This year marks the 40th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly declaration “International Day of Peace.” The purpose of the International Day of Peace was and still remains, to strengthen the ideals of peace around the world.
In 2001, September 21st was set as the annual day of commemoration – not only as a time to discuss how to promote and maintain peace among all peoples but most remarkably, as an annual 24-hour period of global ceasefire and non-violence for groups in active combat. https://www.un.org/en/observances/international-day-peace
The International Day of Peace reminds us of our commonalities. Regardless of where we come from or what languages we speak, we are more alike than we are different. Honoring those commonalities makes peace possible. Life is better in a world where peace exists. We draw on the wisdom and experience of the peacemakers and peacekeepers to learn how we can individually and collectively be catalysts for peace – how we can manifest a world that works for everyone, everywhere. Nations and communities around the world struggle with poverty and disease, severely limited access to education and healthcare, particularly in areas where violence is common.
There is something here much bigger than our day-to-day routines. We have the opportunity to transform the world so that our loved ones can live in sustainable peace. To achieve this we are called to step outside our comfort zones. Until we are willing to soften our own perspectives so we can catch a glimpse of someone else’s experience, peace will remain beyond our reach.
Peace is possible. The impact of each small act is immense. Imagine: If we were all simply kind and respectful of one another, how different life would be. We can all contribute to the worldwide culture of peace through generosity of spirit, prayer, advocacy, education and ensuring access to clean water and health resources. Every small effort makes a difference.
Throughout history, dating back to the Peace of God (989 AD) and Truce of God (1027 AD) we see movements that arose from the desire to curb violence by limiting the days and times nobility could practice violence. Most societies have lived in peace most of the time. Today, we are much less likely to die in war than our parents or grandparents. Since the establishment of the United Nations and the creation of the Charter of the United Nations, governments are obligated not to use force against others unless they are acting in self-defense or have been authorized by the UN Security Council to proceed.
Centers for Spiritual Living selected United Nations International Day of Peace in 2016, to conduct a ceremony at the Home Office in Golden, Colorado, to dedicate a Peace Pole and to formally recognize the Collective Meditation for Peace Initiative as an integral and essential element of our organization. The Heart of Peace Initiative coordinates weekly online Collective Peace Meditations and numerous events throughout the year.
At a Centers for Spiritual Living event in 2016, Rev. Dr. Kenn Gordon reminded everyone that every day must be dedicated to peace – that the consciousness of humanity must be uplifted to abiding in and as peace moment by moment. As he said, a Peace Pole is a material replica of the intention that has brought it into form, just as the actions we take demonstrate Spirit’s call to do our part to manifest a world that works for everyone. World peace is a product of what is in the hearts of individuals. To achieve world peace, we must begin with the individual. In order for us to experience and express peace, we must first reveal that peace from within us – to remove all obstacles to the free flow of peace and love.
Religious Science has always been a powerful presence for peace, a core attribute of our philosophy of Oneness. As Dr. Ernest Holmes explained in Spiritual Awareness, “When we become conscious of our existence as an idea in the Mind of God, we shall find that we are walking in pathways of peace; that something within us acts like a magnet to attract that which belongs to itself. This something is Love, the supreme impulsion of the universe.”
Today more than any other time in history, peace relies on the commitment to not only achieve equality, but to secure equity for all persons – to fulfill our vision of a world that works for everyone, everywhere.
With the desperate situations in Afghanistan and Haiti, many are asking how they can help people in Afghanistan and Afghan refugees, as well as the people of Haiti struggling to recover from the recent devastating earthquake. The following list of resources has been compiled from suggestions offered by Tysons Interfaith contributors:
LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES: The leading resettlement agency resettling refugees in the DMV area that is already in the process of resettling hundreds of recently arrived Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, working with local nonprofit groups — they need financial donations, volunteers for apartment setup, transportation, tutoring, advocacy, and more. See https://lssnca.org/take_action/afghan-allies.html
LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICES: See https://www.lirs.org/
CATHOLIC CHARITIES DIOCESE OF ARLINGTON COUNTY: Doing work in the DMV. See https://www.ccda.net/need-help/immigrants-and-refugees/migration-and-refugee-services/
ETHIOPIAN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION: Also doing work in the DMV. See https://www.ecdcus.org/
HIAS: formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS has been working in the U.S. and around the world for 130 years on refugee resettlement and advocacy — now seeking financial assistance, advocates, and volunteers to provide housing for newly arrived Afghan families. See https://www.hias.org/crisis-afghanistan-how-you-can-help
INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: another leading refugee resettlement agency, resettling refugees in the Baltimore area and elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world – see https://help.rescue.org/donate/afghanistan
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: providing medical care for the neediest people in the toughest places around the world, including 5 still-operating projects in Afghanistan – see Afghanistan | How to Help & FAQs | Doctors Without Borders
NO ONE LEFT BEHIND: the only nation-wide association of wartime allies in the US dedicated to ensuring that America keeps its promise to our interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan, now trying, among other things, to charter planes to rescue Afghan refugees. See https://nooneleft.org/default.aspx?
INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM ( IRAP): a leading organization, headquartered in New York, involved in litigation and advocacy on behalf of refugees across the United States. See https://refugeerights.org/
WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: https://support.womenforwomen.org/donate/afghanistan-emergency-2x-match?src=HHUA21082A
CHURCH WORLD SERVICE: another leading refugee resettlement agency, run by U.S. churches for over 70 years, involved in advocacy as well as refugee resettlement around the world. See https://cwsglobal.org/learn/refugees-and-immigrants/
Many faith-based organizations are sending resources to Haiti, so you may wish to check with your local faith-based organization for additional information.
Also, the following NPR article explains precautions to take when donating and provides links to lists of organizations doing work in Haiti. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/17/1028421310/haiti-earthquake-how-to-help.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
A recent survey of religion in America provides some granularity when it comes to the so-called decline in religiosity in these United States. Survey: White Mainline Protestants Outnumber White Evangelicals
The data show that contrary to other research, the percentage of Americans identifying with formal denominations is on a rebound from a low in 2018. Is this good news? Well, there’s a lot to be said for maintaining a skeptical attitude about formal religion. And yet, at the same time, this modest (re)turning to organized religion may be a response to the spiritual void that “mass society” represents.
Philosopher, and deeply agnostic, Hannah Arendt, summed up “mass society” thus:
All of the features, however, that mass psychology has by now identified as typical of man in mass society: his abandonment (Verlassenheit—and this abandonment is neither isolation nor solitude), along with his utmost adaptability; his irritability and lack of support; his extraordinary capacity for consumption (if not gluttony), along with his utter inability to judge qualities or even to discern them; but most of all his egocentrism and the fatal alienation from the world that he mistakes for self-alienation (this, too, dates back to Rousseau)—all of this first manifested itself in “good society,” which does not have a mass character. The first people of the new mass society, one might say, constituted a mass to such a small degree (in a quantitative sense) that they were actually able to consider themselves an elite.
One could argue that, with a few exceptions in Northern Europe, Americans represent the elites of the world. We are enmeshed in the ills outlined in this dense paragraph from Arendt’s critique of mass society, and it is natural to crave for some sort of spiritual solace. Most of us in Tysons Interfaith would probably quibble with the word “solace,” because that seems like a psychological cop out. Our faith traditions emphasize the Platonic world view that ideals, like good and evil, are real.
I believe that the beauty of religious worship is its communality. Megachurches excepted, most worship takes place in an intimate setting where loving relationships can be forged between individuals of different backgrounds and tendencies. This is what I experience in my faith community and with my participation in Tysons Interfaith. If you want to read about communality in action, I recommend to you the life of Gordon Crosby, who bucked the trend of bigness and put social responsibility front and center in his theology. Rebel pastor Gordon Cosby left lasting mark on mainstream Christianity – The Washington Post.
On a recent road trip to the west, we stopped in Columbus, Ohio. Among other things, we saw the Ohio Capitol building, which was beautiful and distinctive, especially at night. [Interesting fact – You might think they didn’t finish the dome, but the horizontal top was on purpose, to reflect the Greek Revival style to honor the Greek concept of democracy, whereas domes are more Roman style.]
One thing we didn’t expect was a Holocaust and Liberators Memorial on the Capitol grounds. Apparently during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony several years ago, the governor was so moved he said the state needed a more formal Holocaust Memorial, so one was commissioned. It is solemn and powerful, as you can see from the pictures (we thought particularly moving at night).
The memorial speaks for itself, but we were particularly inspired by the timeless quotes on the marble wall leading to the monument:
“If you save one life, it is as if you saved the world.”
