Monday, March 21, 2011

Bridges all over the World

I like to keep track of the countries that my viewers come from, now up to 53. I wonder who these people are and what are their thoughts about achieving unity of spirit among all countries of the world. Some of my readers come from trouble spots: Iraq, Bahrain, Pakistan, South Korea  . . . .  Not that there isn't trouble everywhere in the world, but these nations and some others in particular are making headlines in the news these days. Seeing that people from these places are reading my blog reminds me that there are real individuals in those countries - they are not just the statistics we see in the newspaper.  My list of countries reminds me to send light and healing prayers to each nation where people are longing to live in peace and justice and willing to risk their lives toward that end.

Sometimes I think about the world, and how, at any one time, people are giving birth, people are dying, people are celebrating wonderful occasions, people are appreciating the beauty of the natural world, and people are suffering - from disease, famine, war, and other horrors. All of these experiences are part of life, and while I want very much to live in a world where only peace and beauty exist, I know that, at least for now, this is not a realistic dream.

Today my 18-year-old niece is having extensive surgery on a leg that was injured in a car accident Friday morning. She also broke her neck and her pelvis, but she survived the accident that killed a young man, and the driver has been arrested for DWI. This kind of tragedy may pale in comparison to  the crises in Japan and Libya, but it's the main focus of my prayers today because my love for my sister and her family is more tangible than my love for people I don't know.

Every member of the human family has burdens to bear, tragedies to endure, and losses to count. Some suffer more than others, but I don't think anyone is exempt. I believe that if human souls had wanted easy lives we would have stayed in the spiritual realm from whence we all come. We chose to come here in order to learn and grow through adversity, as well as to enjoy the material blessings of the physical world. I know my theology doesn't make sense to those who believe that our souls first came into being with this earthly life. However, the concept of choosing our life circumstances in order to grow makes sense to many, especially those who realize that life is not only eternal, but always evolving.

In these current times the hard lessons seem to be coming fast and furious. The positive side of this is that prayers and meditations for peace and healing are being sent out in greater force than ever before. More prayers create more light and love, and so the planet grows closer to being a place where peace prevails.

Seeing all of the countries from where my readers come lets me know that people everywhere are praying for oneness and looking for ways to build bridges with one another. I thank you all for being channels of blessings to our world.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Building Bridges to the Muslim World by Emily VanLaeys

The other night Mark and I attended a program at the Oneonta Unitarian Church called: "Understanding Islam: An Evening to Build Bridges." A lot of people in Oneonta and the surrounding area are interested in building bridges with people of other faiths, as proven by the excellent attendance at our annual Thanksgiving interfaith service and other events, such as this one. The attendance was so good for this dinner that people were seated at tables all over the building.

The halal meal (which abides by Muslim dietary rules) was hosted by the church’s Mali Task Force that sponsors 51 students at a private school in Mali, a West African country. The recipes were Pakistani in origin: delicious, and hot enough to clear out any sinus problems you might have had! The meal was shared by community members from many faith backgrounds, including special guests from Sidney Center’s Sufi community. 

After dinner we watched a film titled: “What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” You can see it online: The movie is based on a Gallup survey of Muslims worldwide, and includes some interesting revelations such as: only 15% of the world’s Muslims are Arab, and only 7% of them support violent terrorist tactics. The movie was followed with a question and answer period, with answers provided by a local professor of world religions, and a member of the Sufi community. Participants agreed that this was a wonderful opportunity for members of different faiths to learn more about each other.

If only more Muslims and Christians/Unitarians/Jews had such an opportunity to break bread together and talk. So much of the misunderstanding between people of different faiths and cultures stems from misinformation which is difficult to sort out without honest and open communication. I recently befriended a Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia on Facebook. She is a member of a Facebook group called “Anti-Islamaphobia.” This group posts videos and quotes with the intention of clearing up misnomers about Islam, but someone in the group has the idea that disseminating misinformation about Christianity will help their cause. 

