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!

SERVING OUR COUNTRY AND THE WORLD

-by Rev. Leland Stewart

“Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.  Help someone’s soul to heal.  Walk out of your house like a shepherd.”

  • Jelaluddin Rumi, Science and Spirituality, page 183

 

This is Memorial Day Weekend.  It is a time our country honors its veterans of military service.  It is appropriate that people who have served the United States in this way be honored.

The problem is that we are now in a state of perpetual war.  One warlike action leads to another, and at this point it appears that the process is never ending.  At some time soon we must take a different direction in order to save lives and to discover that there is a better way to live.

I have always felt that I had a mission in life that I must devote myself to fulfilling.  It was and is a mission of nonviolence, of service at a moral and spiritual level.  I could not risk going into the military service and possibly being killed in the process, because then I could not fulfill my sacred mission.

My reasons for not going into the military service were as follows:  I was 4F, which means that I was not physically fit, although at first the recruiters were going to pass me through the tests without reservation; I was 4D, which was because I was studying for the ministry at the time; and I was 1AO, which is a conscientious objector.

Conscientious objectors oppose war and their participation in it.  For me, I had another way of serving my country and the world.  Because I did not yield to going into the military service, I was able to continue with my mission from then until this day.  My mission is moving forward in increasingly important ways, but it is far from being completed.  I trust that it will continue to motivate my life until my dying way, which I hope will be numerous years into the future.  I am blessed to be able to be fulfilling my mission, and it is most of all because of the heightened energy that commitment gives me that provides energy and longevity to my life.

I would like at this time to call on others who have a similar commitment in their lives to begin working together and to devote themselves to ending war and violence at home and around the world.  This is a huge task, but the more people who have this mission, the sooner war will end and the future made more secure.

President Obama has just been in Japan and has pledged to working for the elimination of nuclear weapons.  At the same time, the United States is in the process of updating its nuclear weapons at the cost of billions of dollars.  Would we not be better off to work with the nations of the world to mutually agree to eliminate these weapons altogether?

May peace prevail on earth!

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!!!

NAVIGATING THE TURBULENCE

[editor’s note: this is an older letter by Rev. Leland Steward from Nov., 2015. Sorry, I was not able to update the site for a while]

“A great stillness steals over me and a great calm quiets my whole being when I realize Your Presence.”   –Science of Mind, quoted in Science and Spirituality, page 185

We are presently in a major time of turbulence worldwide.  What was thought to be largely a Middle East turbulence is now clearly one of a global nature.  The attacks in Paris about a week ago make that clear, as do the more recent attacks in Mali.  Who knows where the next attack might be?  It appears that nobody is safe any longer.

The question is, how do we navigate this turbulence?  Are we to give up in despair, as many have done, or are we to carry on in the faith that we have a part to play in helping bring the world back to a greater sense of normalcy?

It is having a faith that most of all helps to give us the strength to carry on and to serve the larger good.  For increasing numbers of people, the growing strength of the interfaith movement is also a source of encouragement.  The interfaith movement can be seen in several ways, but two of those ways particularly stand out.  If your relation to the movement is one of engaging in dialog, then your faith comes from another source, namely Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or one of the other existing religions.  In that case, you bring your faith to the dialog and help raise the level of consciousness.

If, on the other hand, if you are not part of the existing religions, or have gone beyond the boundaries of your previous faith, then you need to find another faith in order to be at that same level in the dialog.  If your faith is based on a connection with various religions, past and present, then interfaith for you is more than dialog, it is a source of your faith.  From this reality another kind of faith is being born.  Part of the turbulence we are now facing is coming from this changing face of religion.  One of the leaders in the interfaith movement, Canon Gwynne Guibord, calls it “Religion Inside Out”.  It is certainly creating a new reality in our time.

