Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Daryn Cambridge - The Digital Duel: Resistance and Repression in an Online World (Webinar)

Daryn Cambridge - The Digital Duel: Resistance and Repression in an Online World (Webinar) from ICNC on Vimeo.

Daryn Cambridge, Director for Knowledge & Digital Strategies at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and adjunct professor at American University, looks at the emerging role of digital tools and new media in impacting the way people around the world struggle nonviolently for human rights, justice, and democratic self-rule. In addition, he will look at how these communication technologies are also being used as tools of repression by the very governments and structures these movements oppose. Looking at the evolution of communication and information sharing as a tool of resistance, Daryn will expand on contemporary struggles for rights waged with the help of online, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and technologies such as cellphones and digital cameras that advance the utility of these platforms.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Islamophobia, Interfaith dialogue Videos 1-7

Muslim Christian relations at Stony Point, with focus on Islamophobia. Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director Presbyterian Office of Public witness in Washington D.C. Rev. Dr. Katherine Henderson, President Auburn Theological Seminary Dr. Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, Imam of Masjid Al Ikhlas, New burgh, NY P.h.D. Islamic Studies-Christian/Muslim Relations from Hartford Seminary SPONSORED BY: Public Policy Advocacy Network Synod of the Northeast (Presbyterian Church USA) Camera & Edited by John Nasir.

Stony Point Center (SPC) is a national conference center of the Presbyterian Church (USA) located in Stony Point, NY. Stony Point Center, modeling the love of Jesus, welcomes people of all faiths and nations to discern, discover, learn and lead.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Eid Mubarak to all

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Interfaith Partnership helping fight hunger

Members of different faith groups joined forces to feed the hungry in St. Charles County.

The Interfaith Partnership on June 19 collected 1,377 nonperishable food items for the FISH of St. Charles County food pantry in St. Peters. They also collected $740 that the Hunger Task Force will use to buy perishable food for pantries throughout the county.

"We can't donate a dozen eggs, but we can donate money to buy them," said Ann Miller, Interfaith Partnership chairwoman.

FISH provided a van to transport the food and buckets to carry the cash collected by 19 Interfaith Partnership members who spent four hours seeking donations at the Mobil service station on Jungermann Road in St. Peters. The station closed two pumps to accommodate the food drive, Miller said.

This is the sixth year for the Interfaith Partnership's annual food drive. Miller said the volunteers saw a good response, but donations were down from last year's total of 2,300 food items and $1,000 cash.

Miller said the heat might have played a factor. The St. Peters Olde Tyme Picnic ran simultaneously, and could have drawn people away from the location, she said.

Miller said donors might be saving their food for another upcoming drive, the Saturday Jubilee on July 31. More than 600 volunteers will collect nonperishable food outside grocery stores and deliver it to the Operation Food Search warehouse in Wentzville for distribution to pantries throughout St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties.

"It all goes to the same cause, so that is fine," Miller said.

The Interfaith Partnership is a nonprofit organization that includes members of different faith groups, including Christians, Jews and Muslims. It meets monthly and seeks to promote respect and understanding through dialogue and community events.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Campaign for Love and Forgiveness ends, but impact lives on - Baltimore Sun

Campaign for Love and Forgiveness ends, but impact lives on - Baltimore Sun: "Campaign for Love and Forgiveness ends, but impact lives on
Foundation's 4-year initiative claims lasting effects
June 13, 2010|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun
An interfaith peace garden in Northeast Baltimore builds tolerance among religions through annual conversations about forgiveness. At-risk youth forgive others and themselves with the help of drumming and dance.

It's all part of a four-year Maryland Public Television campaign wrapping up this Tuesday to promote love and forgiveness. But participants say the program, part of an effort to build the concepts nationwide, will have a lasting impact.

MPT was one of five stations that worked with the Fetzer Institute, a foundation based in Michigan that 'engages with people and organizations to bring the power of love, forgiveness and compassion to the center of individual and community life,' said Linda Grdina, an officer with the Fetzer program."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A symbol of progress in Lower Manhattan

By Joshua M. Z. Stanton and Zeeshan Suhail

Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue

Muslim Consultative NetworkIn the rabbinic tradition, it is said that if you bring color to a person's face by upsetting them, it is as though you have physically struck him. If so, the Cordoba House and its leaders have endured a true assault.

This past month has seen a flurry of protests from extreme opponents of the Cordoba House, a proposed community center in Lower Manhattan that would be founded by Muslims but serve all New Yorkers. While dissenters comprise only a small minority of voices, they have drowned out the large and growing number of the center's supporters, as well as those who simply want to learn more about its overarching aims.

Individuals, like tea party leader Mark Williams, have mislabeled the Cordoba House a potential breeding ground for fundamentalism and tried to smear its sponsoring organizations, the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, both of which have a strong record of promoting interfaith dialogue and improving Muslim-Western relations.

Sadly, these protesters have failed to distinguish between the mainstream Muslim majority and the tiny minority of militant Muslims.

Opponents say that building a Muslim-led community center near Ground Zero, a site of profound American loss and pain, would be a "victory" for militant Muslims and a loss for Americans. In fact, it is the undermining of Cordoba House that would be a true loss for Americans. One need only look as far as its name - inspired by the medieval city in Spain, Cordoba, where Christians, Jews and Muslims co-existed and thrived for 800 years - to realize that these critics are misguided.

In fact, Cordoba House is poised to become a gathering place for the enemies of militant Muslims: mainstream Muslims. It will be a sign of internal resistance to the tyranny that a small group of terrorists has tried to impose on the broader community of Muslim believers, whose ultimate goal is peace.

We, a lay Muslim American and former New Yorker, and a future rabbi and current New Yorker, are proud to stand behind this initiative. It sends a clear and profound global message that Muslims will not tolerate extremism and instead seek to collaborate with followers of other faiths and work for the common good.

Global significance aside, just imagine the local impact of Cordoba House: the community center would provide, in its creators' words, a "cultural nexus" for New Yorkers to come together for education, performances, sports and person-to-person interaction.

New York is one of the most religiously diverse cities in the world. Where better to create a space where Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Hindu New Yorkers, among others, can learn from each other through art classes, poetry readings, film screenings and interfaith dialogue? By investing in the larger New York community, Cordoba House is poised to become an incubator of social progress and haven of tolerance.

In many respects, fringe opponents of the Cordoba House have already failed - even before they rallied in protest against it on June 6. New York's Community Board recently endorsed the community center with a vote of 29 to 1, with 10 abstentions, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed his support for its construction.

Yet for Cordoba House to achieve its true potential, particularly in the face of such radical critics, people of all backgrounds must support this initiative and others like it - politically, socially, financially and, most importantly, personally. For it to truly bring together people of all religions and even those of no particular faith, New Yorkers - and indeed all Americans - should voice their support for Cordoba House and speak up about what they would truly like to see within its walls.

