Fighting climate change interfaith style: divestment, reinvestment, and personal action

Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith in a webinar about fighting climate change, interfaith style!

Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith in a webinar about fighting climate change, interfaith style!

Check out this 30-minute webinar hosted by Religions for Peace on fighting climate change with Fletcher Harper, executive director of an organization called Green Faith.  They’re focused on building practical action on climate change on both a local scale and also a national/global scale through divestment and reinvestment.  He’s a great speaker and it’s really encouraging to hear what he has to say.

I’m a young adult leader in Religions for Peace so I had to opportunity to have some conversation with him at the end!  I could use a bit more polish in my speaking ;-)

Check it out!!

http://www.rfpusa.org/religions-for-peace-webinar-gearing-up-to-fight-climate-change-with-fletcher-harper-may-29th/

 

Day after Memorial Day reflection

It’s hard to have a rational, compassionate discussion about violence on Memorial Day, the day after, or any day in a country in which we strongly believe that violence solves problems without creating new ones.  It is uncomfortable for many when we question the role of our military in foreign affairs and the way we have supported dictators, toppled democratically elected governments, and created false pretenses for war.

The focus should never be on criticizing the rank and file of our armed forces.  They are indeed brave and courageous people, most of whom have noble reasons for joining the military such as fighting for freedom.

The questions we have to ask are those directed to our leaders.  Are our leaders’ motivations for war accurate and true?  Is the worldview their motivations stem from actually supported by evidence (i.e. do their wars actually solve problems they say they will, or any problems at all)?  Are they really just interested in establishing and broadening control over other countries?

And more broadly, how does power tend to corrupt people?  What is the role of power in bringing peace?  Is there a role?  If so, what is the potential role of armed or unarmed peacekeeping forces as opposed to invading forces?

And let’s look for parallels in our own lives, because all around the world people are people, are human beings.  So maybe people in other countries respond to violence similarly to how we might.

Does force solve disputes, problems, and differences within our families and friendships, with people who are close to us and understand us pretty well?  I don’t think so.  Will force then work in other countries, where people don’t understand us well and there are pronounced differences in race, religion, and culture?  Sounds worse to me.

It’s difficult to have our worldviews shaken, and to see that the United States has a very real dark side in addition to the freedom and prosperity many of us experience.  But recognizing and addressing this dark side is actually more patriotic than ignoring it, because we can express our love of country by making it better.

Love

People featured in this post

People featured in this post: bonus points if you know who they all are!

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more
– Haddaway, What is love (90′s song)

What is love? In this post I’ll tackle this question drawing from some of the world’s greatest thinkers and movers, and will follow up in the next post with a discussion on the relationship of love and religion.

From Mozi (ca. 400 BC), a contemporary of Confucius:
Where do disorders – the world’s ills – come from? They arise from lack of mutual love. The son loves himself but does not love his father, so he cheats his father for his own gain. The younger brother loves himself but not his brother or his father so he cheats his older brother for his own gain.

Robbers and brigands likewise love their own households, but not the homes of others and so rob these homes for their own benefit. State officers, princes, and rulers make war on other countries because they love their own country but not other countries. They seek to profit their country at the expense of others.

This is what the world calls disorder. This all comes from the lack of mutual love.

The ultimate cause of all disorders in the world is lack of mutual love.

For if everyone were to regard the persons of others as his own person, who would inflict pain and injury on others? If they regarded the homes of others as their own homes, who would rob others’ homes? In that case there would be no brigands or robbers! If the princes loved other countries as their own, who would wage war on other countries? In this case, there would be no more war.1

Paul of Tarsus (ca. 40 ad)
The commandments … are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as your self. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends. On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.2

Leo Tolstoy (ca. 1900):
Some people are able to foresee and point out the path of life along which humanity must move: a new theory of life that will change the whole future conduct of humanity and will be different from all that has been before. In this divine theory of life, humanity does not find the purpose of life in fulfilling his or her own desires (the animal theory of life), or in fulfilling the desires of societies of individuals (whether the family, clan, political party, or nation) but only serves the eternal source of life itself. The motor power of this life is love.

