Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interfaith Ramadan Iftar

If I was going to do something in honor/remembrance of September 11, this would be it. (Unfortunately, we're having car issues at the moment.)

Thursday, September 11, 6:00 - 9:00 pm: Interfaith Ramadan Iftar at the Noor mosque. Join the Muslim community for a public lecture on "The struggle of Abraham & the challenges of his children today" and break the Ramadan fast together followed by a community meal. Open to the public.

If anyone who reads this manages to attend, I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Overheard at the gym

First, a disclaimer...I would very much prefer not to overhear other people's conversations at the gym. I try to go at least twice a week, three times if I'm lucky, and what I want to do is get in the pool and move. I'm not much of a swimmer, but I used to take water aerobics classes, and now I just go to the pool when I have the opportunity and do "freestyle water aerobics for one". I don't ask for much--I just want my own little spot near a wall where I can just do my thing and tune everybody else out. If conditions are right, that's where I can do some of my best creative thinking. But if people within earshot are having a conversation, then conditions are most definitely not right, and I can't seem tune them out no matter how hard I try.

I was actually in the shower, not the pool, so I couldn't see who was talking, but I had passed some older women on the way to the shower. Several of them--I'm guessing at least three--were having a conversation that I kept catching bits and pieces of...

"I stayed up way too late last night watching the returns."
"So, what do you think?"
"I don't knooow!"
"Well, our governor has endorsed Clinton."
"I'm not ready for a woman president."
"Me neither."
At this point, I *really* wanted to be able to tune out, because I was afraid I might hear something that would annoy me enough that I'd feel compelled to butt into their discussion. But the water wasn't loud enough to drown them out, so as I finished up my shower, I heard the conversation turn to the subject of women priests, and how one of the women had a friend who is one, but, "something about that is just not right." Also, apparently the women's movement is to blame for "the mess we're in today". Whatever that is.

But I wouldn't be sharing this story with you now, if it didn't have a positive twist. Here it comes. One of the women said (paraphrased)

"I used to think like that. Then my husband left me when I was 40, and I was totally unprepared to support myself. I vowed that I would never again let myself end up in that situation. ... Sometimes your situation changes, and then you change."
I didn't hear what the other women said in response, but inside I was saying "Right on, sister!" Because every day, in small ways we have opportunities to speak up and give the other side of the story. And an alternative perspective, when shared by "someone like you" has a better chance of taking root and possibly, as time goes on, softening (or even changing) some of the judgments people make.

Friday, January 11, 2008

St. Matthew's in Westerville

The following message was sent via e-mail by our bishop...

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

As you all know, the members of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church have been worshipping at Otterbein chapel while we work to regain the property of the congregation. Many of you have asked how you can be of help.

Your prayers and the prayers of your congregations are needed, so please keep the congregation in your prayers and in the prayers of the people in your churches.

In addition, St. Matthew's will be worshipping at the Westerville Firefighters Civic Center at 393 E. College Ave. in Westerville, beginning on January 20. Worship will be at 10 a.m. We ask congregations in the Columbus area to send 8-10 people to worship with the people of St. Matthew's and to help as they establish programs. We would like congregations to sign up to send people a month at a time, beginning in February and, as much as possible, to encourage these "pilgrims" to commit to being with St. Matthew's for the entire month. Of course, if congregations from outside the Columbus area would like to send people either for a month or just to show support, they will be gratefully welcomed.

At the moment, the most pressing needs of St. Matthew's are help with children's programming and music leadership.

Thank you for your prayers and support as the people of St. Matthew's continue their witness in the community of Westerville. Please contact Canon Walt Mycoff for more information and to let him know when your congregation will be able to help.

Thank you for faithfulness.

Yours in Christ,

+Tom Breidenthal

Bishop Thomas E. Breidenthal
Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio

Sunday, December 02, 2007

B.R.E.A.D. Annual Assembly

From the First Congregational Church newsletter

First Church will host members from 50 congregations on Mon., Dec. 3, at 6:30 p.m. for the organization’s annual meeting.

At this important event an action issue will be chosen for BREAD to tackle in the new year. The issue will be selected from among the concerns discussed at the house meetings and “town hall” assemblies held last month.

Attending the meeting is an excellent opportunity to see BREAD in action as it begins crafting the target issues for 2008.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What my dog taught me

This started as a comment in response to Dogs, Doorwalls and Dianisms at My Left Wing. Somewhere along the way, the comment got long enough to actually be a post. That doesn't seem to happen to often lately, so I decided to go with it...

One of the things that has been on my mind this fall is the sacredness of my connection to one of my dogs. It hasn't been easy to put into words, but I took a shot when my brother and I took Brady and Winnie to the dog park over the Thanksgiving weekend.

In part this has been prompted by my realization that Brady, the collie, must be around 10 years old at this point. I hadn't really given his age much thought--while the changes in my kids have been hard to miss, Brady always seems the same to me. It was only once he started to show some stiffness upon getting up that I really gave his age much thought.

Then there was last month's retreat. Its theme of Celtic spirituality (emphasizing nature and animals) served to reinforce the notion that I had some spiritual "work" to do centering around my relationship with Brady. There's just this amazing connection between us--sometimes it seems like he can read my thoughts.

