IN THE NAME OF TRUTH, LOVE, AND JUSTICE

On this Martin Luther King weekend, and five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America, it is appropriate to focus on some of the main values which have made this country a leader in the emerging global community.  My understanding is that, if we adhere to these values in word and in action, we will be able to handle the challenges that we will face in the next few years.

Dr. King believed in the equality of all races, cultures, and religions.  He was willing to lead the movement for truth, love, and justice in order to achieve these goals, knowing full well that it would cost him his life.  His way was the way of nonviolence, which was earlier taught and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi.   We celebrate Dr. King’s life with a national holiday, and we also owe a major tribute to the life of Mahatma Gandhi for our present understanding of nonviolence and its power in achieving success in realizing the goals to which it is applied.

The most recent example of its application to social change was in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where a pipeline was about to be run through an Indian reservation without the permission of the Native Americans whose lives would have been affected in two ways, pollution of their water and the destruction of a number of their sacred sites.  Through the use of nonviolence by the many Indian tribes, veterans, and numerous other American citizens, the pipeline has at least been put on hold.

The battle for the future of the USA is about to be tested again under Donald Trump’s presidency, and it may require even more intense application of nonviolence for the preservation of truth, love, and justice.  The challenges which are likely to arise may be just what we have needed to show the meaning of “a force more powerful”..  Martin Luther King has shown the way in this country. Now it is up to the rest of us to carry the understanding forward in the days ahead.

Let’s look at some of the specifics.  Trump has called for building a wall on our southern border to keep out “illegal” immigrants from Mexico and other Hispanic countries.  He has also asked for a listing and possible deportation of Muslims because of their religion and possible connection with the troubles in the Middle East.  Both of these actions are not going to solve the problem, and they are prejudicial and likely to cause much negative reaction.  The use of nonviolent resistance may well be applied to these issues in order to keep the actions from being carried out.   And, from what I have understood, these will be a number of other matters that should be dealt with as well.

Therefore, as we celebrate Dr. King’s life and work, may we focus on the current need for applying nonviolence to the issues we are facing in the United States and around the world.

Spirit is One; paths are many!

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EMBRACING THE NEW YEAR

  “Those virtues that befit dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”

                                 ~from   Baha’i Faith, Science and Spirituality, page 170

The year 2017 has already shown to have numerous challenges, and those challenges are clearly going to increase as the year continues.  The first response to these many challenges would likely be to get discouraged and just accept whatever comes.  But a more sensible response, one that involves personal faith, is to meet these times of stress and uncertainty with a sense of purpose and to act based on our highest values and with plenty of courage.

President-elect Donald Trump has already called for a new nuclear arms race, in which he seems to think that the United States would be the winner.  No such thing could be more dangerous than to go in that direction. A more appropriate response to statements of that kind should be to speak up and to take the necessary actions to prevent an arms race from happening.  As with the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, if enough of us do speak up and get involved, many such unwise actions can be prevented.

People of faith have a special opportunity to take action together in times like these.  As with the Baha’i quotation at the top of this page, the qualities of forbearance, mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness are what can be most successful in changing the minds of those who would do harm to individuals and society.  This year appears to be the year when a lot of courage and other positive qualities will be needed to keep our society on a constructive path.  With that in mind, now is a good time to prepare ourselves for what is to come.

We do not need to spend the money to build a wall between ourselves and Mexico, and we are unwise to start making a list of Muslims who either should be deported or refused admission to this country just because they are Muslims.  Our diversity of race, culture, and religion are among our strengths as a nation, so it is not sensible to change that direction just because we have a different administration in Washington, D.C.

Instead, we would do well to more faithfully cultivate our spiritual practice and to meet with others in a spiritual community who are devoting themselves to building a deeper faith, as well as to become involved in the interfaith movement.   For those who are unfamiliar with the interfaith movement, it is gatherings of people of different faiths who come together to strengthen their spiritual practices and to serve the will-being of their community and the world.

 

Spirit is One; paths are many!

