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Posts tagged ‘religion’

President’s Religious Freedom Message

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
10 August, 2012

Remarks by the President at Iftar Dinner – East Room

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Please, please have a seat. Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the White House.

Of all the freedoms we cherish as Americans, of all the rights that we hold sacred, foremost among them is freedom of religion, the right to worship as we choose. It’s enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution — the law of the land, always and forever. It beats in our heart — in the soul of the people who know that our liberty and our equality is endowed by our Creator. And it runs through the history of this house, a place where Americans of many faiths can come together and celebrate their holiest of days — and that includes Ramadan.

As I’ve noted before, Thomas Jefferson once held a sunset dinner here with an envoy from Tunisia — perhaps the first Iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. And some of you, as you arrived tonight, may have seen our special display, courtesy of our friends at the Library of Congress — the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam — like so many faiths — is part of our national story.

This evening, we’re honored to be joined by members of our diplomatic corps, members of Congress — including Muslim American members of Congress, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson — as well as leaders from across my administration. And to you, the millions of Muslim Americans across our country, and to the more than one billion Muslims around the world — Ramadan Kareem.

Now, every faith is unique. And yet, during Ramadan, we see the traditions that are shared by many faiths: Believers engaged in prayer and fasting, in humble devotion to God. Families gathering together with love for each other. Neighbors reaching out in compassion and charity, to serve the less fortunate. People of different faiths coming together, mindful of our obligations to one another — to peace, justice and dignity for all people — men and women. Indeed, you know that the Koran teaches, “Be it man or woman, each of you is equal to the other.”

And by the way, we’ve seen this in recent days. In fact, the Olympics is being called “The Year of the Woman.” (Laughter.) Here in America, we’re incredibly proud of Team USA — all of them — but we should notice that a majority of the members are women. Also, for the very first time in Olympic history, every team now includes a woman athlete. And one of the reasons is that every team from a Muslim-majority country now includes women as well. And more broadly — that’s worth applauding. (Applause.) Absolutely.

More broadly, we’ve seen the extraordinary courage of Muslim women during the Arab Spring — women, right alongside men, taking to the streets to claim their universal rights, marching for their freedom, blogging and tweeting and posting videos, determined to be heard. In some cases, facing down tanks, and braving bullets, enduring detentions and unspeakable treatment, and at times, giving their very lives for the freedom that they seek — the liberty that we are lucky enough to enjoy here tonight.

These women have inspired their sisters and daughters, but also their brothers and their sons. And they’ve inspired us all. Even as we see women casting their ballots and seeking — standing for office in historic elections, we understand that their work is not done. They understand that any true democracy must uphold the freedom and rights of all people and all faiths. We know this, too, for here in America we’re enriched by so many faiths, by men and women — including Muslim American women.

They’re young people, like the student who wrote me a letter about what it’s like to grow up Muslim in America. She’s in college. She dreams of a career in international affairs to help deepen understanding between the United States and Muslim countries around the world. So if any of the diplomatic corps have tips for her — (laughter.) She says that “America has always been the land of opportunity for me, and I love this country with all my heart.” And so we’re glad to have Hala Baig here today. (Applause.)

They are faith leaders like Sanaa Nadim, one of the first Muslim chaplains at an American college — a voice for interfaith dialogue who’s had the opportunity to meet with the Pope to discuss these issues. We’re very proud to have you here. (Applause.)

They are educators like Auysha Muhayya, born in Afghanistan, who fled with her family as refugees to America, and now, as a language teacher, helps open her students to new cultures. So we’re very pleased to have her here. (Applause.)

They are entrepreneurs and lawyers, community leaders, members of our military, and Muslim American women serving with distinction in government. And that includes a good friend, Huma Abedin, who has worked tirelessly — (applause) — worked tirelessly in the White House, in the U.S. Senate, and most exhaustingly, at the State Department, where she has been nothing less than extraordinary in representing our country and the democratic values that we hold dear. Senator Clinton has relied on her expertise, and so have I.

The American people owe her a debt of gratitude — because Huma is an American patriot, and an example of what we need in this country — more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit. So, on behalf of all Americans, we thank you so much. (Applause.)

These are the faces of Islam in America. These are just a few of the Muslim Americans who strengthen our country every single day. This is the diversity that makes us Americans; the pluralism that we will never lose.

And at times, we have to admit that this spirit is threatened. We’ve seen instances of mosques and synagogues, churches and temples being targeted. Tonight, our prayers, in particular, are with our friends and fellow Americans in the Sikh community. We mourn those who were senselessly murdered and injured in their place of worship. And while we may never fully understand what motivates such hatred, such violence, the perpetrators of such despicable acts must know that your twisted thinking is no match for the compassion and the goodness and the strength of our united American family.

So tonight, we declare with one voice that such violence has no place in the United States of America. The attack on Americans of any faith is an attack on the freedom of all Americans. (Applause.) No American should ever have to fear for their safety in their place of worship. And every American has the right to practice their faith both openly and freely, and as they choose.