“Every human being who chooses to remember this chapter in history and to infuse it with meaning is thereby choosing to struggle for the preservation of the bedrock moral values that alone make possible the existence of well-ordered society. This is a commitment to uphold human rights, above all, freedom and the sanctity of life, and the opportunity for people to live side by side in harmony.”
For more information on the memorial, see, http://www.ohiostatehouse.org/about/capitol-square/statues-and-monuments/ohio-holocaust-and-liberators-memorial. We particularly recommend the story of Michael Schwartz which is inscribed on the main part of the memorial.”
“The zealously nurtured attitude of literal credulity towards the oriental treasure of thought is in this case a lesser danger, as in Zen there are fortunately none of those marvelously incomprehensible words, as in Indian cults. Neither does Zen play about with complicated Hatha-yoga techniques, which delude the physiologically thinking European with the false hope that the spirit can be obtained by sitting and by breathing. On the contrary, Zen demands intelligence and will-power, as do all the greater things which desire to become real.”
Thus, no less a thinker than Carl Jung ends his foreword to D.T. Suzuki’s essays on Zen, first published in Japan during the “1914 War.” The eminent psychologist takes more than twenty pages to dance around an explanation of what the Japanese call Satori, translated imperfectly as “enlightenment” in most “Western” treatises. If he can’t do it, with all the usual qualifications, then how can a hopelessly European male living on the outskirts of Tysons do so in the 21st century?
Well, let’s start with a classic Wu- or Mu-anecdote about the dog. A monk once asked: “Has a dog Buddhist nature, too?” The Master answered: “Wu,” which Jung explains is “obviously just what the dog himself [in my case, herself] would have said in answer to the question.” It usually comes out as “woof.”
Without “making any recommendation or offering any advice,” Jung says that when Westerners begin to talk about Zen, he considers it his “duty to show the European where our entrance lies to that ‘longest of all roads’ which leads to satori, and what difficulties strew that path, which has only been trodden by only a few of our great men [sic]—perhaps as a beacon on a high mountain shining out in the hazy future.” It “can neither be captured in with skillful formulae nor exorcized by means of scientific dogmas, for there is something of Destiny clinging to it—yes it is sometimes Destiny itself, as Faust and Zarathustra show all too clearly.” Well, it’s not so clear to me since I don’t really understand German.
He goes on to warn that these two great works “are only on the border-line of what is comprehensible to the European” and “one can scarcely expect a cultured public who have only just begun to hear about the dim world of the soul to be able to form any adequate conception of the spiritual state of a man [sic] who has fallen into the confusions of the individuation process, by which term I have designated the ‘becoming whole’ (Ganzewerdung).”“Preoccupation with the riddles of Zen may perhaps stiffen the spine of the faint-hearted European, or provide a pair of spectacles for his short-sightedness, so that from his ‘gloomy hole in the wall,’ he may enjoy at least a glimpse of the world of spiritual experience, which until now has been shrouded in mist.”
Well, I can tell you that early in the morning on the Jones Branch Extender by the Capital One building, there are indeed mists to contemplate. And there are plenty of dogs being walked about by happy denizens all around Tysons. So, woof. Or should I say, “Wu”….?
Every July 24, the State of Utah celebrates Pioneer Day, a major state holiday. Pioneer Day commemorates July 24, 1847, when an early contingent of Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, entered what is now the Salt Lake Valley. They had made a long trek to find a place of refuge from religious persecution. The holiday is marked in many Utah cities and towns by a parade with pioneer-themed floats.
On a recent road trip through the West, we saw some key points along the trail that led to the settlement in Utah. The first was Winter Quarters (current day Omaha), the embarkation point where the Mormon pioneers spent two winters preparing for the trek west. Downtown Omaha has an extensive monument to the Mormon and other pioneers that went west in wagons, on horses, or on foot pulling handcarts. There is also a cemetery where 600 of the 4,000 Mormon pioneers who spent those difficult winters are buried – they didn’t make it west. Overlooking the cemetery is a powerful bronze sculpture commemorating the sacrifices and faith of those pioneers – by sculptor Avard Fairbanks, who coincidentally sculpted the busts of George Washington that frame the campus of George Washington University. The sculpture is placed directly over the graves of an unknown child and seven other pioneers.
