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Students Walk to Protect Native Sacred Places In Midwestern United States

Students from Haskell Indian Nations University are embarking on 1,000 plus mile trip to bring awareness to the protection of Native American sacred places and present a copy of the Protection of Native American Sacred Places Act to Congress.

by Dana Attocknie
from the Native American Times

A dozen students from Haskell Indian Nations University are walking to the save the Wakarusa Wetlands, the only remaining native wetland prairie in Lawrence, Kan., from being destroyed in order to become the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT). Their walk through seven states is named the Trail of Broken Promises, and their first steps were taken on May 13, 2012 from Lawrence, Kan. Their journey will go through 50 communities, cover 1,100 to 1,300 miles, and end July 9 in Washington, D.C. where the students will present the Protection of Native American Sacred Places Act to Congress. The bill amends the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, “to ensure that federal laws protecting the free exercise of religion include protection of traditional Native American Sacred Places where ceremonies, commemorations, observances or worship are conducted or occur, and to provide a right of action to protect Native American Sacred Places.”

“This is a spiritual issue. We believe that Congress needs to address specific legislation to protect sacred places in an inclusive manner for all people whom those places affect … By walking the Trail of Broken Promises we call attention to the spiritual interconnectedness that we as human beings have with our environment and all elements within it,” Millicent Pepion, of the Navajo and Blackfeet Nations, said to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, on May 3 in Tulsa. “We declare that a mutual respect and dignity be given to Native American people in concerns that affect our home communities. We respectfully request that the U.S. government adhere to our cultural, social, medical, environmental, and spiritual interests that the Trail of Broken Promises members seek to protect.”

Pepion is active in the Wetlands Preservation Organization and the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Club at Haskell. Her quest to bring awareness to the wetlands is part of her Commitment to Action that was accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University. In her commitment letter she quotes Dr. Daniel Wildcat, her advisor, as reminding her, “‘It is not our right to protect Mother Earth, it is our responsibility.’”

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Securing Indigenous Rights to Sacred Places with the UN Declaration

Photo from Collaborative Journeys blog

by Karla E.General
from Indian Country Today Media Network.Com

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents a new opportunity and a new kind of legal authority that could help Native peoples to secure rights to sacred places, and to preserve and protect cultural, religious, and spiritual practices.

The Declaration recognizes and affirms the rights of indigenous peoples to their cultural, religious, and spiritual practices, to have private access to sacred sites (Arts. 12(1), 11(1)), as well as to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with their traditionally held lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources (Art. 25). With the Declaration, Native peoples have rights acknowledged by the international community of nations, including rights to sacred places both within existing reservation or territorial boundaries and beyond.

As rights-holders, Native nations and individuals have the right to cultural, religious, and spiritual practices. As duty-bearer, the U.S. has the responsibility to prevent infringement of these rights. For instance, the Declaration provides that the U.S. must consult with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent when considering projects affecting their lands, territories, and resources (Art. 32(2)) or when adopting any legislative or administrative measures that may affect them (Art. 19), and to provide redress for takings of cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property (Art. 11(2)). Generally, in implementing the Declaration, the U.S. is also obligated to, “in conjunction and cooperation with indigenous peoples … take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration” (Art. 38).

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Beastie Boys Co-Founder, Buddhism, and Islam

Photo of MCA of the Beastie Boys, who became a Buddhist, as well as a champion of mutual understanding between the US and Muslims. Photo from the Guardian

by Omid Safi
from Religion News Service (RNS)

If you are of a certain age (not gonna say it) and your impression of the Beastie Boys ends with “(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (to Party)”, “Sabotage”, or even “Intergalactic”, you might not have been keeping with the evolution of the Beastie Boys from hip-hop punks in the early 80’s to elder statesmen of the Hip-Hop world, converts to Buddhism, and defenders of the Tibetan cause.    Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, was one of the co-founders of Beastie Boys.