That is not just an American right; it is a universal human right. And we will defend the freedom of religion, here at home and around the world. And as we do, we’ll draw on the strength and example of our interfaith community, including the leaders who are here tonight.

So I want to thank all of you for honoring us with your presence, for the example of your lives, and for your commitment to the values that make us “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (Applause.)

God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net
Click here to watch ISNA’s Interfaith Message

Faith’s Work Together

There are Muslim’s helping Christians and Jews and vice-a-versa all the time, all over the world, but people seldom hear about it in the news. Here’s one example. It’s a video from a news report about a philanthropist, who is Muslim, supporting a an organization that helps the poor, which is Christian.

Muslim Lakhani and The Salvation Army Grate Patrol featured on Beyond the Dream

Religious Freedom?

From Nation of Change
by Bill Moyers
18 February 2012

Freedom of and From Religion

The president did something agile and wise the other day. And something quite important to the health of our politics. He reached up and snuffed out what some folks wanted to make into a cosmic battle between good and evil. No, said the president, we’re not going to turn the argument over contraception into Armageddon, this is an honest difference between Americans, and I’ll not see it escalated into a holy war. So instead of the government requiring Catholic hospitals and other faith-based institutions to provide employees with health coverage involving contraceptives, the insurance companies will offer that coverage, and offer it free.

The Catholic bishops had cast the president’s intended policy as an infringement on their religious freedom; they hold birth control to be a mortal sin, and were incensed that the government might coerce them to treat it otherwise. The president in effect said: No quarrel there; no one’s going to force you to violate your doctrine. But Catholics are also Americans, and if an individual Catholic worker wants coverage, she should have access to it – just like any other American citizen. Under the new plan, she will. She can go directly to the insurer, and the religious institution is off the hook.

When the president announced his new plan, the bishops were caught flat-footed. It was so … so reasonable. In fact, leaders of several large, Catholic organizations have now said yes to the idea. But the bishops have since regrouped, and are now opposing any mandate to provide contraceptives even if their institutions are not required to pay for them. And for their own reasons, Republican leaders in Congress have weighed in on the bishops’ side. They’re demanding, and will get, a vote in the Senate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says:

The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion. It’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it, right there in the very First Amendment to our Constitution. And the government doesn’t get to decide for religious people what their religious beliefs are. They get to decide that.

But here’s what Republicans don’t get, or won’t tell you. And what Obama manifestly does get. First, the war’s already lost: 98 percent of Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraceptives. Second, on many major issues, the bishops are on Obama’s side – not least on extending unemployment benefits, which they call “a moral obligation.” Truth to tell, on economic issues, the bishops are often to the left of some leading Democrats, even if both sides are loathe to admit it. Furthermore – and shhh, don’t repeat this, even if the president already has – the Catholic Church funded Obama’s first community organizing, back in Chicago.

Ah, politics.

So the battle over contraception no longer seems apocalyptic. No heavenly hosts pitted against the forces of Satan. It’s a political brawl, not a crusade of believers or infidels. The president skillfully negotiated the line between respect for the religious sphere and protection of the spiritual dignity and freedom of individuals. If you had listened carefully to the speech Barack Obama made in 2009 at the University of Notre Dame, you could have seen it coming:

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem-cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships might be relieved. The question then is, “How do we work through these conflicts?

Read entire essay at Nation of Change.

Muslim’s Condemn Bombings

Muslim Leaders Condemn Christmas Day Bombings
27 December 2011

From Kunle Akogun, Damilola Oyedele in Abuja, John Shiklam in Kaduna, Tunde Sanni in Ibadan, Mohammed Aminu in Sokoto and Hammed Shittu in Ilorin.

The umbrella Islamic body for Muslims in the North, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), yesterday condemned the bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State and another church in Jos, Plateau State, saying it is not in a religious war against Christians. Both incidents claimed the lives of over 40 persons.

But the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 Northern states and FCT warned yesterday that the attacks may spark a religious war.

Secretary General of JNI, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, while reacting to the bombings in a telephone interview with THISDAY, said Islam, as a religion, respects human lives and would do everything to preserve it.

“Human lives must be preserved and protected by all including security agencies; it is rather unfortunate that Nigerians are losing their lives to bomb blasts,” Aliyu said.

The Islamic body also tasked security agencies to fish out the perpetrators and bring them to justice, stressing that it is only when the culprits are fished out and punitive measures taken against them that it would serve as deterrent to others planning to carry out such nefarious activities.

In his reaction, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, who joined other Muslims in voicing condemnation against Boko Haram, said taking of human lives in the name of religion was strange in Islam.

The sultan, at the formal opening of Islamic Vacation Course (IVC) organised by Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), B-Zone, said dispute could only be resolved through dialogue and not by violence or bloodbath.

He said Islam abhorred violence and called for unity among Muslims to address the challenges facing them.
“Violence is not part of the tenets of Islam and would never be allowed to tarnish the image of the religion,” the sultan said.
Chastising Boko Haram, another Islamic group, Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), said “cold blooded murder of innocent worshippers” was “horrifying and sickening”.

