Browsing the blog archives for September, 2010

Is Peace Possible?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Is peace possible?  Across the world people are observing International Day of Peace on September 21. We participate in polishing the world by cultivating and practicing peace in our lives.  The trinity of reconciling peace – peace within, peace among and peace between – is possible. 

Peace Within. We’re each made in the imagination of the Holy.  Each of us reflects something of the brilliance and magnificence that causes us to be loved for our existence. If that is true for us, it is true for each person.

The reality of the human story is that each of us has something that haunts us, keeping us from the fullness of who we are made to be.  Perhaps shame about a relationship, a sense of failure about something, a belief that you’re not good enough, or that something you imagine about you makes you less loveable.  Reconciling peace invites us to be reconciled with our own self.

The Buddhist notion of “happiness for all people” is about cultivating an awareness of wanting the best for another.  This happiness for all is a foundational approach to the trinity of peace.  For many of us, happiness for others is easier to focus on than happiness for ourselves.  Repairing the rift in our own lives invites peace within to be discovered and practiced. 

Peace Among. It’s never just about us.  Reconciling peace in our relationships invites awareness of how we encounter and engage with others. No matter how frustrating or obstinate your spouse or partner is, no matter how willful your child, how insulting your neighbor is, your own ease and comfort at being loved for your existence makes way for compassion towards others. 

Peace is not the absence of war.  In the Hebrew tradition peace is about the well-being of all.  It is a social construct.  It is about relationships among people and how they are structured. It is a reconciling peace among people.

The peacemakers whom Christ called blessed are blessed because they work for spiritual, material and social relationships which remove conflict and promote the well-being of all.  It is about tending to every aspect of life.  We can’t know peace when people are a distraction or when we bang doors, walk away from others or raise our voices to drown others out.  Peace among is about a mindful way of life in which the well being of those in our orbit is valued.

Peace Between.  Peace within and among invites a way of being which celebrates our oneness with others.  This oneness is an invitation to live, not curved in on ourselves, but to live with unclenched hands used for polishing the world.

The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam is about repairing the world. In our personal practices active listening or compassionate listening is a tool connecting us with others.  It is a cultivated practice of being fully present.  To listen to and honor the stories of others revealing different perspectives of a particular reality creates a bridge between people. Across that bridge we begin to imagine life in the shoes of another. In the process we engage in being repairers of the world.

When I listen in compassionate or attentive silence to the stories of others I become present to them.  In the process we re-shape how we think about and experience each other.  As our empathy and oneness takes on a flesh and bones reality we work to heal the divides that exist in order to seek peace and the well-being of all.

Rumi once said, “Out beyond the ideas of right doing and wrongdoing there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  The International Day of Peace is a call to re-commit ourselves to peace making within, between and among people.   Every time we re-orient and ground our lives in peace we participate in polishing the world.  What we do matters.

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See the Charter for Compassion website for resources

Listen to Desmond Tutu and Robert V Taylor in conversation about peace on Unity FM radio

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Burning Qur’ans: A Defining Moment?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Pastor Jones has never read the Qur’an.  Yet he owns two hundred of them.  Instead of reading one he plans to desecrate this holy text by burning all two hundred.  This is a defining moment for Americans and our unique heritage of freedom to worship as we choose.

As a Christian I am as offended by the thought of anyone burning the Bible I cherish as I am by burning the sacred text of any other religion.  Yes, I glean wisdom and truth from the texts of my Jewish, Muslim and Hindu friends.  Their sacred books may not be primary to my spiritual path but in them I discover something of the Holy who existed before religion. The planned public burning of the Qur’an is an act of violence and hate as much as denigrating and dismissing all Muslims.

The Vatican has called the planned burning an “outrageous and grave gesture.” On September 7th leaders representing a broad spectrum of faith traditions denounced the growing anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States.  Islamophobia has been expressed across the country in response to the building or expansion of mosques in New York City, Texas, California and Tennessee generating vandalism, emotionally charged debate and hate-filled placards.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religious worship – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This freedom to worship as we choose has brought immigrants escaping religious persecution to our shores.  It is a defining mark of what it means to be an American. 

In our history we have been challenged by the promise of the First Amendment is ugly prejudice against Catholics and Mormons among others. The guarantee of the First Amendment ultimately prevailed in each instance.

In a world of instant information in which the US is fighting wars against terrorists who have violently hijacked Islam, the words and actions associated with the debate about Islam in the US are no longer just a US conversation but a global one.  The urgency with which we respond to reaffirming the free exercise of religion reflects the values and soul of who we are as Americans.  Our reaffirmation of the First Amendment, or our hesitancy to do so, will leave an indelible mark about whether we can walk the talk at home while trying to exercise global leadership.

This defining moment for America is also a moment of truth telling for people of faith.  Pastor Jones’ church in Gainesville Florida is ironically named “Dove World Outreach Center.”  The refusal to read the Qur’an and burn it is a curious interpretation of “world outreach.”  By contrast the Massachusetts Bible Society is giving away two Qur’ans for every one that is burned.  Complementing the inter-faith dialog in many places around the country, Spirituality and Practice offers an online introduction to the Qur’an for Muslims and non-Muslims. This is outreach.

The symbol of the dove is a sign of peace, peace-making and hope.  In the Hebrew tradition of his time Jesus understood peace as working for social, economic and political relationships which work to ensure the well-being of all.  Jesus referred to the peacemakers as “blessed.” The symbol of the dove is not about burning or destroying.  It is a path of engagement inviting inter-action, understanding and tolerance.