About 450 miles to the west is Chimney Rock in the North Platte River Valley. Not only is it the most recognizable landmark on the Mormon Trail (and the Oregon Trail that parallels it) because of its unique shape, it also marks the end of the flat part of the trail and the beginning of the mountainous terrain that culminates in the Rocky Mountains. Near Chimney Rock is a grave marker for Rebecca Winters, a mother of 4 who died from cholera along the trail. It was very moving to see that a family friend had taken the effort to carve her name in an old wagon wheel to memorialize her sacrifice and her importance as an individual. Her descendants later added a more traditional grave marker.
The Mormon Trail is sacred ground for members of our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both of us have ancestors who were among the 70,000 that went west, through great hardship, to find a place of peace to live and worship. What motivated these pioneers to make this dangerous trek? As one of our church leaders summarized a few years ago:
“The foremost quality of our pioneers was faith. With faith in God, they did what every pioneer does – they stepped forward into the unknown: a new religion, a new land, a new way of doing things . . . Two companion qualities evident in the lives of our pioneers, early and modern are unselfishness and sacrifice.”
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
There is lots of summer left, and with it — opportunities to get out on a summer’s evening and enjoy free music in and around Tysons! Thursday evenings are particularly hopping, with a number of concert series offerings:
- The Boro Summer Live Music Series featuring local artists runs Thursday evenings through September 9 from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm on the Upper Promenade near Boro Park in Tysons (8350 Broad Street, Tysons). Information about this series and other happenings at the Boro can be found here.
- Tysons Corner Center presents The Plaza Live! through October on Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm and on Saturdays from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm on the Plaza at Tysons Corner Mall. Additional information can be found here.
- The Nottoway Nights Concert Series are held on Thursday evenings in July and August at 7:30 pm at Nottoway Park (9537 Courthouse Road, Vienna). Bring a blanket or lawn chairs. Additional information and a list of performers can be found here.
- The City of Falls Church is again presenting its Concerts in the Park at Cherry Hill Park, 312 Park Avenue, Falls Church on Thursday evenings from 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Blankets or lawn chairs suggested. Additional information can be found here.
And while not free, there is something going on almost every night of the week at nearby Wolf Trap, where you can reserve a seat or bring a blanket and a picnic dinner. Their calendar can be found here.
Someone once told me, I don’t know if it’s true, that the Tao Te-ching (Dao De Jing) the classic of Chinese Taoism (Daoism) has been translated more times than the Bible. Well, here’s my translation of the first few lines, modified from that of the great Christian missionary, James Legge, whose poetic rendering of the middle lines I leave intact:
The Tao that can be spoken of is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
The unnameable is the Originator of heaven and earth;
the nameable is the Mother of all things.
Always without desire we must be found,
If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be,
Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
Evolving from these two aspects, which are really the same,
we differentiate them.
Together we call them the Mystery of Darkness.
Where the Darkness is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.
Until recently, the Chinese have followed the ideas and beliefs of Confucius, who did not have much time for religion, which he mocked once as being overly concerned with “ghosts.” But right from the outset, and this was a very long time ago, the Chinese knew something was missing, so a group of mystics grew up in radical opposition. And later the Chinese embraced Buddhism until finally the Confucians threw in the towel and created a synthesis called Neo-Confucianism, which lasted until the Communist Revolution.
Well, Confucius also said,
“At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.”
I’m not quite seventy, but I’ve been receiving a lot of truth lately, so here comes my take on the Mystery of Darkness and nothingness.
From the Jewish commentary on the first lines of Genesis, we have the following:
Rav said . . . In customary practice, when a king of flesh and blood builds a palace on sewers, dung, and garbage, if someone comes and says, “This palace is built on sewers, dung, and garbage,” does he not pronounce it defective? So too, if someone comes and says, “This world was created out of chaos and waste [tohu wa-bohu],” does he not pronounce it defective? Rabbi Huna said in the name of Bar Qappara: Indeed if the thing was not written in Scripture it would be impossible to say it! “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”—Out of what?—“the earth was chaos and waste [tohu wa-bohu].”—Genesis Rabbah 1:5
So, in both the Judeo-Christian and Chinese tradition there was a primordial darkness, void, or apparent chaos at the beginning of creation. What God’s followers have been trying to do ever since is to advance God’s perfect kingdom on earth. The Taoists believe, apparently, that this is folly, because good and evil are bookends, like Yin and Yang. And the Buddhists warn that all is suffering. For the People of the Book, and that includes our Muslim sisters and brothers, this simply will not do. Where there seems to be agreement among the traditions, however, is a deep and abiding respect for the “Originator of heaven and earth.”