PREPARING FOR THE CHALLENGES OF 2017

by Rev. Leland Stewart
The year which is now beginning has challenges more severe than any year in recent memory.  Some of these challenges are already certain to happen.  Others are challenges that are being predicted, such as a major financial collapse.  Finally, there are the various problems around the world, particularly in the Middle East.   This clearly is not a complete list, but these are among the most serious of the challenges ahead of us in 2017.

Recently I attended a meeting focused on how we should prepare for crises that can arise when least expected.  Often the best way to avoid such occurrences is to be prepared.  Such preparations could include having enough food to last for several days or even a week or more; making sure that your car is working well, so that the can leave

the area quickly if needed; and getting training in nonviolence and in safety precautions.

Most important of all, however, is the spiritual aspect of your readiness to meet any challenges that may arise.  Instead of living in fear, it is important to have a positive, caring attitude.  If we know that we will be able to handle any emergency that might confront us, and if we follow a spiritual practice every day, then we will a long way on the path of being able to meet whatever challenges arise.

Starting at the beginning of the year is an excellent time to make sure that we are prepared in every possible way to meet all crises that come along.  Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith today, January 1sr, mentioned that it is in the realm of time and the visible world that the challenges come up, but that the spiritual world is beyond time and free of all the obstacles that we meet in the visible world.  To cultivate our spiritual dimension is to prepare ourselves for meeting the day-to-day challenges.

For many people the name attached to the spiritual world is God, but increasingly there are other words such as Ultimate Reality, Supreme Identity, and the like.  Buddhists do not believe in a personal God.  Yet they can be just as deeply religious as those who do believe in God.  Our statement of belief says “the Spirit of All Life, called by any name or no name”.  The energy of the spiritual realm is the purest and most transcendent energy available, and its being at the center of your life will best prepare you for meeting whatever comes your way.

So as you begin this year, in addition to the various worldly preparations you can make, be centered in your spiritual practice and know that It will make possible your meeting of any and all challenges that you have ahead of you.

Spirit is One; paths are many!

A Plea for Unity

– by Rev. Leland Sewart

The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music, where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord.”  ~ Baha’i Faith, Science and Spirituality, page 192

 

This Tuesday is, at last, the time for California to have its chance to vote in what has been a most unusual and divisive election.  Many Republicans, and Democrats as well, are not satisfied with the Republican choice for President.  Many in both parties seem to be having issues with Hillary Clinton, even though she is about to be the Democratic nominee.  Bernie Sanders was a dark horse candidate who has come from behind and is making a strong showing, but likely without the delegates to win the nomination.

This election needs to bring itself together and come up with a clear choice for our next President.  What appears to be needed in the midst of a divided Republican party, is for Hillary and Bernie to find a way to work together and come out with a unified Democratic Party by cooperating with each other.  To continue to be offering different alternatives and not to find common ground would be to run the risk of losing the election to a candidate who appears to be putting the country and world at risk.

While my purpose here is not to tell you who to vote for, I am making a plea for unity in this election and finding a way to offer strength and clarity as we move forward into the final months till we have our vote in November.   California often is so close to the end of its time to vote that its vote does not make much difference.  This time the completion of the primaries leaves our state in a most crucial position.  So it is most important to vote especially this year and to focus on creating unity in the process.

The Unity-and-Diversity World Council is based upon the central idea of democracy, which is the principle of unity-and-diversity.  In the midst of the many, there is the one.   E pluribus unum.  It is our task of find unity in the midst of a diversity of races, cultures, and religions.  It is our opportunity to be good listeners and to find solutions to what might otherwise seem impossible.  This election gives us a special opportunity to show our capability at creating unity in the midst of a wide diversity of political views, attitudes toward the effectiveness of government, and our basic respect for each other.