By participating in this effort together, New Yorkers can reclaim Cordoba House from its detractors and help it come to fruition as a symbol of progress.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

To free the terrible bondage of continued conflict, Interfaith Freedom March May be Most Important Ever

Dr. Frank Romano's Interfaith Freedom March
Dr. Romano during a recent Interfaith Freedom March.Click here to order Dr. Frank Romano's book, 'Storm Over Morocco'
(JERUSALEM) - You are welcome to participate in The Interfaith Freedom March on Monday, June 7th, 2010. The group will set out at 2:00 p.m. at the bottom of the steps of Damascus Gate, Old City, Jerusalem.
The marchers will walk in the light of the creator, following the principles of non-violence and respect for all creatures which are common denominators among the Peoples of the Book (ahl al-kitab) who reside in the area, as it is written in their Holy Scriptures of the Qur’an, the Torah, the New Testament, and in other texts.
Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sufis, Kabbalists, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, etc., and members of all faith communities are welcome.
The truth is that residents of the area are ready for a durable peace, even those who were not ready a year or two ago. Similar to the situation in Ireland and other conflict areas, residents of the area have become fed up with, as well as exhausted and disgusted by the violence and truly seek peaceful coexistence.
As a result, many are laying down their arms, working on interfaith projects to take religion/spirituality out of the conflict and working within the political system to bring about change in a permanent, nonviolent way.
A purpose of this march is also to counter-balance the filtered and false information about the suffering of the people in the area, notably Palestinians and Israelis.
Their suffering has become invisible in the face of narratives with no basis in reality and exaggerated reporting on incidents of violence and subsequent retaliation, often dominating the news and distracting the world from focusing on the day to day suffering of the residents in the area.
Moreover, removing most of the West Bank settlements would help in diffusing the tension accelerating since 1967.
As such, the occupation of the West Bank must end as a precursor to peaceful coexistence on the condition that adequate security measures are taken by both sides to secure the borders and preserve the peace.
Another purpose of this event is to facilitate working together of all active freedom/peace/human rights groups in the area and in the World. It is also dedicated to building on humanitarian efforts to improve the education of people in the area (cross-cultural dialogues, mixed student programs, etc.) and to improve the economic environment.
This event will set up a concerted and consistent effort in furtherance of freeing the area from the terrible bondage of continued conflict.
Let this march be a precursor to freedom through love and understanding by bringing all people together, as brothers and sisters and as children of the creator, showing the world that all people want peace in Israel and Palestine.
Dr. Frank Romano is a valued friend of Salem-News.com. We have endless respect and admiration for his desire to bring peace to the conflict that divides Israelis and Palestinians. As the Author of 'Storm Over Morocco', a former prisoner with a radical Islamic sect, he learned everything he could about religion, in some cases almost from the inside out. Instead of developing anger or hatred over his captivity, Frank allowed the experience to form the person he is today; a fantastic Author, an Attorney who practices in both California and Paris, France, and a bearer of the message of peace who four times a year, leads people of all backgrounds in interfaith peace marches. It is one of the most admirable things I ever have an opportunity to write about. I strongly suggest his book, and wrote this review: Aug-06-2009: Book Review: Storm Over Morocco Reveals Mysteries of Islam - Tim King Salem-News.com. There are several other articles about Dr. Romano's history and the Interfaith Peace and Freedom Marches, available at this link: Salem-News.com search under 'Dr. Frank Romano

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NYC community board OKs ground zero mosque plans. Supporters say the mosque will build bridges and foster interfaith dialogue.

A New York City community board has voted to support a plan to build a mosque and cultural center near ground zero.

The vote late Tuesday was 29-1 in favor, with 10 abstentions. It came after hours of contentious public comment.

Supporters say the mosque will build bridges and foster interfaith dialogue.

Critics says the proposed lower Manhattan site is an insult to Sept. 11 victims. Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams has called it a monument to the Sept. 11 attackers.

Some Sept. 11 victims' families say they're angry the mosque would be built so close to where their relatives died.

The organizations sponsoring the project say they're trying to meet a growing need for prayer space. They also want to provide a venue for mainstream Islam to counter extremism

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Every Jew and Muslim--specially the anal retentive variety--must watch this 18-minute film and relish their shared heritage.

Every Jew and Muslim--specially the anal retentive variety--must watch this 18-minute film and relish their shared heritage.
This is a film, narrated in the traditional Ladino language of the Sephardic Jewish people. Güler Orgun tells us how her family found a new home in the Ottoman Empire after being expelled from Spain in the late 15th century.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Zed has urged the usage of social media to advance interfaith dialogue.

Religious statesman Rajan Zed has urged the usage of social media to advance inter-religious dialogue.
In a statement in Nevada (USA) today, Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said that more dialogue was urgently needed among the different religions of the world. Social media like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Tagged, Twitter, Bebo, Friendster, hi5, Orkut, etc., could prove fruitful in promoting this, building bridges and forge required connections if utilized properly.
Although face-to-face dialogue was still very effective, but with the advancement of communication technology, social media needed to be tapped more in the future in this direction, Rajan Zed pointed out.
Zed further said that technology could prove a wonderful connection among diverse religions spread around the globe. Tolerance, trust and openness would bring the world closer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leading Mauritanian imam visits US for interfaith dialogue

A US State Department invitation brought Imam Ahmed Salem Ould Cheikh Javar overseas to discuss the issue of tolerance as part of a wider dialogue among religions.
Interviewed by Mohamed Yahya Abdel Wedoud for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 13/05/10
[Mohamed Yahya Abdel Wedoud] Imam Ahmed Salem Ould Cheikh Javar praised the US for its tolerance after participating in an interfaith dialogue there.
The general secretary of the Union of Imams of Mauritania, Imam Ahmed Salem Ould Cheikh Javar, recently returned from the US after taking part in an international dialogue among leaders of various religions. He was invited by the US State Department and travelled as an international visitor on interfaith dialogue.
The imam, whose organisation works in fields including AIDS prevention, met with Magharebia and mapped out some of the ideas of religious tolerance he discussed with other participants.
Magharebia: How was your trip to the United States?
Imam Ould Javar: I visited several states, including Washington, Texas, California and New York. I found out that Muslims are very active in America. I met with different organisations concerned with the dialogue among religions, which comprise Muslims, Christians and Jews. I also visited some centres in Texas that translate Islamic books to English and publish them in co-operation with the Center for Middle East Studies. In Los Angeles, I visited the Religious and Civil Values Center, which is concerned with teaching world religions, including Islam of course, at regular schools. What I liked most is that they teach Muslim civilisation from the old era to the modern era with all objectivity and honesty. The students of that centre are not Muslim. From that, we understand that the United States is keen on encouraging religious dialogue among nations and peoples. It should be noted here that the US Constitution states that the United States has no [official] religion.
Here I want to say that Islam is an open religion that acknowledges all religions and is based on the principle of "no compulsion in religion" and "call to the way of your God with good admonition". Based on that, Muslims have to approach the other for the sake of dialogue. The world today has become just one village, and as Muslims, we have to carry out campaigns to correct the concepts that others have of our religion. Unfortunately, many people in the West don't know anything about Islam except for what they see on television, which is a negative thing for us as Muslims.
I've told everyone I met that a Muslim is the one who acknowledges the others; that a Muslim is the one who opens his heart for the other; and that the Muslim is the one who only says good words to the other. Together with my colleagues, we managed to explain to the American people that the true Islam is the Islam that observes the Qur'an and Sunna, and that the true Muslim is the one who puts before his eyes the principle of "no compulsion in religion".
Magharebia: How did you find the US and its people?
Imam Ould Javar: In fact, we don't see of America anything but the horrible images which we see on TV; we don't know anything about it. When I went down there, I was actually very surprised with the tolerance of the American people and their love for others. I went out at the airport not knowing how to speak any English and I didn't have anyone with me. They served me from the moment I arrived at the airport until my departure. I saw how hospitable the American people are and how very respectful of others they are. What I liked about America is the religious freedom there; no one would ask you about your religion. Frankly, my view of America changed deep inside me and I literally told them at the end of the programme that I wanted to see some Americans travelling to the Islamic world so as to learn about Islam, and I wanted to see the peoples of those countries coming to America so as to learn that it's not a country of guns and horror movies only; rather America is a country with a coherent, harmonious and friendly people.
Frankly speaking, I found that America was completely different from what I thought in the past. For instance, there was a little problem at the airport with the writing of my name. The police treated me in an extremely polite, respectful and humane way, saying to me several times "excuse me"; something that made me very happy and relieved.
Magharebia: What's your advice to young Muslims after your trip?
Imam Ould Javar: I advise them to show breadth of mind and to seek sciences from where they are, especially Islamic, Christian and Jewish sciences, as personal knowledge. I also advise them to have good manners. I've also noticed that the Americans pay attention to the individual, which is a good thing. We as Muslims should also pay attention to the individuals and to develop them.
Magharebia: What are the most important difficulties that faced you during this trip?
Imam Ould Javar: The most important difficulties are represented in the language, although the supervisors of the programme assigned distinguished interpreters for me. However, I found out that the English language is a must-learn language in this era: it is the language of the world and I advise everyone to learn it. In short, I learnt that whoever doesn't speak English is an illiterate person; French doesn't get past Africa.