Yet he always seems to be "underfoot", and our son in particular doesn't like the dogs around him. Winnie can go lie down somewhere when she's not wanted around, but Brady picks up on people's moods, and if anyone is emitting any "upset" vibes, he just *has* to be right there. (Winnie has that same sense of compulsion if she detects the presence of food.)

Anyway, the easiest way to restore some sense of calm or order is usually to just put Brady out in the yard. Over the years, he's spent a lot of time in the yard.

When I first got Brady, I took him to obedience classes once a week. We went through the beginner's class, and then intermediate. He earned his "Canine Good Citizen" certificate. The goal had been to eventually get involved with animal assisted therapy as a volunteer activity we could do together.

But then I got into animal rescue. Then I got out of animal rescue, but not without acquiring a second dog. Once I had two dogs, I was less inclined to take Brady "out" anywhere, and felt less compelled to do so, since the two dogs had each other.

Late this summer, I found out that there is a free (meaning no charge--you can just show up rather than paying for a membership) off-leash dog park in a suburb of Columbus. The first time I took Brady there, I was just blown away by the utter joy I could see in him. It had been ages since I'd seen him genuinely happy. His most characteristic mood for some time before that, had been "worried". Worried about the "pack", the family. I decided that I needed to make an effort to take him out more often. Like I should have been doing all along, but I'd stopped at some point. And dogs are so darn forgiving and accomodating, aren't they?

Earlier this fall, when I was working on a temp project and teaching three classes, I was sometimes too tired to get up for church by the time Sunday rolled around. On one such Sunday, when I had failed to get myself to church or the gym, I decided that taking Brady to the dog park could take the place of both that day. I was starting to think of time with Brady as a form of spiritual practice.

Boy, if that doesn't sound like some sort of namby-pamby watered-down progressive version of religion, I don't know what does.

But this is bigger than just "doing right by the collie", I've come to realize. It's about living more deliberately, acting rather than just reacting. Actually stopping to make choices rather than just allowing myself to be pushed along by life's currents. And that applies to my personal life as well as any involvement I choose to have in the "public square", whether that ends up being political or quasi-political or--whatever. But, as I mentioned here, all I know is that I'm committed to doing something to help make the world a better place.

Yet it's too easy for me to allow "the prevailing mood", whether it be on blogs, or in the media--or just my kids sniping at each other--to distract me from focusing on that goal. And now, with the artificial "frenzy" of the holiday season added into the mix, I could really use some help with this. I'm sure I can't be the only one dealing with this. So, I'm thinking that this would be a good time for those who are kindred spirits in feeling this way to come together and support each other. And help each other find strength, patience, humor, and perspective for the journey.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Zimbardo on "nurturing the heroic imagination"

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo (photo courtesy of The Lucifer Effect web site) came to speak at a community college here in Columbus last month. I recorded the whole talk, which was an hour long. The whole thing was fascinating, but I set myself the modest goal of transcribing only the last eight minutes. Those last minutes of the lecture were the uplifting, hopeful part, and, I don't know about you, but I sure could use more of that in my daily life.

"The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being", says Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. ... "It's a decision that you have to make every day in various ways."

So what I want to do, is I want to end on a positive note, because I know I've depressed you. When I was writing this book I was so depressed, going through all this horrible stuff, and being immersed in this "evil shit", if you will. (Laughter) But the positive note is, heroism as an antidote to evil, by promoting what I call "the heroic imagination" in every man, woman, and child in our nation.

What I mean by that is, here's Joe Darby. He's the guy who exposed the Abu Ghraib abuses. His friend gave him a CD with those pictures and more--he looked at them and said, "This is terrible! We're supposed to bring democracy to these people, and we're humiliating them!" He took that CD and brought it to the senior investigating officer. He was a private in the Army Reserves. That's a thing you never do. And he knew that his buddies were going to get in trouble. But he said "I had to do the right thing." They had to put him into protective custody along with his mother and his wife, because everybody wanted to kill them. ...He is the most ordinary person, G.I. Joe, and he did the right thing.

And there's also the guy in China, in Tiananmen Square, where students were having a peaceful demonstration to promote more freedom, and here was a line of tanks trying to crush them. He jumped in front and said, "We are all Chinese, we all want freedom! We want the same things--please don't do this!" And he turned around. And so here's a powerful physical hero. Darby was a whistleblowing hero. So I want to refocus away from evil to understanding heroes.

Hannah Arendt, in her analysis of the banality of evil said, you know what, evil monsters like Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the deaths of millions of Jews, before he went to Auschwitz, was normal. When we see him in this trial, he's normal. You put him in a situation, and give him power, and permission to kill, you know what? He does his job very well. And she said, the problem with evil is that the perpetrators of evil look like your next door neighbor. They don't look like the comic book monsters that we're led to be afraid of as kids. That's the danger--that they're terrifyingly normal.