In a statement by its Director of Media and Communications, Disu Kamor, MPAC described the perpetrators of the dastardly act as “criminal and devilish hate cultists bent on imposing their evil ideology on us”.

“On this occasion and in similar incidents, Nigerian Muslims and Muslims everywhere stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Christian brothers and sisters and we are determined to continue to work together to remove the mischief of those seeking to destroy peaceful co-existence and harmony. We feel the sorrow and share the grief of all that were affected by this tragedy – this evil attack is a crime committed against mankind,” MPAC added.

Also, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said it is “shocked and petrified by this development”.
MURIC in a statement by Dr. Ishaq Akintola disagreed with Boko Haram, which had said it carried out the attack to avenge the killing of Muslims during the last Sallah.

He said: “The attackers cannot claim that they were revenging the attack on Muslims in Jos during the last Eid el-Fitr on August 30, 2011 which left many Muslims dead because Christians celebrating Christmas earlier on December 25, 2010 were the first to be killed in bomb explosions.

“Nothing in the scriptures of Islam justifies this kind of attack. We therefore assert clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously that Boko Haram is not fighting for Nigerian Muslims.”

Similarly, the Chairman of the Sokoto State chapter of Izalat Bida’a Waikamtul Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheikh Abubakar Usman Mabera, said the killing of innocent citizens, under any guise, is a case of murder and in contrast to Islamic teachings.

“Whoever takes the life of a fellow human being has committed evil irrespective of his religion – whether Christian or Muslim – and will pay for his sins. So, this is an act of terrorism which is against Islamic teachings,” he said.

Mabera, who frowned on the act, said: “Almighty Allah forbids the killing of a fellow human being. Whoever thinks that he is carrying out Jihad by destroying places of worship and killing innocent citizens is ignorant of Islam because the religion forbids that.”
The Muslim Congress frowned on the Madalla blast and said the continued killing of innocent Nigerians by the activities of Boko Haram is uncalled for and should be condemned by all Nigerians.

The Amir of the Congress, Mallam Abdulraheem Lukman, said in a statement that: “The endemic killings can best be described as inhuman, wicked, condemnable and totally unacceptable in civilised societies.

“The action is even more repulsive during the periods of celebrations and this is highly condemnable.”
CAN in the 19 Northern states and Abuja has warned that attacks on churches by Boko Haram are capable of igniting a religious war in the country.

But labour unions in the country have urged Christians not to retaliate the Christmas attacks on churches in Niger, Plateau and Yobe States which left scores of people dead.

The pan-Northern Nigeria group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), also condemned the attacks yesterday, warning that they serve no good in the prevailing circumstances.

At a news conference in Kaduna yesterday, Secretary-General of Northern CAN, Elder Saidu Dogo, said the bombing of churches and killing of Christians was an invitation to religious war in Nigeria.
Dogo urged Islamic leaders to call the perpetrators of the dastardly act to order to avert confrontation, saying that no group should push the other to the wall to fan the ember of religious war.

He said if the authorities fail to track down those behind the killings of innocent Nigerians, “we shall henceforth in the midst of these provocations and wanton destruction of innocent lives and property be compelled to make our own efforts and arrangements to protect the lives of innocent Christians and peace-loving citizens of this country”.

While calling on Christians to be law abiding, he expressed the need for them to defend themselves whenever the need arises.
He called on the Muslim Umma and Ulamas in Nigeria “to live up to their responsibilities by calling to order, all Islamic sects in the country to have respect for human lives and stop these killings. For we fear that the situation may degenerate to a religious war and Nigeria may not be able to survive as one. Once again, enough is enough”.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Federal Government and its security agents in trying to curtail these attacks. However, we are piqued that the efforts of government are being undermined by the sponsors of the Islamic fundamentalists in the North.

“We are particularly disturbed that the perpetrators of these dastardly acts and their sponsors are well known to government and no serious or decisive actions have been taken to stem their nefarious activities.

“The Federal and state Governments of Niger, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and such other areas that these wanton destruction of lives and property have been or are being perpetrated, should arrest and bring to book all the perpetrators and their sponsors.

“Government at all levels should provide 24 hours security services to all churches, Christian religious institutions and organisations in the county, especially in the North.

“We are also calling on the federal and state governments to urgently stem these massacres of Christians and the destruction of their churches and property in the North. The attacks so far have proved that some Islamic fundamentalists want to exterminate Christianity in the Northern states. We are assuring all Christians that the church will not allow that to happen,” Dogo said.

The ACF, on its part, condemned the frequent explosions, saying the Christmas attacks were capable of diverting attention to religious crises that would serve no one good.

The forum, in a statement emailed to THISDAY by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, urged Boko Haram to embrace dialogue in pursuit of the resolution of whatever grievances it had with the authorities, stressing that the bombings and killing of innocent Nigerians and destruction of property were misguided.

“The spate of bomb blasts on Christmas day, which were directed at places of worship across some parts of the North, is a serious source of concern to Arewa Consultative Forum, to Northern Leaders and to the good people of the North, indeed, to patriotic Nigerians.