Interfaith dialogue from youth to life's end

We can continue to learn from other faiths, even at the end of our lives.

By guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart
I was very honored to be invited to lunch recently by three Muslim women.

I became involved with interfaith dialog in 2001, after the events of September 11. Locally, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee began holding adult dialogs, and over punch and donuts, I met a physician who worked with Muslim teenagers. When he found out I worked with Catholic teenagers, we both had the same idea at the same time. We said to each other in unison, "We should do something like this with young people!"

Our first event was called, "Sons and Daughters of Abraham." It was an all-day youth forum for Muslims, Catholics, and Jews; it took almost a year of planning. Our team included 18 young people - six from each faith group. Three teenagers acted as the emcees; three teenagers each gave ten-minute presentations (with power point slides) about his or her faith - Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism; and twelve teenagers were table leaders for the participants.

We adults never approached the microphone. Once trained, the youth ran the whole day, and they did quite well. After a morning conversation in mixed groups, and a delicious lunch, the groups reconvened with their own congregations to plan interfaith projects. What followed was a year of invitations to different events, such as a Shabbat service at a synagogue, a picnic in the park, a potluck at a church, the painting of a mural with interfaith symbols and images, and "Midnight Muslim Bowling."

At the potluck, we each brought foods from our own traditions, and talked about the holiday or holy day when the foods were usually eaten. It was more fun than we thought it would be. I remember a Muslim teenager stood up and said, "We must be doing something right. Here we have Jews, Christians and Muslims, all eating together, telling family stories, and laughing. I know my parents would never have been able to experience this."

Eventually, there was a call to bring in more faith groups. After a retreat, we began our current program - the Interfaith Youth Cafés. Three or four times a year, a different congregation hosts a café, and teenagers gather, discuss certain conversation questions around a theme, reconvene with their own group, and report about what they learned. At the end, the groups each take a turn saying a prayer for everyone from their own tradition. There's something about this experience that's quite transformational. It becomes impossible to hate an entire group of people once you have eaten and laughed and especially prayed with them.

I would dare say it's the best way to prevent religion-based terrorism. At every café, there seems to be at least one young person who comes for the first time, admits to past prejudice, admits he or she had been so wrong about people of another faith, and is so glad to have learned so much.

Our cafés have been attended by Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Presbyterians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Quakers, Methodists, Episcopalians, Hindus, Christian Scientists, Unitarian Universalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Serbian Orthodox, Bahá'í, and United Church of Christ.

At my lunch with my Muslim friends, we reminisced about the early events, and we talked about what some of the teenagers had said: how the training meetings and dialog had completely changed their opinions about people of other faith groups. I told them what an honor it had been to become their friends and to be trusted to work so closely with their sons and daughters.
One of the main reasons we met for lunch is because they know I am dying.

I had not been able to attend any of our café events this year, although I wrote the conversation questions and prepared the hand-outs. I have just been too tired to go. So I was very eager to see these women one more time.

They told me about one of their sayings: A life is well lived if one of three things comes about: Children that keep blessing, knowledge that keeps teaching, and charity that keeps giving. They told me they could see all three in my life.
I've told this story several times, and still I cannot repeat it without feeling chills, without spilling tears. What a beautiful concept. And I only learned it in the last year of my life.
It is something we can all pray for - for our families and our friends and for everyone we know and everyone we don't know.

I shall pray it for you:

In your precious life,
May you be surrounded by children that keep blessing,
May you be enlightened with knowledge that keeps teaching, and
May you be inspired by charity that keeps giving.

Amen from all of us who pray to the One God of many names with our many different words.

Interfaith dialogue from youth to life's end

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Interfaith dialogue is now more important than ever, said April Najjaj, a professor of history and the director of international studies at Greensboro College in North Carolina.

Interfaith dialogue, a cooperative interaction between people of different religions, has taken place for hundreds of years.
However, interfaith dialogue is now more important than ever, said April Najjaj, a professor of history and the director of international studies at Greensboro College in North Carolina.
Students for Dialogue, an Ohio State organization, has invited Najjaj to speak at OSU.
“I think the most important thing I’ll be talking about is the principles of interfaith dialogue,” Najjaj said. “It’s not a debate. We’re just listening to each other and increasing understanding.”
Students for Dialogue hopes to increase understanding among different cultures, genders and religions, said Yusuf Danisman, the organization’s president.
Najjaj can help because of her expertise in the field of interfaith issues, Danisman said.
Najjaj has spoken about interfaith issues at academic conferences and with community organizations, Greensboro churches and her students. Her research interests include interfaith issues and the role of women in Islam.
She plans to focus her talk on the issues of women in religion.
“With my own experiences, the issues of Islamic women are the biggest misunderstandings in the media and in popular culture,” Najjaj said.
Faraaz Siddiqui, a member of the Muslim Students’ Association, agrees.
“People get the wrong idea all the time,” Siddiqui said. “People think that women are placed on a rung below men in Islam.”
Students for Dialogue works to correct these misconceptions.
“The world is becoming a global village,” Danisman said. “The more we know about others’ backgrounds, the better we can communicate and live in peace.”
The talk will take place at 5:30 p.m. today in Ohio Union Cartoon Room 2.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Qatar University’s (QU) seminar on interfaith dialogue

DOHA: Qatar University’s (QU) College of Shari’a and Islamic Studies recently held a symposium on ‘Interfaith Dialogue Issues in Culture and Media’.

The symposium was organised in conjunction with the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DCID) and Al Qaradawi Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal.

Shari’a College Dean Dr Aisha Al Mannai, DCID Director Dr Ibrahim Al-Naimi, and Al Qaradawi Center Director Dr Mohammed Khalifa Hassan, headed the symposium which was attended by a large number of QU staff, faculty and students.

In his presentation on “Manners and Skills of Dialogue”, Dr Hassan said: “Islam included the ethics of dialogue in the Quran and Sunnah, giving dialogue a special place in the understanding of religion. Muslims employed dialogue in achieving the goals of getting to know others, and in the delivery of their scientific efforts, drawing on the Prophet who was a role model for Muslims in dialogue and who gave a unique model to communicate with non-Muslims”.

