Monthly Archives: October 2009

Sea Glass

Sea glass
sand makin blunt what can cut
no edge to cut
you with
this shit is clear and blue and green and brown
in triangles and nodules and squares and shapes
made by:
drunks on a dock
kids with Coke problems
cruise ships going under
Crusoe lost again or
I can’t explain the attraction – sea glass doesn’t
catch light or
let you see through it or
help you in a bar fight
blunt and cloudy and beautiful and old
and smooth
I find sharp pieces and recommit them to the rolling tides for my children.

Daily Delicious Bits (Halloween)

Daily Delicious Bits 2009-10-28

Rami Nashashibi and Joshua Dubois

Rami Nashashibi (Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network) and Joshua Dubois (head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) spoke to us today. Again, much of this will appear as stream-of-consciousness writing, with intermixing of paraphrasing and quotations. Nashashibi addressed us first, saying that our conference was aimed at rekindling the approach to a very simple concept. He quoted from Surah 49:13, which says “God has made us into nations and tribes so that we may come to know one another.”

It happens to be one of my favorite verses, largely because it’s awesome, but also because it speaks to the way in which our planet now looks. The White House is now stacked with people who truly believe in a global, transnational world, and our country is picking up the proverbial mop and working to make peace and justice happen globally. “What we do in cities and urban centers in America now more than ever matters to people in refugee camps and cities across the world. It’s a paradoxical moment – the gross inequities of our era have transmitted themselves across the world,” said Nashashibi.

“This paradoxical moment is what drives faith communities globally to strive to create a new society and new possibilities across the world.” But there are obstacles within these religions as well. “Interfaith” is sometimes viewed as a less real expression of our faiths. In order to have the dialogue, you must therefore suspend the tenets of faith and go “politically-correct”.

The notion of interfaith dialogue is not new. This is something that we all know. We’ve been doing it for a very long time and we have the examples to prove it. Intrafaith and interfaith dialogue has already shaped the world and our own traditions.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was stoned in a park in Chicago on August 5, 1966. Across the street from this park is a synagogue. Its leader, Rabbi Marx, wrote a letter to American Jews. He said that he would join the marchers. And when King was stoned, he sought refuge in that synagogue. I can’t even begin to describe the letter that Rabbi Marx wrote – it was poetry. Look it up. Nashashibi closed with this reading and it was outstanding.

Sadly, I had to leave the lecture at this point for the airport and conveniently missed Joshua Dubois. Shucks. He’s a swell dude.

From Obama’s Cairo Speech to Action

I attended a session with some officials from the White House. A few months ago, President Obama gave a speech in Cairo, his “address to the Muslim World”, where he affirmed America’s commitment not only to community service but interfaith dialogue and action. These officials came to the conference to explain a bit about what specific initiatives the White House has engaged in to promote interfaith dialogue and service, and what the future of that work means for people in the interfaith movement.

I’ll present each speaker as a series of short talking points. :)

Mara Vanderslice – White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP)

Interfaith cooperation through service is a huge part of what the OFBNP has been promoting since President Obama’s Cairo speech.

The administration is working hard to find a role for religions and religious actors in solving the world’s problems.

The influence of people like those in the interfaith movement is helping provide the government with the impetus to make these changes happen.

Robert Lalka – Global Partnerships Liaison at the Office of the Secretary of State

Movements of empowered individuals using 21st century technology create the potential for BIG change – the government is trying to figure out how these movements can become partners in the new spirit of service.

How does the government approach these forces?

“Our true engagement with faith-based organizations was ad-hoc”. If we don’t make sure that we engage with the ways in which FBOs are working in the world, then we aren’t doing our jobs as diplomats.

John Kelly – Strategic Adviser from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Patnerships at the Corporation for National and Community Service (largest grantmaker for volunteer service).

4 million Americans participate in their service programs every year.

Obama’s first push for legislative action by name was the reauthorization of the CNCS. The bill would triple the size of the CNCS by 2017.

The CNCS has already greatly expanded its programs – lots of new things to do. United We Serve, which launched in June, included an interfaith service component. There were 4000 interfaith service events across these last four months.