The Republic of Korea or South Korea is special in that it is the only Peace Corps-recipient country to create its own similar agency (KOICA) and because we got there late when the poverty most Americans expect to see in places we send our volunteers was disappearing. They also have more Christian missionaries around the globe today, second only to us. Here are some photos dating back to my days in South Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer: a typical bus ride; a look out from inside such a bus; a traditional house found only at museums now:
More follow of old men at Heiinsa (Buddhist) Temple, home to the oldest print blocks (Buddhist scriptures) in the world (and you thought Europe invented printing); a sign suggesting there was good reason for us English volunteers to be teaching middle school in the first place (the “23th Century” bit should read “In Year 23 of the reign of King Kong Min of the Goryeo Dynasty” — that’s 1371 CE by the way, the king and his dynasty fading away not long after); and how the typical Korean middle school student approached learning English back then:
But then look at this recent photo showing a cute elementary school girl student rapt in attention at the teaching of the hip son of a K-30 Peace Corps volunteer (we instantly date each other by our group number):
A good many years have elapsed since my days in the Peace Corps and his. But the beauty of the endeavor is still the same.
Some of us from my K group and a few others had a reunion of sorts recently enjoying each other and being unmasked in the beautiful sun of Front Royal. Lots of Korean and American food and drink. Our old Peace Corps Korea Director was there, and as our eyes rolled, he famously again lectured us on the importance of these sacrosanct Peace Corps goals:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
There is an obvious connection to what Tysons Interfaith is about. Promoting better understanding between people wasn’t a bad idea then and it ain’t such a bad idea now, either.
It may seem strange to talk about spirituality and Chinese communism, but an article posted by a former colleague on LinkedIn recently got me thinking about my days as an economic officer in our embassy in Beijing more than 20 years ago.
Back then I often hung out in a crowded, run-down “salon” bearing the unusual name of the Unirule Institute of Economics ( 天則經濟研究所) UNIRLE (unirule.cloud) I was the only foreigner in the crowded room listening to the debates between the economists and lawyers from all over China. One day one of the founders, Mao Yushi (no relation to the Chairman and the name just happens to be spelled the same in English) invited me to his home, the first private residence I had ever seen: an apartment worth a lot of money today.
Professor Mao made some tea and we sat for a bit. At one point he said, “Let me tell you something about the Communist Party: there are ‘free thinkers’ like me who are supposed to talk to people like you and give our best advice to the decision-makers who can’t talk to you or let you know what they are thinking.” It was an epiphany.
I was saddened to learn recently that after flourishing for many years after I left Beijing, in 2013 Professor Mao got into trouble for writing an article calling for Chairman Mao to be reevaluated and for his body to be removed from his mausoleum. There’s even a Youtube video showing Party members chanting “Down with the traitors [former premier] Wen Jiabao and Mao Yushi.” And in 2019, Chairman Xi Jinping finally shut him down altogether. Well, Professor Mao did win the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. (The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty | Cato Institute).
In an interview with Radio France International’s Chinese service on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Professor Mao said this (my translation): “You asked me if I’ve ever wanted to live in a different time or in a different country? Well, of course, if I had the choice I’d love to go to America. But that’s my individual concern. I’m not thinking only of myself; I’m thinking of everyone. Can everybody go to the States? Of course not. But what is possible is to reform our country so it’s a bit more like America. That is both possible and worth striving for with all one’s might.”
I never talked to Professor Mao about religion, but like all good Communists he probably considers himself a materialist. Still, it is interesting that the term “unirule” is an awkward translation of a classical Chinese concept that other famous Western scholars have translated as “heaven.” One passage in the Confucian Record of Music was translated by a renowned Scottish missionary like this:
When one has mastered completely (the principles of) music, and regulates his heart and mind accordingly, the natural, correct, gentle, and honest heart is easily developed, and with this development of the heart comes joy. This joy goes on to a feeling of repose. This repose is long-continued. The man in this constant repose becomes (a sort of) Heaven. Heaven-like, (his action) is spirit-like. Heaven-like, he is believed without the use of words. Spirit-like, he is regarded with awe, without any display of rage.
Like the Chinese Communist Party, the Confucians didn’t talk about religion, but for a guy who loves singing in the choir at my church, the passage is music to my ears. Maybe we should translate “unirule” as “oneness of humanity?”