Category: Windows of Dzyan


Almost 10,000 people came to this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Saying it was huge would be something of an understatement.

It was wonderful and astounding, to see so very many people in one place – from so many varied backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious disciplines.  And all these wildly different people shared one thing:  every one respected and celebrated everyone’s right to follow their personal and unique path of spirituality.

Everyone is different, and all these 10,000 people met to celebrate and honor that difference.

One of the groups at Parliament, Pacifica, is made of volunteers inspired by the teaching of Imam Fethullah Gulen, from Turkey.  These folks choose to follow a path called Hizmet (or the “Gulen Movement”).   Hizmet is “service” in Turkish, and the Hizmet or Gulen Movement is inspired by Imam Gulen’s teachings on charity and love in the Qur’an.  Imam Gulen teaches that when a person is touched by God, it becomes his or her privilege to serve the Creator, and Hizmet groups set up schools, hospitals, emergency relief services, and other volunteer organizations worldwide – helping those in need regardless of the recipients’ religious affinity.  One of the many groups I met at this year’s Parliament united by a common bond of selfless service, I was particularly struck by Hizmet work in bringing education to those most desperately in need.

Here’s a short video from their presentation, sponsored by the peacebuilding initiatives of Pacifica Institute:

In addition to all their wonderful bridge-building efforts, another thing I like about Pacifica is their dervishes.  These young men, most 8 to 14 years old, work hard under the watchful eye of their teacher to show respect and appreciation for the best parts of Dervish Sufi tradition.  Historically the whirling is done to a two-step beat, and the dancer is asking for an inkling of the mystical presence of God.  I asked one of my friends in the troupe, a dancer named Hakan, how he could possibly keep from getting sick during the spinning.  “My teacher told me it helps to look at my thumb, and refuse to think of anything else,” he told me.  “I just look at my thumb and keep going.”  These young kids are wonderful to watch.

Fethullah Gulen, named one of the most influential Muslims in the world by Time Magazine, recently shared his views on the “Cancer of Hate” which ISIS represents.  He outlines six tools to remove this cancer:  denounce violence and resist victimhood, appreciate Islam (and religion in general) holistically and unite with peacebuilders of all faiths and backgrounds, actively promote the universal human rights of dignity life and liberty, actively promote education of the sciences humanities and arts, support religious education and dispel twisted religious ideologies, and strengthen/support equal rights for women and men.  ISIS is not a tool of religion but a cancer of hate.  Read the full article here:  http://pacificainstitute.org/2015/08/27/fethullah-gulens-article-on-the-wall-street-journal-against-violent-extremism/.

League of ExtraordinariesThe 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions will be convening in Salt Lake, October 15 through 19.

People from every faith and walk of life will be coming, and some of the speakers look truly amazing.  In addition to the Dalai Lama several personal heroes will be speaking, including Dr. Tarik Ramadan and Dr. Arun Gandhi, with hundreds of presentations on everything from Secular Humanism to Wicca, and lots in between.  It will be an exciting week.

For more on the 2015 Parliament, check this out.

We hear the shrill cries all the time, but it’s rare that we hear the reasoned voice of a Muslim moderate.  I came across this article in the New York Times from Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish scholar and religious leader.  It strikes me how much his words echo what our founding fathers might say in similar circumstances:

Turkey’s Eroding Democracy

Over a year ago, I was asked to write a short piece about The 99 Names Project for The Fountain Magazine, a US-based arts and humanities magazine.  I did, they were super nice, and I didn’t hear back.  Then yesterday a friend emailed me to tell me they had published my bit, with some truly wonderful editing.  Although only the first two paragraphs are available without a subscription, they were cool enough to include the full audio of the article, read by a truly wonderful narrator.

Please check it out here.

Flammarion's Universum Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Flammarion’s Universum
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tolerance.

Tolerance.

It sounds palatable.  Or, at least it’s been used by so many nice, well-meaning people we believe the word is palatable.

But it’s terrible.

Why?

When we tolerate something, we approach the thing from the perspective that we can’t stand it, or we wish it wasn’t there, or we’d rather it didn’t exist, we judge it harshly, or we hate it – but we’re willing to push down our rising gorge to assert our human dignity.  We throw a blanket over our disdain and hatred, so we can show how enlightened we are.  But the disdain and hatred are still there – and with “tolerance” we grit our teeth and endure it.

And the word “tolerance” somehow makes this acceptable.

Hatred and disdain will fester and breed like a rotting fungus when it’s covered and we pretend it’s not there.  Until at some future point we notice the lumps under the blanket are moving and swelling, and regardless of our worthy intent we can no longer pretend – and the festering putrescence erupts.

I know that’s graphic and gross, but this sad attempt at Homeric simile serves to illustrate my point – if we choose to ignore something by calling it a different name and claiming our behavior is enlightened, the thing is still there, and it can grow while feeding off our hypocrisy.

So what’s the alternative?