Born to a Catholic dad and a Jewish mother, MCA eventually found his spiritual home after meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the 1990’s.  This is how he expressed his own spiritual yearnings:

The feeling I get from the rinpoches and His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and Tibetan people in general. The people that I’ve met are really centered in the heart; they’re coming from a real clear, compassionate place. And most of the teachings that I’ve read about almost seem set up to distract the other side of your brain in order to give your heart center a chance to open up. In terms of what I understand, Buddhism is like a manual to achieve enlightenment—there are these five things and these six things within the first thing, and all these little subdivisions. And despite all of that right-brain information, it’s very heart-centered. At least that’s the feeling I get from the Tibetans. Also the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism have been passed down for a long time now. They have that system pretty well figured out.

MCA’s passing away was mourned by none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Adam had helped us raise awareness on the plight of the Tibetan people by organizing various freedom Tibet concerts and he will be remembered by his holiness and the Tibetan people.

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Storytelling to Restore the Sacred in Our Lives

Najeeba Syeed-Miller

Najeeba Syeed-Miller Professor Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D., teaches Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology. She has extensive experience in mediating conflicts among communities of ethnic and religious diversity, and has won awards for her peacemaking and public interest work.

by Najeeba Syeed-Miller
from MuslimVoices.org

I was recently offering a workshop to a group of Muslim educators from all types of ethnic, racial and community backgrounds. One of my points in the training on conflict resolution was the importance of story telling,the many ways that stories are formed, told and uttered in different cultural contexts.

Sometimes, the content of the story is less important than the way we tell the story.

We talked about how to listen to the form of the story being told, its inherent design logic, and what we learn about a person and her community from the way she chooses to tell her story especially in times of conflict. For it is in conflict times that we resort to what is most familiar and sacred to us all.

For years, I have had the honor of being a peacemaker, a mediator who listens to people’s stories. I jokingly told a colleague that I could tell what they were thinking even as they were telling their story just by the way they sat, how their hands moved, whether they looked away at certain points or by what they also did not say.

It is important to hear a story being told as a fully embodied experience. The words, the way they are arranged, the flow of the narrative, its resonance with body language give you a more complete vision and experience of the story and insights into the storyteller.

So I thought about the ways stories play into my work, into my life and into my recovery of the sacred capacity of humans to build peace with each other. Some thoughts are below.

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How Should Baptists Relate to Persons of Other Faiths?

by Robert Sellers

How should Baptists relate to persons of other faiths?  “Where am I going to meet someone like that?” might be the question of many Baptists, especially in the “Bible Belt” of the deep South.  Well, we no longer need to travel internationally to encounter them.  Here in this country they are our office colleagues, university classmates, town merchants and healthcare workers, active-duty soldiers, or local firefighters and police officers.  They congregate in community centers and shopping districts of our large cities, establishing an ethnic, cultural quarter that is distinct and well-defined.  They lobby city councils and zoning boards for permission to build mosques, temples, gurdwaras, or synagogues on quiet, tree-lined streets.  They manage play groups and summer camps, participate in science fairs and musical competitions, and conduct food and craft bazaars.  Most importantly, such families are living in our suburban neighborhoods, where we meet them at backyard barbecues and pool parties.  At school their youngsters become our children’s and grandchildren’s friends and competitors and may one day become our daughters- and sons-in law.  None of these new realities should surprise anyone, for this growing segment of our population belongs here, for they too are Americans.

Yet, the increasing cultural and religious plurality in the United States, coupled with recent world events, makes it difficult for many Americans to know just how to relate to minority religious and ethnic groups.  My immediate concern here, however, is how Baptist Americans—those of my own religious heritage—think about and treat our neighbors of other faiths.

CERTAINLY NOT WITH FEAR AND STEREOTYPING

There are several ways of relating to religious others.  One approach that is totally unproductive and damaging is to react with fear and stereotyping.  There is evidence of this negativity all around us.  Books that claim to know the “truth” about other religions line the shelves of popular Christian bookstores.  Internet “you-won’t-believe-it!” stories about religions and their practitioners are forwarded, perhaps by millions of church members, without regard for whether the accounts are factual or kind—or simply constitute urban legends, political propaganda, or hate-mongering.  Regrettably, Baptist leaders—the most recent being Robert Jeffress—make public statements that draw critical reactions and portray an intolerant spirit.