I also want to say that we have just had eight years of our first Black president.  Instead of unduly criticizing him and trying to undo his many efforts to solve our nation’s problems, I feel that we should appreciate how effective he has been in many ways.  He has a wonderful wife, and he has not had marital infidelity problems.  He has shown respect for his fellow Americans and has attended to resolving conflicts occurring during his presidency.  He is the first president who has been able to set up a new health care system.  Instead of our trying to do away with everything he has worked for, we would do better to attempt to improve what has been accomplished through these eight years.

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

WHAT IS INTERFAITH?

~by Rev. Leland Stewart

“Those virtues that befit dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion, and loving kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”
~  Baha’i faith, Science and Spirituality, page 170

 

There are many levels of interfaith.  The beginning of the process is the coming together of people and/or leaders of various faiths to share their views of faith and how they can get along with each other even though their different religions and spiritual movements have different understandings of life.  Few, if any, of these people change their faith as the result of their dialog.

Other dimensions of interfaith are when a person changes his/her faith and stays with the new faith.  Still others join a new faith for a time and then return to the original faith, probably enriched by the experience.  An additional outcome of the interfaith experience is that a person follows two or more religions.  The most changed perspective is with those who let go of their original faith and take on an exploration of all religions and spiritual movements.

Some people have no regard for religion in any of its forms.  Certainly there are many examples of religions who hate each other and as a result engage in violent behavior.  The role of interfaith in this regard is to help such people to find out what religion is supposed to be in promoting mutual respect and understanding.

Interfaith is growing rapidly as people realize the need for the religions to get along with each other.  Two examples of the rapid growth of interfaith are the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  Last October the Parliament held its meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, with almost ten thousand people in attendance.  The United Religions Initiative since the year 2000 has started more than 500 cooperation circles in a large number of countries.  There are about twenty interfaith organizations just in the Los Angeles area alone.

It is true that in the various faiths, certain people take on the interfaith work, and others continue just paying attention to their own faith.  One of the tasks of interfaith now is to help those other individuals to realize the importance of interfaith and begin to get involved.

Is interfaith a religion?  For most people it is not.  However, for some of the people who are most involved it serves as a faith with all of its inspiration and power.  Those who have transcended their original faiths do need that kind of spiritual awakening and call to service.  What it should be called, and what forms it will take are yet to be decided.

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

MOTHERS AND THE FAMILY

“The family is a miniature commonwealth, upon whose integrity the safety of the larger commonwealth depends.” -Felix Adler, Science and Spirituality, page 138

One of my major concerns in life has to do with the strengthening of family life.  What I observe is that we have a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no family day in our year’s calendar.  As stated in the quotation from Felix Adler, the family is a miniature commonwealth; it is the place where children should be given a responsible start in life.  Children deserve to have two parents to help guide them, the same two parents who gave birth to them in the first place.

I realize that there are many different kinds of families at this time, but certain principles apply in terms of what works best.  Families need to be stable if they are to provide a home where children can grow up prepared to enter into the world of schooling, work life, and the eventual raising of their own children.  While mothers are the ones who give birth to the children, they also usually need the influence of another responsible adult.

Robert F. Kennedy, who was on the way to becoming President of the United States when he was assassinated, said, “In my judgment, one of the basic reasons we have crime, lawlessness, and disorder has been the breakdown of the family unit.”  I would urge all of us who are celebrating Mother’s Day to move toward emphasizing the importance of the family, and the role of the mother in making that a reality.

Carle Zimmerman, a family sociologist with whom I studied at Harvard University, did research on the family especially in Western civilization.  He said that the stability of the family runs almost parallel to the stability of the civilization as a whole.  He was very concerned about the condition of the family in our society.  He pointed out that the ideal number of children is either three or four, so that there can be interaction between them and a balance with the mothers and fathers. Through families of that size there will be opportunities for sharing and growing best as a family unit.

So as we celebrate this Mother’s Day on May 8th, may we give some thought to the importance of stable family life and its importance to itself and also for the stability and health of the society at large.

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

~Please read it and respond if you have time and interest.

