JE SUIS CHARLIE

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

I stand with the people of France.

I stand with all people who advocate for justice. Justice, someone once said, is what love looks like in practice for all people, and I believe it is the only way to peace for us all.

The terror attacks this week in France are shocking; perhaps no more so than other acts of terror that have taken place in other cities, or the reprehensible violence which occurs in the many wars, in places such as Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, or even the annual loss of 30,000 plus lives from gun violence on the streets of the United States, but nonetheless, they are shocking.

But what is different this time is the character of the response. The groundswell of the response across the spectrum of French society, and beyond to the broad swath of humanity has been remarkable for all the right reasons. It is not simply the universal condemnation, but more important, the strength of the demonstration that we as a people will not be afraid, and we will not be divided. There is a tidal wave of energy to include, to tolerate, and even to accept.

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

The millions unified in the streets is a forceful affirmation that we overcome evil with good. The enlightened path of our cultural traditions all teach that evil is overcome not by resisting it, which usually excuses us doing more evil, but by doing justice, and bringing everyone into community.

There is no question that there are many different and even contrary agendas present. To some this is about freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, democracy, shared values, or our way of life. Some are simply political, or opportunistic. I do not think it matters.

These acts of violence were wrong, however provocative or offensive the cartoons may have been to some. This most basic human right must transcend all humanity. The taking of life may be excusable but it is never justifiable. And this time the people of France got that right.

Citizens carrying a banner which reads, "We're all French today" take part in a Hundreds of thousands of French citizens solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris

The world is more crowded and grows smaller every day. It is our destiny to become more multi-cultural. This is a good thing. Our evolutionary experience makes us afraid of change, keeps us tribal, and afraid of the other. But life is change. Our very bodies are changing at the cellular level.  Not to change is to die.

The problem of religious extremism is complex. Religious conflicts are rarely ever really about religion. Their root cause, as with most conflicts, is injustice. Injustice is the engine that drives these conflicts, religion is simply one of the high octane fuels used.

We keep responding with more security, and greater violence. These alone have only spawned more conflict, less security and less freedom. Standing in solidarity with the marchers in Paris will not solve this crisis, but it is an important, and often overlooked first step to finding a solution.

The values of tolerance, respect, peace, and love are the guiding principles that will heal our divisions, and this will occur when we demonstrate justice with an inclusive and collective voice. Je Suis Charlie is a good place to begin.

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GAZA, EBOLA, IMMIGRATION: BETTER KIND THAN RIGHT

The world is a wondrous place made ugly by selfishness and greed. These are the real threats to our security and it is the responsibility of each of us to fight back with love, mercy and justice.

A television commentator observed recently that humans are the only specie that has to constantly relearn what it means to be themselves, i.e. human.

Our history is one of each generation relearning what it means to identify with the other as himself, or seeing the other as equally human. The history of race in America is an example of this failure.

To counter this we all have a responsibility to share the wisdom of our experiences, open to the potential of learning as well as teaching, and it doesn’t matter if it’s been said before.

The current acrimony in our public spaces blots out any consensus of a common humanity. This may be more perception than reality. But in this age of instant access, controlled by corporate immorality, the extremes have greater motivation and are noisier, and there is real danger of perception becoming the only reality.

This is evident in every hot button issue. From the hostility towards the children caught in the immigration purgatory, to the vitriolic fear surrounding caring for 2 citizens who’ve contracted the Ebola virus, and the disproportionate killing of children taking place in Gaza in the name of security, to name a few.

The majority of mankind lay claim to belief in a God. Whatever one’s attitude on the subject, human history has distilled the core of this belief system down to one central principle, do unto others as you would they do unto you or love your neighbor as yourself.

This mirrors our social evolution which shows  our fragile existence hinges on our ability to understand that our fate is inextricably woven together, no matter how insulated we feel from one another.

One is repeatedly confounded by those of all religious persuasions, wrapped in allegiance to a God of love, who are always ready to choose war over justice, cannot see the love of their own children in the eyes of another frightened child, and who choose fear over mercy for fellow Christians spreading their faith. One national spokesperson even asked why were they working in the “diseased cesspools of Africa”. Glib statements may reinforce needy egos, but anything that dehumanizes one dehumanizes all.

Love and mercy are not cheap.  Turning the other cheek requires accepting the risk of getting hit in order to end the cycle of violence. If the choice is between being right and being kind, it is better to be kind.

This may seem Pollyannaish, but if we begin in small ways to affirm our humanity it will carry over to the larger issues. The ability of good to transform evil remains our best hope, not doing the same or greater evil.  So, haltingly or otherwise let’s live it as best we can.children_on_border

My Response to a Study in Arab Mentality

My blogging compatriot and spiritual friend Jalal gave a well reasoned and thought provoking assessment of the Arab personality in his recent blog. http://mysuccessisyoursuccess.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/a-study-in-arab-mentality-personality-deficiency/  He raises an important issue and I hope he takes my response in the spirit of a friendly discourse in which it is intended.

This is a very damning assessment of the Arab experience. I view it from the distance of the experience of a black American who knows relatively little about the day to day experience of the Arab. However I believe in the universality of the human spirit, and the potential for growth and change. Accepting arguendo that all these observations are true, the relevant questions are, what should the characteristic of the Arab be? (Not necessarily a uniform answer), why they are the way they are and most important how do we affect change for the better?

I cannot agree with the conclusion that “They will always be divided, fighting each other, hating each other and betraying each other.”

The human mind can change. Yes it is a difficult process that takes generations in some cases. But a life lived trying to affect change that will result in a more loving world is time well spent. This is where our individual and corporate responsibilities meet. It does not matter that we do not see the final result in our life time.

The first step in effecting change is to imagine it. The problem with the Arab world, and this is similar to many other issues that we face in life today, is that we limit our imaginations. Before anything comes into existence it must become a thought; one held so dearly that in concert with our efforts the forces of creation come together to make it real.

Human history is replete with incidents where imagination that went contrary to the prevailing doctrine, and was ridiculed at the outset over time became the conventional wisdom. Christopher Columbus had to imagine the possibility of going west to go east before he was able to do it. Before Roger Bannister, it was thought humanly impossible to run a mile in under 4 minutes. After Bannister did it in 1954 within 46 days the record was broken. Now that others were able to imagine the possibility the barriers thought impregnable began to fall.

I love my Arab brothers and sisters. I love all people. And I fervently believe that the God of creation placed us here with our foibles and flaws to learn how to overcome them through love and to learn that a whole humanity is better than the sum of the parts.

It is not easy. It is not about being easy. This life, even a long one, is temporary. But the spirit of the giver is profoundly enhanced in this life when a life of contribution is lived even to the point of the ultimate sacrifice. We may believe differently about what comes after, but none of us can prove our belief. But our history shows living selflessly and contributing to the greater good is its own meaningful reward to the soul that engages in it.

What must be clear is that our purpose is delineated and our actions judged by the principle of love. And true love applies to the entire spectrum of humanity without confinement to tribe, nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation,  or any other method by which we choose to define ourselves or others.

We must imagine a world in which we see ourselves in the other, even if that person is at the farthest end of the earth from us in distance or belief. We must recognize that our neighbor’s welfare is our welfare.

It may sound like idealism and pie in the sky ranting, but that is the reality we face; to imagine a world of brothers and sisters living together as one, and then to do our bit wherever we are to rid ourselves of any thoughts to the contrary and work to make that image a reality.