86% of American faith communities have service projects going on. 91% of them recruit all of their volunteers from within, and 71% of them return to do the work year after year. 15% of secular service organizations partner with faith-based organizations. That’s a big divide.


Big takeaway = The White House and its service initiatives need us, the people within the interfaith and service movements, to reach out to them and make the connections. They want to find us because we make the work possible. So let’s get working.


Tonight we are honoring “bridge-builders”, people who are making the idea of inter and intra-religious cooperation a reality in the day-to-day life of American social/civic interaction and indeed the world. They are changing the conversation about religion. Here they are:

Abraham’s Vision – An organization that is providing education and vision to young people on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian issue. This is conflict transformation and and youth empowerment at its best.

Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition – A model program, city-wide high school interfaith programming that brings religiously-diverse youth together in dialogue and service.

Berea College – A Christian college in Kentucky. The first to provide a safe space for students of all colors and backgrounds. Berea charges no tuition, but it makes its students work on campus. They continue to provide a safe space.

Joshua Stanton – Nice guy. Joshua is training in the rabbinate. While at Amherst, he started an essay contest that became, in time, an amazing publication: Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Joshua is going to make some amazing things happen.

UPDATE: Rabbi David Saperstein is providing us with an amazing keynote lecture, so I have to update this.

What every religious tradition shares is a focus and belief in justice, peace, and compassion. He spoke about Karen Armstrong’s Compassion Charter. “We don’t exist just for existence’s sake,” said Saperstein. He also quoted Frederick Douglass, whom he referred to as the “American prophet”, saying, “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” and that it was our duty to change things for the better by speaking truth to power.

Rabbi Saperstein said that religion only succeeds when it touches the lives of real people, wherever they are. This means us. Religion and personal faith should drive us towards getting our hands dirty out there and fixing the world: “Dialogue is not enough – it is the doing together that is the essential thing. We can’t just talk about the Torah, we have to do the Torah.”

“Hate crimes are more than just individual crimes – they are meant to target, terrorize, and delegitimize an entire people.” They tear open the threads of diversity that have created America. I’m going to stop putting quotes around things because everything that I type is Saperstein and it’s ALL GOOD. Religions stand together on issues of religious freedoms whenever they are attacked in America. If any group can have their rights denied, all groups can have their rights denied. The struggle against religious persecution worldwide is also important to this nation. Legislation in 1998 mandated an annual reporting structure to detail religious persecution in places across the globe.

The international religious community works together day after day to speak out for human rights, 3rd world debt forgiveness, humanitarian laws, prison reform, food issues, peacebuilding processes, and all sorts of things. All people of good conscience work together on the global stage. Darfur never would have been a big issue if it weren’t for religious communities standing up and speaking up. Still, there is a lot of work to do.

OK, Rabbi Saperstein is reading some poetry right now and it’s wrecking me. His speaking is powerful. He’s telling us to go out and live fully in faith and fix the broken bits. He’s shouting, but he’s shouting from some deepness of heart that we should all hope to one day display to the world.

“If we do not speak out to protect God’s creation, who will?” We’ve seen the whole earth from outer space, and we can now see the entire creation and at the same time all the negative things that we are doing to it. “This earth is our Garden and this time we risk not expulsion but devastation.” Wow.

This sense of urgency animates our work. The interfaith movement is testifying to the fact that we can be and must be and will be the shapers of a better and more hopeful future. I’m crying right now.

So Rabbi Saperstein went on and took questions for a while, and I did my best to compose myself. What an amazing speech/exhortation – he finished by blessing our work and us. Whew. I need a nap.

Just peacemaking

This might be a bit like stream-of-consciousness, but I don’t want to spend time re-editing this later. It’s a workshop on the just peacemaking paradigm.

Susan Brooks-Thistlethwaite (Interfaith Youth Core board member and former seminary president) gave us a brief history of the transition of the United Church of Christ into a pacifist church. The UCC already had commitments to racial and social justice, so combining pacifism was a short leap. From further conferences, a series of papers and documents about peace were released that not only promoted pacifism, but active peacemaking. At its simplest level, “just peace” means that more peace happens than war, and that people must work together in order to affect these changes.

