Tiny pieces of peace on earth

"A Peace Dove to the whole World" al...

“A Peace Dove to the whole World” al-Ma’sara village children, south of Bethlehem (Photo credit: ☪yrl)

BLESSINGS OF PEACE AND LIGHT BE WITH YOU THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. I lifted that line from the web page of the organization discussed below — but it works.

Thanks to the immortality of cyberspace, this brief essay that I posted three years ago re-surfaced this week. Someone sent a comment — “Awesome post, dude!” was the opening line — apparently after reading it for the first time. Maybe he was Googling the word Peace. In any event, it’s still valid and now resurrected:

In the olden days of the 20th century, at least until the latter third or so, there was a quaint custom for newspapers — remember newspapers? — to print nothing but good news on the front page on December 25, in recognition of the historical figure celebrated by Christians around the globe as the Prince of Peace. Even for followers of other religious traditions, or of no religion of all, there was something comforting about picking up the morning paper (another quaint but honorable old custom) or checking the corner newstand without being confronted by headlines screaming of wars and disasters, murder and mayhem.

Couldn’t find such a front page this year. The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle… no luck. On the front page of the Sunday (December 26) Chronicle, though, is a feature article encompassing the message of peace that is the essence of all the religious celebrations of December: Chanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and many more. It’s a profile of the man who, in 2000, launched United Religions Initiative, retired Episcopal Bishop William Swing. U.R.I. is dedicated to fostering cooperation and mutual respect among all religions, and to bringing peace and justice to people everywhere. Hard to argue with that.

From modest beginnings a decade ago U.R.I. now boasts (except U.R.I. folks tend not to be boastful) several hundred “Cooperation Circles” scattered across the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Circles (the San Francisco Interfaith Council, of which I’m pleased to be a part, is one) are made up of ordinary people with extraordinary goals: promoting peace, equality and justice in a limitless variety of ways. U.R.I. also has programs in areas such as women’s rights, youth, environment and peacebuilding. There’s that word again: Peace.

Wouldn’t it be fine to see a little of that in the New Year?

When fear & hatred go viral

Illegal aliens threaten, Muslims are murderers, we should be Very Afraid. Or perhaps, like the author of these points, just Very Tired.

A super-patriot message (re)circulating in cyberspace could serve as a blueprint for how to spread hatred and fear across the land. It purports to spread Republican virtues, having been written (with apologies to someone else’s earlier blog in the same style) by retired military/public servant Robert A. Hall. Originally floated in a blog dated February 19, 2009, it has recently been picked up and dusted off for recycling. This writer has gotten it three times; though I am not on a lot of right wing Favorites lists I try to listen and understand messages received from friends with whom I disagree.

Hall, now a resident of Illinois but not an admirer of its current native son President, apparently served honorably in the U.S. Marines and the Massachusetts state senate. This space hereby commends him for his public service, accepts his right to whatever political beliefs he chooses, and takes very strong exception to his blog. It is the incendiary passage below that needs to be refuted:

I’m  tired of  being told that Islam is a “Religion of Peace,” when every day I can  read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters,  wives and daughters for their family “honor”; of Muslims  rioting over some slight offense; of Muslims  murdering Christian and Jews because they aren’t  “believers”; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning  teenage rape victims to death for “adultery”; of Muslims mutilating  the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the  Qur’an and Shari’a law tells them  to.

I have not read the Qur’an, though I doubt that’s what it says. Iftekhar Hai has.  Co-founder and director of interfaith relations for United Muslims of America, Hai understands what the Qur’an has to say far better than do Hall or I. Here are a few clarifications — if only they could circulate as widely as is the above screed:

Whatever faith you are born in, you are in God’s image. The message is the same, but people keep adding on and that’s what messes things up. Diversity is part of Islamic belief.”

The Qur’an does not condone the killing of non-believers. Religious leaders cannot decide who is a non-believer. Islam is not exclusive, and extremists are wrong to judge others.”

