrition interventions during the critical first 1,000 days from pregnancy to age two help to ensure a child’s ability to grow, learn, and thrive throughout their lifetime. Every dollar invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity. It is exciting to see that the U.S. government will soon announce a landmark, comprehensive nutrition strategy on global maternal and child nutrition.
- Investments in primary education have helped increase the global literacy rate by 33 percent and triple primary school enrollment in the last 25 years. Individual earnings increase 10 percent for every year of school completed which fuels economic productivity among these countries, many of whom are also our trade partners.
- The U.S. government has supported life-saving HIV/AIDS antiretroviral treatment for 6.7 million men, women, and children worldwide. Of the 780,000 pregnant women who tested positive for HIV last year, 95 percent of their children were born HIV-free due to treatment interventions.
- Then there’s polio. On the verge of eradication, polio once crippled 350,000 children every year. Last year there were 400 documented cases worldwide.
As the U.S. Congress works on appropriations, every American who believes in the basic dignity of a human being must continue to support this momentum. That means funding for humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance programs must remain at levels comparable or higher than those enacted in the previous year.
We don’t believe there is a choice here. How can we stomach the desperate looks on children’s faces and refuse to help when we know we are able? Each of us, citizens and elected representatives, reflect the priorities of this great nation, and among the most important is hope and compassion for all God’s children.
Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging Congress to end hunger domestically and abroad. McCullough is president and CEO of Church World Service, a global humanitarian agency with programs in development and humanitarian affairs, advocacy for social justice, and refugee assistance.