QU Head of the Department of Dawa and Islamic Culture Dr Yousef Siddiqui presented on ‘Reality Reading of Interfaith Dialogue’. He was followed by Al Jazeera TV anchor Khadija bin Gena who spoke on “The Role of Media in Supporting and Guiding Interfaith Dialogues”. “One of the reasons for the hindrance of dialogue between religions today is the confusion between dialogue and politics. Politics has had sometimes a destructive role that poisoned relations between Muslims and others,” bin Gena said.

“While it should take place in forums and websites to benefit all, the subject of interfaith dialogue remains in locked rooms. Some media coverage of interfaith issues does not take into consideration a commitment to professional codes of ethics that impose impartiality on affiliations and partisanship”, she added.

QU Mass Communication Department faculty Dr Alaa Elshamy presented a critical and analytical view of interfaith issues in the media. Symposium participants discussed the efforts to address the “thorny issue” of interfaith dialogue.

They pointed to recommendations coming out of numerous meetings and conferences held at different levels and different countries which sought to bridge the gap in views between religions and sects with respect to religious freedom, acceptance of others, and openness to heterogeneous cultures which carries the values of coexistence and cooperation as part of the teachings of divine religions.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Coalition preaches mutual respect

The interfaith dialogue initiated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to build bridges of understanding between Islam and the West has been well received by religious leaders worldwide. This was evident at the community outreach program that was organized by the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry's Committee of International Trade (CIT) on the sidelines of the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum April 28-29 in Chicago.

US President Barack Obama's vision of interfaith harmony as expounded in historic June 2009 address to the Muslim world from Cairo is now beginning to unfold, and I could notice the positive developments that are taking place in the United States.

Five members of the delegation accompanying Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza to the Windy City participated in the Interfaith Breakfast Dialogue, which took place at the University of Chicago's Gleacher Center. They got the opportunity to discover the efforts of religious leaders dedicated to building a peaceful coexistence between the Abrahamic faiths in the Chicago community.

In a moderated panel discussion, five religious leaders of different faiths addressed the backlash after 9/11 and stressed the need for interfaith programs to dispel misunderstanding and media misconceptions that spread hatred and false information about different faiths. The panel included an imam, a reverend, a rabbi and other religious leaders who outlined their missions toward finding common grounds and building trust and respect among all religions.

They also shared their experiences and activities involving the Chicago community in interfaith dialogue and interfaith learning. One of the most interesting institutions represented was The Chicago Coalition for Inter-Religious Learning, a group of Catholics, Jews and Muslims working together with an approach based on a spirit of respectful inquiry, neither attempting to "convert" nor claiming that there is no difference between the three Abrahamic religions.

Indeed, this new approach of accepting and respecting the differences between Muslims, Christians and Jews could put an end to hostilities and eliminate the tension and conflict that mars relations between the Muslim world and the West. The coalition includes educators, writers and book publishers who came together after 9/11 to confront teachings of hatred, contempt and damaging stereotypes that can be found in religious school classrooms.

It is truly heartening to know that there are efforts to stop the spread of Islamophobia and the discrimination against people of different faiths. The religious leaders of Chicago are engaged in organizing interactive workshops and giving presentations to religious school educators and administrators to stimulate inter-religious thinking and to create better teaching models. Moreover, they are developing a more accurate multimedia resource guide, and they are supporting student participation in trilateral dialogue activities and other interfaith learning projects.

Among their main activities is monitoring publications, films and other classroom resources for coalition members to review or endorse. They plan to put the bibliographical information and reviews on their website as a resource guide and a reliable database. In addition, the group emphasizes the need for sensitive, interfaith children's books and plans a series of teachers' guides for interfaith education.

Through interfaith learning, the coalition strives to enable all to understand the different religious beliefs and at the same time allow all to remain true to the core of their own religious traditions. These noble initiatives should be implemented on a global scale, and they should be publicized in order to promote friendly relations and good will between the United States and the Muslim world.

The Q&A session that followed the presentations of the panelists was another opportunity for the members of the Saudi delegation to share their concerns and outline King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue initiative, which is based on mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. The Saudis stressed that religious leaders should not follow the paths of their predecessors who fought many wars over religion. Today, the global community should be more concerned with eradicating poverty and disease, protecting the environment, ending wars and eliminating the injustices and human suffering that still exist in many parts of the world.

The men and women of the Saudi delegation at the end of the visit said they appreciated the initiatives of this noble coalition and felt comfortable over the fact that there are partners in America who are now genuine in their efforts to build bridges of understanding and eager to put an end to the demonization of Islam and Muslims in the United States.

The mission of Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza, who led a delegation of finance and petroleum ministers and 200 business leaders, academics and media personalities to build stronger relations and friendly ties with the US, certainly has been a great success. It has opened a new page in Saudi-American relations, and it has paved the way to end the misconceptions that have created the tensions between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia today is witnessing a new era of reforms, combating terrorism and fighting extremism. It is reaching out to the whole world to implement trade relations and promote global prosperity. Let us hope that peaceful partners and allies — as well as religious leaders — will continue to hold on to a spirit of good will and mutual respect in order to regain the peace of the world and a better future for our younger generation.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Joan Wyatt: The Cruciform Woman Image Then and Now

In the spring of 1979 while living in Port Hope, Ontario, I read in the Globe and Mail that Almuth Lutkenhaus’s sculpture Crucified Woman had been installed at Bloor Street United Church. She was in the narthex during Holy Week and in the sanctuary on Good Friday. The outrage of some was expressed when someone at Toronto South Presbytery charged Cliff Elliot, the incumbent minister at the time, with heresy. The support of others helped Presbytery to dismiss the charges.

Last year, marking 30 years since this remarkable occasion, many gathered at Emmanuel College to hear Sophie Jungreis, a Jewish artist, Nevin Reda, a Muslim academic, and Margaret Burgess and Janet Ritch, literary scholars, reflect on what the image of Crucified Woman evokes today. Toronto lawyer and scholar Nella Cotrupi read a stunning poem.

The evening concluded with many walking by candlelight to Bloor Street United Church, where the Easter Vigil service celebrated images of women cruciform and rising. Johan Aitken, professor emerita from OISE and an original member of the committee who brought the installation in 1979, related her experiences of that time. Visual images of women suffering and rising around the globe enhanced the service.

I graduated in 1986, when Lutkenhaus’s gift of Crucified Woman was finally, after a protracted debate, accepted by Victoria University. Doris Dyke, a professor at Emmanuel College, along with a group of students who called ourselves the “Uppity Women,” planned an event to mark her installation in the garden behind Emmanuel College. The Friday evening showcased women’s stories, gifts, and accomplishments. The next day a well-attended outdoor worship service featured the hymns of the late Sylvia Dunston, liturgical dance under the direction of Alexandra Caverly Lowery, and preachers Doris Dyke and Cliff Elliot. I was the worship leader and was thrilled to complete my years at Emmanuel College, where the debate of what would it mean to have Crucified Woman at a theological School had shaped my understanding of the challenges of feminist thought. The service was a satisfying occasion, indicating that the academy and the Church recognized both the rights and the suffering of women.

May 14–15, 2010, women once again will gather to reflect on what the symbol of a cruciform Woman evokes in our culture today. Ojibway elder Marjory Noganosh will lead the opening ceremony and present, along with social activist Pat Capponi, and photojournalist Rita Leistner. Come listen, reflect, and join this ongoing conversation, a conversation that also invites submissions to be considered for publication.

