Tag Archives: interfaith

In Solidarity…Images of Hope and Peace

These are just a few of the photos I took this afternoon at a peaceful rally. It took place on a rather chilly and windy afternoon in the shadow of city hall. It was simply a gathering of peaceful souls to show solidarity and respect and appreciation for not only our current Muslim brothers and sisters that live with us, but also those to come. The speakers represented leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths and other activists as well. They were inspiring and inspired to say the least. A couple of the speakers cited the quotes from the Golden Rule, and this gathering of people was surely a living example of it (to read fourteen quotes of the Golden Rule for multiple religions that use different words to basically say the same thing, click here). But one of the best, if not funniest, quotes I heard…”Donald Trump we denounce you!” Anyhow, even though I didn’t stay for the last part of this event I am really glad to have gone. Really beautiful; really inspiring. Peace. Salaam. Shalom.

Urban Simplicity.

Peace. Free Stuff.

What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding.”

~Nick Lowe

Precarious. That’s the word that came to mind this morning when thinking about the times in which we live. That could also have been a good descriptor of my emotional state as I rode my bike to a coffee shop. Has the world and everyone in it gone insane? There is just so much darkness. So much disconnect. Yesterday’s shootings are just the tip of the iceberg; just one in many destructive things that are happening as I type these very words. And then I came upon the scene pictured above. An apartment on South Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo with a table out front on the sidewalk. A few odds and ends; nothing of any real value. But rather than throw them in the trash they took the time to set up a table, lay the items out, and make a sign…Peace; Free Stuff. They took the time to offer this stuff to someone who may need it. It brought a smile to my face then just as it does now. And it made me remember that there is still good.

With all the recent events I will be honest and say that I feel somewhat helpless. How can I possibly make a difference in this world. A difference in anything. And then I saw this and it made me remember. It made me remember that goodness can happen in really small steps. The words of a local and inspiring retired clergyman, the Reverend Phil Smith, came to mind (and I’m paraphrasing)…”America is really good at waging war, the best in the world in fact, but what we really need is to wage peace.”

Our society is seriously broken. And by “our” I don’t just mean American. We really need to do something, but what? What can we as individuals do to make a difference? What came to me was that we as individuals do need to wage peace at a personal level. Simply being nice to people in your own little world, regardless of their gender, skin color, or religion. Help people whenever you can. Maybe it can have a ripple effect.

I really do worry about the next generation, my son’s generation. And his children’s generation after him. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am waiting for the next MLK or Gandhi to appear to inspire us into a revolution, to change things and turn us around to face things differently…to wake us up. Though I’m not sure we’d recognize the next prophet if they did appear on the scene…we don’t have enough space for them. But I also think how it can be us. It can be us to make small changes each day to make ourselves as a society that much more…well, societal.

If we did this maybe it would stop that one person from doing something terrible. Maybe it would stop that one single person and make them think that they shouldn’t do the terrible act they had in mind. Maybe it would soften their heart enough to see the consequences. Maybe it would make them realize that they are loved and they themselves can in fact be love. And if our kindness changed even one single person that would be enough. But then maybe it would have a ripple effect.

We, as collective consciousness, really need to look within. It’s not us against them, or vice versa. It’s just us, the people of planet earth. We really need to do this if we want to survive.

And this is what I was thinking when my heart was warmed when I saw a little table of things out that were offered free for the taking as I was riding my bike to a coffee shop on a grey and chilly December morning.

This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.

John 15:12

Urban Simplicity

Peace. Free Stuff.

What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding.”
~Nick Lowe

Precarious. That’s the word that came to mind this morning when thinking about the times in which we live. That could also have been a good descriptor of my emotional state as I rode my bike to a coffee shop. Has the world and everyone in it gone insane? There is just so much darkness. So much disconnect. Yesterday’s shootings are just the tip of the iceberg; just one in many destructive things that are happening as I type these very words. And then I came upon the scene pictured above. An apartment on South Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo with a table out front on the sidewalk. A few odds and ends; nothing of any real value. But rather than throw them in the trash they took the time to set up a table, lay the items out, and make a sign…Peace; Free Stuff. They took the time to offer this stuff to someone who may need it. It brought a smile to my face then just as it does now. And it made me remember that there is still good.

With all the recent events I will be honest and say that I feel somewhat helpless. How can I possibly make a difference in this world. A difference in anything. And then I saw this and it made me remember. It made me remember that goodness can happen in really small steps. The words of a local and inspiring retired clergyman, the Reverend Phil Smith, came to mind (and I’m paraphrasing)…”America is really good at waging war, the best in the world in fact, but what we really need is to wage peace.”