“Source of concern not because past bombings were less serious but because those on the Christmas day are capable of diverting attention to religious crises that would serve no one, including the perpetrators, any good now and for a long time to come.
“Consequently, ACF calls on the perpetrators of violence to stop forthwith and avail themselves to due process of addressing perceived grievances that are in place.

“ACF also wishes to say killing of innocent Nigerians is not correct and offends God and many people’s sense of justice. This is because a good number of those who go to places of worship are not lettered in either Western or Islamic education.
“More so that Western education is not necessarily the cause of the collapse of national ideals, moral values and cause of indiscipline in the polity, since there are examples of Muslim countries and Christian countries with western education that are morally sound. Turkey belongs to the former and Nordic country of Norway belongs to the later.

“Nigerians of all faiths must therefore come together and confront corruption in all ramifications by inspiring cultural renaissance for collective good. Corruption in Nigeria is not an exclusive preserve of Western education but a national malaise that should be confronted by all, and not government alone. Enough of the bombings and killing of innocent Nigerians,” the ACF said.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) warned that there are certain disgruntled elements in the polity who want to divide Nigeria along sectarian lines.

President General of the TUC, Comrade Peter Esele, in a telephone conversation with THISDAY in Abuja yesterday, appealed to Nigerians, especially Christians, to be calm and avoid being incited to reprisal.
He added that it was necessary for Nigerians to stay united at these critical moments and not to allow any plot that is aimed at dividing the country along religious or ethnic lines to succeed.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) called on the Federal Government to make the fight against crime and terrorism its priority rather than diverting the attention of Nigerians with its debate on the need to remove fuel subsidy.

It added that it is necessary that the root causes of insecurity – poverty and unemployment – be addressed as budgeting huge sums of money for security would not solve the problem.

In a statement yesterday, the Acting General Secretary of the NLC, Comrade Owei Lakemfa, condemned the attacks in strongest terms, describing the perpetrators as “terrorists whose minds are as blurred as their vision”.

He called on Nigerians not to be deterred by the terrorists or give up on building a peaceful and united country where the will of the people would prevail.

Religious Leaders Reject Violence

African Council of Religious Leaders
Religions of Peace
24th November 2011
Marrakech, Morocco

Mid-East and North Africa Religious Leaders Reject Violence And Call for “Contracts of Mutual Care” Among Abrahamic Faiths

Marrakech, Morocco — Senior religious leaders from the Middle East and North Africa rejected violence and called for deepened multi-religious collaboration as the region undergoes historic transformations.

The religious leaders and representatives, from Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Kenya were convened by the Religions for Peace Middle East and North Africa Council. They were joined by representatives from the United Nations (UN), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Other participants came from US, Japan, Peru, France, Nigeria and Norway, and were joined by the representatives of the African Council of Religious Leaders, European Council of Religious Leaders, Latin American Council of religious Leaders and the Asian Council of Religious Leaders.

The participants reiterated the urgent and irreplaceable importance of enabling the historic faiths in the region—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—to work together for the common good of the people in the region.

Calling on the religious and faith communities to “unite on the basis of shared values,” the President of the United Nations General Assembly H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser noted in his message that this was the only way to “build flourishing communities committed to just peace across the region”. He noted that the religions in MENA “continue to shape the hearts and minds of millions across the region.”

While condemning fanatics and extremists who call for, and cause violent confrontations in the region, the Secretary General of the OIC H.E. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu noted that these conflicts had nothing to do with religion, but rather its mis-use.

The Director General of ISESCO Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri condemned the manipulation of religion for political ends. He cautioned those who interpreted the scriptures out of their historical context, stating that this was a dangerous trend that should be stopped. Terming the Religions for Peace North Africa and Middle East Council as „needed‟ in the region, Dr. Altwaijri asked everyone to support this regional body. He lauded Religions for Peace for helping the religious leaders in establishing the body.

Presenting during the meeting, Prof. Mohammed Sammak proposed for the introduction of a Muslim-Christian Contract as a first step in the establishment of „contracts of mutual care‟ among the Abrahamic faiths. Prof. Sammak, who is also the Co-President of Religions for Peace International stated that the destiny of the Middle East and North Africa peoples was inseparable. Prof. Sammak noted with disappointment the dwindling population of Christians in the region, and called on the Muslims in to reverse this trend by protecting the Christian minorities. Prof. Sammak described as total violation of the Shariah, Ahadith and the Constitution the burning of places of worship.

The High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations H.E. President Jorge Sampaio noted with satisfaction the initiatives taken by Religions for Peace International in strengthening inter-religious dialogue in the MENA region, calling it one of the most important ways to secure just peace and dignity for the people of the region. Introducing the MENA Council, Religions for Peace International Secretary General Dr. William Vendley, who also serves as its Interim Secretary General, thanked the religious leaders for taking bold steps to engage in dialogue and practical ways to strengthen multi-religious cooperation in the region. The Mufti of Jerusalem H.E. Imam Mohammed Hussein called for co-existence and dignified life for all people in the Holy Land.