Biographies of the speakers and workshop presenters, as well as of the dancers and musicians who will be performing at the event, after the jump.

Crucified Woman Reborn Keynote Speakers

Pat Capponi: “Women Rising!”

Pat Capponi has carved out a career as an author, journalist, speaker, and social activist. She has written extensively on mental health, addictions, and poverty issues, and has worked in a variety of settings, which have helped her to develop her skills as a community worker, an educator, a facilitator, an advocate, a writer, and a public speaker. Her many publications include Upstairs in the Crazy House: The Life of a Psychiatric Survivor, Dispatches from the Poverty Line, and Beyond the Crazy House, all published by Penguin Canada.

Doris Dyke: “Crucified Woman”

Doris Jean Dyke is Professor Emerita at Emmanuel College. When she was appointed as professor in 1977, she was the first woman in a theological college of The United Church of Canada. She taught in the areas of educational ministry, faith, and the arts and feminist theology. She was active in multiple faith dialogue, was an executive member of the Toronto chapter of the World Conference for Religion and Peace, and attended an international meeting at Nairobi. At Emmanuel College she was responsible for a section of the introductory required class in Church and Ministry where students visited synagogues, mosques, and temples and heard about various religious traditions from a spokesperson from each tradition.

Doris was a member of Bloor Street Church, a member of the Worship Committee, and chair of the Arts Committee that brought the Crucified woman to Bloor Street in 1979. She was also a member of the Victoria University Art Committee that recommended acceptance of the sculpture that the artist, Almuth Lutkenhaus offered to Emmanuel. Her book, Crucified Woman, was published in 1991.

Doris did her doctoral study at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York. Her first teaching appointment was at the University of Saskatchewan and St. Andrew’s College. Recently she received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from St. Andrew’s. In the early ’70s she became Dean of Education at Dalhousie University. She now lives in Vancouver.

Rita Leistner: “The Photojournalism of Women”

Rita Leistner will be showing and discussing work by several women photojournalists who are covering women’s issues. In a profession dominated by men who are by and large uninterested in women’s rights, it is ever important for women to turn their lenses on women.

Rita Leistner is an award-winning independent photojournalist and a lecturer at Victoria College, University of Toronto. Rita’s photographs have been exhibited in many countries and published in major magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair Italy, Rolling Stone, Macleans, and The Walrus. She is co-author of Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq.

Her latest book, The Edward Curtis Project, with Métis Dene playwright Marie Clements, is being published in the spring by Talon Books. For more information on Rita Leistner, please visit www.ritaleistner.com

Marjory Noganosh: “Mother Earth and Women”

Marjory Noganosh is a hands-on energy therapist. Her educational background includes a degree in English Language and Literature, Ontario College of Teachers certification, and courses toward the Ryerson Publishing Certificate. In her thirties she became interested in bodywork and graduated from a two-year shiatsu program at Kikkawa College; she is a member of the Shiatsu Therapy Association of Ontario. She studied various forms of bodywork and received second-degree reiki with Reiki Master Anita Levin. She also did meditation and dreamwork. She furthered her development through traditional ceremonies, such as fasting, and through guidance from Traditional healers and teachers. She is of the Turtle Clan and is a member of the Magnetawan Ojibway First Nation. She works with individuals at First Nations organizations, notably Anishnawbe Health Toronto.

Crucified Woman Reborn Workshops and Musicians

Noelle Boughton: “Meditating with Art”

Spend an hour learning how art can offer you another pathway to the Divine. We will learn how to practice imaginatio divina, a meditation with art based on the ancient practice of praying sacred texts. We will also do an art response to it and have time to share our learnings.

Workshop leader Noelle Boughton is a writer and editor, and the author of Margaret Laurence: A Gift of Grace, A Spiritual Biography. She is completing her training as a spiritual director.

Marian Botsford Fraser: “This Prison Where I Live”

Marian Botsford Fraser is a freelance writer, broadcaster, and critic whose work has appeared in Granta, The Walrus, the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, and the National Post. Among her books is Solitaire: The Intimate Lives of Single Women. Her book entitled Requiem for My Brother recently won first prize for Creative Nonfiction from the CBC Literary Awards. In 2009, she was elected Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, International PEN. Along the same line of interest, she recently published an article in The Walrus depicting the horrors of solitary confinement and conditions for female prisoners, such as those which led to the suicide of Ashley Smith. Another woman, Renée Acoby, an Ojibwe who is considered “one of our country’s most violent women” (”Life on the Installment Plan”, Walrus, 42), has sent us three original poems on exhibit here.

Anne Hines: “‘Writing for Her Life’: Writing Your Way to Yourself”

Workshop leader Anne Hines is former humour/lifestyle columnist for Canadian Living magazine, columnist and contributing editor for Chatelaine and weekly humour columnist for the national commuter newspaper, Metro. Her work has also appeared regularly in publications such as Readers Digest and Today’s Parent. Anne has published five books; three novels and two works of non-fiction. Her most recent book, Parting Gifts: Notes on Loss, Love and Life, chronicling her experiences as a writer, lesbian, mother of a transwoman, and student minister was featured both on CBC and at Word on the Street. Anne is currently working on a new collection of humour columns, “Life in HineSight,” and looking forward to being ordained as a United Church of Canada minister in May, 2010.

Sophie Jungreis: “Birthing Stones”

Sophie’s work deals mainly with the human psyche. Her subjects follow her own search and growth processes. She explores layers of feelings through layers of stone or layers of paint. Using local Israeli stones, Italian, Turkish, and Portuguese marble, she seeks to unearth lost parts of the soul in order to regain its authenticity. Sophie received her training in art in Israel and Paris and has exhibited in Europe, the USA, Canada and Israel. Her work is represented in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank, the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa and in private collections on a number of continents. Her latest work is in stone. To learn more please visit www.sophiejungreis.com

Property Smith: “Harlots, Whores, and the Girl Next Door”

Property Smith is a queer activist who has used her own life experiences to help her spend over ten years as a harm reduction worker specializing in frontline work with at-risk youth, drug users, and sex trade workers. With a background in Women’s Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies from the University of Toronto, she is currently a student at Emmanuel College and is the Director of Youth Ministry at Stoney Creek United Church. Property is one of the founders of www.propertyandtheft.com, a spiritual electronic music collective. In her spare time she prefers to be outdoors with her husband Leeum and their three children, dancing, or writing. Her newest project is a Mommy Blog that can be found at www.femmemomma.blogspot.com

Join Property Smith for a look at the sex trade in Toronto today. Beginning with a sex work 101, Property will discuss the ways that sex workers are stigmatized as a result of legal issues in Canada and the intersection of various identities, including an in-depth look at Aboriginal workers followed by sharing her own experience working in the sex trade.

Samantha Cavanagh and Friends: “Moving in Prayer”

Samantha Cavanagh is a student at Emmanuel College in the M. Div program. She has a love for feminist theological discourse, aesthetic theology, theology of the body, creative worship, and interfaith dialogue. She is an artist who revels in finding ways to express her questions and passions through paint, word, movement, and fabric. She enjoys creative collaboration. She is a member of L’Arche Toronto, where she co-facilitates retreats for high school students. She enjoys dancing, yoga, prayer, and thinking about God.

