Archive for September, 2013

Interfaith Perspectives on Peace; Building Coalitions

September 23, 2013 - 2:27 pm 3 Comments

Good Afternoon!

I have four quotes that I will ask you to ponder… in many ways, they form the poetic and inspirational foundation for all that I want to say this afternoon…

The first is by the incomparable Helen Keller… She gave us this quote of that summarizes the reality of holding on to a supernal or exhalting hope: She said: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Then, Maya Angelou then takes us beyond suffering to courage. She stated: “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

Next, we can heed the teaching of Walt Whitman, who in the 1800’s first coined the term “spiritual democracy.” He writes especially to the young:

“The people, especially the young men and women of America, must begin to learn that religion, (like poetry) is something far, far different than what they supposed. it is indeed too important to the power and perpetuity of the New World to be consigned any longer to the churches, old and new, Catholic and Protestant… It must be consigned henceforth to democracy en masse, and to literature. It must enter into the poems of the nation. It must make the nation.”

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Lastly, we are given the words of our great scientist and mystic, Albert Einstein, who looked at our world and gave us this cogent observation: “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be kept by understanding [one another]”

I am The Rev. Dr. Peter Lanzillotta, and I have the privilege of being the current chair of the Coastal Interfaith Community.

I would briefly describe myself as an interfaith theologian, a spiritual life coach, a freelance mystic, and a priest of a new spiritual paradigm!

The CIC is a dedicated, intentionally interfaith community that works to reduce ignorance and to foster greater religious tolerance and promote deeper spiritual understanding.

Our mission is centered on education and service. We are actively seeking to build more respect and to increase the awareness of the enriching diversity of religions that can be found here in the Charleston area. The members and friends of our larger interfaith community that you will hear from today sincerely welcome your participation, and we encourage you to bring your talents and commitment to peace to our work to encourage interfaith cooperation in our the Low Country area….

I am pleased to talk briefly about the many perspectives of peace, with an emphasis on creativity, inspiration, hope, and the promise of greater social engagement.

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As I see it, the time has past for there to be two different ways of being spiritual or being religious. We are now called to be both contemplative and active; We who meditate must learn to mediate; Activists and artists must come together to bear witness to truth and transformation. Practitioners now need to be prophets and those who listen for guidance must not only be “hearers of the word, but also become doers of the word!”

In truth, the personal cannot be divorced from the political, anymore than the qualities of peace are reserved for only quiet times- We are being called to a “noisey contemplation” and we are being called to use our art, our engineering, our hearts and our minds to foster a greater peace in our world.

As the threat for yet another Mideast war stubbornly refuse to subside, and as the use of patriarchal military power becomes our common response to problem solving, we are gathering for a contrasting purpose. Today, we are coming together to affirm and to celebrate the impulse towards peace, cooperation, and to foster the outlook that declares that through learning about other faiths, we can increase our compassion for all humankind.

There is no denying that we live in a bellicose world and as Americans we are known as the most violent of all the Western or modern cultures on earth. The yearly rate of gun deaths in any of our major cities is far more than in all of Europe combined!

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There have been over 200 incidents of mass killing, in our country so far this year! Today is only the 262nd day of the year!

We are reminded that our economy relies on building weapons and selling guns or other means of mass destruction does nothing to encourage peace. We are the world’s largest merchants of death. We sell weapons to almost any country that asks for them, despite the possibility of how they could be turned against us, how easily they are stolen, or can be used unethically and irresponsibly. Furthermore, we hide this economic evil behind the veneer of national security and the thins veils of creating jobs, and proclaim that making weapons as being good for our economy- an economy that appears to benefit only those at the top 1 or 2% of the income scale or only those who participate directly from the parasitic military-industrial complex. Is an economy and a national budget that sucks and siphons money and precious resources away from better health, access to quality education, safer roads, and stronger environmental safety. We are reminded of what President Einshower said, more than a generation ago, when he declared that every bomb made [robs a hungry and homeless or a sick child of the necessary things for her or his life!] (full quote included at the end…)

 

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In contrast, through our efforts at building a more peaceful community, we are increasingly becoming more aware of a real sense of creativity that is in service to humanity, rather one that is kept captive by quick and dehumanizing profits. …

We have to continually remind ourselves that the ethical clarity and spiritual consciousness we demonstrate are the creators of our culture; we have within our poems and our potentials, within our homes and our places of worship, the ability to choose and  then to reinforce those social behaviors and cultural conditions that will directly promote either conflict or peace- and that only in the process of actively breaking down the skewed stereotypes and the barriers that ignorance or apathy have constructed, can we truly and genuinely work together to build a peaceful, harmonious, and compassionate life for all people. As the progressive voice within liberal Christian theology, William Ellery Channing so clearly put it, “We will not learn how to live together in peace, by killing each other’s children.”

OK, that is my prophetic and political view, and yet one’s views of policy and economics cannot truly be divorced from one’s ethical and spiritual commitments. We have to come to the realization that our individual daily decisions about life, how we spend our time, or use our money are moral and ethical choices.

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Each of us can contribute daily to peace, and a greater acceptance of humanity as one, and Earth as our shared place.

You see, when you boil it all down, spirituality is not just a thought process that one can passively cling to or proclaim… Spirituality has to be lived in order to become mature, complete.

The essence of living spiritually is displayed and taught through our daily attitudes and actions; it is summed up in how we treat others, and how we allow others to treat us…  We can transform all those insults and the injustices, and they can be steadily reversed, IF we choose to be kind, IF we choose to treat others with courtesy and respect, and when we choose to work together for justice, freedom, and to effectively reduce all the ills that plague humankind.