The MENA Council meeting comes in the backdrop of political transformations, violence and instability in the Arab World. The religious leaders, through the MENA Council are taking steps to prevent mis-use of religion as the region undergoes these transformations by working together and strengthening the multi-religious platform.
The theme of the meeting was „Engaging Historic Faiths to Advance the Common Good in the Middle East and North Africa‟. Secretaries Generals of the African Council of Religious Leaders, Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali, European Council of Religious Leaders Mr. Stein Villumstad, Latin America Mr. Elias S. and Deputy Secretary General of the Asia Conference Religions and Peace Rev. Hatakeyama Yoshitaka were in attendance.

For further information Contact
Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali
Secretary General,
African Council of Religious Leaders
The African Council of Religious Leaders,
25 Othaya Road, off Gitanga Road:
P.O. Box 76398 – 00508, Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel: +254 20 3862233 / 3867879: Fax: +254 20 3867879
Cell Phones: +254 727531170 / +254 737531170:
Email: secretariat@acrl-rfp.org

Saint Catherine’s Baby

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

The moist air, surrounding the 16th century creation planted its wet kisses upon the cold stone walls, which slid luxuriously down its weathered face. The creeping ivy, chlorophyll pulsing through its dark green leaves, caressed the soft hearty moss. New generations of recently born shoots sprouted from the elder ivy’s fingertips, seeking their lone paths in the cracks of St. Catherine’s monastery.

The religious encampment had been built on the storm infested Western coast of Ireland; its founders seemingly intent on locating the most masochistic environment possible to beat their souls into sublime submission.

The last residing nun, Sister Rose Marie, had died a blessedly sudden and peaceful death at two in the afternoon, on an unusually balmy Easter Sunday, in the year of Our Lord 1968. She and a faithful supporter, Mrs. Bernadette O’Brien, mother of Walter O’Brien, had been on their knees praying in the chapel when it appeared that the good sister had a heart attack and keeled over quietly onto the floor.

“Her hands was frozen in prayer, they was,” Mrs. O’Brien had religiously repeated for years thereafter. “She had the smile of an angel.”

***

Shawn and Marcy didn’t give a witch’s ass about the history of St. Catherine’s. They’d been driving randomly from county to county, looking frequently in their rear view mirror; expecting nothing but trouble.

They’d discovered St. Catherine’s while returning from an off-the-road farm, where a farmer had given them a couple gallons of petrol from his broken down tractor. While carrying the fuel back in a couple of plastic milk containers, they accidentally turned right, instead of left to their energy starved car.

“’Tis this way,” Shawn said with assurance.

“’Tis not,” Marcy insisted. “Was that way.”

Shawn frowned, shaking his head impatiently.

“Remember that rock, why don’t ya?!” Marcy pointed at a large chipped boulder to her left.

“I’m a going this way. You coming or not?” He started walking without waiting for her answer.

She trudged after him, complaining to the gravel below her feet, “An idiot, he is.”

When they rounded the bend that brought St. Catherine’s into sight, Marcy gasped.

“Jesus!” Shawn exclaimed,

“It must be ancient.” Marcy stumbled forward.

“Think they be any dragons?” Shawn teased.

They pushed hard upon a rusty-hinged, thick wooden door. It cracked open. The wind played with itself in the center of the courtyard, rising, turning, diving and suddenly taking flight. Calls of “Anyone home?” were absorbed into the stones like water in a dry sponge.

“Why’d they build such hideous things?” Marcy whispered, as they walked into a shadowy, stale room, her dirty black hair stranded on her shoulders.

“They must’ve been tilted.”

“A bunch of bloody lunatics!” Marcy scowled.

“Absolutely,” Shawn agreed, his bushy red hair, freckles and twice broken nose, nodding obediently.

Marcy had on a long coat to cover her thin, full-length skirt. She hated skirts, but couldn’t tolerate much else these days. “I can’t wait to get back into some jeans,” she said, looking down at her swollen belly. “Without this coat I’d have frozen my tits off by now.”

“Look at these windows!” Shawn said, “They’re small enough for dwarfs.”

Marcy pulled open a door to some side rooms that contained a single wooden platform for a bed in each small musty enclosure.

Shawn looked in over her shoulder. “What a dreary thing.”

“They was some awful poor brothers this lot.”

“Didn’t know there was anyone with less than we.”

“Och, but they chose it, didn’t they?”

After further investigation they returned to the trail and found their car. They parked close to the rocky path leading down to the sea’s edge and hauled their belongings back to the monastery, into the warmest, best protected room they’d found; the chapel.

They had enough food for a couple of weeks, groceries they’d picked up in County Clare, using a stolen credit card they’d lifted upon leaving Dublin. They could drive back when they needed, go to another store or town and use a different card. They thought about switching the car, but figured they had a little more time before it was reported missing.