Stefany Davies

Artist, eco-friendly clothing designer (www.whirlgirl.ca), feminist, traveller, adventurer, gardener, dancer, sister, friend – Stefany has always loved to perform, create, and ask questions. She is grateful for this opportunity to create with her talented co-collaborators and to be a part of this important weekend conference.

Julia Lederer
A playwright, actor, and theatre artist, playwriting credits include: Frame (Theatre in Her Shoes, Alumnae, Groundswell), and the collectively written A Clothesline Quartet (FLASHQUIZ / Festival of Original Theatre) & The School PROJECT (FLASHQUIZ). Acting credits include: The Physical Ramifications of Attempted Global Domination, Dead Wrestlers, 36 Little Plays About Hopeless Girls, Things I’ve Found & How They Got There (Birdtown & Swanville). Julia was the Interim Artistic Producer of the 2008–09 Paprika Festival. She is also a founder and member of the writing-performance collective, FLASHQUIZ. Julia holds a Masters in Drama at the University of Toronto. Currently, Julia is continuing to develop her play Subway Rider … as part of TheatreKairos’ 2010 writers’ circle, and working towards FLASHQUIZ’s next instalment of The School PROJECT.

Anna MacLean is a dance and theatre artist with a love of collective creation and performance. Hailing from Three Fathom Harbour, Nova Scotia, Anna presently works at L’Arche Daybreak as the leader of a mixed-abilities dance troupe, The Spirit Movers. Past adventures include being a guest artist at the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, touring from Halifax to Vancouver with Onelight Theatre’s production of Death of Yazdgerd, teaching drama and dance at Neptune Theatre School (1998–2004), and directing a children’s musical theatre in Seoul, South Korea. Anna currently lives in Toronto and is training in voice and acting with Peggy Redmond.

Cheryl Zinyk has been a member of the L’Arche Community for 18 years. In 2007 she became the founding Artist Director of Sol Express, the Creative Arts program of L’Arche Toronto. This program brings together local artists and people with developmental disabilities in order to create unique performances and art. Sol Express has created and performed five original works. Cheryl has trained in Clown, improvisation, and voice with local Toronto Artists. In 2003, Cheryl toured Europe and the United Kingdom researching theatrical initiatives centred on adults with developmental disabilities.

Wanda Stride (musician) graduated from Emmanuel College last year, and was ordained and settled at the Woodville Peniel Pastoral Charge in Lindsay Presbytery. For the past seven years she has developed her singer/songwriting skills in the duo Poor Tom, with musical partner Susan Luke, finding joy and inspiration in the everyday encounters with the divine.

Tom Reynolds (musician) teaches theology at Emmanuel College and also enjoys playing music as often as he can. Frequently found at the piano on Sundays at St. Andrew’s United Church, he also performs locally at jazz clubs like “The Rex.”

Joan Wyatt: The Cruciform Woman Image Then and Now

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tikkun Daily Blog � Blog Archive � A Right-Wing Zionist Threat: Vandals Strike Tikkun Editor’s Home

The phones have been ringing off the hook here as word spreads of the threatening intrusion upon our editor’s home. It’s heartening to hear some empathetic voices after weathering the days of hate mail that followed Tikkun’s decision topresent an award to Judge Goldstone for standing up for human rights in Israel/Palestine.

Sometime late last night or in the wee hours of the morning, vandals glued threatening posters to Rabbi Lerner’s door and around his home. Some posters attacked Lerner personally; others targeted liberals and progressives more generally, accusing them of supporting terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” Here’s an excerpt from the statement that he and his assistant Will Pasley sent out via email this afternoon:

They posted a printed bumper sticker saying “fight terror — support Israel” next to a caricature of Judge Goldstone whose UN report on Israel’s human rights violations in its attack on Gaza last year has been denounced as anti-Semitic and pro-terror by right wingers in Israel and the U.S. The caricature has Goldstone talking about his being kept from his grandson’s bar mitzvah, and the caricature of Rabbi Lerner responds by saying “any enemy of Israel is a friend of mine” …

In the 24 years of Tikkun’s operation, we have received many death threats and vicious hate mail, including phone calls to our office announcing that “Rabbi Lerner is dead” and others saying “We will kill all of you.” This particular attack has two worrisome elements not previously there: 1. They attack Rabbi Lerner’s home. As law enforcement people told us, this is a way of conveying the message to Lerner: “We know where you live, we know your house is vulnerable, so don’t ignore our threats.” 2. By linking Lerner to alleged terrorism, they provide for themselves and other extremists a “right-wing justification” to use violence against Lerner, even though Lerner has been a prominent advocate of non-violence. He regularly critiques Palestinian acts of violence when they occur, including the shelling of Israeli towns by Hamas, just as he critiques the violence of the Israeli occupation, and as he critiques the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the occupation of Chechnya by Russia, the occupation of Tibet by China, the human rights violations against their own people by the rulers of Iran, the acts of violence of those resisting the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the violence against women and homosexuals in many Arab and African countries (and in the U.S. and Israel as well), the genocide in Darfur, the violence against Jews in some parts of Europe, and the list goes on.

Needless to say, this latest attack, on Lerner’s home, has caused great concern to his family.

The full statement about the threatening intrusion on Rabbi Lerner’s home includes more information about Tikkun’s engagement with Judge Goldstone and the vitriolic reaction it has provoked from hate-filled critics. For background context it’s also worth reading the editorial on the Goldstone Report from Tikkun’s November/December 2009 issue, ourQ&A with Judge Goldstone, and Dave Belden’s post on this topic.

The vitriol has been particularly intense since April 29, when Alan Dershowitz published a hyperbolic screed against Lerner and the other rabbis who showed support for Goldstone. Dershowitz accused the rabbis of using the occasion of the controversy over Goldstone’s grandson’s bar mitzvah “to make virulently anti-Israel claims, including the blood libel that Israel deliberately targeted innocent Palestinian civilians without any military purpose” (as if the claim of a “military purpose” could ever justify attacks on innocent civilians). He went on to call them “bigoted … rabbis for Hamas,” building up to this ludicrous attack:

Not surprisingly, the worst of these rabbis (and that’s saying a lot), Michael Lerner, after attempting to politicize the bar mitzvah by offering his anti-Israel synagogue for the event, has decided to honor Richard Goldstone with Tikkun Magazine’s “Ethics Award.” I guess all it takes to be honored by Tikkun is to pass Lerner’s litmus test of lying about Israel. That’s Lerner’s definition of “ethics.”

It’s deeply saddening that the defensiveness around Israel has grown so great that any allegations of Israeli war crimes — even those bolstered by reports from respected human rights groups such as Amnesty International, B’Tselem,Breaking the Silence, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights — are dismissed in a kneejerk fashion as lies.

Michelle Goldberg, a senior correspondent at The American Prospect, wrote an incisive piece about the unfounded hysteria surrounding the Goldstone Report last fall:

Even given the extreme defensiveness typical of Israel’s government and its apologists, the reaction to Goldstone’s investigation has been astonishing in its hyperbolic fury…. [The critics'] ideology depends on Israel being the blameless victim. To criticize how Israel fights is to try to deny Israel the right to fight at all, since Israel is by definition a moral paragon. In this view, nothing Israel has done could invite Goldstone’s conclusions, so Goldstone must be driven by existential hostility to the Jewish people. Israel’s finance minister went so far as to call Goldstone an anti-Semite.