According to Harvard professor Diana Eck: “Without question, some Americans are afraid of the changing face of our country.  After all, the first response to difference is often suspicion and fear.”#  This nebulous fearfulness expresses itself in stereotypical thinking and unkind generalizations.  Reacting with fear and stereotyping, however, is uncivil and unchristian, yet Baptists have not been guiltless in this regard.  One particularly harsh judgment, for example, was made by Baptist Franklin Graham, who in the aftermath of 9-11 called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.”#  Speaking to NBC News in 2001, he remarked: “It wasn’t Methodists flying into those buildings, and it wasn’t Lutherans.  It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith.”#  Graham’s generalization circled the globe via the internet and painted Baptists worldwide in harsh shades of black and white.  As an institution dedicated to proselytism, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board has produced Prayer Guides that direct members of the denomination, especially during the high holy days of individual religions, to pray for “lost” Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Muslims who are bound by “confusing and mistaken belief[s]” and who practice “meaningless rituals.”#

Fomenting fear of followers of other faiths by making grossly stereotypical observations and patently untrue accusations—or uncritically passing along such inflammatory material—will not encourage peace or cooperation.  May Baptists never build walls when we ought to construct bridges.

NOT EVEN WITH INDIFFERENCE OR TOLERATION

A second possible approach to religious others is to act with indifference or toleration.  Perhaps we believe that tolerating differences is the best way, because it is a moral solution with impressive historical roots.  The Greek moralist Plato considered the crowning human virtue to be “harmonious action [that] forges a link between [an] individual and [others within society].”#  Immannuel Kant, the German Enlightenment rationalist, argued that people should act in such a way that they could be satisfied were their action the universal behavioral norm.#  These lofty European ideals were preceded by parallel sentiments from Asia.   Confucius taught his followers to cultivate loyalty, humanity, integrity, mutual respect, personal self-restraint, and harmonious family and social relationships.#  Similarly, the ancient Buddhist philosopher Shantideva taught that “[i]f you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience, and understanding.”#  So, tolerating others is certainly better than not tolerating them!

The problem with toleration, however, is that it may just be a polite word for “indifference.”   Diana Eck acknowledges that “[a]lthough tolerance is no doubt a step forward from intolerance, it does not require new neighbors to know anything about one another.  Tolerance can create a climate of restraint but not one of understanding.”#  Tolerance becomes indifference if its mantra morphs from “we all have a right to be ourselves” to “let them just be whoever they want.”  Whenever our language turns from talk of “we” to references to “they,” a dichotomy, a chasm, a rift has formed between us and them, between ourselves and the “Other.”

As America becomes more religiously and culturally pluralistic, some Baptists regrettably practice only toleration, mistaking the philosophical moral norm for the ethic of Jesus Christ, which is much more demanding.  May we never merely tolerate our multi-religious neighbors, much less treat them with indifference, as if they are not important to God.

BUT WITH COMPASSION AND FRIENDSHIP

How, then, should Baptists relate to religious others?  We need to respond with compassion and friendship.  Jesus is our model for approaching others.  He crossed multiple barriers that separated respectable religious folk of his day from the foreigners, disenfranchised, and marginalized of Palestinian society.  Toward a host of persons whom most merely tolerated, and others who were feared, stereotyped, and even violently oppressed, Jesus was inclusive, attentive, helpful, and befriending.

Of course, genuine friendships require honest communication, which necessitates both talking and listening—dialogue instead of monologue.  Also, friendships are always more successful where there is mutual esteem and a genuine interest in the other.  Such connections require both time and great patience.  This kind of relationship that stretches across cultural and religious barriers may be more difficult, but it is adventuresome and hugely rewarding.