The turbulence now largely centers around violence and war.  The natural tendency when attacked is to attack the party that attacked you.  However, there is another way of responding to an attack, which is to respond nonviolently and seek to resolve the conflict through diplomacy or nonviolent techniques that force a change to take place.  My conviction is that nonviolence is soon going to be used worldwide to help resolve the many violent attacks now taking place.  Nonviolence is an ethical choice, and it is “a force more powerful”.  It is time that we learned about how to use nonviolence for bringing about peace in the world.  The way of violence and war is too risky in an age of nuclear and chemical weapons; we do need an alternative.

May peace prevail on earth!

MOVING TOWARD A NONVIOLENT WORLD

[editor’s note: this is an older letter by Rev. Leland Steward from Oct., 2015. Sorry, I was not able to update the site for a while]

“The non-violent approach gives (people) new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Once again, now at a college in a small Oregon town, a mentally unstable person shot and killed, as well as wounding, a large number of people.  Prayers were uttered, and many people throughout the country felt very sorry about what had happened.  What was supposed to be a place where people could come to live a safe life became a place of shock and disillusionment.

President Obama spoke very clearly and forcefully as to what was needed.  While prayer and mourning are appropriate in such a situation, they are not enough.  We are no longer a nation out on the western frontier settling new and gun-toting wildernesses.  We are a country that is being called upon to be a leader in the world and an example as to the value of the democracy we have sought to establish.  Instead, we have far more violent incidents brought on with the use of guns than any other country in the world, with the possible exception of war-torn nations such as Syria.

Our Congress points out the political influence of the National Rifle Association, which for many years has fought for gun rights and opposed any kind of gun control, saying that it is not the guns which cause the problem, but rather the mental condition of some of those who have guns.

It is time now to move beyond the influence of the NRA and other individuals and organizations that refuse to establish sensible gun controls.  Those who have mental instabilities, and those who would do others harm, should not have access to guns.  People should not have to fear for their lives when they gather in groups.  We need to do whatever it takes to become responsible, alert citizens, and to see that our laws are followed.

There are an increasing number of groups now who are working for peace, justice, and a compassionate society.  In addition to encouraging the spiritual awakening that is taking place, we have a moral obligation to create a society that is safe for its citizens.  It is now time for this effort to increasingly be successful in accomplishing these goals.  We owe it to each other and to the world.  Let us come together and see that our concerns are paid attention to and the results brought about.

May peace prevail on earth!!!

by Rev. Leland Stewart

GREED, DENIAL, AND HOPE

(A reflection after seeing Selma, shared at ICUJP, Jan. 30)

by Stephen Longfellow Fiske and at his blog as well

The capitalist corporatocracy
combined with rampant addictive militarism,
leading to suicidal empire building
under the leadership of polarized partisanship
reeks of the demise of democracy…

An infection plagues the land
a pandemic permeating the pores
of the human condition
a poison seeping into the heart
hardening the arteries of vision –
A blindness
unable to see outside itself
festering
in a famine of foresight
a blight of beneficence
a calamity of clarity
a cancer of consciousness
metastasizing through repeated histories
encoded in generational identities
ignoring the pleas for generosity
destroying the vestiges of dignity
corrupting the tenets of equality
it feeds the already satiated
gratifies the already ingratiated
bleeds the already bleeding
steals from the desperately needing
serves the already self-serving
denies the despaired and deserving
hardens the crust of the callous
prostitutes the principles of the pious
padding the pockets of power
seizing the profit of the hour
climbing on the backs of the oppressed
enslaved to this disease of the obsessed
a barbiturate of false identity
it seeds the saddest of travesties
leads to the greatest of poverties
The poverty of the soul…

Greed.

Capitalism breeds greed and greed breeds denial, the refusal to admit, recognize or face that something has occurred, something deleterious, something devastating, something that is an obvious truth to any real objective observer. Denial breeds aggressive protection of a dysfunctional status quo.

The dysfunctional status quo gets worse because trying to sustain dysfunction only exacerbates and perpetuates dysfunction.  The dysfunction festers and becomes a sickness, where mistrust, hate, bigotry, abuse and violence can thrive.  In order to heal, there needs to be a functional stability where a healing remedy and supportive environment can be provided.  But in our denial we are caught in a cycle of continual dysfunction that blinds us from facing the painful truth.  We suppress what we don’t want to see, and spiral off into an addicted acceptance of a “norm” where any part of healing is forgotten.

