Since its inception, this blog has had a rather boring look, so today’s offering is the addition of some formatting, some new tags and some pictures, with more coming. Our hope is to integrate the visual identity of any of our staff blogs with the soon to be updated CA House website.
Monthly Archives: March 2011
In 2010, September 11 fell on the festival of Eid-ul-fitr, the festival at the end of Ramadan, and many in the Muslim and interfaith community were concerned that the joyous celebration would be misunderstood as a celebration commemorating 9-11. At the same time, a pastor in Gainesville, Florida was threatening to hold a Qur’an burning, and thousands were vehemently protesting the building of an Islamic community center new ground zero in New York City. The United Methodist Church in Davis hosted a service of solidarity on 9-11, and the following is the speech I gave at that event.
We Are the Stories We Tell
Thankfully, the pastor of a small church in Florida has called off his vile plan to burn Qur’ans today. Also, thankfully, the international outcry as the media cycle on this proposed action spun out of control was loud and forceful, but it is deeply concerning that there was enough support for this terribly offensive event that the pastor felt justified for weeks and days in his ongoing intent for the immolation of the holiest of books in Islam. As a Christian, this intolerance and disrespect by a pastor and his church shames and saddens me. Not only is this not a reflection of the love of neighbor that Jesus taught, it is violent, hateful and wrong.
It is my understanding that for Muslims, the Qur’an is less like the Christian Bible than it is like our understanding of Jesus Christ himself. By this, I mean that the Qur’an is more like incarnation than it is like a collection of history, teachings and scripture; it is the living word of God as incarnated through Mohammed, peace be upon him, the messenger, just like Jesus is for Christians the Word who was with God and was God and is God(John 1:1). For Christians, it would be abhorrent to countenance the burning of the Holy Bible, but this Qur’an burning is really more akin to the burning of Christ, a twenty-first century trial and condemnation by an ignorant and unjust jury, and an attempt at annihilation of a way of life, a way of being faithful and a way of knowing God. In this instance, the proposed site was a church in Gainesville as opposed to a cross in Golgotha, but the spiritual impact would have been similarly deeply felt.
We are all here today because we do not want to see the mistakes or hateful acts of the past repeated. I thank you for being here today. While the tragic events of 9-11 caused untold damage and are beyond regrettable, we have at least, seen countless examples since that time of Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, neighbors from the diversity of faith found in America, coming together in new and profound ways to counter the hate exemplified in the attacks. The Multifaith Living Community at the Cal Aggie Christian Association is one such example. In the fall of 2000, the board approved the pursuit of a vision to build student housing on our property. After 9-11 that vision became clearer as we saw the possibility of making that student community an intentionally multifaith place to respond to the hurt and misunderstanding engendered by 9-11. And the blessing and interreligious understanding that has come out of that community has been tremendous.
And so let us all be in prayer today that we can continue to reframe who we are as people of faith in this country. The world is watching as some of our fellow country persons succumb to their fear and protest the building of an Islamic Center at Park 51, two blocks away from ground zero, and it is watching as we find ways to stand together in unity, and to serve to bring about peace, healing and justice. In the weeks to come, let us provide a hundred, a thousand stories that might be picked up by the media and become the talk of the international community that show people of faith expressing love and hope, stories that show the power of building up instead of tearing down. And let each of us, in our own daily lives, tell those stories as opposed to the ones that further fear and brokenness. We are the stories we tell, and we will decide a hopeful or hateful future based on the stories we choose. Again, thanks to each of you for being here today and I look forward to our common future together as people of faith.
As we say goodbye to winter this weekend, I offer this from Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. Keep love alive. (Thanks, EJJ!)
Though the birth of interfaith engagement as a movement dates to the first Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893, since the 1960s and 70s and particularly since 9/11, there has been a tremendous amount of work done to build bridges between persons of different faiths. Our own Multifaith Living Community is one example of those efforts. Still, I have found that often it is difficult to move interreligious communities and events past the stage of friendly mutual acknowledgement. Currently, I’m working on a Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union, and on Thursdays I go to Berkeley for my Christian-Muslim dialogue seminar. I hoped that from this class I would learn of cases and methodologies that would foster a deepening of relationships and develop a facility for dealing with the complexity of pluralism. Though there are a number of deeply committed and faithful persons working on interreligious cooperation and communication, many questions about how to do this work in significant and effective ways remain.