CONCLUSION

Genesis 18, in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament, records the occasion when Abraham was sitting outside his tent at Mamre, seeking a breeze on a stiflingly hot Middle Eastern day.  Three strangers appeared in the hazy distance—perhaps enemies, clearly not a part of Abraham’s clan.  But, interestingly, Abraham eagerly went to greet the strangers, first falling down before them in an extravagant gesture of welcome, later offering a warm meal and place to rest in his personal tent.  British historian, comparative religionist, and author Karen Armstrong astutely notes that “during the ensuing conversation, it transpires quite naturally that one of these strangers is Abraham’s God.  The act of practical compassion led directly to a divine encounter.”#

It is my conviction, one I passionately hold, that most of the people who follow other faiths—like most Baptists—are good people who would like to tear down the walls of separation and build bridges of connection.  But in order for us to do our part, we must not react to them with fear and stereotyping.  We have to go beyond mere indifference or toleration.  The way forward, the way of Jesus, is to respond with compassion and friendship.  And, when we risk forging new friendships with our multi-religious neighbors, they will no longer be as strangers to us. Such a bonding can provide an experience of real transcendence, for in acting toward them in a godly fashion, we will be enriched by the evidences of God in them.

Robert P. Sellers is professor of missions and theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and represents Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA.  He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Nontheists, Christians Meet for Dialogue, Better Mutual Understanding

by Heather Keel
from herald-mail.com

A secular humanist, an agnostic and an atheist walk into a church.

That wasn’t the setup for a joke Wednesday night in Hagerstown, but for an evening of impassioned discussion hosted by the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County to encourage dialogue among people with different beliefs and ideas.

About 50 people attended the group’s “Dialogue with Non-Theists,” held at Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.

Ed Branthaver, a member of Hagerstown Freethinkers, moderated a panel discussion by secular humanist Eldon Winston, agnostic Zsun-nee Matema and atheist Brian Fields, about how their philosophies shape their beliefs about morality, the soul and what happens after death.

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Buddhist Monk Brings Authentic Tibetan Influence to Texas

Lama Lobtsul, the resident lama at Palri Pema Od Ling in Austin, with the Buddhist center’s statue of Guru Rinpoche.

by Michael Hoinski
from the New York Times

Each morning Lama Lobtsul, the lama in residence at the Buddhist center Palri Pema Od Ling in Austin, enters the temple and performs the important task of arranging offerings of water, candles and incense in front of the rare statue of Guru Rinpoche.

This 13-foot-tall, 2,500-pound brass representation of the India Buddhist master who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century radiates like a beacon from behind picture windows overlooking busy 45th Street, across from the Hyde Park Christian Church, in a mostly residential area.

“If you make aspirations in front of the statue,” said Lama Lobtsul via Ila Reitz, his translator, “then it will be of great benefit to you in this life and future lives — just as if you were in front of Guru Rinpoche.”

There is more to the statue than meets the eye. It is filled with medicines, mantra prayers and approximately 1,000 books, including the canonical text and teachings of the Buddha. It is also heavy with flashy adornments, among them a trident with a staff made of three heads representing the three kayas, or expressions of the Buddha. In Guru Rinpoche’s lap sits a blue, white and gold kapala, or skull cup, filled with a nectar that represents spiritual awakening.

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May 8th, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Faith and Race: A Dialogue Worth Having

by Phillipe Copeland

According to the Abrahamic traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith, the universe itself was spoken into being. This offers a fitting metaphor for the promise of interreligious dialogue, the promise of a new creation. Like the speaking into being of the universe, for interreligious dialogue to fulfill this promise requires attention to detail. We must be attentive not only to what we are dialoguing about but who is engaged in the dialogue.

In my experience, interreligious dialogue is too often limited to issues of religious identity. The exception tends to be gender. Given that women represent at least half of the human race, talking about the intersection of faith and gender is time well spent. However, historical forces and contemporary social, political and social realities have conspired to make each of us not only gendered beings but also highly racialized beings. Race is always in the room when interreligious dialogue is going on whether we acknowledge it or not.

