Category Archives: interfaith

The Road is Made by Walking

The COP21 talks began in Paris today, following last week’s worldwide climate marches. Here is a reflection I offered at the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo on November 15,  as part of our climate justice service preceding these momentous talks. Prayers and social movements are both made with our feet, so I’m pleased to say that during this service 15 families signed the Paris Pledge, described below. Our pledges joined thousands of others, taken to Paris by Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power and Light, which has been leading on this issue for nearly 20 years.

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This year, a number of us have been on a journey toward greater awareness of the ecological impact of our choices, knowing that it is the cumulative impact of all these choices that creates the world our children will inherit.

It has been fun and energizing to walk this road together, hearing one Sunday that Pam is saving shower water for her garden plants and the next Sunday that Shawn and Karyn were so excited about their new electric car and the next that Barb is teaching people how to re-landscape for both drought tolerance and food production. We are building a new way here, holding hands and singing with stubborn gladness as we go.

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In two weeks, in Paris, 80 world leaders will gather to – we hope – sign binding carbon emissions targets that will set the world’s major economies on a new course, one that will begin to turn the barge of the global economy away from fossil fuels. It is exceptionally important that this agreement be signed. The nations failed to do so in 2009, but I feel the tide turning in the past year, and I am hopeful.

If our leaders fail us (as they have been known to do periodically in the past), we must continue to lead them – as in the suffrage movement, as in the civil rights movement, as in the gay rights movement – from right here, in these progressive, justice-making pews, until they wake up and join us!

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Of course, there is also much to grieve in the climate crisis, and later Emily will lead us through a ritual to acknowledge and feel these losses. Grief and joy both reside deep in the heart, and we know that our ability to feel sadness directly affects our access to joy. And with this joy comes the desire to act, the resolve to keep walking the path, come what may. Joy and resolve, these are our marching orders.

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In response to the urgency of this ecological moment, Interfaith Power and Light has created the Paris Pledge as a sign to world leaders that we take this seriously and they must do so, too. The Paris Pledge states this: “In an act of solidarity with global leaders and nations at the 2015 UN Climate Talks in Paris, I pledge to reduce my carbon pollution 50% by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050.” Many faith leaders have taken this pledge as representatives of their faith communities, including many UU congregations.

This past spring, we voted unanimously that our congregation would “Commit2Respond” to the climate crisis, so Rev. Ben, too, has signed this pledge on our behalf, as an act of both faith and solidarity – faith in our congregation’s will and commitment to truly live out our mission in the world and solidarity with every living thing. Whatever we do next as a congregation, we can do it from within this commitment to ecological health, with the joy and resolve that we will not sit on the sidelines or wait for a better time, but rather be part of the solution.

The great news is that, from my research and conversations, I know that congregations who make improvements to “go green” end of saving heaps of money that they can use for programming instead of power bills. It also feels really good – really clean – to use less fossil fuel. My family bought an all-electric Nissan Leaf this year, and I can attest to how very much lighter I feel, knowing that I am driving a solar-powered car.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn your order of service, you will find a copy of the Paris Pledge. As we deepen into meditation, ask yourselves if you, too, can commit to the changes, both internal and external, needed to sign the pledge and reduce your personal emissions by half over the next 15 years. It is a challenging but very achievable goal, one that we can support each other in meeting as individuals and a community over the years to come. It is time to act.

If you do sign the pledge, please drop it in the offertory basket toward the end of the service. Making this pledge is another powerful step we can each take along the road.

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May it be so.

The Light on My Mountaintop, Part II

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The first Parliament, Chicago 1893

The Parliament of the World’s Religions brought together hundreds of leading thinkers, writers, and spiritual leaders from around the world. Drinking from the fire hose of wisdom and justice-making, I took copious notes of their best aphorisms. Though many are unattributed in my notebook (that damn fire hose!), here are the best quotes.

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We have wisdom, and we forgot to give it to our children. (Native American grandmother)

Being a grandmother who holds no judgement, that is the greatest challenge. (ditto)

Never become deaf by your own tongue. (ditto)

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The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones, guns, and bombs, but girls reading books.

By learning how to love one thing deeply, we learn how to love all things. (Thich Naht Hanh, as quoted by someone)

Water is a boddhisattva. (ditto)

“Critical compassion” is needed to bridge the gap between science and religion and start a dialogue that asks questions. (Laurie Zoloth)

The mother has suffered enough. Become a servant of the mother.

When we talk about non-violent resistance, don’t just focus on the non-violence part, also focus on the resistance part. (Marianne Williamson)

The divine goddess is not just beautiful, she is fierce. (ditto)

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One Billion Rising: women standing up to violence

Faith is embodied in the subsistence labor of the daily lives of women. (ditto)

Today the affairs before us are soul-sized. (Christopher Fry)

Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

Our species needs to learn anew how to grieve together. Otherwise grief is a boulder on the heart. (Matthew Fox)

Be suspicious of what you want. (Rumi, as quoted by Tom Shadyac in his film, “I Am”)

You have the power to liberate your enemies of their broken souls. (Tom Shadyac)

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Sikh prayers before langan, the lunch they served to thousands of us each day

The sea is drops of water that has come together. (Desmond Tutu, as quoted by Tom Shadyac)

Stop running toward the truth, let go of all your opinions. (Chinese poet)

Women’s spiritual leadership will guide us through the storm that is coming.