Our society is seriously broken. And by “our” I don’t just mean American. We really need to do something, but what? What can we as individuals do to make a difference? What came to me was that we as individuals do need to wage peace at a personal level. Simply being nice to people in your own little world, regardless of their gender, skin color, or religion. Help people whenever you can. Maybe it can have a ripple effect.

I really do worry about the next generation, my son’s generation. And his children’s generation after him. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am waiting for the next MLK or Gandhi to appear to inspire us into a revolution, to change things and turn us around to face things differently…to wake us up. Though I’m not sure we’d recognize the next prophet if they did appear on the scene…we don’t have enough space for them. But I also think how it can be us. It can be us to make small changes each day to make ourselves as a society that much more…well, societal.

If we did this maybe it would stop that one person from doing something terrible. Maybe it would stop that one single person and make them think that they shouldn’t do the terrible act they had in mind. Maybe it would soften their heart enough to see the consequences. Maybe it would make them realize that they are loved and they themselves can in fact be love. And if our kindness changed even one single person that would be enough. But then maybe it would have a ripple effect.

We, as collective consciousness, really need to look within. It’s not us against them, or vice versa. It’s just us, the people of planet earth. We really need to do this if we want to survive.

And this is what I was thinking when my heart was warmed when I saw a little table of things out that were offered free for the taking as I was riding my bike to a coffee shop on a grey and chilly December morning.

This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.
John 15:12

Urban Simplicity

Birthday Thoughts…

Birthday thoughts, but first this…

Joseph George was the father of George Joseph George
Who in turn became the father of Joseph Edward George
But at the same time was still the son of Joseph George
And Joseph Edward George became the father of Isaac Joseph George
But at the same time is still the son of George Joseph George
And also the grandson of Joseph George

More than 90 years ago Joseph George set foot in the great land of America. This was my grandfather. I don’t remember him as he passed away when I was very young. He and his much younger bride, Mary (my sitti, or grandmother), could neither read or write (as far as I know). They came to this country after beating the unbelievable odds of escaping the great Lebanese famine during WWI where hundreds of thousands perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. My grandparents had nine children, including their eldest son, George, my dad. He spoke Arabic before he spoke English (so I am told), as did his siblings. They didn’t learn English until they went to school. My dad, who by some politician’s definition would have been considered an “anchor baby,” went on to defend our country in WWII and was deaf in one ear because of it. He also married my mom, Marilyn (nee Enser), and would have four kids, including me. My dad didn’t speak Arabic to us kids, as he wanted us to be American. He worked hard, two or three jobs at a time to support his family, and paid his taxes. So here I am, an American. Separated from the “old country” by one generation. So why am I saying this? Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my middle age. But really it’s because of the recent events in Paris. It troubles me of the Islamophobia I’ve seen and heard since then, both blatant and not. Personally, I believe this comes from fear…fear of the unknown. Not all Muslims are Jihadists in the same way that not all Christians are akin to the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church. The Muslims that I know are peace-filled and family oriented. I remember the altar my grandmother had in her bedroom, which was just off the kitchen, where everyone always gathered. Being a devout Catholic, she had images of Jesus and Mary, and of course a cross. She also had a candle for my Uncle Raymond, who I never met. And later, I’m sure, a candle for my dad, who transitioned at such a young age. Once, when I was a young teenager and came there with my cousin with our two girlfriends—sisters—who had Muslim last names, she brought us all in to see her altar. And it’s interesting to think that I was slightly embarrassed at the time—that my grandmother had an altar in her room—as I now find myself with a small altar in my room. Another time, I remember being alone in the kitchen as a young boy, and seeing her on her knees praying, and crying. She of course was speaking in Arabic and I was too shy to ask her what she was saying. I can only imagine what my grandparents went through to assimilate into this country, in the same way immigrants are today. Today was my 54th birthday, and tonight two of my sisters, my son, and I went to Lebanese restaurant for dinner. We struggled with some of the words on the menu, but the flavors of the food were the same. There are so many good people that we sometimes forget this. Not just family and friends but people we work with or those we don’t know. The Statue of Liberty was of course given to us by the French, and it is also the first thing many of our ancestors saw when they arrived here. Yesterday President Obama reminded us that France was our oldest ally. A hundred years ago the face of our country changed drastically with the immigrants that arrived here, and today it is doing the same thing. My hope is that we don’t build a wall (one literal or a metaphorical one in our hearts) but we open our arms (and hearts and minds) with welcome. There is so much disconnect in the world that now is the time for solidarity, both in our own country and elsewhere. I see so many people posting on Facebook about the evils of religion, and rightly so…there has been so much bad done in the name of religion, but there is also so much good done, too. Religion in itself is not the enemy, nor are people different than us. Darkness may hover for a while, but it in itself cannot make a room dark. One can bring light into a darkened room and make it light, but darkness cannot remove that light. My hope is that we become that light, are that light. All of us. And this is what I was thinking on a seasonably chilly ride home from a restaurant tonight. Peace be upon you.