Isn’t it obvious that the path of war-making in the name of ‘the War on Terror” that this country has followed since 9/11 has destabilized the world while catalyzing and growing terrorism into a global horror reality?

Isn’t it obvious that corporate CEOs earning 300-400 times as much as the average employee, and that the 1% owning 50% of the world wealth, comprise a gaping inequity that wrenches the guts out of the true democracy articulated in the founding documents of this nation?  Hasn’t it been obvious throughout history that such inequity brings extreme societal suffering, turbulence and upheaval?

Isn’t it obvious that in the world’s richest country, where one out of three children live in poverty, where the homeless occupy the corners begging for handouts, where the middle class dwindles, where college students graduate in overwhelming debt, where infrastructure crumbles and racism shows its ugly face as young blacks are murdered by white cops in our streets and people of difference are stigmatized and marginalized, while global warming and fossil fuel addiction continue to devastate our life support system – our earth – isn’t it obvious that the way of greed, denial, and the reckless addiction to military spending  and war making is the wrong road for building a healthy, thriving nation and a global economy that works for everyone?  Not to mention a peaceful world?

But we Americans walk through our days in a kind of hypnotic haze, still holding on to the fantasy that the American Dream is alive and well while we slip deeper into the maze of denial.  We become cynical and lose interest in the most sacred element of democracy, the vote, as the bickering ineptitude of congress undermines the faith and trust of the electorate.  The recklessness and costliness of U.S. foreign policy and militarism continues to bleed the needs of the people and has brought American prestige in the international community to plummet.  More importantly, we seem to have lost interest in the one area that has always made a difference in history; the mass rising-up of the people in populist movements to resist injustice, oppression, and political misdirection.

With the stunning Academy disregard for Selma, one is again reminded, that much as Martin Luther King was an upstart underdog against a goliath entrenched system, Selma is a rarity amongst the onslaught of sensationalist and violent entertainment we see in movies, television and video games. The movie stands tall in reminding us of the transcendental impact of art on society, that bigotry can be uprooted, that people of vision and courage can act together to create positive change, that a minority voice speaking truth to power can instill a people’s movement and shift the power structure, and that America is still capable of self-examination and revolutionary transformation.  Selma may be only a reminder, not a slayer of a system of greed, denial and bigotry, but a breath of hope in a seemingly dismal forecast.  And the movie has given non-violence a dignified presence in the midst of the gratuitous violence that pervades the movie landscape.

Selma touches us again with the impact of history, the lessons still to be learned, and invokes us to take a good look at where we still fester in racism, bigotry, greed, denial and dysfunction.

The movie re-affirms that the vision Dr. King articulated so eloquently for America,  uprooting bigotry, injustice and oppression through the strategy of non-violence,  reaches deep into the heart of democracy,   to the foundation  of all humanity’s quest for a just and peaceful world.

In this we can find hope, take strength in each other,  to be with those that Martin Luther King called ”the veterans of Creative suffering,”  acting in “the fierce urgency of now.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF RESPECT

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.  A nation does not have to be cruel in order to be tough.

– Franklin Roosevelt, qtd. in Science and Spirituality, page 160

The violent events that took place in Paris in the last few days bring up two principles that seem to be in conflict with each other.  One is freedom of speech, and the other is the need to avoid violence.  A magazine in Paris prided itself on its satirizing of important matters: in this case the person of Islam’s prophet Mohammed.  Instead of treating him as the revered figure he is for millions of Muslims, he was belittled and made light of.

The contrast was that religions are supposed to be nonviolent and respectful of different opinions.  It is well known that Muslims are very sensitive about how their religious leader is treated.  The magazine did not take that into account in its pages.  While one can say that the principle of free speech would allow different opinions to be aired, it is not respectful to downgrade any individual, and especially the head of a religion who is held in high esteem by millions of people.