A CELEBRATION OF SPRING AND RENEWAL

MAY DAY:

A Celebration of Spring and Renewal

 “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined.”
– Henry James,  Science and Spirituality, page 181

 

Traditionally, May Day has been a time of political action and demonstrations.  It is our intention to change that emphasis to one of celebrating the spring and focusing on ethical and spiritual renewal.   Surely that is what is needed most in our time of local-to-global challenges.  It is an appropriate response to our national election as well as to the clashes in Syria, Iraq, and Iran.  We need healing all the way from our personal lives to the planet as a whole.

It is our usual response to these urgent needs for renewal to think first of piecemeal solutions in education, politics, and/or family living.  What is seldom discussed is the need for the coming together of the world’s faiths – ancient and modern – to help create a new context for living in this increasingly global age.  We have yet to learn how to live in a unity-and-diversity world.  This is the supreme challenge of our time.

In our election we are having to decide whether the U.S.A. is to build a wall to separate ourselves from our neighbors or to learn how to live together in peace and harmony.  We are needing to decide between tearing each other down or making room for different life styles and convictions.  In the world we are torn between sending drones from our country to another, often halfway around the globe, or building bridges of understanding that can bring an end to war.

Now is a good time to reflect on what is needed to bring about the renewal of life and the joyousness of respecting one another and the many forms of existence around us.  Our decisions are all-important as we tread the path of building an authentic democracy for our country and the world at large.

Most of us are not aware of the evolution of this effort at the United Nations.  For fifteen years the U.N. has had Millennium Goals to pursue internationally.  This process came to its completion in the year 2015.  Now the U.N. is focusing on Sustainable Development Goals for the next fifteen years, ending in 2030.  There are seventeen of these goals, and they are very much like the quadrants and sectors of’ UDC’s Peace Wheel. It is through the Peace Wheel that we are proceeding to move toward a more unified planet in the years to come.

Perhaps these goals can best be summarized in Albert Schweitzer’s phrase “Reverence for Life”.  Life is sacred, and we will be able to realize the promise of a global civilization as we treat ourselves and our fellow human beings and other forms for life in that way.

This is our central opportunity.  May we pursue reverence for life more seriously and effectively with each day from this time on.

 

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

by Rev. Leland Stewart

CONNECTING THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND INTERFAITH MOVEMENTS

The environmental and interfaith movements are both large and very much growing.  They do need to listen to each other and to be connecting with each other.  The question is how to bring this condition about without either being diluted and therefore less effective.  My impression so far is that both movements are less effective in their efforts to connect with each other than they could be.  This tendency needs to be overcome if the interrelationship is to be truly productive..

The Unity-and-Diversity World Council has developed a Peace Wheel which sees Peace at the center, with twelve sectors and four quadrants, three sectors being in each quadrant.  The environment is one of these sectors, and interfaith is another sector.  In addition there are a total of twelve sectors, which means that education, media and the arts, science and technology, and a number of other dimensions of life need to be included if we are to have peace.  It is not enough to have any two fields interact with each other if we are to develop an all-inclusive worldview.  Instead, we need to include all aspects of life within our consideration.
To do this requires a unity-and-diversity approach.  To accomplish this challenging task, it is important to provide time for each sector to have time to develop its perspective.  Each sector may well have several different dimensions within itself, and these dimensions need to be given recognition within the sector.  Once the sectors have each developed their sense of relationship, then a convergence process will start bringing them together.  If time permits, there should be at least two levels of convergence: from sectors to quadrants and then to the total group.  In this convergence process, one begins to build understanding and relationships, hopefully resulting in greater understanding and a sense of the wholeness of the different areas to which participants are exposed.
What needs to be experienced in common is the sense of global community based on a common set of values, what we have generally called a Global Code of Living.  Albert Schweitzer described this growing awareness as that every civilization needs to have a common ethic to hold it together. The global civilization is what is ahead of us, and it is time that we developed such a global ethic.  In the light of a global code of living, which includes ethics and spirituality, we can then proceed  with the various dimensions of the civilization that is unfolding.  This is the task that lies ahead of  us in the days and years to come.
                                        Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS TREAT YOU

by Rev. Leland Stewart

“Ethics consist in my experiencing the compulsion to show all will-to-live the same reverence as I do to my own life.”    – Albert Schweitzer, Science and Spirituality, page 143

The theme of our message is the Golden Rule, which in some form is present in all religions.  It is the heart of ethics, which has to do with the relation of one human being to another and to all humanity and all life.  The same ethics apply in government as in our individual lives, and a responsible society needs to have a powerful ethical basis in order to fulfill its mission.