So I’ve been thinking about different ways to start conversations, to get to deeper issues, to engage beyond the usual suspects, to stretch and grow. One thing I do know is that to really grow in understanding, it takes risk and the willingness to be uncomfortable, at least for awhile. My recent post on the Peter King hearings was unlike most of my writing—it was somewhat vitriolic and usually I’m striving for a balanced, more grace-filled position. In addition to posting this piece to the blog, I also posted it to facebook and sent it to our local newspaper. The feedback I’ve received has been mixed, but I have to say, even though I felt uncomfortable and exposed as each successive piece of feedback rolled in, and someone I don’t know looked up my number and called me at home, at least I was in conversation with persons I’m not typically talking to about religious or political issues.
Dialogue on the internet has its drawbacks. It’s inherently impersonal which I think leads to saying (writing) things that contain more rhetoric and are less careful than when we are face to face. When we don’t actually know the person we’re in conversation with, this intensifies. But the nature of the internet also allows us to make strong statements about what we believe to persons in our broad circles of relationship when a face to face conversation might never get to much depth. The most enlightening interaction was with a person I do know, but haven’t seen in many years, who lives in another state. Though we saw the Peter King hearings differently, we agreed on some points, disagreeing on others. I learned something from the interaction, and heard points that no one in my regular networks was making. My understanding of the complexity of the issue deepened. I have to believe, though, that the quality of this interaction was fruitful because we do actually know each other, and care about and respect each other, perhaps an important foundation for ongoing dialogue and further learning.
Risking isn’t just about making strong, perhaps controversial statements. It’s also about trying out different ways of going beyond our comfort zones to connect with persons who have different world views and experiences. So I guess I owe Peter King a debt of gratitude for being the catalyst for connection between me and an old friend. And this is the hope of dialogue: that even in our differences, even in conversation about a process that stereotypes and objectifies like the Peter King hearings, if we are honest and courageous in our engagement, the person with whom we are talking becomes more multi-dimensional and so do we.
One of my favorites from Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
You may have noticed I didn’t post anything yesterday (such vanity to believe that anyone is tracking this daily). The Sundays in Lent are supposed to be “little Easters” when we get a break from whatever we’re trying to add in or give up, when we get to celebrate new life and resurrection. And I can tell you it was a welcome break to not post anything yesterday. We need these little Easters, not because we are weak, but as a reminder that there is always grace.
We’re heading to Napa today to celebrate the earth and her fruits, and so I offer this from Wendell Berry, hero of the land and those who love words:
MANIFESTO: THE MAD FARMER LIBERATION FRONT
by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything made.
Be afraid to know you neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give you approval to all you cannot understand.
for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion–put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Copyright Wendell Berry
Dear Peter King (you don’t represent me),
Do you really want to go down in history as another McCarthy, the man who history has judged to symbolize this country’s participation in the some of the worst sins of the twentieth century? Do you really need attention that badly? You say you are looking for extremists to keep our country safe, but Peter, have you looked in the mirror? Because you’ll find one there. You and your buddies have hijacked my country and flown your jet into the twin towers of compassion and justice. What you are doing doesn’t make me think you are strong. It makes me think you are weak.
You heard testimony yesterday from two people who had relatives who became extremists while worshipping in a mosque. So what? Every human institution has its crazies and manifestations of the brokenness in our world; I’m a Christian pastor and I should know. You’ve proved nothing. Your name, Peter, means ‘rock’ but you are providing no foundation for stability, for peace, for anyone. Communities like mine will be cleaning up the mess you are making now for decades to come. I have a family, Peter, and friends, who wonder where I’ve been while I’ve been trying to build structures of relationship and understanding across religious difference, structures that you and your hearings hack away at every day.
What you are doing will not bring us more security! But I’ll tell you what will. Give up your need for money and fame. Wake up every morning and seek to understand, not to judge. See each person for who she or he is, and know that we are all more than our labels and identities, and less. Stop believing in your own almighty power. Admit to people what really scares you: that ultimately you cannot control the world and what happens and that chaos and disaster will continue to break into our lives. But commit not to contribute to that brokenness because of your fear.