These two contrasting principles came into conflict in Paris because of the way in which the magazine pushed the limits of free speech.  The result was a violent confrontation that resulted in the death of a number of people and the unsettling of a major city and its surrounding communities.

One of the most needed attitudes in order to have a world at peace is respect.  The world’s religions generally teach respect as one of their most important values.  In the present period of transition, this sacred value and others have found themselves ignored, with other lesser values take their place.  The situation in Paris is a good illustration as to what can happen when the basic human values, which are supposed to be taught and followed by religions, are not kept in the consciousness of the world’s peoples.

Perhaps the simplest way of teaching this principle so that it is remembered and applied is The Golden Rule, which now is most quoted as “Treat others as you would have them treat you”.  UDC’s Interfaith Celebration in the Los Angeles area has been focusing for the last year on developing a Global Code of Living.  Now that we have entered 2015, which is UDC’s 50thanniversary, we are moving into applying the teachings of a Global Code of Living.  We invite those who are concerned about having such a code of living as guidelines for our present and future ways to live are invited to join us in this effort.

Spirit is One; paths are many!

~Rev. Leland Stewart

BEYOND RIGHT AND WRONG: A New Way of Seeing Ethical Behavior

“Seek good and not evil, that you may live, and so God will be a part of you. Hate evil, love good; and establish justice in the gate. …I hate, I despise your feasts; I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Take away from me the noise of your songs, to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream.”
-Amos, Old Testament, Science and Spirituality, page 387

The above quotation from the Book of Amos in the Christian Old Testament gives a clear statement about the traditional idea of good and evil.  We are to seek good and to overcome evil.  Justice and righteousness are to be sought, and the paths of carousing and ignoring of these virtues are to be shunned.  There is much to be said in behalf of these teachings, and yet there is more.  It seems that in the “more” is where we are getting lost today as we remain addicted to war and violence.

The recently created DVD called “Beyond Right and Wrong” does a good job of presenting an alternative view of justice and forgiveness, brought forward in stories throughout this important presentation.  We were to see the short version of this DVD at Peace Sunday, but circumstances changed the picture and it did not get shown.  I wanted to bring it to your attention and to invite you to see the film for yourself.

Some years ago there was a family in this area of the United States whose daughter wanted to go to Africa to see the countryside and to help with some of that continent’s problems.  She was in her late teens, and she went by herself.  During her stay she was attacked and killed by a group of older men, who for some reason felt that she was a threat to their continent.

Her mother and father were very concerned about what had happened, but instead of being angry and resentful, they also went to Africa to find out more about what had happened.  They eventually found the men who had killed their daughter, and they spoke with them about the crime they had committed.  The men realized how wrong they were to have killed the young woman, and they got to know the mother and father; eventually the two parents ended up staying with the killers, and a whole new relationship was built.

Some of you may have heard a statement from the poet Rumi, where he said that somewhere there is a field which is beyond right and wrong, and that he would meet others there.  It is the same idea expressed in a somewhat different way.  We are not saying that there should be no penalty for wrongdoing, but that beyond the penalty there are the human relationships to be considered.  When Mahatma Gandhi was killed, he forgave the man who had killed him.  When Nelson Mandela was kept in prison for twenty-seven years because of South Africa’s policy of apartheid (keeping blacks and whites separate in an obvious commitment to the superiority of the white population), Mandela forgave his captors and went on to become South Africa’s first black president.

Today we are being called upon to have a major shift in consciousness and to apply the practices of nonviolence to replace war and violence, to re-establish the sacredness of life, and to find diplomatic ways of solving the many problems facing the emerging global community.  War is now obsolete, and it is time to stop engaging in its destructive ways.  It is time to wage peace using nonviolent means, so that moral and spiritual values can once again be in the forefront of our awareness.

The United Nations can help in that process, since its original purpose was to “eliminate the scourge of war”.  Now is an especially good time to get the U.N. to be more active in pursuing that purpose, since next year is its seventieth anniversary.