So I extend her concept to the "banality of heroism". There are two kinds of heroes: there's Nelson Mandela, there's Gandhi, there's Mother Teresa--but these are the exceptional heroes. They built their whole lives around heroic deeds. They had a call, a mission, to serve humanity. They are the exception. Most heroes are like Joe Darby--ordinary guys, who only once in their lives do a heroic deed. And never again--almost every hero is a one-time hero. And so I'm going to argue that everyday heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary deeds. There's nothing special about them. And I want to argue that the same exact situation that inflames the hostile imagination in some people, and makes them do bad things, that same situation inspires the heroic imagination in other people.

And for most other people, it renders them passive. I call that "the evil of inaction". Most people do what your mother said, "Mind your own business and don't get in trouble!" You have to say, "Mama, in this case, you're wrong, because humanity is my business."

And so, with the psychology of heroism, we want to encourage children, families, everyone, to develop the heroic imagination. To think about yourself as a "hero in waiting". And that, to be a hero, you don't have to be more religious, you don't have to be more compassionate. All you have to do is be ready to act when others are not, or when some people are doing bad things, and you have to be ready to act on behalf of other people. Being have to stop thinking about yourself and what will it cost you or what will you gain. To be a hero you've got to act, and you've got to act on behalf of other people--that's all you need.

And so what we want to do is have curriculum--I'm working with people to develop curriculum, starting in the fifth grade, getting kids to think about what it means to be a hero, who are the heroes in your life, what have you done that's heroic. What skills do you need--because some kinds of things you really have to know something, like first aid skills. So when the time comes--and I tell you, it's only going to come once in your life!

So I want to end with this wonderful story that some of you know about. A guy named Wesley Autrey, who's the New York subway hero. He was in a train station with 75 other people. A white guy falls on the tracks. The train is coming, and it's going to cut him in half. He's (Wesley) got a reason not to get involved--he's got two little girls. He's got no personal connection. Instead, he jumps on the track to try to save the guy. The train was coming, it could wipe him out. So I'd like you to actually see this in action.

(He showed this video)

So one day, you will be in a new situation, and there's going to be three paths before you. Path 1: you join in and become a perpetrator of evil. Not Abu Ghraib evil, but teasing, bullying, spreading rumors, spreading gossip. Path 2 is you become guilty of passive inaction. You're home at Christmas, and Uncle Charlie starts telling a racist or sexist joke, and you don't say, "Uncle Charlie, please don't." Or you're in a cab in New York, where they do it all the time, and you say, "I find that insulting. Please stop." If you don't do that, you allow this person to think "Everybody likes it. Everybody thinks it's funny." You have to take action.

Path 3 is to go straight ahead and do the heroic thing. You challenge authority, you challenge the system. And so I hope we are all ready to take that path and celebrate being ordinary heroes--heroes in waiting. Waiting for the right situation to put our heroic imagination into action. We have to think it--by thinking it, it increases the probability of doing it. We know from psychology that if I convince you that everything we know about you means that you're really more generous than most people. Next week there's a blood drive--you know what? You're going to give more blood than him. Next week there's a charity drive--you know what--you're going to give more money than somebody else.

I think that promoting a heroic imagination in our schools--just thinking about it--because it's only going to happen once! Wesley Autrey never did it again, he never will--he's not going to be in that particular situation. Joe Darby, never did it before, and he's not going to be in that situation again. So the point is, you always want people to be primed--ready for the situation where things are going to happen, you're prepared, and you're going to be the one to take the action.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Many voices of Islam forum

What: "Many Voices of Islam" public forum
When: Sunday, October 28, 2007, 2:30 pm
Where: Atrium of The Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, OH

Columbus, Ohio - The Interfaith Association of Central Ohio will hold a public forum on the "Many Voices of Islam" at the Atrium of The Ohio Statehouse on Sunday, October 28, 2007, 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm.

The public forum will help Central Ohioans better understand and appreciate the oneness, complexity, and diversity within Islam in contemporary American society by addressing:
  • the growth of Islam in America and around the world
  • the different Islamic voices and perspectives
  • how each voice of Islam reflects a distinctively "American" perspective
  • how Muslim leaders can approach fears that exist about Islam.
The panelists will include:

-Dr. Zulfiqar A. Shah, Executive Committee member of Fiqh Council of North America (recognized as the highest Islamic authority in North America that can issue religious fatwas- decrees)

-Imam Mostafa Al-Qazwini, Director of Islamic Education Center of Orange County, California

-Dr. Anisa Abd el Fattah, Founder and Chairwoman of National Association of Muslim American Women

-Dr. Robert Dickson Crane, Adviser to former U.S. President Richard Nixon.

The program is free and open to the public. It is organized by the Education Committee of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio and is co-sponsored by the Ohio Humanities Council (a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Ohio Council of Churches,Council on American Islamic Relations - Ohio, Islamic Foundation of Central Ohio, Islamic Society of Greater Columbus, and the Columbus Council on World Affairs.

The Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, incorporated in 1986, is governed by representatives of Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, and Sikh faith traditions in Central Ohio. The association works towards creating an inter-religious community, based on understanding, friendship and trust, in which social justice, peace, and human dignity are valued.

57 Jefferson Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 849-0290