It is natural to love yourself. It is natural to love your immediate family, extended family, friends, social group, and fellow citizens. But this love gets weaker – more dilute – the farther out we go from our self. It is possible, though, to have a love that extends to all of humanity. We all have to discover it for ourselves, but there are some who can help others internalize it and experience the depth, richness, and transformation behind it.3

From Lao Tsu, in the Tao te Ching
In nature the softest overcomes the strongest. There is nothing in the world so weak as water. But nothing can surpass it in attacking the hard and the strong. There is no way to alter it. Hence weakness overcomes strength, softness overcomes hardness. The world knows this but is unable to practice it.4

There are many ways, many paths to this type of love. Yet each path is narrow, is difficult. Not enough people tread this difficult but rewarding path. Those who do are filled with the love, strength, and passion of God. This God is not a being, does not give laws or doctrine, and does not belong to any one religion. Wherever this love exists, there God is. God is love.

 

1 Kurlansky, Mark. Non-violence – The History of a Dangerous Idea
2 Romans 12 and 13 (Bible)
3 Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God is Within You (with some paraphrasing and summarizing from yours truly)
4 Kurlansky, Mark. Ibid

Science to dispel fear

fear

Fear is a powerful emotion.  It can be used to control others, to gain power, to gain money, or to gain recognition as an “expert”.  It can also motivate us to action, and even to do the right thing in some cases.

Science can help us know what we should and should not fear, and what potentially to do about the things we fear.  Thus, science can help to dispel fear.  (Too much fear is not a good thing – it distracts us from other things we should give more of our attention to, and it can prevent us from enjoying the good things around us.)

What prompted my thoughts on this right now?  I just learned that on Feb. 19, there was a small release of radioactivity from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP - click to see their summary) in Carlsbad, NM.  (WIPP is a long-term storage site for nuclear waste materials related to past nuclear weapons activities – it’s not used for commercial waste produced by nuclear power plants.)

What frustrates me is that so many people have an “expert opinion” on this topic through the blogosphere, with people citing SECRET SOURCES and NEW CALCULATIONS that reveal that we’re all going to die from this event.  (I am exaggerating…barely…but you get the point.)

There are many people who consider themselves progressives, or just care about the environment and have an opinion on various nuclear issues.  But who you trust for your info means a lot.  My dad is a great and wonderful person, but he gets his news and analysis of current events through very conservative sources, so he frequently surprises me with the ideas that he absorbs and accepts when he’s otherwise also an extremely intelligent person.  I think this phenomenon is much more recognized as occurring on the far right, but it actually happens just as much (or at least a lot) on the far left, and this (in my opinion) really contributes to discrediting progressive causes and movements.

There is money to be made in fear.  Here is one example.  A blog that purports to do its own (fatally flawed) calculations on the WIPP radiation release, with a nice “Donate via Paypal” button that says the money will go to testing of food for radiation.  Yeah right.  When I click on it, its paypal label is just the name of the blogger, like any other donation link anywhere else on the site.

radiation_ripoff

The first blog I saw on this topic is here.  It attracted over 90 comments, which I’m jealous of!  ;-)   Look at all the experts responding with new calculations, insider reports, etc. about how we’re gonna die.   Below is my response:

_______________________________________________________________

I’m new to your site, just having stumbled upon it doing some google searching on this WIPP incident.

One thing I find lacking in much discussion about radioactivity is context – specifically, what do the numbers cited mean, and how do they compare to other numbers related to radioactivity that we routinely experience?

A Bq (becquerel) is an absolutely minuscule measure of radioactivity. The release of a handful of Bq’s truly poses no health risks. I think we should actually feel *safer* and *more secure* knowing that WIPP can detect and respond to minuscule releases, giving us confidence that it won’t release larger quantities.

And here’s some perspective on numbers. Many radioactive materials are naturally occurring. C-14, for instance, is everywhere. That’s how we do carbon dating. Life has evolved in the presence of background radiation, so background radiation levels are not harmful. The levels cited in this WIPP incident and your article here – 0.64 Bq and 0.092 Bq – are much less than natural background, and much less even than the amount of radiation *contained in any banana*. A banana has on average 15 Bq of radioactive potassium. A banana explosion would release much more radiation than this event.