As to the status of women in Muslim countries, Hai says inequality for women has no basis in the Qur’an, but is a cultural matter (as in the wearing of the burqa by women in Afghanistan. Only 18% of Muslims, he says, live in Arab countries, with the majority in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; he is quick to point out women leaders in those countries and in Indonesia.

It seems superfluous, but still appropriate, to mention that Christians have done a lot of killing “in God’s name,” as have people of just about every other faith, and that assorted acts of mayhem and violence are caused every day under every conceivable banner.

Iftekhar Hai, like millions of his fellow Muslims here and abroad, is a man of peace. He serves on the board of the San Francisco Interfaith Council and works with other organizations such as United Religions Initiative to promote understanding, cooperation and peace among all faiths. Wouldn’t less fear and hatred, and more peace and understanding be a good idea at this point in world history?

Jewish Teenager’s Prayer Diverts a Plane

From The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

From The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

No one was surprised it happened, everybody remained calm and polite — including, apparently, the two teenagers when they were briefly handcuffed — all aboard were safe. Still it’s a little sad when a young airline passenger in prayer sets off alarm bells in our spacious American skies.

The 17-year-old observant Jewish passenger, seated next to his younger sister, was strapping a tefillin onto his wrist and his head, figuring to take advantage of the quiet time for ritual prayer. It was a small plane outbound from La Guardia Airport and about 25 minutes into a flight to Kentucky. The flight attendant on US Airways Express Flight 3079 last Thursday thought the tefillin looked ominously like wires or cables.

And in a time when in-flight thinking is colored by the brutal knowledge that passengers have hidden bombs in underwear or shoes, she told the officers in the cockpit. The pilot decided to divert the Kentucky-bound plane to Philadelphia. In less than 30 minutes it was on the ground, police officers were swarming through the passenger cabin, and the Transportation Security Administration was using terms like “disruptive passenger” and “suspicious passenger” to describe the boy. An hour or so after that, Lt. Frank Vanore, a spokesman for the Philadelphia police, had another explanation.

“It was unfamiliarity that caused this,” he said.

He said the flight crew had never seen tefillin, small leather boxes attached to leather straps that observant Jews wear during morning prayers. The flight crew “didn’t understand what it was,” he said, and the pilot “erred on the side of caution and decided to radio that in and to divert the flight.”

We can’t all recognize a tefillin, or appreciate head scarves, or somehow get comfortable with the accoutrements of unfamiliar religions. But this incident suggests we might need to try harder.

The young man and his sister, whose names were not released, are from White Plains, the authorities said. Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains said that they were members of his congregation and that the young man was “a good boy, bright, intelligent, as docile as you can imagine.” Some observant Jews said they were not surprised that the ritual had attracted attention — or that people on the plane would have been unfamiliar with it. “When they see a passenger strapping yourself,” said Isaac Abraham, a Satmar who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and campaigned for the Democratic nomination for a City Council seat last year, “you might as well strap yourself with hand grenades. They have no idea. He probably just figured, ‘I have nothing else to do on the plane, I might as well use this time to pray.’ Other people read. They watch a movie. He figured, ‘Let me grab the time.’ But the obvious reality of it is that when we see people carrying explosive material in their shoes and their pants and I am the passenger next to him and see someone strapping, I would panic too.”

And most of the rest of us would say the same. Maybe most of the rest of us, though, could take some time to check out interfaith groups such the International Association for Religious Freedom or United Religions Initiative, or local organizations such as the San Francisco Interfaith Council (local interfaith groups exist throughout the country), which offer a chance to learn about other faiths and get to know the mostly peace-loving people who follow other traditions. In all probability, there will be times ahead when some badly-misled person will shout “Allahu Akbar” before blowing himself or herself to smithereens, or some deranged person will commit violence (witness the killer of abortion Dr. George Tiller claiming his religious convictions justified the act) in the name of some abused diety. But a little interfaith understanding could go a long way in today’s super-suspicious world.

Rabbi Greenberg, the boy’s rabbi, had some advice for future flights.

“I would suggest, pray on the plane and put the tefillin on later on,” he said.

Jewish Teenager’s Tefillin Diverts a US Airways Flight – NYTimes.com.