“Just war” has abstract principles that people reflect on from many different perspectives, religious and otherwise. Likewise, “just peace” contains principles that are approachable from many different directions. They are not quite as abstract. In fact, they are what we call “practice norms”, or things that we must do. Katherine Schofield from Just Peacemaking in Chicago gave us the rundown:

  1. Support nonviolent direct action – strikes, boycotts, creation of safe spaces
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat – visible and surprising actions outside of slow bureaucracy, usually undertaken in a series of progressions
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution – active collaboration of parties conflict toward creative solutions
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and  forgiveness – direct religious vibes here, countries apologizing for past actions
  5. Advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence – promote solid human rights and human progress within legal frameworks
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development – cultivation of community growth and community organizations
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system – we can work together for a common aim
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights – these organizations can identify, prevent, and possibly intervene when necessary, but they also promote peace.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade – reduce guns, reduce conflict
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations – make resolution and peace a bottom-up initiative

Just peacemaking is focused on practices. It’s not about making declarations about how wrong “other” people can be. You can’t provide people with weak abstractions about issues that are costing human lives anywhere on the earth. “A conflict that cannot be named cannot be mediated,” said Brooks-Thistlethwaite. We have to figure out what things are before we can really tackle them. It makes no sense to grab at ethereal straws – it wastes time and can be harmful to the process of peace.

– For most societies, on a day-to-day basis, living in peace is the NORM. Institutionalized violence like racism, sexism, and homophobia might exist, sure, but it’s worth pointing out that the reality of peacebuilding is that it is very, very possibly because it is very, very normal.

– Don’t ask “Why isn’t it working?” Find what’s working, and support it.

Daily Delicious Bits 2009-10-23

Why faith? Part 2

Service provider for soul and body

Service provider for soul and body

A previous post addressed the religious imperative against malaria from the standpoint of those of us in the US, UK, and Canada. So why is the Faiths Act campaign so explicit about the work of churches and mosques on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa? As it turns out, religious communities in the developing world are in a unique position to affect change, especially on the issue of malaria.

Health systems in sub-Saharan Africa are, to sound like a generalizing imperialist, stressed. Doctor shortages, drug shortages, political graft, distribution issues in remote areas (geography + the previous problems), and other bits, combined with the overwhelming numbers of people who need help, have stretched some systems to the breaking point.

Whereas health systems simply can’t be everywhere, religious communities are almost ubiquitous. Even very small villages will have a church or mosque. Imagine faith communities as an extension, not a parallel, of the health infrastructure in a given country. Consider this example of the role of religious groups in a village in Zambia:

…”[the village] may have no permanent structures but it does have a functioning Christian congregation and a traditional healer. Christian relief organizations are providing food, and a Muslim organization has dug the first well for the community. This is not unique…various church health associations in Africa are outstanding examples of community-level, or intermediary, organizations; they have some degree of central structure and organization so that they can pool disparate resources and provide some administrative and logistical support to programs on the ground; they have member congregations in most communities, both urban and rural. They are large enough to secure funding from large relief organizations, but decentralized so that such resources can flow to far-flung locations. They share common goals, but do not require uniformity in regard to doctrine or practice.” [emphasis mine]

The United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) is also no stranger to the intersection of aid and religion. UNAIDS “prioritizes work at the global level with large networks of FBOs [faith-based organizations], religious leaders, and networks of religious leaders living with HIV.” They partner with Caritas Internationalis, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, Islamic Relief, and the Sangha Metta Project, to name only a few. We should all recognize the great place of faith as a driver for international development work.

What remains to be done is to connect faith communities in the “West” or, for the purposes of my work with the Faiths Act Fellowship, the US, UK, and Canada, to their co-religionists in sub-Saharan Africa. Religious communities “over there” can bridge the health services gap while religious communities “over here” bridge the resource and advocacy gap.

Key to this work, and to the mission of the Faiths Act campaign, is that we do so from an explicitly interfaith standpoint, e.g. churches, mosques, synagogues, temples working together. Management consultants used to call it synergy. We call it common sense. Mosquitoes don’t care who you pray to.