This takes more than a little chutzpah. In fact, those who wanted a fair hearing for Israel couldn’t have asked for a more honorable investigator. Goldstone is a Jew and a Zionist with an impeccable record as a defender of human rights. When he was appointed, Yuval Shany, the director of the Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, expressed happy surprise. “Richard Goldstone is a fair-minded jurist, and I don’t think anyone can say he’s hostile to Israel in any way,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Tony Klug’s article in the May/June issue of Tikkun raises similar concerns about how instrumental claims of anti-Semitism are being leveled against legitimate (Jewish and non-Jewish) critics of Israeli policy in order to silence them. He writes:

It now seems that it is the stance that groups and individuals take toward the Israeli state and the policies of its government of the day, that is becoming, bit by bit, the standard by which anti-Semitism is measured and assessed, steadily replacing the former gold standard of enmity toward the Jews qua Jews.

Many of the people who have called in today have asked what they can do to be supportive. Here’s our answer: please try to raise awareness in your communities that this sort of thing is happening in the Jewish world to people who critique Israeli policies.

Tikkun Daily Blog � Blog Archive � A Right-Wing Zionist Threat: Vandals Strike Tikkun Editor’s Home

The ASEM Dialogue: Opportunities For Southeast Asia?

Indonesia’s participation in the sixth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) interfaith dialog held in Madrid, Spain from 7-9 April, themed as "Consolidation of Religious Freedom and of Mutual Knowledge of Societies through Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue" sent across the message of a gradually strengthening Europe-Southeast Asia bilateral relations. The three-day meeting brought together 200 delegates from ASEM partners, and was co-hosted by Spain and Pakistan and sponsored by 14 ASEM partners, including Austria, The Netherlands, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Britain, Germany, Italy, China, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand. It becomes imperative to analyse this dialogue for political and economic connotations, specifically for Indonesia which is the largest Muslim, pluralistic country among the initiators of the dialogue.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an informal get-together that addresses political, economic, and cultural issues with the objective of strengthening the relationship between the two regions in a spirit of informality and equal partnership. Recently, these issues have been further broadened to include human rights, rule of law, global health threats, sustainable development, and intercultural and interfaith dialogues. Apolitical and cultural dialogues become important as they hold the prospect of improving bilateral relations between countries.

To begin with, there is a need to explore the various facets of this dialogue and its working. The key characteristics of ASEM include four main pillars. First is the ‘informality’ which provides an open forum for policy makers and officials to discuss any political, economic, and social issue of common interest rather than duplicate the work already being carried out in the bilateral and multilateral forums. Second is the ‘multi-dimensionality’ which covers the full spectrum of relations between the two regions and devotes equal weight to political, economic, and cultural issues. Third is the ‘emphasis on equal partnership’ which eschews any aid-based relationship. Last, is the ‘Dual focus’ on high-level and people-to-people contact which provides a platform for a meeting of the heads of the states, and an increasing focus on fostering contacts between societies in all sectors of the two regions.

Although it creates a multilateral forum for a much encompassing cooperation in terms of issues among the members, a critical assessment of the ASEM Dialogue exhibits a rather dismal picture of its role and existence. First, the only permanent physical institution of ASEM, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) established in the year 1997 has never been in the limelight or used as a concrete platform for discussions on serious issues.

Second, Interfaith Dialogue is a tricky and consequently rarely tackled subject in Europe. European countries are diversely populated and some of them – like France, Germany, Denmark or Belgium – currently question their relation with their Muslim populations and its links with immigration, unemployment, and extremism issues. Therefore, it becomes imperative for Europe to develop some kind of an intra-European dialogue simultaneously to provide a platform for the religious, ethnic, and cultural issues of people within the region rather than imparting all the attention to a multilateral dialogue with Asian nations. Could the ASEM Interfaith Dialogue, if taken seriously by all participants, be a first step towards a better understanding within Europe? Does Asia serve as a role model on that matter? And what can Indonesia specifically bring to the Dialogue?

The inter-religious organization, ASEM fails to shed any light on this. The dialogue does discuss issue of economic cooperation and transaction of meagre grants from Europe to Asian nations. This is very nominal taking into account the lump sum deals among European Union and Indonesia or with any other Asian member. Therefore, ASEM needs to prioritize and choose issues of relevance rather than expanding the list with human rights, rule of law as they are purely political in character.

It is important to remember that ASEM is not a substitute for existing bilateral or multilateral forums between Asia and Europe. However, through the ASEM dialogue, Indonesia can garner collaborative synergies and optimally utilize them as a catalyst for enhancing overall Southeast Asia-Europe relations. It is evident from the past ASEM dialogues that this level of informal engagement with Europe holds great significance for the Indonesian Foreign Policy. It acts as a bridge to reduce the existing economic gap between the two regions. ASEM can also be utilized by Indonesia as a medium to strengthen its position among the Asian countries.

ASEM has definitely helped Europe and Asia in having a more global vision and promoted the overall Asia-Europe relations on international and inter-regional issues of common interest. By bringing together different cultures and civilizations, ASEM fosters common understanding and dialogue and this should be encouraged.

The ASEM Dialogue: Opportunities For Southeast Asia?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A New Kind of Future

by Eric Rauch
(This is Part Nine of a series. go to the following link for other parts:http://christianreader.com/?p=678)
The eighth question that is “transforming the Christian faith,” according to author Brian McLaren, is the biblically and politically heated question of eschatology. For those not familiar with the term, eschatology refers to the study of “last things,” and specifically, in this case, to the interpretation of what the Bible has to say about these last things. McLaren rightly points out that some version of the dispensational view, which was “invented somewhat recently…[and] popularized worldwide through the Scofield Reference Bible” (p. 191), is far and away the most popular and accepted interpretation among the modern evangelical church. I would go even further and say that dispensationalism has become so synonymous with modern evangelicalism that most churches are dispensational simply by default. Many are not only unaware of the “newness” of the system, but they would be shocked to learn that any credible alternatives to it actually exist.

McLaren is justified in his frustration with dispensationalism. In its short 200-year lifespan, the sensational and headline-grabbing claims of dispensationalism have taken it from being the “new kid on the block” to being nearly the only kid on the block. McLaren correctly laments that “in recent decades, dispensationalism and its eschatological cousins have become significant factors in the foreign policy of the [United States]” (p. 192). This is only to be expected in a nation that practically demands church attendance by its politicians (keeping up appearances is a 24/7 job). On the off-chance that any of these politicians actually listen to the sermon being preached on any given Sunday, they will most likely hear some form of dispensational premillennialism. Enough of these sermons given at various churches across the country will invariably affect how they view the future. If nothing else, they will no doubt be convinced that the nation of Israel is the relief valve on the pressure-cooker that is foreign relations. They believe that opposing Israel closes the valve and leads to more and pressure build-up in foreign affairs, while standing beside them keeps the valve open and buys at least one more day of relative “peace.” McLaren also blames dispensational thinking for a lack of concern in general for things as diverse as the environment, interfaith dialogue, climate change, the economy, energy consumption, and genocide. He writes: “Who gives a rip for endangered species or sustainable economies or global poverty if God is planning to incinerate the whole planet soon anyway?” (p. 192).

