Archive for February, 2009

Lessons in compassion

28/02/2009

A few months ago, I was walking by the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol where I live. I was leaning against the railing to admire the view when I noticed a middle aged woman wearing a bright pink jacket on the other side of the railing. She was sitting cross legged a few feet from the edge of a sheer drop of 1000 feet. She looked relaxed, as if she had just climbed over the railing to get a better view. So strong is the impulse not to get involved, not to interfere, to remain separate that I rationalised to myself that it was none of my business. I walked on. A few minutes later, it hit me that this woman must have been contemplating suicide and that to do so in a public place was a call for help. Just as I thought about going back to her,  I saw two men in construction clothes leave their work repairing the bridge and go to her. One climbed over the railing, sat down between her and the cliff edge, took her hand and began talking to her. Feeling relieved that someone had come to her rescue, I went on my way. However, I felt uncomfortably aware that I had missed an important opportunity.
Last week, I was walking along a main road to a lecture about Christian-Muslim dialogue when I noticed a young woman sitting in a shop doorway sobbing loudly. Worried about being late, I was walking fast, head down, totally focussed on my destination.  As I zoomed past, the thought popped into my mind that the woman’s grief was not my problem and I hoped she would find relief from her grief. This thought was closely followed by an image of the woman in the pink jacket by the cliff. By this time, I was about 20 feet beyond her but it was as if I hit a brick wall and had to turn back. Without another thought, I wheeled around, went back, sat down beside her and asked if there was any way I could help her. The look of gratitude on her face was enough to convince me that I had done the right thing. I stayed no more than 5 minutes listening to her story and giving her a few words of advice (I couldn’t resist). Then I went on to the lecture which happened to start late so I didn’t miss anything after all.
Both incidents were lessons in compassion, each one a perfect opportunity.

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Why Coming Out is My Duty to God” by Irshad Manji

27/02/2009

Ten years ago, Irshad Manji gave a speech showing why gays and God are not just reconciliable but “downright compatible.” Irshad is Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University. It aims to develop leaders who will challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship, teaching that rights come with responsibilities, that we are citizens rather than members of mere tribes, and that meaningful diversity embraces different ideas and not just identities. Irshad is creator of the television documentary, “Faith Without Fear,” which chronicles her journey to reconcile Islam with human rights and freedom. She wrote The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith. About sexuality, she says, “In the end, both the Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam affirm that we are creatures of the Almighty, so that knowledge of the self and knowledge of God are synonymous. Which means denial of the self keeps us separated from God (otherwise known as sin). We have a duty to grow into our faith by constantly revealing ourselves to our maker. Coming out to our creator, then, is not just an option. At a certain point, coming out might be an obligation.” http://www.irshadmanji.com/about-irshad

Gaza Dialogue

27/02/2009

As an experiment in developing our dialogue skills and our empathy, my latest Compassionate Listening session used letters between an Israeli reserve soldier and the Palestinian whose home was commandeered by the soldiers during the January invasion. Whether these letters are genuine or not wasn’t the issue. We read each letter aloud, broke into pairs to identify what feelings the writer expressed, shared with the group times when we had experienced those same feelings in our everyday lives and carried out a role play imagining that the soldier and the Gaza citizen had met in person to talk. I found it an effective technique for getting beyond the stated positions and arguments which only serve to keep us divided to the emotions which help us connect and understand each other.

Peace Fair in Bristol 31 March

27/02/2009

We’re holding a peace fair to celebrate and show the many groups and activities that promote a just peace through non-violence and co-operation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. We’ll have stalls with information about some of these projects. We can suggest one for visitors to present or you can bring one of your own. During the fair, you will have a chance to vote on the initiative most likely to have an impact. Money raised during the fair will go to the winner. There will be stalls selling refreshments and relevant goods and a quiz. Entrance by donation. To set up a stall, contact Lisa at lisagsaffron@gmail.com.
31 March 2009 Horfield Meeting House, Gloucester Road Between 6.30 and 9.30 pm

Media4Diversity

27/02/2009

Prague, Czech Republic,  EU seminar on diversity in the media. That’s where Farhan Cheema and I spent 3 days in February representing Radio Salaam Shalom.  We were talking about how the European media covers the diversity story – the story of our differences due to gender, racial and ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. Is the full range of diversity reflected positively and fairly in the media? If not, what are the barriers to full inclusion and fair representation and what recommendations should be made for further action?