This applies to how a society handles its finances as well as in every other aspect.  Not every person and organization in our society should have the same amount of money available to spend, but a society in which the 1% has as much money as the other 99% is clearly out of bounds for a responsible society.  There need to be laws that prevent this unbalance, but an important part of changing the balance should be based on what is ethical.  When 44,000 people in Los Angeles County alone are homeless, while others live in exorbitant luxury is clearly out of balance and in need of the increase of ethical principles and governmental support.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who is quoted at the beginning of this message, says in his Philosophy of Civilization, that civilization is essentially ethical in character.  The transitional nature of our present condition, moving from the end of western civilization to the birth of global civilization, is that our sense of the need for ethics has weakened, and with it the quality of civilization itself.  Our awareness of human values needs to be expanded now to include all races, cultures, and religions.  Making the transition from the predominance of western civilization over others to where a global standard is necessary takes time and patience, but we need to understand where we are going and why we now need a global ethic.

The Parliament of World Religions in 1993 introduced “A Global Ethic”, which since that time has been kept alive and further developed.  It is becoming the task of religions cooperating with each other to make clear what the global ethic will look like, and eventually to put forth a code of living that gives guidance to the emerging global civilization.  The second part of Schweitzer’s book has as its title, “Civilization and Ethics”.  In his later life, Schweitzer had a spiritual experience while on the Ogowe River in Africa, in which we became aware that the central teaching of the new ethic is “Reverence for Life”.  The Golden Rule is very similar in its focus to this teaching.

It is time that the world as a whole, and in particular the United States of America, chooses to live by a personal, social, and global ethic that is based on respect for all life.  Our survival depends upon it.

May peace prevail on earth!!!

HUMAN VALUES AND OUR ELECTION

“I believe we will have better government when men and women discuss public issues together and make their decisions on the basis of their common concern for the welfare of their families and their world.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted in Science and Spirituality, page 144

The national election which is unfolding in our midst comes at a very crucial time both in our country and around the world.  We need as our next president a person who has a unifying presence and a steady hand to cope with the many divisive forces at work in our country and throughout the planet.  We also need to have someone who can support the moral and spiritual values that are essential for the preservation and development of what makes this country outstanding and able to provide some capable leadership for the world at large.

It is not my concern to say who we should vote for, but I do feel called upon to focus our attention on the basics that matter in our carrying forth the spirit of democracy.  Abraham Lincoln spoke about that spirit as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”, and that it “should not perish from the earth”.  First of all, we need to pay attention to the political process and make sure that we are choosing the person who will be our best representative of the democratic spirit.  We need the largest possible participation in the voting on election day, and it needs to be by those who really have considered carefully what the results should be.

The spirit of mutual respect and concern which is arising in the interfaith movement gives a good indication as to the attitude that is needed as well in the political process.  Instead of criticizing each other, we are better off to focus on what each candidate has to offer and make sure that everyone has a chance to understand the real essence of what each candidate stands for.  In that way we will have a much better chance of choosing well between the various candidates that are running.

It is also important that we continue those areas that are working, as well as changing those which either are not working or are in need of improvement.  Each administration will have something new to offer, but there needs to be as much continuity as possible.

This past Tuesday was “super Tuesday”, which is when a number of states vote simultaneously. And many more state primaries and caucuses follow. It will have a very important impact on the final outcome of the election.  It is important, therefore, that each of us pay close attention to what is happening, even though Californians, where I am, will not vote until June.  May the results bring great promise for the next four years and beyond!

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!