And I’m not trying to say the release of radiation is not a concern. It is! But it’s a concern for the WIPP people, too, and they managed it quite well. I haven’t read your blog, so I don’t know, but I would think you should be much more concerned about the rail accidents involving trains carrying oil from the Canadian tar sands. These have actually killed people!

As for the criticism of offering free radiation testing, this is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. People hype up radiation because it’s scary. People get afraid over events like this. If WIPP does nothing and offers no concrete way of assuring people they are safe (through free testing of anyone who’s worried they were exposed) they will be criticized. If they *do* offer this testing as a means of public reassurance, people will criticize that too (as is done in many of these comments).

Here’s info on the bananas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

Looking forward to some good discussion.

____________________________________

We’ll see what happens.

Father Coyne: Jesuit priest and scientist extraordinaire!

fr_coyneYesterday I was honored and thrilled to meet Father Coyne, a Jesuit priest, Ph.D. in Astronomy specializing in astrophysics, and retired head of the Vatican’s research observatory located at the University of Arizona in my hometown – Tucson, AZ.   (I realized the Tucson connection when I saw he had a 520 area code for his cell phone).  I met him at his residence at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school right here in Syracuse.

A friend of mine at school told me about a series of lectures on religion at Le Moyne and looking at its website I quickly found Fr. Coyne.  He was on Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” – one of its few rational religious voices.  He was also interviewed by famous New Atheist Richard Dawkins for a TV show about Darwin, and the full interview is on youtube.  Check it out!

dawkins_coyneFr. Coyne is an ardent and passionate voice for both the (potential) depth of religion and the validity of science, including evolution.  I thoroughly (that’s an understatement!) enjoyed my time with him and I wished we had videotaped our conversation so we could put it on youtube!!  (He did say we might do this another time.)

We talked about a lot of things, but we touched on how earnest many atheists are in their critique of religion and that they have many good points based on ethical and scientific grounds.  We agreed that absent from debates on science and religion are Jesus’ own very anti-establishment and anti-religion views/teachings and his focus on experience and common sense.

We agreed that there is no dualism between the spiritual and the material.  That is, the spiritual is in the material and vice versa.  There’s not separate realms or realities, although it can be useful or inspiring to envision such things.  Here’s my little phrase that sums it up:  “We don’t need the supernatural.  The natural is super enough!”

I tried out a few of my newest thoughts and ideas on him – like my pithy saying above – which were very well-received.  For instance, we talked about faith.  St. Paul says faith is hope in that which is unseen.  For me, that includes the power of love, the depth of the human spirit, and our search for the transcendent or the divine (in a symbolic way but one that can be experienced).  He agreed, and I said I felt a lot of sympathy for those who only know of the word “faith” as belief in doctrine or dogma and criticize it as such.

But along the lines of St. Paul, there’s a huge difference between belief in what’s unseen (we believe in many things that are unseen) and belief in things that scientific evidence is strongly against.

For example, I don’t believe in the virgin birth (of Jesus).

From a scientific perspective it’s just so highly unlikely.  But adding to this, virgin births are  present in the stories and myths of other religions and cultures.  Is Christianity’s virgin birth true while all other cultures’ and religions’ virgin births aren’t?

What I conclude is that virgin births are a very dramatic element that mean “Hey!!  Listen up!!!  This person is very important!!”  And I do believe that Jesus was and is very important.  Hopefully there can be more depth and public discussion of why.  What did he teach?  How is that different from Christianity?

This was just a bit of what we talked about.  It was amazing, though, to talk with someone who thoroughly understood where I was coming from from both a religious and scientific standpoint.  Each of us experience awe, inspiration, and transcendence through both science and religion.

I look forward to getting to know Fr. Coyne more and am amazed and thankful that our paths that unknowingly overlapped for so long in Tucson now “knowingly” overlap in Syracuse, NY of all places!