Of all the questions that McLaren has presented so far in his book, A New Kind of Christianity, this question of the future is the one that I have the least to debate with him about, in principle at least. McLaren is spot on in his condemnation of the nearly unquestioned dominance of the dispensational view. I agree with him that it has promoted many counterproductive solutions to social and ecclesiastical problems because of its ultimately futile view of the future. Dispensationalism’s distinct separation between the church and Israel has twisted Scripture into an interpretational pretzel that few Christian’s ever fully understand. When people in the early 20th century read their Scofield Reference Bibles, the notes so nearly resembled the biblical text that readers weren’t sure when they were reading Cyrus Scofield and when they were reading God. The two became so intertwined that it was nearly impossible to separate them. Thus, Scofield’s system came to be viewed as the Bible’s system. Rather than using the time-tested and orthodox practice of the analogy of faith—Scripture interprets Scripture—to interpret the Bible, 20th century Bible readers began to use the analogy of laziness—Scofield interprets Scripture.

But as much as I agree with McLaren in principle, I cannot follow him in practice. Once again, his theology (which he would recoil in horror at my calling it that) does not allow for an explanation of what it actually is, only what it isn’t. McLaren is quite clear about what he doesn’t believe, but his clarity is almost nonexistent when it comes to describing what he does believe. We are treated to descriptions like the following:

In [my] view [of the future], God is not in control in the sense of being a machine operator pulling levers or a chess master moving bishops and pawns. Nor is the universe out of control in the sense of being chaotic, random, and purposeless. Instead, God and the universe are in relationship. That in-relationship vision is captured in a number of metaphors in the Bible. For example, God is like a rider guiding a horse with a will of its own, or God is like a parent guiding a child with a will of her own. (p. 196)

This may sound all nice and warm and cozy, but it is as far from the biblical description as one can get before crossing into the “zone of heresy.” McLaren may not like the connotations of it, but God is large and in-charge of the universe. He is sovereign; He is like a machine operator, One that holds all the rights of refusal and veto power. God doesn’t ask for our cooperation, He demands our obedience. He is the Potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 29:16; Romans 9:19-26); clay can’t do anything until the Potter transforms it into something useful. McLaren’s usage of the horse and child metaphors interestingly have no biblical reference. It is true that the Bible uses metaphors such as these, but they are not to be used to extrapolate out into a description of the relationship between God and His creation, or God and His people. Metaphors should not be used to build doctrine, only to illustrate it. Even the potter and clay metaphor has its limits. McLaren is so enamored with the idea of working with God that he ends up employing God in his own service. He refers to his eschatology as “participatory,” and asks: “What does the future hold?”

In a participatory eschatology…the answer [to this question] begins, “That depends. It depends on you and me. God holds out to us at every moment a brighter future; the issue is whether we are willing to receive it and work with God to help create it. We are participating in the creation of what the future will be.” (p. 196)

Yet, despite all of his talk about us participating with God and creating a glorious future, McLaren feels empowered to impose limits on who or what kind of individuals are allowed to “participate” in this new and hopeful future. It makes sense enough for him to bar the door to premillennialists and amillennialists, because they both share in what he calls “pessimistic determinisms” (i.e., the world gets worse and worse until God has to step in and save the day), which is obviously contrary to the optimistic view of the future which he is promoting. But he also bars the door to postmillennialists, who (for the most part) are in basic agreement with his hopeful view of the future. He accuses postmills of being “triumphalistic determinists,” and claims that they “justify Christians seizing political power and even using violence (against native peoples, for example) to ‘bring God’s kingdom’ to earth.” He further states that postmillennialism got a boost in popularity in 1970s and 80s due to the Reconstruction movement, which he claims “inspired and influenced the American religious Right in the late twentieth century” (p. 285). And here is the real rub for McLaren. The problem is not that postmills are optimistic, the problem is that postmills are generally politically conservative. Although McLaren completely misrepresents the influence of the Reconstruction movement during the later decades of the 20th century [1], he has no problem discrediting an entire group of individuals who were actually “participating” in their view of the future. Apparently, mere participation is not good enough, only a certain type of participant is welcome in McLaren’s “undeterministic” view of the future.

Yet it is not really undeterministic, because as hard as he tries, McLaren still can’t shake the undeniable doctrine of final judgment from his eschatology. Even though he can’t deny it, he attempts to reinterpret it, and this he does with magnificent appeals to emotion. After explaining that God won’t be concerned about beliefs or outward signs of religion (like circumcision) at the final judgment, McLaren confidently states that it will be our works that will speak on that day. Completely ignoring the fact that Christ is speaking only to the sheep (not the goats) in Matthew 25:31-46, McLaren writes:

God will examine the story of our lives for signs of Christlikeness—for a cup of cold water or a plate of hot food given to one in need, for an atom of mercy shown to one who has been unkind or unthoughtful, for a visit to a prisoner or an open door and warm bed for a stranger, for a generous impulse indulged and a hurtful one denied, like Jesus. These are the parts of a person’s life that will be deemed worthy of being saved, remembered, rewarded, and raised for a new beginning. All the unloving, unjust, non-Christlike parts of our lives—and of our nations, tribes, civilizations, families, churches, and so on—will be burned away, counted as unworthy, condemned (which means acknowledged for what they are), and forgotten forever. (p. 204)

For someone who assertively stated that the doctrine of eternal torment in hell is not taught in the Bible, McLaren seems pensively less sure of himself when he actually steps close to the biblical teaching. Rather than conscious torment in flames, he gives us annihilation in the flames as a happier alternative. One would be forgiven for asking the question: What does the non-Christlike part of a civilization look like? I hate to put words in McLaren’s mouth (because I know he will deny them anyway), but wouldn’t the non-Christlike parts of a civilization (or a tribe, or family, or nation, or church, etc.) be the non-Christlike people that are a part of it? And wouldn’t they be non-Christlike because they are not “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Therefore what Jesus said in Matthew 25 is very relevant to the discussion of the final judgment:

All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat… Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat… (Matt. 25:32-35a, 41-42a)

The works themselves are not what is being thrown into the fire, but the workers of the works. Try as he might, McLaren’s “participatory” eschatology cannot dismiss the final judgment awaiting each of us. McLaren continues to selectively take what he wants from the Bible, while ignoring the rest. In his 1985 commentary on the first 18 chapters of the book of Exodus, Dr. Gary North (one of those “influential” Reconstructionists”) explains that “liberation theologians keep appealing to the Book of Exodus as their very special book.” The liberation theologians were the ones promoting the social gospel in the 1970s and 80s. Interestingly, McLaren appeals to the book of Exodus as one of his “very special books” in an earlier chapter. North further points out: “The misuse of the Exodus story by liberation theologians is another example of the misuse of the Bible generally to promote anti-biblical social, political, and economic views.” [2] North’s point is not to be missed, because it neatly summarizes all attempts to “liberalize” the Bible as a book concerned more about social issues than about obedience to God. Like the liberation theologians that came before him, McLaren picks and chooses the portions of the Scripture that say what he needs them to, and discards the rest. North shows that these types of interpreters use the Bible to promote ultimately unbiblical ideas. In other words, they use a portion of the Bible to undermine its full message of salvation. Just as the liberation theologians used the first half of Exodus to strengthen their theology of political deliverance and ignored the last half of the book, filled as it was with rules and regulations about what the Israelites should and should not do, so does McLaren ignore the whole message of biblical eschatology, choosing instead to fabricate one—using only the verses that serve that purpose. McLaren is quite correct that the modern evangelical church needs a “new kind of eschatology,” but it most certainly does not need his. The social gospel is nothing new, and if a renamed version of it is the best McLaren has to offer, he might want to retreat back into his study for another twenty years. Maybe by then it will be “new.”

A New Kind of Future