Saturday, September 17, 2011

Building peace through tolerance

10th Anniversary 9-11 attacks
Sunday, September 11, 2011 marked the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.  Every year, in the days leading up to the anniversary, there is prolonged reflection of that terrible day on television, radio, and in the press.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, it’s time to stop the obsessive yearly commemoration of the 9-11 attacks.  The unveiling of the memorial monument at Ground Zero was a fitting commemoration of the 10th anniversary.  Perhaps the beautiful and peaceful memorial will help the collective American consciousness achieve a measure of closure.

Reviewing footage of the attacks on a yearly basis feeds fear and nurtures animosity towards Muslims and Islamic countries. Looking back on that day has the effect of entrenching isolationism, which encourages an “us versus them” attitude that is not helpful for building peace in today’s world.

2nd Global Conference on World's Religions
Coinciding with the 10th anniversary, McGill University and the University of Montreal organized the 2nd Global Conference on World’s Religions. The conference is a grassroots effort to promote inter-faith dialogue between believers and non-believers.  The role of the world’s religions in building peace was the topic for discussion this year. 

(Link to conference home page:

The conference culminated in a debate on articles for inclusion in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World’s Religions, a document that builds on the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The conference hopes to extend the declaration’s influence so that the declaration will be “the common standard of achievement for the followers of all religions or none.”  The additional articles are intended to promote religious tolerance, presumably with the aim of building peace.

Given the historical legacy of religious intolerance, achieving world peace through religion has a dream-like quality. Dialogue between moderate people of different faiths will never eliminate the fanatics. There will always be extremists who twist the teachings of their religion, and misuse its sacred scriptures to further their own sinful agendas.  Still, dialogue is essential to creating a climate of tolerance and understanding that will help nations overcome the “us versus them” mindset.

Dalai Lama: people misuse religion
In his remarks at the conference, the Dalia Lama spoke about the relationship between religion and people. Religions are not the problem; “it’s the person who uses (religion), who makes it wrong.” Religions, he said, share the common values of love, compassion, tolerance, self-discipline and forgiveness.  It’s human beings that cause trouble because of the destructive emotions of fear, anger, distrust, jealousy, and hatred.

Restless for peace
Our humanness interferes with peace. The human condition is such that we are always restless. Even within our own self, we are more accustomed to tension and struggle than to peace. On those occasions when we do experience inner peace, it is temporary and fleeting.

Within our closest relationships, we experience misunderstanding and conflict.  Even in small faith communities, which should be places of harmony, there is dissension. Human interactions - at home, at work, at play, at worship - are subject to harmony and disharmony.

Since we are incapable of sustaining peace at the personal level, we should not be surprised that world peace is as ephemeral as a dream.  Despite it’s elusiveness, peace is worth striving for in our hearts and in our world. If people were to stop dreaming about peace, the world would be even more of a muck.

Building peace
Terrorist attacks and conflicts around the world remind us that it is insufficient to dream about peace. We need to cultivate the dream through acts of justice, through social policies that enable people to live with dignity, and through foreign policy that respects the rights of others and their environment, and that prefers diplomacy to military intervention in so far as possible.

The 9-11 attacks tell a horrific tale of intolerance and hatred, perpetrated in the name of religion. Intolerance flourishes when people refuse to see the manifestation of God in other faiths and in other people. There will be no peace in the world until people exchange intolerance and hatred for understanding and love.

The religions of the world can help build a more peaceful world by proclaiming the shared human values that the Dalai Lama enunciated. Properly understood and practiced, religion challenges individuals to become better versions of themselves, to become kinder, more compassionate, and more forgiving human beings.

Peace begins in the human heart, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…Let me walk with my family in peace and harmony.”  We are all part of the human family, regardless of religious belief. There is no “us” and “them.”
(Link to information on, "Let there be peace": 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jack Layton: A spirituality of service

Jack Layton touched a lot of Canadians. In the tough gig of politics, earning the respect of so many people, regardless of their political affiliation, is no easy task. That Layton did so, speaks volumes about him.

Layton’s personal charisma played a determining role in the NDP success of the last federal election. He was able to convince voters, particularly in Quebec, that he had a vision for Canada that was achievable. Even those who did not buy into his vision, or into the policies that he proposed, would admit that they liked the man.

I think what touched Canadians about Mr. Layton was his quality of authenticity.  His smile, his sense of humor, his endless optimism, and the genuineness of his concern for people were refreshing.

Layton on the role of faith
The last line of Layton’s letter to Canadians made me think of a frequently quoted scripture passage. In Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “And now, faith, hope and love, abide. These three: and the greatest of these is love.”

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addresses a number of problems. One of the major problems was that social divisions based on wealth threatened the cohesiveness of the community. In this context, Paul wrote about love, and urged the community to infuse itself with the kind of love that looks to the needs of others.

Layton concluded his letter to Canadians with the lines, My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” 
Those who knew Layton described him as optimistic, hopeful and caring. Because these traits are so closely connected to the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, defined in the writings of Paul, I began to wonder about the influence of Christianity on Layton’s ethic of service.  I didn’t have to look far for an answer.
In 2008, Listen Up, a program that looks at current events from a Christian perspective, asked politicians about their faith. Layton described faith as playing an active role in his life.  In that interview, Layton spoke about the influence of the youth movement of the United Church on his life.  As a teen, he recalled telling his father that they needed to make Bible Study more relevant if they were to attract other young people. They changed the name from the “Bible Study Class” to “The Infusers.” “The idea,” Layton said, “was that you could infuse your ideas, and your work, and your enthusiasm into the community.”  The experience of community involvement nurtured through the Infusers was formative to Layton’s commitment to service. (Access the clip on YouTube,
"Well done, good and faithful servant."
At Layton’s funeral, Reverent Brent Hawkes spoke about the conversation the two men had when it became obvious that death was imminent. Hawkes recalled saying to Layton that soon he would hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The quotation is from the parable of the talents related in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25.

Parable of the Talents
Courtesy of
Briefly, the parable goes like this. The master entrusts three servants with a sum of money to invest in his absence. He praises the servants who invest wisely. He chastises and sends away the servant who does nothing with the talent entrusted to him. The parable is usually interpreted to mean that individuals have a responsibility to use their gifts to serve God.

The parable leads into a discourse that suggests a proper use for an individual’s gifts. Principles of social justice are at the heart of this discourse.  Justice and love are expressed in the concrete ways we care for those who are less privileged and more vulnerable. Individuals are to use their gifts to create and sustain a more just society, to change the world. For many Christians, this section of Matthew, with its ethic of service to others, is the essence of the teaching of Jesus.
(Click the link below to read Matthew 25. The parable of the talents begins with verse 14.

Spirituality informs a person's life
Hawkes described Layton as a man who was private about his spirituality. But, a person’s spirituality can never be totally private. Spirituality manifests itself in the person’s choices and actions. It informs the person’s life.
There are different ways to live spirituality. Layton demonstrated a spirituality of service, nurtured in the crucible of the Infusers. The question for us is, “How does my spirituality infuse the world?”