The burning of Qur’ans on September 11th is against the backdrop of the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah and the Muslim festivities of Eid.  For Jews, Rosh Hashanah celebrates personal and global renewal as much as a time of new beginnings.  For Muslims, Eid marks the end of Ramadan, a time of lengthy fasting in which believers are expected to engage in works of peace and charitable giving.  The three days of festivities that begin on September 10th this year celebrate the spiritual renewal that occurs during the fasting of Ramadan. 

What is there to glean from the observance of these Jewish and Muslim holidays? They both point to the need for renewal in our personal and public lives.  The work of peace-making invites dialog and understanding.  The fear of the “other” begins to diminish as tolerance and appreciation grow.  New beginnings are possible.

It is a very different path than burning sacred texts and protesting with ill-informed placards proclaiming that Islam equals Al Qaeda.  Peace and the renewal of the world are central themes in the Abrahamic traditions shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Each tradition believes that love is more powerful than hate. It is a defining moment for reaffirming the First Amendment and for the pursuit of peace-making.

It is not a time to be silent or to sit this one out. Our responses will shape our understanding of what it means to be an American. 

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Join Robert’s YouTube Conversations Repairing the World and Beg to Differ!

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Beyond Religious Bigotry?

 
 

Robert V. Taylor

Fear of the “other” and its cousin of hatred  are powerful emotions.  The energy they consume keep us from being fully alive.  Exclusion in the Name of God has been the experience of many, including women, people of color and those who are gay or lesbian.  Mitchell Gold founded Faith In America to respond to religiously driven bigotry against LGBT people.  Robert V. Taylor and Mitchell Gold talk about this work.

RVT: Faith in America was your idea.  Was there a defining moment that made you think about creating Faith in America

MG: About 5 years ago I realized the LGBT advocacy groups were afraid or uncomfortable talking about religion based bigotry.  That is the #1 reason the LGBT community does not have full and equal rights in America.  So, someone had to do it.

RVT: In your own life, how did your religious experiences shape your thinking about being a  gay spiritual person of great worth? 

MG: Actually not very much.  I was brought up as a Reform Jew and consequently homosexuality was not discussed in synagogue at the time.  But in a different way, when I observed how some Christians (like Jerry Falwell or George Wallace) would use their religious teachings to justify why they did not want people of color or woman to have equality in America that had a profound impact on me.  I thought it was just horrible.

RVT: You say that churches are indirectly responsible for killing about 500 gay and lesbian youth each year because of misguided religious values.  You add that religious organizations maim the souls of thousands.  How do you engage the religious organizations that you believe are responsible for this? 

MG: I encourage people to be understanding of where those misguided religious values are coming from as difficult as that can be.  We need to speak clearly, honestly and patiently.  And make no mistake about it, we must speak up.

 

Mitchell Gold

RVT: As an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa I discovered the way in which scripture was used to justify apartheid.  I later realized that the God and texts that I loved were being hijacked to justify subtle and not so subtle homophobia.   How does Faith in America respond to religious texts used to promote hatred and exclusion?  

MG: We don’t get into theological discussions but rather point out how in different times in history, like the ones you cite, scripture was used to cause great harm.  History is the arbiter of the harm and pain that has been caused and we hope that as people understand it better, they will stop.  The most recent California ruling pointed out how those against marriage equality for gays and lesbians did so purely on religious grounds, and that is unconstitutional.  History repeats itself again.

RVT: You and I were present with Chely Wright, the Country and Western singer, days before she came out as a lesbian.  Chely’s story is one of courage and integrity about who she is as a spiritual person.  Truth telling and personal stories are powerful.  How does Faith in America connect the dots between religious messages and personal coming out stories for young people? 

MG: We connect the dots by talking about them.  This is really not all that complicated!  The reality is that there are certain hard core people who are extremely difficult to change.  I believe they use their religious teachings to place themselves in a superior position to others.  They live a life of fear.  But there is a much larger swath of America that as they recognize the harm they have caused either by condemning LGBT people or by being complicit by watching the harm caused and not having the courage to stand up and talk about it, these moveable middle Americans do change when they hear people talk about who they really are.

Robert V. Taylor, Mitchell Gold & Tim Gold

MG: I realize that everyday there are young, vulnerable kids who are just starting to recognize they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  It’s a frightening time….a crisis for hundreds of thousands of them.  More often than not, they do not have someone to talk to.  I know what it feels like and I don’t want one more kid to go through what I went through as an 11 year old.  History has clearly shown it is wrong to use religious teachings to justify discrimination to minority groups.  It is idiotic to have it continue today.  Not another moment should go by where people are harmed in the name of religious teachings!

RVT: What is your greatest concern about ending religious intolerance towards LGBT people? 

MG: I have no concern about it!  It will be a wonderful time.

RVT: Talk about your hope for the full acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in the years ahead? 

MG: The great news is that you almost never hear of people who are accepting of LGBT people changing and becoming unaccepting.  All the numbers keep moving in favor of fairness and equality.  People who are transformed and lift the bigotry from their shoulders rarely turn back.  It’s very hopeful.

RVT: Are there spiritual passages that nourish you or remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing to end hatred?  

MG:  Actually no.  My real nourishment comes from the letters and emails I get from people who have been transformed to be loving and accepting of LGBT people, from kids who write and tell me CRISIS was an enormous help in their journey and from people like Chely Wright who contacted me after reading CRISIS to tell me how it helped get her on a healthy path to love herself for who she is.

 Share you stories of responding to bigotry or spiritual inclusion here

Exclusion in the Name of God – or inclusion?  Join Robert’s YouTube conversation here

Read Robert’s Blog: Chely Wright: Contagious Courage

Read Mitchell Gold’s Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America – click here or visit the Resource Page

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