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Archive for the ‘Mediation’ Category

Recently, I read an article about foreign Muslim students studying at Catholic universities in America. Beyond the obvious “strange bedfellows” angle, this phenomenon presented an unusual example of the Global Current of Mediation.  It demonstrates the rich opportunities we now have for sharing lives with immigrants at deep faith levels, for practicing civility around religious issues, and for being relevant and hospitable witnesses for Christianity in an increasingly pluralistic society.

 

Foreign Muslims at Catholic schools say that they appreciate the Catholic schools’ high value placed on doctrine, moral codes, and religion in general.  It’s a very different environment than the “open-minded” student life scenes they observe in secular universities. Most importantly, the foreign Muslim students feel affirmed and respected on Catholic campuses, where religion is taken seriously and elevated.

 
Muslims who come to western countries are often alarmed by our permissive ways. Their Asian or African countries of origin did not prepare them for the skimpy clothing, suggestive dancing, sensual media, and casual relationships between men and women. One Muslim girl said, “I was afraid they would not like me because I am Muslim, or that they would all want me to go to church. At first, when I saw the crosses on the classroom walls, it was very strange for me.” Eventually though, the Muslim students realize that there is a commonality between religiously-minded people, even if we subscribe to different and exclusive truth claims. “I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected.”

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One of the most arresting images in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 was a group of rescue workers gathered around two beams from One World Trade Center tower, which formed a cross. During that time of fear, doubt, and confusion, the reassuring Christian image brought comfort to many.  Now, though, we learn that that same cross causes offense, revulsion, and even physical nausea! So much so that atheists are actually sueing to keep that 20-foot-high cross out of a 9/11 museum at Ground Zero.

In the chapter on Mediation in The Meeting of the Waters, I predict that we Christians and those who oppose the message of Christ will increasingly find ourselves on opposite sides of issues, hurling accusations and invectives at the each other. For me, it continually begs the question: Where would Jesus line up in these debates? On one hand, we see an angry Jesus casting out the moneychangers from the temple, where they were blaspheming his Father’s house. On the other, we see compassionate Jesus meeting the “women at the well,” more than half way, on her turf.  There, I marvel at His incisive moral teaching, His spiritual authority, and His humility.

As Christians seek to speak for Truth and also demonstrate love in this increasingly polarized world, where should we line up? While answers to this question are elusive, I am convinced of two things.  First, instances where my Christian views will be met with strong opposition and hostility are going to increase in number and intensity.  And also, Christians’ principled stances will be needed more than ever, in a future world characterized by polarization.  I believe we need to learn to practice what Dr. Richard Mouw calls “convicted civility” in his wonderful book, Uncommon Decency.  I agree with Muow when he writes that “Cultivating civility can make strong Christian convictions even stronger.”

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France is famous for its policy of “laicite” — a policy of strict secularism and no governmental involvement in religion.  Under laicite, the French view religion  the same way my 4 siblings viewed their little brother Fritz: naive, under-evolved, cute-but-not-useful, and best ignored.   England, with its state religion, is not much better.  There, as in other countries with state churches,  many people are effectively inoculated against faith; sadly, they’ve been only exposed to the institutional church, and never to the living Jesus Christ.

In the United Kingdom, there’s also another layer of complexity– a burgeoning Muslim population.  The government is dead set on avoiding conflict and unrest, and its strategy seems to be to suppress religious freedom for Christians.  How else to interpret these events?

  • In 2008, a Christian check-in worker at Heathrow Airport was denied the right to wear a tiny cross on a chain.
  • Last year, a couple was denied the right to take in foster children– as they’d done 15 times since 1990 — because they wouldn’t teach the child that gay marriage is equal to traditional marriage.  The judge ruled that laws protecting gays against discrimination “should take precedence” over religious freedom.  Most chilling was the Human Rights Commission contention that children must be protected from “the infection of Christianity”–a statement it has subsequently withdrawn.
  • Last month, a private bed and breakfast was fined because the owners refused to allow a gay couple to rent a double bed.

Put simply, Christians in the increasingly pluralistic United Kingdom are losing their right to make choices based on conscience, if those choices are deemed to threaten societal harmony or sensibilities.  This is not simply a case of Christianity losing preeminence — it’s actually losing equal treatment.  UK seems to fashioning a muzzle specially fitted for Christians: in the Heathrow case, the Christian woman’s fellow employee was allowed to wear a Muslim headscarf.