My proposal to you today is this: We have to be willing to build workable coalitions that go beyond any one faith, pew, book, or tradition. The time to believe in a violent God or a vengeful deity is over– it has never worked as an agent of peace, or as a source for equality and kindness. If we truly prize the goal of a more peaceful and just world, we have to abandon all appeals to religious or cultural differences as providing us with a valid basis for feeling superior or inferior; We have to surrender all the pernicious thoughts that “My God is better than your God” and most of all, we have to willingly seek peaceful means to resolve any conflicts that arise because our world depends on us-

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The world depends on how well we can act as individual agents of change, and how willing we are to act as a collective expression of spirit, healing, and grace. …

So I will ask you today to contemplate the following three strategies for peaceful change: The first idea was laid out briefly by President Obama, during the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech and the other two are found as the timeless ideals that every genuine religious and ethical tradition contains, and what the possibilities of unselfish cooperation can teach us.

Let us first work together to create a coalition of conscience; then join together in a coalition of community; and from our sense of community, we can form a coalition of compassion among us.

President Obama when speaking about the impact of King’s speech on the lives of the people who were there, he stated:

“That was the spirit that they carried with them like a torch back to their cities and their neighborhoods, that steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come, through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches, far from the spotlight, through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham… Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered and never died.”

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Looking back over 25 years of ministry, I have been visited by some episodes of unexpected grace. This time, it was how creativity and inspiration found in sculpture gave witness to the eternal and timeless truth of love and the power of hope…

It was a heartfelt affirmation of how love overcomes, of how trusting in a more hope filled future and meeting life’s demands with courage is what is being asked of all of us…

I was living in Phoenix, finishing my doctoral studies on the Holy Spirit and the Divine Feminine. Occasionally, I would be asked by my ministerial colleagues to fill in for them, when they

had to travel, or had conflicts in their schedules.

It was my first time at the Paradise Valley Church- an imposing concrete structure placed on a hill overlooking a desert

landscape. It was famous for its meditative gardens, which I heard contained large bronze statues around a reflecting pool…

I was delighted to receive a call asking me if I was available to do a Christening and Dedication service for 4 little girls-

all approximately the same age, who were members of a large extended family that included Catholics, Jews, agnostics, and followers of Native American paths. They needed someone who understood, and who could respect their diversity as a family. They choose that garden, and even though they were not members of the church, they knew of its intuitive meaning, and that it was a special place… They knew much more than I did…

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So we talked and emailed about the plans for the service, and we discussed what we wanted to do, and what words they would like me to choose, etc. …

As it was my usual custom, I try to arrive early, and take a few moments to look around, and see where the best place for the ceremony would be…

When I walked into the garden, I was stunned! The statues rising out of the reflecting pool were of 4 young black women, filled with creativity and life!

You see, the artist, John Waddell, who created the memorial for those 4 young girls who were killed by a bomb of hate in Birmingham, was a church member. He created a replica and the church built a garden and a pool around the sculptures. The design was entitled “That Which Might Have Been” and it shows those young girls, now as vital young women, fully involved in life activities, and living out the promise of their young lives…

(www.artbywaddell.com/326886.html)

We gathered the family, and the 4 little girls around the statues and the pool, and we dedicated their lives to the ideals of love, peace, and hope…

On that day, a large diverse family came together, speaking and praying, singing and dancing, in ways that formed a creative coalition of community and compassion…

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Their dedication and caring overcame any lingering feelings of separateness in their beliefs, as they affirmed and showed how it is love that truly makes a family. In their joy and in their resolve, they demonstrated how holding out an active hope for the future of their children and how that perspective can serve as a wise and caring guide for their present day actions… Inspiring each of us to live more fully aware of our choices, and more conscious of our possibilities every day…

Given that we are holding this conference on peace in the middle of a college campus, let me reaffirm how important and vital it is for those under 30 to find and to practice an active and applied spirituality… An approach that combines the desire for peace and healing with the necessary social changes that bring about greater justice, equality, and compassion in our world.

Being pragmatic, it almost does not matter which of the great timeless spiritual traditions you choose, for each can be an agent of grace, transformation, creativity, and surprise.

But I do want you to realize that when you visit the old ways of church and their social structures, it might not appeal to you, and that is to be expected… I have just learned of a new movement called Occupy Spirituality, which might be the answer to this generation’s quest for purpose, application, and meaning. If I were you, I would look into it! (

 

www.patheos.com › Book Club)

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After all, as President Bill Clinton put it, your generation will be able to do more in less time… Why? “Because you were not brought up with the habit of fear”, and that you see change as needed, and reforms as possible… I certainly have hope for the future, and I trust the “dawning future more” than the fearful old patriarchal lines of power and privilege that have led us into our current cultural imbalances and give entitlements to the very few…

 

I will close with these thoughts from Martin Luther King, Jr:

 

“It is true, that there is some good in the worst of us, and there is some evil in the best of us.

When we discover this, we are less prone to hate, and more open to life and love.]”

May this day serve to promote more peace in your hearts, and more hope in your future… May your creativity be used to benefit humanity, and make you learn to intuitively follow where justice and empathy lead you… May you build coalitions of conscience, community, and compassion among you, and may you welcome the future with a courageous and open heart!

Now… Let’s dance for peace!

President Einshower’s Full Quote

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense,

is a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road that the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

 

Consider that he said these words over 50 years ago… and now adjust them for inflation!