My new friend posted this image on her FB page:
I tried to explain to her that these ideas are taken out of context from some obscure Bible passages that no Christian follows literally. She asked for the scriptural references, which I hesitated to give her because she didn't seem to understand that these ideas, being thousands of years old, do not apply to anyone today. I did give her the scripture in which Jesus saved a woman from stoning by saying to her accusers: "He who is without sin may cast the first stone."

My Saudi friend uses an internet translator to translate my English into Arabic, and vice versa. The translations are poor, and so the language barrier adds a further challenge to the differences between our cultural and religious backgrounds. I really don't know if she understands what I have tried to explain: that Jesus came to replace the old biblical laws with the divine law of love and mercy. As my communication with this woman continued, I realized that her goal was to convince me that Islam is the only way to the kingdom of heaven. She assured me that Islam recognizes Moses and Jesus as true prophets, but that Mohammed is the best and the last. She also stated that Buddha was sent by Satan, so Buddhists are actually devil worshipers!
I wish that the Gallup survey had asked how many Muslims believe that theirs is the only path to God, because it is just such exclusive thinking that leads to discord between religions. 

On the same day that my Muslim friend wrote: ". . . to say and believe there is no god except Allah and Mohammed is his messenger -- this is the key of heaven and few want to get it," I also received a message from a fundamentalist Christian who warned: "ALL other religions are false and deceptive." Words like these lead to conflict and ill-will among God's children. 

Events such as the community halal meal foster goodwill among diverse peoples. But such events assume a basic attitude: that peace and goodwill among the world's people is our shared goal, and the goal of our God -- whether that God is called Allah, Jesus, or some other name. Do we fear the torment of hell after this life, as these two internet friends think we should, or do we want to be more loving in this life, in order to end the hell on earth that is caused by pride and self-righteousness? The people of the world cannot build bridges of peace and understanding unless we agree that they must be built.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Internet Bridges

The  'Friendship Visualisation' shows pairs of friends between the world's cities. 

                 The internet is helping humanity to build bridges all around the world at an incredible speed. Spiritual networks connect people who want to learn from each other and coordinate their efforts to pray for peace and visualize heaven on earth. People of different faiths are connecting to increase understanding and tolerance. My own little blog, “Building Bridges of Oneness,” has attracted viewers from 50 countries, from every continent except Antarctica.  (Do they have internet in Antarctica?) The internet is responsible for bringing together love matches between people who would never have met otherwise. One of my cousins (from New York) is happily married and living with his wife in Mexico – a lovely Mexican woman he met on the internet! Many of the couples that I have married in my work as a wedding celebrant met on the internet. Thanks to the internet I have made new friends all over the world, including a kindred spirit living in California, who I have yet to meet in person. 

                We have all seen how social networks, and Facebook in particular, have helped people to locate lost friends and relatives, and facilitate revolutions, such as the one in Egypt. Thanks to Facebook, I have just met a lost family member, the daughter of a cousin I never knew. This branch of my family was disinherited many years ago, after my Italian Catholic uncle had married a Jewish woman, and then they couldn't agree on the religion their sons would be raised in. Rather than seeing his sons raised as Jews, my uncle chose to leave them and their mother. This is an example of how religion prevents people from making decisions based on love, rather than doctrines or religious laws. 

                Now it is time to build bridges of reconciliation between the remaining members of this family which was torn apart by stubbornness and pride so long ago. Because of religious differences, two boys grew up without a father, deprived of the extended family that I took for granted all of my life. The young woman who contacted me on Facebook grew up believing that her father’s father had been murdered, when he had been living with a new family; the ones that I knew as my aunt and cousins. Is it a coincidence that one of her brothers bears the same name that was given to the half-brother her father never met? And her other brother shares the same name as my cousin who lives in Mexico! 

Of course I loved my aunt and uncle, and the cousins I knew when I was growing up. Many mistakes were made long ago, but past sins do not preclude one’s ability to love all those involved. I hope to learn more about my disowned cousins and their children, and perhaps even meet some of them. None of the cousins involved are responsible for the mistakes of their parents or grandparents. I really hope that they will realize this so that the half-siblings and their children can extend hands of friendship across the bridge of reconciliation. What a wonderful demonstration of Love this would be – a way to honor the One who is God of Catholicism and Judaism, and strengthen the bridge between these two religions.