 

Syria and international connections of young adults working for peace

RfP_IYC_Syria

It’s amazing to be connected to other young adults around the globe working for peace through the International Youth Committee (IYC) of Religions for Peace (http://bit.ly/1lBYvBO). Especially with social media, I get to see first-hand accounts of what’s going on in other countries through people I’ve actually met. Nataliya Pylypiv had been sharing about major Ukrainian current events, and Manar from Syria (Mnary OoIoo) wrote this to the IYC just a few days ago:

_________________________

“I miss you all very much and I apologize that I have not been in touch with you lately due to the sad events happening in my country. It is such a great pain. I had vowed my soul and my body to give everything and do all what I can to all my fellow citizens for the sake of my wounded country, Syria. The situation in this country is very painful and hard to describe. Men and women, children and elderly are all dying because of hunger, oppression, and expositions. Different methods of torture are used against my people and the whole world remains silent. We are exhausted and oppressed culturally and psychologically with no practical solution offered by any part of this world to get out of our crisis. There is no glimmer of hope, unfortunately, to stop the mass murder and in this part of the world. There is more and more fire and struggle in this country.

I just wanted to be in touch with you and share with a bit of my daily sufferings as a Syrian citizen.”

_____________________________

I don’t actually believe in supernatural intervention, but I do believe in the power of the human spirit and that amazing things happen when the collective human spirit focuses or coalesces on an issue or topic. Action springs out of conviction, love, passion, and inner peace. Prayer can cultivate all of these things. Martin Luther King, Jr said the universe bends towards justice and (Saint) Paul said that all of “creation” groans for wholeness. What I really think these mean is that the universe *wants* to bend toward justice (if you permit me to be poetic and anthropomorphize the universe), so when we work for justice with a pure heart and informed actions, we *will* see progress. We will see justice and love blossom, and deeper ties between people form … even sometimes between those who were previously enemies.

In response to Manar, Religions for Peace has put out this interfaith call to prayer for Syria (the picture at the beginning of the post). Please pass this on through your communities (or something like it adapted to your community).

We are grappling with a sense of powerlessness and asking what type of action can we take? What is the next step?

Do you have any ideas?

The world – and especially the people of Syria – are groaning in this struggle but also in hope for justice, peace, and transformation.

More on the Keystone XL

Keystone XL protest in front of the White House.  Source: National Geographic,.  Photographer: JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/GETTY

Keystone XL protest in front of the White House. Source: National Geographic,. Photographer: JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/GETTY

There’s a lot of anger and frustration toward the US State Department for its recent determination that the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) would not significantly increase carbon emissions. The Obama Administration promised to reject the KXL if their studies showed it would contribute significantly to global emissions. This is where science can get tricky. From the perspective that tar sands oil is being produced independently of the US and any US action on it (i.e. Canada could sell it to other countries), the State Department is technically correct. The KXL may even slightly lower emissions overall because it’s more efficient to transport oil by pipeline than by rail and shipment overseas.

But of course this is just one side of the story. The larger concern is that tar sands oil is being produced in the first place and that it’s a larger threat to climate change than many other fossil fuels. In this sense, people are justified in being upset. But is this bigger concern really the fault of the Obama Administration and the State Department? Yes and no. No, in the sense stated before: the tar sands oil will be produced, sold, and burned regardless of the KXL and American decisions. Yes, in the sense that the US could be a lot more serious about reducing our demand for oil and exerting world leadership on climate issues. Groups like Friends of the Earth, the Green Party, and so forth should think more about joining and pushing hard for movements like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Half the Oil campaign to halve US oil demand within 20 years, which is practical and actionable. People should be talking about this like crazy because it begins to address the root problem of demand.

 

How to save the world

The winner of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge was recently announced, and it’s a company called Ecovative.  But before we get into how awesome it is and how it relates to saving the world, here’s a science lesson.

Have you ever heard of mycelium?  Mycelium are white strands of fungi that spread out like roots in soil or on organic material.

Mycelium

 Mycelium in soil 

mycelium2

 

 

 

Mycelium growing on a decaying log

Imagine a thick slab of this mycelium — it would look kind of like a block of Styrofoam, right?  It turns out it has very similar properties, too.  But instead of being made from fossil fuels and sticking around forever in our landfills, it’s made from decomposable, renewable fungi and organic material usually considered a waste.