As darkness fell, they zipped their sleeping bags together, put them on the torn carpet by the altar and tried to get some rest. It didn’t help that Marcy had to pee again and again. There was no indoor plumbing. It seemed as if she’d just snuggled in and gotten all warm and toasty like, when nature urgently called. The freezing wind coming off the Atlantic screamed over her head as she rushed to and from the outhouse. CONTINUED

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A Drop In the Bucket

“I saw over five hundred kids walking out of the Congo three years ago and decided I had to do something about it,” says Rev. Paul Oas. What he did was organize the church he attends in San Diego, California to provide support and funds for an orphanage in Rwanda (called ROP Center for Street Children) and put together a team of people to visit the orphanage of 150 children and assist them with health care, clean water, trauma relief, job training and hope for a future in a country that is still reeling from the 1994 genocide. “I feel like I’m in my twenties again,” says Pastor Paul, as his seventy-five year old eyes light up.

For three weeks Pastor Paul, who likes to be called Paul, helped coordinate a team of concerned health professionals in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. They worked from morning until night providing children at the center with the first medical check up and exam they had ever had, teaching older youth sewing and quilting skills, in order to have a vocation once they left the orphanage and connecting the center for orphans with local clinics, dentists and a water filtration company. They also provided classes in Thought Field Therapy – TFT (a meridian based treatment that eliminates symptoms of post traumatic stress) and did a follow up study with children they had treated the previous year. Other members of the team taught classes on TFT to orphanage directors, ministers and other social service organizations from all over Rwanda.

Paul says, “When people without church backgrounds see things like this they are touched as well and have a change in values. Too often religion has become more interested in form than in function. In the twelfth chapter of Romans Paul says, ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice and this is your reasonable worship’”. In other words, make sure your walk matches your talk.

There are countless disappointments and frustrations with this kind of work and mission, such as never having enough resources and constant feelings of helplessness, but Pastor Paul believes these realities are part of the journey. “I still get overwhelmed and feel like it’s all a drop in the bucket. The way I take care of that is to keep getting others involved and having it expand.” He says his father and mother (who was a nurse) taught him to always “find a way” and believed “we’re all one family”.

Working in Rwanda is not the first time Paul has gone outside his community in southern California. He has also organized trips to orphanages in Baja Mexico and worked with survivors in Kosovo, as well as visiting a refugee camp of 100,000 on the border of Sudan. He believes that words mean nothing without corresponding action and often quotes a passage from James 1: 27, which states, “True religion and uncorrupted, is to visit the orphans and the widows in their distress and to keep one self unstained from the world.”

After traveling and serving people in Kosovo, Mexico and Africa, Pastor Paul finds it challenging to live in such an affluent part of the world. Instead of judging or condemning those with affluence, he realized that most of them want to get involved and giving to others provides meaning for their lives as well. “People start blossoming,” he says. “Our mission is to help one another mobilize and find our individual gifts.”

The work Paul has done at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda has also blossomed. Not only have members of his church at Christ Lutheran in San Diego committed funds and resources, but Pastor Paul has also reached out and received support for the orphans from concerned individuals and religious and non-religious organizations throughout the country and around the globe. “When you have the compassion to do something,” Paul says with a smile, “you’ll find roadblocks that will stop you, but don’t let them. The roadblocks are for some purpose. When people see your passion for God and His creation, they get involved and new paths appear.”

Pastor Paul Oas has not let roadblocks, government restrictions, lack of funds, cultural misunderstandings or church politics block his path to helping children or prevented him from bringing people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and areas of the country to “get on board”. “Most people say they admire me for doings this, but I don’t want to be admired,” Paul says. “What they are really saying is that it is wonderful what you’re doing and I wish I could help. The greatest admiration is when they contribute or get involved. Some people make a show about how much they love God, but Jesus said, ‘How can you say you love God who you haven’t seen, when you don’t love the brother who you have seen?’”

Deathbed Conversions?

I wish death happened like it used to in the old movies. You know, those deathbed scenes were everyone gathers around, makes amends, say their good-byes and drift off with visions of God and the angels dancing in their eyes. But it rarely does. Deathbed conversions are few and far between.

When death approaches or has taken place, most people live their faith, their beliefs (or their disbelief) in a God or the hereafter the same as they have the rest of their lives. If they believe in some creative force that is more than what we can see, they continue to do so through sickness and loss. If they believe God has a plan for everything that happens and that Jesus is their savior, they continue to do so until their dying breath. If someone feels that there is no God, supreme being or spiritual meaning for anything on earth, they hold on to that belief even after their loved one’s body is buried deep in the ground.

A friend once told me, as their mother was dying, that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make herself believe the same as her mother had all her life. She desperately wished she could. She wanted to understand and connect with her mother before she passed on in a way she had never been able to. She said that for awhile she pretended to believe as her mother had, but she knew she was pretending. She even went to her mother’s church and read the same readings and scriptures, without any change of heart.

A client I met with for several months repeatedly expressed her frustration that her husband had never believed in God and she couldn’t understand how he had gone to his death without accepting God into his life. For over forty years she had tried to convert him and get him to go to church, always believing that someday he would see the spiritual light.