Thoughts from a pew…

My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.
~Jimmy Carter
I sat in a pew this morning, the first time in more than a month. I’m not sure why it’s been this long without attending the church which I love, but it has. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been to worship since then. I like to think that I worship the Divine (or God, or Universe, or Spirit, or whatever name you feel most comfortable with) on a daily basis. I worship this Presence when I ride my bike, for example, and when I take photos, and when I have a meaningful interaction with someone, be it a friend, family, co-worker, or complete stranger. I also worship this Presence when I lay in bed in the morning just after the alarm goes off and it’s the beginning of a new day. Because, to me, God is in all things (including you and I) and is, in fact, what makes each one of us connected to and inseparable from not only each other in some indescribable way, but also the very source (or consciousness) from which we came and will return. So today I worshiped the Divine more formally, in church. And it felt good.

The guest preacher spoke on the Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books in the New Testament and is attributed to James the brother of Jesus. It’s a somewhat small book but has a powerful and straightforward message. Some say it is a blueprint for daily living. Personally, it has had a profound effect on me and I return to it often. To me, the book is a synopsis of what Christianity at it’s core is about…not just having faith in a Higher Power, but having action as well.

Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” 
James 2:17

This morning, before leaving the house, as I was having coffee and scrolling through Facebook I came across a photo of Hungarian citizens lining a highway with crates of food and other necessities. They were just average citizens and not affiliated with any government organization. They were lining the highway with food because they knew that soon, very soon, there would be thousands of refugees walking that road. The image was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.

Humans helping other humans is faith in action. But it goes beyond that, I think. Because this is something that is written on each of our hearts, whether or not you have faith in anything, or whether or not you care to admit it. Deep down each of us knows this.

Inversely, a judge denying other humans of a very basic right because of “her religion” is not faith at all. And deep down—somewhere beneath the crust of her hardened heart—she knows this too. But she will not allow herself to see it. If she did read the scriptures of her so called religion she would see that Jesus spoke of inclusiveness, not exclusivity.

Prior to the preacher’s sermon this morning, a deacon read from the Book of Matthew…

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
Matthew 7:12a

What’s interesting, I think is that this statement—which is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule—is stated in many variations in nearly every major religion and spiritual movement. Jesus himself says this rather bluntly at the end of the statement…“For this sums up the law of the profits.” Matthew 7:12b

Here’s a few examples…

Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself. 
Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. 
Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. 
Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. 
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
Native American: Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself. 

Then, during worship this morning, as the congregation stood and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison, it moved me as it often does. The words themselves move me, but so does the thought of so many others around the globe saying this prayer (possibly at that same moment). I hope that some of us—myself included—listened to what we were saying, letting the words sink in and take root.

Last year when I was in NYC I witnessed something I will never forget. A homeless man asked a person to buy him a hotdog from a street vender because he was hungry. The person he asked (wearing a suit) not only bought him food, but he bought himself some as well and then sat on the sidewalk and ate with the man. To me that was not only worship, it was holy communion (Namaste…the soul within me acknowledges the soul within you).

Just being nice to one another—and seeing each person as an equal—can make such a difference in someone’s day (including your own). It’s not always easy but it is possible. When I write these things I am doing so because sometimes they just need to come out, but mostly because I need reminders for myself. And in a way, this in itself, I suppose, is a form of worship, and when you read this we are in sanctuary together.

And this is what I was thinking about as I sat in a pew on a hot and humid Sunday morning in September.

My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.
~The Dalai Lama 

Urban Simplicity.