Because guess what, Peter. The real work of creating security and of dealing with all of the difference in our world that might feel scary or threatening just because it’s unknown isn’t sensational. It doesn’t turn us into celebrities and it doesn’t happen in a few weeks. It’s about eating with people and being invited into their homes and places of worship. It’s about choosing to use your time to watch a movie like Arranged or The Bubble or One instead of Black Hawk Down or The Siege. It’s about being willing to be uncomfortable but stay in conversation when you encounter someone whose worldview really is different from you own. At times this work can be exhilarating and at times it can be very tedious, but it matters.
It’s not too late, Peter. It’s Lent and you are a Christian. Repent. Turn toward life and away from the death that you are creating.
With all the compassion I can muster at the moment,
A couple of days ago I attended a meeting during which someone said, in referring to the different religious traditions of the world, “We’re really all the same. Really all religions mean the same thing.” In the last few years, I have gotten to the point where I cringe at these words. Certainly there are some values we hold in common and some beliefs that are similar. But to even hint that we’re all the same so quickly gets us into a place where we miss the richness of what different religion traditions have to offer, the reality that the experience of growing up Sikh is actually very different than growing up Christian, that when I, as a Christian say ‘justice’, it is quite likely, based on our theology and history, that what I mean is very different from my Jewish friend when she uses the same word.
What is this compulsion we have to claim sameness? Is it because we lacked psychological and emotional mirroring as children? Why is it that it is sometimes uncomfortable to acknowledge that there are real differences between us, especially when those differences come up between us and those we care deeply about? Is it because in admitting difference we can be tempted to move to comparison and in that comparison there is a fear that we are less than someone else. Or is it that difference makes us feel disconnected or just plain alone?
It seems to me that the challenge in this is to be both permeable and boundaried, to hold these two poles simultaneously so that we can be deeply affected by others, but know who we are, where we begin and end, and celebrate that deeply, too.
Today is the first day of Lent. Thank goodness. During the next six weeks we get to just let go, don’t have to try to be anything except ourselves, connected to God, just be. Each year I ask everyone in our community what their plans are for a Lenten observance. For the last several years, mine has always been, “Give up caffeine, sugar, wheat, cow’s milk, alcohol, salt.” I never make it. I usually last about ten days, if that. So when I heard myself say again this year that this was my plan, I realized how lame it was to keep trying to give up the same random semi-vices and always failing so completely. So this year I’ll be posting to my blog every day during Lent. We’ll see how that goes. Perhaps the hardest thing about it will be that when I write, I feel like it has to be profound, and that I have to have some useful point. And sometimes I don’t feel like I have it in me to make a point, I feel lost or just tired, and so even though I think about writing, I don’t. I’ve only posted twice in the last year.
But isn’t that the point of Lent? That sometimes there is no point? That we get to embrace lostness? Sometimes maybe I’ll just borrow from someone else, somebody else that got it right that day. And isn’t that the point too? That even in this wilderness of Lent, we need each other, and our salvation will come, our meaning will be found, when we reach out. When we acknowledge both our own impermanence and the permanence of the ongoing community throughout history of which we are a part? So I offer this, courtesy of Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, via my friend Matt at thetableumc.org:
Remember you are stardust,
and to stardust you shall return.
You are the ash of a great fire within a star.
The star shines within you.
You are the dust of the earth, given breath.
The breath of God breathes within you.
In fear you have shrouded that light,
and led yourself by the darkness.
In fear you have fled from the dust,
only to cling to dust that has no breath.
You don’t need to punish your body,
you need to honor that it comes from God.
You don’t need to separate from your body,
you need to return to it.
You can’t be other than dust
but you can return to the Breath.
You can’t be other than light
but you can free yourself from trying.
What veils your glory?
What catches your breath?
What betrays your belovedness?
What separates you from the world’s flesh?
Become dust of the earth again,
moved only by God’s breath.
Given life by the Breath within the Breath,
become an earthling.
Your repentance is to return to the stardust that you are,
return to your heavenly Source.
Return to the light that you are,
shed all that shrouds your light.
Remember that you are stardust,
and to stardust you shall return.
(Unfolding Light, February 17, 2010