This is where Ecovative enters in.  About 6 years ago, they realized that if they could grow mycelium in particular shapes it would be an ideal replacement for Styrofoam.  What do they need in order to do this?  Just “waste” biomass like agricultural residues (leftover cornstalks, etc.), cellulose sludge from paper mills, lobster shells and even textile wastes.  These materials would ordinarily be thrown out and cost money to be landfilled.

Ecovative instead buys these wastes products from farms and businesses, feeding them to fungi.  It’s a closed-loop system creating new value out of waste products. Ecovative has been able to make all sorts of things out of it, like packing/shipping materials, surfboards, and cups. They say the cost of their final products is cheaper than Styrofoam and other materials they replace, so hopefully we’ll be seeing Ecovative’s products everywhere soon.

Growing products we need out of fungi from "waste" biomass this company buys from farms, paper mills, etc.  A win-win for everyone and the planet, it seems!

Ecovative is using fungi to grow products we need using  “waste” biomass bought from farms, paper mills, etc.   A win-win for everyone and the planet!  The guy carrying just one Ecovative product is obviously a slacker.

How does this tie into the saving the world and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge?  The visionary architect, inventor, and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller (“Bucky”) said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Ecovative is successful because they aren’t merely fighting against our wasteful consumerist culture and lack of sustainable materials.  They are filling a niche for a new product that meets our needs in a sustainable way.  They know if they can make a desirable product for a wide range of industries and consumers then it will gain a strong foothold in the market.

In summary, Bucky tells us that change happens when a new, better alternative comes about and not just by fighting the existing system.  This insight makes me think of other environmental challenges we face.

There is significant effort directed against hydrofracking and new pipelines to carry oil from Canadian tar sands through the US.  Tar sands are a less concentrated source of oil than conventional sources, so it takes a lot more energy and effort to extract and refine it.  Thus it has a larger carbon footprint than than many other fossil fuels and is an energy-intensive and polluting process as well.

NPR recently reported that oil produced from Canadian tar sands (as well as from fracking in the US) is being shipped on trains because opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has (so far) prevented its construction.  According to this article, in 2008 about 9,500 train cars were used to ship crude oil to refineries in the US.  In 2012, this had skyrocketed to 234,000 train cars.  There are also safety concerns associated with train derailments and aging track infrastructure like the July 2013 derailment in Quebec that killed dozens of people.

A train pulls oil tank units on its way to a refinery in Delaware. As U.S. oil production outpaces its pipeline capacity, more and more companies are looking to the railways to transport crude oil.

A train pulls oil tank units on its way to a refinery in Delaware.  As U.S. oil production outpaces its pipeline capacity, more and more companies are looking to the railways to transport crude oil.”

Many people are standing up and saying they don’t want to expand new fossil fuel sources in our already warming climate.  But how can activists, scientists, and other concerned people focus on solutions – on what to be for instead of only what to be against?

But demand is the key, say most economists. If you can get American drivers to buy less gas — by raising fuel efficiency standards … you stand a much better chance of slowing production in the oil sands.”

The key is to change the system: to focus on alternatives to fossil fuels combined with energy and fuel efficiency.  Some ways to do this are to promote local renewable energy, especially community-owned projects that keep more money and jobs local; advocate for investment, subsidies, and better policy for renewables; and to support the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Half the Oil Plan, a multi-faceted plan that will cut our oil use in half within just 20 years.

Here’s an example of the disparity in subsidies between fossil fuels and renewables.

From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. government gave the mature fossil fuel industry more than $72 billion in subsidies while investments in the emerging renewable-energy industry totaled $12.2 billion.” [underlining emphasis mine]

How much could renewables grow with equivalent (or superior) support compared to fossil fuels?

Two of my favorite groups working on these issues are the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Check them out and read up on some of these issues.  You can use their websites to quickly write letters to Congress, the President, and so forth.  You could also bring up the idea of community-owned renewable energy with your own local officials and those running for local office.

 

The Man of Steel and the Man of Love

Note: I wrote this in early fall and tried to submit it to the Huffington Post, but to no avail. 

If the flag wasn't enough, the 7-11 behind Superman really makes this patriotic!

If the flag wasn’t enough, the 7-11 behind Superman really makes this patriotic!