The seminar brought together representatives of 30 media or civil society organisations with leading media professionals, academics, anti-discrimination NGOs and policy makers working in the field of diversity and media. Radio Salaam Shalom was one of the 30. We were selected out of 150 initiatives by researchers carrying out a large-scale study. One of the purposes of the seminar was to publicly acknowledge our achievements and to share experiences. Some of the other exciting initiatives that we learned about were:

Quick Response Media Monitoring group (Sweden) – monitors the Swedish media for racism and stereotyping against migrants and ethnic minorities and writes reviews for journalists.

Radiojojo European Children’s Radio (Germany) – radio station whose programming is entirely made by children and for children.

Mira Media Helpdesk (The Netherlands) – activities to improve links between the media and the immigrant population such as advice service to young journalists, network meetings, and intercultural media education.

Campaign Against Homophobia “Don’t Stay Away. React Against Discrimination” (Poland) – deals with all levels of discrimination against a wide range of social and ethnic groups, producing a website, an online Game of Life and a conference on teaching children about discrimination.

Another purpose of the seminar was to discuss recommendations about what all of us, the media, civil society organisations, and policy makers can do. The points raised in the presentations and workshops stimulated much lively discussion in the workshops as well as in the breaks and at meal times. There was a rich diversity of views and outlooks. Language was not a barrier as there was simultaneous translation.

At the end of March, the researchers will write a publication giving the results of the study and the recommendations from the seminar. More information is available from www.media4diversity.eu

Hitler’s soul

27/02/2009

Talking with Leaders of the Past is an extraordinary book that set my heart racing with elation at the sense of its truth. It is a book of interviews with 15 leaders who are no longer alive. According to the authors, they are in soul form at Home, a dimension of unconditional love where every soul returns. The authors are Toni Ann Winninger, a former prosecutor in Chicago who is now a psychic channeler and the Rev. Peter Watson Jenkins, a clinical and metaphysical master hypnotist working in past-life regression and spirit release. Toni and Peter describe themselves as messengers relaying a message about reincarnation and the purpose of life from the Masters, a group of wise souls back Home who are not currently or never have been in physical form. Peter asked the questions and Toni channeled the replies. They talked to thinkers who influenced behaviour and belief such as Oscar Wilder and Pope John XXIII, women who breached traditional roles such as Eleanor Roosevelt, leaders who shaped commerce and empires (Gandhi, Churchill) and scientists whose theories challenged ideas (Darwin, Jung, Einstein). The most challenging for me was the dialogue with Adolf Hitler’s soul. His interview most clearly expressed the Masters’ message. Peter asked Hitler’s soul (not his personality self): “Now that you are back Home, do you see yourself as the incarnation of absolute evil?” The reply was: “I saw the person whose part I was playing at that time as being what a human would consider as ‘absolute evil’. But I am no different from any other soul who plays a part in order to learn physical lessons and to help others with their lessons. I was selected and agreed with others to be evil incarnate on the planet during the time I was Adolf Hitler.” After clarifying what he meant, Peter eventually asked, “What does the Creator achieve by permitting evil?” Hitler’s soul replied, “To be able to experience and know the greatness of what we are. We cannot truly comprehend unconditional love unless we know what the absence of unconditional love is like.” If you’re not already thinking along these lines, these are stimulating and mind-blowing ideas. Read the book and see what you make of it. Find out more on www.mastersofthespiritworld.com/.  I interviewed Toni when she came to Bristol – you can hear her on my Listen to Inspiring Peacemakers page.