There is a place where there is no edge, no container. That’s where I see women’s leadership arise, in open complete expansiveness.

Turn impossible goals into inevitable outcomes.

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Now the time comes to to fully wake up and make effort tirelessly. (Dalai Lama)

Nine times fail, nine times reeffort. (ditto)

Repentance doesn’t mean saying sorry. It means turning around. (Jim Wallis)

My life is my message. (Gandhi, as quoted by someone)

Don’t agonize, organize.

Try it two or three times. If it makes you a little bit nervous, it may be just the challenge you’re looking for.

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Joy and resolve. (Tim deChristopher)

One hour of justice is worth 70 hours of prayer. (Tom Goldsmith)

Social justice is the exercise of power. (ditto)

Separate yourself from that which separates you from others (Sufi poet, as quoted by someone)

We make the road by walking. (Brian Maclaren)

Your way of life is destroying my way of life. (Chief of the Dine nation)

The law of life is that we take a little and we give back. (ditto)

The earth is not a garden, she is mother. (ditto)

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Salt Lake City’s interfaith children’s choir. Adorable.

We don’t have to change who we are to hold hands.

It is stupid to divide the world into living and non-living things. There is no such thing as a non-living thing.

We have had 200 years of war, pestilence, and hatred. Let us try a little bit of friendship.

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If you’ve never seen Sufi dervishes in action, it’s beautiful, remarkable, poetic, and mystical.

Some of you believe in heaven. I don’t know if it exists; I don’t know if you know it exists. Brothers and sisters, what if this is heaven? What if you treat it as heaven, for the seventh generation? (Native American elder)

To work on climate change without working on paradigm change would be a grave mistake.

The best way I’ve learned to walk this path is to teach it.

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Waiting for the closing ceremony

The Light Shining on My Mountaintop, Part 1

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What on earth is the Parliament of the World’s Religions? And what could it possibly mean that this conference of 10,000 people from 50 faiths and 80 countries is taking place in Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormon Church? What would all these people even talk about for 5 days? Would they all be trying to convert each other in some Olympics of Belief? I had to find out, so I hopped a plane to SLC last Thursday.

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It was a shock to the system to be in a room with so much difference, highlighting for me both how suburban my life is right now and how mostly we tend to spend our time within our own tribes, not seeking out the other. This place, however, was a chop salad of humanity: turbaned Sikhs all in white, North American tribe members in beaded tunics, Hindus in saris, Tibetan monks in burgundy and saffron, African evangelicals in regional cotton prints, and lots of Americans in flowing, scarfy outfits that so often accompany progressive gatherings.

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The opening ceremony, where the local Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone elders and tribe members led a procession and invocation, was quite moving. Their prominence in many of the Parliament’s events signals a renewed appreciation for Native Americans wisdom traditions and perhaps a move toward atonement, whatever that might look like in the future.

Then seven suits sat down on stage, and the Governor of Utah spoke of how the early Mormon pioneers came to this valley with handcarts and “made it what it is today.”

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It hasn’t been the only major disconnect that has happened here, but for the most part, this has been an extremely constructive gathering, focusing on shared values, collaborative projects, and success stories.

I got over my Diversity Freak Out pretty quickly and became enchanted by the energy, the vibe — the spirit — in the place.  The general feeling seems to be that there’s enough bad news out there already, and that the way out of this mess is through hopeful, open-hearted action. Most folks here are theists of some stripe, but the God language is really broad and inclusive and has only rubbed me the wrong way once or twice. There are even workshops for us non-theists that are trying to find new language that moved beyond “interfaith dialogue”. Amen.

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Langar, the free vegetarian meal that the Sikh community provides every day as part of their religious practice, is totally awesome, and a great time to meet new people. Yesterday I talked with Eliechu, an Orthodox Jew from Jerusalem who is doing interfaith work to bring together an “Abrahamic Reunion.” He says it’s hard, “the koan of the modern world,” but that does not stop him.

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These women are learning the One Billion Rising flash mob dance, a response to violence against women. With one billion women subject to physical abuse or rape in their lifetime, this campaign — and women’s rights in general — was a focal point of the first day of the conference. Due to the advocacy of women Parliament organizers and advisers, more than half of the presenters here are women, and the passion around women’s issues outstripped every other category: climate change, anti-war, racism. If there has been a winner in this Olympics of Belief, it is the women who are standing up for political, civil, and religious equality.

The very idea of interfaith dialogue is an interesting one, given many (though not all) religions’ missionary missions, at least historically. The conversion string has vibrated from time to time as an undercurrent: people are so excited about their club, that they want you to join it. (More thoughts on that later.) But the greater goal and tone of the event is one of dialogue, deep listening, open-minded acceptance of difference, and at the heart of it all, the universal religious command to love.

I liked this summary of the basic premise of interfaith dialogue: “The light shining on my mountaintop does not diminish the light shining on your mountaintop.” That makes many conversations possible that might not otherwise be.

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These women regularly processed around the conference halls, offering blessings all the way from Australia. Shine on, ladies, shine on.