Respect.  Appreciation.  Admiration.  Celebration.

My neighbors and friends are different from me and unique.  Each one has his or her own history and life stories to share, and I can grow richer through enjoying their experiences.

With our kids growing up we did not want them to respond to difference with fear, derision, or hatred.  That’s not something for which there’s a switch, so we had to do something else.

We came across a wonderful calendar, which celebrated a different holiday from around the world for every day of the year.  Any day the kids wanted, we could look at the calendar and find something to celebrate – we made cookies for this holiday, paintings for that, an impromptu concert or picnic in the living room.  Each of us would try to find something out about the culture or the holiday and share it with the others – this was in the dark days before the internet, so the research could be tough.  One resource I like today is Earth Calendar, and there are many others.

One of my heroes is Rumi.  He taught, as he put it, the “religion behind religion”.  He recited stories and poems illustrating virtues celebrated by every faith around the planet, and his words still help folks from every background imaginable to find their own unique path.  His words help us become more the person we wish to be.

Another is Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.  His book Islamic Art and Spirituality helped me develop as a Christian artist.  Another hero is Mother Theresa, another is Gandhi, another is Desmond Tutu.  Of course, the Dalai Lama – a wonderful person who has chosen to be continually be reborn rather than accept enlightenment, because he wants to help us be happier, too.

I am not Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, or Buddhist, but I celebrate these remarkable people and the wondrous lessons their lives continue to teach.

I doubt that would happen if I merely “tolerated” them.

Today is Religious Freedom Day in the US.  There will probably not be any speeches, picnics, or classroom celebrations.  However, that does make today a good excuse to kick tolerance to the curb and embrace difference.

I enjoy finding new things to respect, appreciate, admire, and celebrate about my friends and their histories, beliefs, and backgrounds.  Aside from making the world a much less boring place, the light of the sun seems to burn a little brighter and the stars seem happier when we celebrate, rather than merely endure.

I choose to celebrate.

All our belief systems arise to resolve one question – where do I fit in the universe?  Who am I, how did I get here, what am I supposed to do?

At the worst, these systems have been twisted by evil, heartless people to justify truly inhuman and atrocious things.  At their best, the belief systems to which we resonate bring out the very best in us – help and guide us to become truly wonderful beings.

Each of us is on the journey to find our own answers; I can’t say what those answers are for anyone else, but one of the laws of thermo-dynamics keeps coming into my head – energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  We are essentially creatures of self-aware energy, and I wonder.

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In the Nativity, Jesus was born in the stable because there was no room in the inn.

This image has always bothered my wife’s family.  From an early age, while reading Luke 2 one of the siblings invariably asked, “Why didn’t someone give Him a room?”

We love spending Christmas with her family, because her parents always make sure everyone is always welcome.

In their entry are two images of the Nativity, a wonderful set carved out of Olive wood they found while visiting the Holy Land, and a beautifully carved plaque they found on a trip to China with a very pleased Joseph and Mary holding a smiling baby Jesus.  These two images frame either side of the front door reminding everyone of the universal nature of the Christian ideal, and that in this home there is always room.

Whether you are a believer or not, or whatever the path may be you are called to follow, may you and yours receive the most wonderful of blessings this Christmas.

And may your heart always have room.

In 1985 my dad died.

He had struggled with non-Hodgkins lymphoma for 7 years, and far surpassed everyone’s expectations.  After dotting all his i’s, crossing all his t’s, he ticked the last box and died content.

But for our family, it sucked.

Christmas was looking to be particularly dreary.  What could there be to be happy about?  It was about the worst I have ever felt.

My mom and I decided that attitude sucked.  So we went out of our way to start telling each other about the nice things we saw, the moments that made us happy, how beautiful the frost looked on the grass – we tried to find the little bits of life for which we could be grateful.

Then two things happened one right after the other – my mom won the holiday gift bag at the local Hallmark store, and we watched “A Christmas Story” with Ralphie.  My mom said later that there wasn’t a whole lot to the gift bag, but the fact she won something made the difference, “It was like a little sign from the universe that things were going to be okay – I know that’s silly, but that’s what it seemed at the time.”  And of course, Christmas with Ralphie completely changed our perspective.

It’s perhaps not the pinnacle of contemporary Western cinema, but the hilarious adventures of a Midwestern holiday brought back all sorts of wonderful memories about my dad and family, and gave us a refreshing perspective on what the holidays really mean – it’s not in presents, food, activities, or decorations (although all that is loads of fun!), but it’s in the fact we do all those things with those we care most about.

That year we didn’t do a whole lot in terms of lights, cookies, and other stuff, but everything we did was together.  And instead of the big Christmas dinner, we ordered Chinese take-out and watched our VHS of “A Christmas Story”.

It was wonderful.

Now, years later my family still does the same thing.  And my children say Christmas isn’t complete without the Chinese take-out.

Thank you, Ralphie!

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