Another face, another very real story…

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:35-36

This post is a continuation of one I wrote nearly a month ago regarding the homeless in our city (click here to read it). In that post I mentioned witnessing a women being verbally abused while asking a group of young party goers for some spare change, and also of a man I spoke with who asked me for money on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He told me that he worked full-time (for minimum wage) but still had to beg on the street to support himself. The image above is of Sarah. I met her today while out on my bike. When I saw her sign it was as if my bike stopped itself. After giving her some cash she seemed a bit apprehensive when I asked her if I could take her photo. I told her that I have a blog, work as a chef, and am also an interfaith minister…she then looked at me like I was a bit crazy (and rightly so). Anyhow, we both relaxed and we had a nice but brief chat, this is her story. She’s a single mom just as the sign reads. She and her daughter are currently squatting in an undisclosed vacant house with a few other people. They eat mainly at food pantries and with money she earns on the street. She became homeless after her father–in an alcoholic rage–through her and his grand daughter out in the middle of the night. She has had difficulty getting/holding a job because she suffers from crohn’s disease and is concerned about her daughter’s safety. I have always been moved by seeing people on the street. And as a person of faith I literally cannot help but respond. But in my own personal view I am not doing enough. While I believe that all faiths speak the same truth, I call myself a Christian. And to me, being a Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday mornings, it is a call to action. If I truly were to live out the gospel I would have emptied my wallet to Sarah (OK, I nearly did…but trust me it wasn’t much; I rarely have more than a few dollars on me), or I would have helped in other ways. Tonight when I lay my head on my pillow in my own home with a full belly Sarah and her daughter will be in an abandoned home somewhere. And yes, I am fully aware that she and others I have spoken with and given cash to may be making this all up, that they may in fact be asking for money to support a drug or alcohol habit. But then again, maybe they are not. And if they are not I can’t he;p but wonder how I couldn’t be doing more. Because seriously, as you read this, think about it…what if their stories are true. I’ll get off my little soapbox now, but not before I ask you to watch the below video (it’s only a little over a minute long).

Urban Simplicity.

Another face, another very real story…

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

This post is a continuation of one I wrote nearly a month ago regarding the homeless in our city (click here to read it). In that post I mentioned witnessing a women being verbally abused while asking a group of young party goers for some spare change, and also of a man I spoke with who asked me for money on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He told me that he worked full-time (for minimum wage) but still had to beg on the street to support himself. The image above is of Sarah. I met her today while out on my bike. When I saw her sign it was as if my bike stopped itself. After giving her some cash she seemed a bit apprehensive when I asked her if I could take her photo. I told her that I have a blog, work as a chef, and am also an interfaith minister…she then looked at me like I was a bit crazy (and rightly so). Anyhow, we both relaxed and we had a nice but brief chat, this is her story. She’s a single mom just as the sign reads. She and her daughter are currently squatting in an undisclosed vacant house with a few other people. They eat mainly at food pantries and with money she earns on the street. She became homeless after her father–in an alcoholic rage–threw her and his grand daughter out in the middle of the night. She has had difficulty getting/holding a job because she suffers from crohn’s disease and is concerned about her daughter’s safety. I have always been moved by seeing people on the street. And as a person of faith I literally cannot help but respond. But in my own personal view I am not doing enough. While I believe that all faiths speak the same truth, I call myself a Christian. And to me, being a Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday mornings, it is a call to action. If I truly were to live out the gospel I would have emptied my wallet to Sarah (OK, I nearly did…but trust me it wasn’t much; I rarely have more than a few dollars on me), or I would have helped in other ways. Tonight when I lay my head on my pillow in my own home with a full belly Sarah and her daughter will be in an abandoned home somewhere. And yes, I am fully aware that she and others I have spoken with and given cash to may be making this all up, that they may in fact be asking for money to support a drug or alcohol habit. But then again, maybe they are not. And if they are not I can’t help but wonder how I couldn’t be doing more. Because seriously, as you read this, think about it…what if their stories are true. I’ll get off my little soapbox now, but not before I ask you to watch the below video (it’s only a little over a minute long).

Urban Simplicity.

Five or Fourteen Quotes on the Golden Rule…


I find this amazing…that the Golden Rule (or the Original Truth), which of course is a blueprint on how we as humans should treat one another, is said across the board in every religion, faith, and non-faith. While the actual words that are said may change, these all still say the same thing…be nice to one another! This is so easy but also so difficult. Such a simple task but we still don’t seem to grasp it, at least not entirely (I speak for myself here). Anyhow, this is by no means a a complete list–just a few that stood out to me–and they are in no particular order.

Christianity


So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12


Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 39


Judaism


Love your neighbor as yourself.

Leviticus 19:18


What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.

The Talmud


Hinduism


This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

Mahabharata 5:1517


Islam


None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.

Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.”


Native American


Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself.

Pima proverb


Taoism


Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.

T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien.


The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others.

Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49


Zoroastrianism


Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.
Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29


Jainism


A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.

Sutrakritanga 1.11.33


Buddhism


Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Udana-Varga 5:18


Confucianism


Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.

Analects 15:23


Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.

Mencius VII.A.4


More Five Quotes.
Urban Simplicity.