This is alarming, even to a self-professed British atheist like historian David Starkey.  Regarding the government, Starkey criticized the kneejerk closed-mindedness which calls “a new tyranny.”  Regarding Christians, Starkey told BBC’s “Question Time” that the B&B owners should simply have posted “a quite proper notice in a small privately run hotel which says, ‘We are Christians and this is what we believe.”  In other words, in a future culture of increasing polarization, Christians must find newly generous, confident, and clear explanations of exactly what Jesus and we stand for.

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I have a friend, Dr. Chris Seiple, who runs an organization called the Institute for Global Engagement.  IGE’s mission is to promote understanding and communication, amid religious differences, in political and military hot spots around the world.  In places like Laos, Vietnam, and Pakistan, Seiple and IGE are invited into super-sensitive negotiations between Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.  Simply put, nuance is Chris’ business.

In an excellent article in The Washington Post, Chris exemplifies Mediation in one of today’s most highly charged issues — the Ground Zero mosque construction project.  He cites the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Greg Mortensen, and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ most of all.

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/chris_seiple/2010/08/what_we_disagree_about_less_important_than_how_we_disagree.html

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The following is an Op-ed piece originally published in the New York Times.  To see it in its original context click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/opinion/25gyatso.html

May 24, 2010

Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama)

Many Faiths, One Truth
By TENZIN GYATSO

WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions.

A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering.

I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us.

Take Judaism, for instance. I first visited a synagogue in Cochin, India, in 1965, and have met with many rabbis over the years. I remember vividly the rabbi in the Netherlands who told me about the Holocaust with such intensity that we were both in tears. And I’ve learned how the Talmud and the Bible repeat the theme of compassion, as in the passage in Leviticus that admonishes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In my many encounters with Hindu scholars in India, I’ve come to see the centrality of selfless compassion in Hinduism too — as expressed, for instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, which praises those who “delight in the welfare of all beings.” I’m moved by the ways this value has been expressed in the life of great beings like Mahatma Gandhi, or the lesser-known Baba Amte, who founded a leper colony not far from a Tibetan settlement in Maharashtra State in India. There he fed and sheltered lepers who were otherwise shunned. When I received my Nobel Peace Prize, I made a donation to his colony.

Compassion is equally important in Islam — and recognizing that has become crucial in the years since Sept. 11, especially in answering those who paint Islam as a militant faith. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, pleading that we not blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion.

Let me tell you about the Islam I know. Tibet has had an Islamic community for around 400 years, although my richest contacts with Islam have been in India, which has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. An imam in Ladakh once told me that a true Muslim should love and respect all of Allah’s creatures. And in my understanding, Islam enshrines compassion as a core spiritual principle, reflected in the very name of God, the “Compassionate and Merciful,” that appears at the beginning of virtually each chapter of the Koran.

Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author, most recently, of “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together.”

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In The Meeting of the Waters, the sixth Global Current of Mediation describes challenges Christians face in an increasingly divided world.  During the past month, the Kingdom of Morocco has unexpectedly emerged as a poster child for polarization, as it has dramatically stepped up its persecution, harassment, and expulsion of Christians.  Christianity Today reports that dozens of expat Christians have been suddenly deported, reversing a trend of openness that only five years ago allowed Christian performing artists such as the Newsboys and Phil Keaggy to perform publicly.

The change in Morocco’s approach to Christian activity “appears to have taken everyone by surprise, (non-government organization) leaders and embassy staff included,” said Steve Moore, President and CEO of the Mission Exchange. “Informed expatriates with a long history in the country admit their analysis of the political trends have proven to be wrong.”

Many Christian workers — some who have lived there for decades — have been given just a few hours to leave Morocco and their families behind.  In most cases, the Christian foreigners had productive  jobs and were providing the Moroccan people with service and value.

Morocco’s sudden shift in policy toward Christians is playing out before our eyes, with new, ominous developments in each morning’s news.  And while this rash of repression is scary for foreigners in Morocco, it is even more dangerous and threatening to indigenous Moroccan Christians (only a couple thousand out of thirty million citizens).  Most experts believe that Morocco is responding to pressure from other Muslim countries which wish to see it adopt a more militant brand of Islam.    On the other hand, Christians and their countries are working diplomatic channels to pressure Morocco to follow the Moroccan constitution and provide Christians with freedom of religion.  Practicing reconciliation and mediation, praying for enemies, and blessing those who persecute you are difficult in this situation.  I hope you will join me in praying for the families affected, both Moroccan and foreign, Christian and Muslim.

To read the full article from Christianity Today, click here:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/may/13.15.html

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