A member of my family had an understandably difficult time when my uncle killed himself and sincerely worried about his soul, wondering if he was suffering as much after death as he had during life. They prayed that God would forgive my uncle and provide the serenity that had always seemed to be just beyond his reach. The only way they could make sense out of the tragedy was to believe that he was “in a better place”. They had always believed that God provides happiness and peace and used that faith to provide personal comfort, safety and meaning.

Belief in God, a Great Spirit, Nature, Jesus or some other religion or spiritual path, doesn’t mean that people don’t question, argue, bargain or get angry with that in which they believe.

A colleague of mine was enraged when her daughter was killed in a car accident. She felt like her religious tradition had lied to her. “How could a loving God let such a bad thing happen to such an innocent child?! How could He take her at such a young age?!” She still believed in God, but couldn’t make sense out of what had happened. “Somebody was responsible for this!” she said. “There has to be a reason!” She prayed to God for an answer. “But all I could hear was myself talking to the empty air,” she explained. “It took me years of asking ‘why’, begging for an answer, before God gave me the strength and understanding to live with not knowing.”

Another client blamed God for allowing her abusive ex-husband to survive and live with his alcoholism, while her hard-working, kind friend died from liver cancer. She overflowed with unanswerable questions. “Why didn’t that son-of-a-you-know-what get this awful disease instead? Why does my friend have to deal with this? What did she ever do? Why? Why? Why?” Her friend continued to work as long as possible and remained true to her sweet loving self until her death a year and a half later.

As in most sweeping statements of finality there are exceptions. Occasionally someone reacts to death and loss differently than they have lived the rest of their lives.

A woman I interviewed a few years ago said she made a bargain with God and it changed her life. As the car she was driving hit a side rail on the freeway and begin rolling over and over she said, “God, if you let me live to raise my young son I’ll dedicate my life to you.” She had never believed in God and didn’t know where that had come from, but she said she heard a voice answer her that said, “Yes”. She survived the accident, continued raising her son as a single parent and never forgot her promise. Though she had always seen herself as a selfish person, she started thinking of others and became involved in a number of charities. When her son was killed ten years later she never wavered from her promise and used her son’s death to inspire her to do even more of “God’s work”.

Death and grief can crack open our hearts. They can change our perceptions of how we see the world. They can wake us up to the reality of pain and suffering in ways that we never thought possible. Within the midst of such grief and pain we can reach out for comfort, look within for guidance and find compassion and forgiveness from our religion, community or sense of personal responsibility.

Mourning can be a catalyst for clarifying our values and deepening our understanding, but it doesn’t mean we will throw our beliefs out the window or change our spiritual faith. We need not despair over our usual conditioned human response to loss. There’s always an old movie with a good deathbed scene we can find at the video store, take home and imagine ourselves saying our good-byes, making last minute amends and being carried off to the heavens!

Are You Dead When You’re Dead?

How we feel, believe or think about what happens to us after we die matters. It matters because our thoughts about the after-life often effect how we react too and live in the present.

If one believes that their physical reality and what they see, feel and experience with their senses is all that exists, then the thought of its termination and our bodies decline may be frightening, if not down right terrifying. If someone’s faith tells them there is something that continues beyond the known physical realities of the world or takes them to a place of peace and happiness, they may be less inclined to fear their own mortality or that of others.

Both ideas and beliefs, that something continues beyond death and that nothing does, may also help us live more in the moment and appreciate the short, precarious lives we live or create continuing anxiety about how things are or where we would rather be.

The reason the word may is italicized, is because there is no omniscient law of nature, physics or human response, that such beliefs in life after death or solely in the material world, causes only those stated or expected reactions. We are far more infinite than the stars in our complicated, yet simple, desire for understanding, comfort and reassurance about the unknown and what happens to us after we die.

When I was a teen, I used to believe strongly in reincarnation. At the time, it made sense. As I grew older my beliefs shifted from Yoga and Eastern traditions to Quaker activism and social responsibility. Then it changed again and again, from the Catholic Church to Judaism and from Eastern Buddhist belief in transgression and karma, to natures continual recycling of all forms of matter, including human beings. Whatever I was practicing or following at the time, was my reality. Each exploration into the afterlife or spiritual nature of humanity gave me some answers and experiences I could hold onto, make sense of and say, “This is it! This is the truth! This is what happens!”

In my early work with hospice and later as a chaplain at the hospital, I met a number of people who had been clinically dead and revived or resuscitated. After hearing their stories and reading research that had been done with thousands of others who had had similar experiences around the world, I “knew” that some part of our consciousness or awareness as human beings (at least in the first few minutes) continues.

Most recently, after my acquaintances with a number of people whose cultural background and/or religious practices, has worshiped and spoken with deceased ancestors, I have begun to send blessings to and bring into the present, those in my family who have preceded me into death.

Because of my work as a grief counselor I have been granted the opportunity to explore the question of life after death with many people. Here are some of the answers, thoughts and beliefs that have been shared.

“Those who believe will find everlasting peace with Jesus and the Saints.”

“God is the only answer. I know they are with God.”