This summer’s movie, The Man of Steel, deeply and beautifully focused on Clark Kent’s (Superman’s) struggles and moral development. Christian pastors were invited to free advance screenings and were provided with sermon notes titled “Jesus as the First Superhero”. Was Jesus like an American superhero? Did he endorse violence as a way to fight evil and bring about righteousness?

The Man of Steel and Jesus, the Man of Love, are not the same. Instead of Superman, Jonathan Kent (Clark or Superman’s father) was actually the Jesus figure, and Superman’s task was to deeply learn and embody his father’s spirit.

Accordingly, the Christian Church is like Superman not because it’s the hero that saved the day but because its most fundamental task is to deeply learn, imbibe, and embody Jesus’ spirit. The Superman of this movie did a much better job of it than the Christian Church as a whole.

Clark was different, so he was bullied as a young child. His x-ray vision and super hearing led to panic attacks and he’d run out of class desperately searching for peace from his overwhelming senses. He seemed weak, especially because Jonathan taught him never to fight back. As Clark got older, Jonathan emphasized that how he responded to the hatred, fear, and arrogance of others was his choice and would determine what kind of a man he would grow up to be.

Jonathan was real with Clark about the difficulties of nonviolence. He wanted the bullies to get what was coming to them but knew this was a dangerous path for anyone and especially for Clark. When those with overwhelming power retaliate, it only creates more fear, mistrust, and alienation. Clark would never gain the trust and admiration of humanity this way.

Jesus’ disciples also struggled with issues of violence, retributive justice, and power. They (and their culture) expected the Messiah to be a king who would inflict vengeance upon Israel’s enemies. They wanted Jesus to zap people who failed to show them hospitality and to defend Jesus with the sword. Peter couldn’t bear to have his feet washed by Jesus because he so strongly thought only servants should wash their master’s feet and not vice versa. Jesus rebuked the disciples each time.

Jesus represented a different relationship to power, violence, and status; he likened his way to a narrow gate that few enter but leads to life. The gate that leads to destruction (violence, control, and power over others) is a wide gate that many enter (Matt. 7:13-14).

In the movie, Jonathan risked his life to help others during a tornado. He knew it was dangerous but felt the risk of Clark revealing his powers was too great. Jonathan saved the people but died in the process, teaching Clark what love looks like and that true strength comes from within.

Jesus also seemed to think that his best hope of getting through to the disciples – of showing them once and for all who he was and what he stood for – was to accept his death at the hands of the religious and political authorities. His death would shock them out of their old ways of thinking, making room for a new Spirit to thrive within them. For a few centuries Christianity held on to the spirit of Jesus, represented a radically different way of life based on love, and refused to take part in violence.

Although there’s been a push to equate Jesus and Superman, the movie provides a much stronger case for Jonathan as Jesus, with Superman being similar to Christianity because they share the fundamental task of becoming like Jonathan or Jesus.

Nonviolence and kicking some alien butt
Kryptonians – people from Clark’s planet – arrived at Earth and wanted vengeance on Clark for the past actions of his parents. They broke their promise to spare humanity if Clark turned himself over. Clark, now Superman, fought back and killed the Kryptonian leader with his own hands.

To create the violent plot and justify the massive destruction caused by Superman (his fighting leveled several towns), the Kryptonians had to be portrayed as purely evil, possessing no conscience, and having technology that could quickly and easily wipe out the human race. It reminds me of how war is often framed and justified in public debate…

Superman was nonviolent toward humanity and turned to violence only as a last resort against genocidal invading aliens: a far-fetched occurrence. What would the world be like if Christianity was committed to justice and righteousness based on nonviolence?

Superman’s real strength was reflected in his refusal to retaliate against the arrogance and evil inside humanity. He had imbibed his father’s vision to be a beacon of hope and light. Without this, he could never win the hearts and minds of the whole human race.

Nonviolence and its foundation, radical love, at first make us weak but invite us into the knowledge and experience of a power that gives us strength, passion, purpose, and hope even in the midst of suffering.

Moral training and spiritual practices fuel and nourish us. Deep reflection and contemplation of the life, teaching, and spirit of Jesus is one such practice. Gandhi studied the New Testament daily and was further transformed by Jesus’ love, spirituality, and power despite (or because of?) his rejection of dogmatic Christianity.