This may appear self evident, but ask yourself how many interreligious dialogues you have participated in where race is not discussed even in societal contexts rife with racial conflict and oppression? The silence can indeed be deafening. Can there truly be a full and rich exchange across faiths if the meanings people are making of race and the spiritual resources they draw on to combat racism aren’t being discussed? For example, when I participate in an interreligious dialogue, I am never only participating as a Baha’i, but as a Black, male, Baha’i living in the United States. Understanding my faith requires understanding how it is embodied in my experience of being a Black man in America.

For example, I have been invited to interreligious dialogue where participants would walk away having learned a great deal about the life and mission of Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. They may have heard about Baha’i laws and spiritual practices. They most certainly would have heard something regarding Baha’i teachings about social justice. What they may not have heard is that Baha’u’llah compared Black people to the pupil of the eye which is “dark in color but a fountain of light and revealer of the…world.” They may not grasp the impact of this metaphor, which subverts centuries of propaganda making darkness an undesirable trait, on my healing from internalized racial inferiority. They might miss the contribution that the multi-racial, international community Baha’u’llah has raised up has had on the salvation of Black men like me. To offer one example, in 2006 I was welcomed along with thirty-one other Black men from the United States to the Baha’i World Center, located in Haifa, Israel. Our recent services, collaborating with Baha’is in Ghana in the process of community-building, were graciously recognized. Men, whom at home were so often the objects of fear and loathing were celebrated like heroes by people from virtually every nation on earth. It was a taste of heaven I will not soon forget. For me to engage in interreligious dialogue and fail to share such intersections of faith and race represent missed opportunities. Others may fail to appreciate an essential aspect of Baha’i teaching and practice. More importantly, they may miss the chance to engage in a dialogue about the role religion can play in freeing humanity from the inevitable consequences of the color line. Surely that is a dialogue worth having.

Thankfully, I’ve had opportunities to bring my racial reality to interreligious dialogues. One of my fondest memories of being a student at Harvard Divinity School was working with a white, male Unitarian Universalist on a series of dialogues about race and culture for students, faculty and staff. As an alumnus, I was able to participate in a panel discussion about faith-based responses to crisis among people of African Descent that included Baha’i, Muslim and Christian perspectives. These conversations deepened the theological reflection of all involved about the intersection of faith and race and were richer for it. In these conversations, I caught glimpses of the promise of interreligious dialogue, of new worlds of racial unity and justice spoken into being.

Phillipe Copeland is author of the award winning blog Baha’i Thought that provides commentary on religion, society, and culture informed by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. He is a contributing scholar to the multi-author blog State of Formation that is sponsored by the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. Mr. Copeland is an adjunct faculty member of the Boston University School of Social Work and is a clinical social worker specializing in behavioral health and forensics.

Man Explores Twelve Traditions in Twelve Months

by Amanda Greene
from The Christian Century

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 — his year of conversion.

But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

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Social Justice as a Unifying Issue for Dharmic Communities

Joshua Stanton, Co-Founder, Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, State of Formation

by Joshua Stanton
from the Huffington Post

Religious communities are never the same once they reach America. In my view, they often become even more remarkable.

As a third-generation American Jew, it is at times even challenging for me to think of Judaism apart from the American experience. In spite of hardships early on for our community, the search for common threads between the disparate Jewish groups that came in droves to America two (and more) generations ago forced us to reexamine and hone our religious beliefs. What actually bound us together?…

As has become quite evident in the past several years, another set of religious groups, bolstered by recent waves of immigrants to America, is also looking to social justice as a possible unifying trope. Launched by Anju Bhargava, Hindu-American visionary and founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, this effort seeks to increase long-term collaboration between Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities through religiously inspired volunteerism, charity and social services.

Together, these groups — several of which are comprised primarily of immigrants from South and East Asia — represent what may be described as Dharmic religious communities and a new coalition in the American religious landscape. They are seeking a unique American identity and niche for their adherents. Like other religious communities that have flourished during and after waves of immigration, they appear poised to make essential contributions to American society.

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