“My loved one always felt at home by the sea. When we scattered their ashes in the bay, it felt like he had been buried in his church.”

“As a Tibetan Buddhist, I know my wife went through different Bardos (spiritual worlds) and gained enlightenment. She is such a compassionate loving being.”

“When we’re dead, we’re just dead. There’s nothing more and nothing less. That’s why it’s so important what we do while we are living.”

“I believe there’s a white light and the peace and joy are indescribable.”

“The bible tells me there is heaven and hell. I hope I’ve lived a good life and go to heaven. I know my son is there waiting for me.”

“My sister has come to me several times and told me she’s alright. I have no doubt that she’ll be there to meet me when it’s my time.”

“The Lord is the way, the truth and the light. I will be with my Lord Jesus.”

“Maybe I’ll see my parents when I die, but I don’t know. I tend to believe that something better is waiting, that there’s something more than this, but I couldn’t say for sure.”

“It’s all chaos. There is no rhyme or reason. I have no idea what will happen after I die.”

What’s your experience been? What do you think happens after we die? What have you been told? What does your family believe? What does your religion teach you? What do scientists propose? How has the media portrayed the after-life? Is death less frightening because of your beliefs? Do you think anybody “really” knows before they die what happens after we stop breathing? How does your belief or thoughts about life after death effect how you live your life now? Does it matter?

Almost Pregnant and Mostly Vegan

Not counting the rare exception, I would say that my diet is almost completely vegan. I know, saying I’m “almost” vegan, is like saying I’m a “little” pregnant, but there is a complex history to this situation. For those unfamiliar with the term, a vegan is someone that does not eat meat, dairy or animal products of any kind.

A few weeks ago a columnist for one of the weekly papers in our neck of the woods stated that eating tofu was just a “fad”. I had to laugh. If eating tofu and being vegetarian was just a fad, then it is the longest fad in history. There have been individuals, groups and entire societies that do not eat meat for centuries. The column did however jump-start a number of flashbacks to my past and present vegan dilemma.

When I was sixteen I decided to become a vegetarian, at that time for religious reasons of not wanting to kill living things. I was very “into” Mahatma Gandhi, yoga and Eastern beliefs at the time. Yes, I got plenty of protein from soy products and nuts and grew up to be a healthy, strong and wise adult. Well, maybe healthy and strong.

After a few years of not eating meat, I began to see the health benefits of lower cholesterol and fats, fewer toxins, more energy and feeling good. I became somewhat fanatical, telling everyone about how much land is used to produce one pound of beef, the water contaminated and the chemicals injected into the animals. But when it became apparent that I wasn’t single handedly going to change American’s eating habits, I decided, for self-preservation and a less frustrating life, to lay off my zealousness.

What had started as a strong belief in not killing, the turned into a health conscious religion and desire to spread the benefits, gradually turned into a way of life. I didn’t think about it much one way or the other. Being a vegetarian was no longer a belief or a cause; it was simply a habit; like sleeping, working or playing.

Then, it happened. First one, then our other daughter became vegan. Our oldest daughter, Leti, had read a book about it that she recited to us day and night. It wasn’t long until she had convinced our other daughter, Darcy, to join the vegan crusade.

At first I thought it seemed a little extreme to not include dairy in one’s diet. But, after about a year of debating, actually reading the book they had read and going to a class or two, it made all the sense in the world and I too joined the ranks of veganism or whatever you want to call it. This all took place many years ago. Then, after I was hooked, they turned into traitors!

A few years after I had converted to a no dairy diet, I saw Leti and Darcy both eating fish, chicken and dairy! Flabbergasted, I immediately interrogated the guilty duo. They nonchalantly replied that, “Oh, we’ve been off that thing for a long time.”

“That thing?!” I replied, having diligently restrained myself for years. I felt betrayed, hoodwinked, cheated. Actually, I only felt surprised. I had after all, decided to be vegan because I thought it was the right thing to do, considering how many cows and chickens are stacked on top of one another, floundering in their own feces and injected with hormones up the wazoo. I wasn’t about to change because they had finished with that “fad”.

But, as I was originally saying, there is and has been one problem, which continues to make me an “almost vegan” and that is ice cream. No matter how many times I’ve tried all the soy desserts and rice cream alternatives to ice cream, I have never found anything as good as Howlers Chocolate Orange Gelato or Ben and Jerry’s Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. I still partake, though not as often, in these dairy delights and refuse to change. It may be hypocritical and make no sense, based on my history and beliefs, but there you go.

That’s why I say, “Yes, I am a vegetarian; no particular reason, just habit. And I am ‘mostly’, with a few slips here and there, a vegan.”

Obviously, I am not one to judge others motives or beliefs as to why they continue to eat meat, fish or dairy. And I am the last person in the world that should ever tell someone else how to live or eat. I can only suggest that you consider your actions and think about how they effect not only animals, but the natural resources it takes to maintain those animals.

By the way; our daughters have since stopped eating meat and dairy again for periods of time, then started up again. I still consider my self to be “mostly” vegan, but you never know how long these “fads” will last.

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