Jesus told a parable of two sons that should challenge the traditional dogma of salvation for Christians alone. A father told his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first said yes, but didn’t do it. The second said no, but changed his mind and worked. Jesus used this parable to point out that the religious leaders – those who said the right things and acted righteous – were actually far less righteous than the tax collectors and prostitutes they considered outcasts (Matt. 21:28-32). Gandhi was like the second son because he rejected Christian doctrine but imbibed and lived out the radical love of Jesus.

Jesus also told a parable in which he is the vine and the disciples are the branches drawing life and energy from him. He warns them that if they aren’t truly attached to the vine they “cannot bear fruit” and “cannot do anything” (John 15) – essentially that they would make a mess of the world, as Christianity has often done.

We can still embrace the worldview of a cosmic battle of good versus evil so prevalent in human cultures and religions, but we have to fight in a way that’s pure and increases the goodness in the world. Nonviolence is good, life-giving, and with discipline and creativity it’s practical. In this way, we can all see Jesus as a savior of the world.

Book Review: Muslim, Christian, Jew

mus_xtian_jew

Muslim, Christian, Jew: The Oneness of God and the Unity of Our Faith … A Personal Journey in the Three Abrahamic Religions is a book with a really long title!

It’s the late Art Gish’s deep and moving work about interfaith dialog and peacemaking in Israel/Palestine and back at home in Athens, Ohio.

From 1995 until his death in a farming accident in 2010, Art and his wife Peggy spent 2 to 3 months each year in Hebron, West Bank with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a group devoted to reconciliation and nonviolent peacemaking that has also inspired a Muslim Peacemaker Teams.

peggy_and_art

In all these years, Art gained a deep knowledge and experience of the three religions (as well as secular traditions), working closely with Muslims, Jews, and Christians making peace. Back at home in Ohio, he attended mosques and synagogues, continuing to build relationships and trust.

This book is a unique blend of historical and theological analysis, reflection on how to engage in interfaith dialog, and personal stories that will inform, inspire, move, and entertain. Much of the interfaith movement shies away from religious differences and the topic of religious violence, but Art tactfully and sensitively engages them, pointing to a depth that can overcome differences.

I am deeply troubled by the great divide, the fear, the hostility, and the bigotry in all three religions toward the other two. … [But] maybe the contradictions are not as deep as most of us think they are.  Maybe we need to look deeper. All three traditions call me to love God with my whole being, to submit my life to God, and to follow the path God has created for us. (Gish 10).

His passion for reconciliation extended to the Israeli settlers and soldiers who had “cursed, spit upon, stoned, kicked, and beaten” him. He and his teammates saw their enemies as human beings with the capacity to love, continually trying to connect with them through conscience, religion, and culture.

This is Art standing in front of a tank in Hebron that was going to roll right over a marketplace.

This is Art standing in front of a tank in Hebron that was going to roll right over a marketplace.

Through his experiences, relationships, and deepening knowledge of the three religions, Gish knew the truth that “all good things come from God”:

“All truth comes from the same source. Since there is one God, it’s not surprising that there’s a consistency in the expressions of God’s Spirit wherever people around the world respond to that Spirit.  Christians must be open to what God’s Spirit may teach us through other religions. No religion contains all Truth. Reality is too great to be comprehended in only one way. I still have much to learn, [and] true spirituality involves humility. God is so much bigger than my small concept of God” (Gish, 28-9).

Gish’s book and the spirit it represents are major keys to the future of religion, interfaith relations, and interspirituality. His work represents a beautiful marriage of courage, love, and intellect working together to bring about the transformation of people and their religions – something the world badly needs.

It's like a Where's Waldo image but different.  See him over in the upper right corner?

It’s like a Where’s Waldo image but different. See him over in the upper right corner?

I wrote a slightly less goofy version of this book review for The Interfaith Observer.  The editor liked it and can hopefully squeeze it into their December edition!

Elisabeth and I were blessed to host Peggy at our house on Oct 16-19.  We helped arrange a couple of speaking events for her new book on her work in Iraq.  “Blessed” is one of those funny religious words that I don’t usually like to use, but it’s truly the best word to describe our experience of her visit!!