Issue 43, July 2004
Group report on models, tools and inter-faith
From the 6th W.A. Visser't Hooft memorial consultation:
Compiled by LaVerne M. Gill
1. Round table of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Goettingen, Germany
The round table of Jews, Christians and Muslims began its activity in 2001 and meets monthly. It has discussed issues about local and worldwide problems, such as building up the synagogue and the mosque, the conflict in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the attack in Madrid, mutual invitations, the preparation of common peace prayers as well as planning other common projects.
A sign of reconciliation in The Middle East
The round table of the Abrahamic religions is inviting a seriously sick child from Palestine to Goettingen for medical treatment in Germany. This treatment cannot be done in the West Bank. The idea was born, as the relationship between Jews and Muslims at the Round Table was about to collapse during the time of the second Intifada.
Violence among male Turkish youth
The highly marginalized status of Turkish immigrants produces a dangerous potential of youth delinquency. Criminal deeds done by youngsters are mostly those of male Turkish persons including violence in the families, at school, and in the cities. Together with the Imam we invite Turkish families to send their children to the kindergartens of our church parishes in order to begin their integration very early.
We invite Muslim women to join the church women’s groups so that they become more resistant to the daily violence within their families committed by husbands and sons.
Building of Abrahamic teams
In connection with the German Inter-cultural Council, we set up Abrahamic teams (one person per religion) to go into schools together to inform about the common basis (one religious family) and the common task (working together for peace).
2. The Interfaith Encounter Association
The Interfaith Encounter Association is dedicated to promoting coexistence and peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East through cross-cultural study and inter-religious dialogue. Rather than being the cause of the problem, religion can and should be a source of solution for conflicts that exist in the region and beyond. We do not believe in the blending of all traditions into one undifferentiated group, but in providing a space where all can come, in an atmosphere of trust, to be fully themselves, each in their respective religions.
Interactive interfaith dialogue
Open and sincere conversations between participants around religious issues, rather than political ones, open the hearts to each other. Through the discovery of similarities and the practice of accepting the differences without being threatened, participants educate themselves to overcome prejudices and fears and to replace them with mutual understanding and respect.
Current Use: Peace building in the Middle East in three geographical circles:
Participants are instructed on the guidelines for the religious and non-political dialogue, participation and encouraged to express themselves freely and openly, taking care not to offend others. Each session begins with a short introduction to the religious theme selected. Most of the session is dedicated to interactive dialogue among participants. Longer retreats are dedicated to prayer and social interaction.
Interfaith encounter centres
On-going groups are developed in closely defined geographical areas. These groups are composed of people from all religious communities in that area and hold monthly interfaith encounters.
These groups build a microcosm of inter-communal relations and act both as models for the larger communities that such relations are possible and as seeds for the new crystallization of the inter-communal relations.
There are now several groups active throughout Israel, among them three for women only and two for young adults.
3. Human Values for Transformative Action (HVTA)
HVTA projects focus on the promotion of human well-being in local communities while networking these communities locally, nationally and internationally. Respect for difference, empowerment, self-determination, collective action, sustainability and accountability is emphasized and participants are expected to adopt this approach in all phases of their work.
Some planned programs or tools are:
Community art will be used as a vehicle for channelling concerns and recommendations from grassroots groups to policy makers and the public, thereby mobilizing communities to organize for change.
Youth Ambassadors for Human Well-being - Action Oriented Values Education: Young people will discuss the meaning and application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and specific UNESCO documents, and participate as change agents. They will identify and compile indices of well-being that will be used to establish benchmarks and record progress and pitfalls.
Review HVTA Website for further information: www.hvta.org
4. Fireflies Ashram
Fireflies Ashram is an inclusive secular ashram open to all spiritual traditions concerned with personal growth, social engagement and environmental action. Fireflies Ashram aims at bringing together a community of friends and soul mates who revere the Earth as their first mother.
At Fireflies, members have opportunities to study and take action on local environmental issues, to empower women and organic farmers, to promote peace among communities in conflict, to tend to trees and gardens, to help in the conversation of our fast-depleting water resources, and to welcome a steady stream of local and international visitors. Many also engage in personal reading and writing as well as in deepening their practice of yoga, meditation and chanting.
Fireflies holds workshops on themes such as Religions and Ecology, Conflict Resolution Amidst Inter-Religious Conflict; Water Conservation, Organic Farming; The Empowerment of Women in Poor Communities; Creative Literature and Personal/Social Meaning; Yoga; and Spirituality for Our Times. In addition to discussions, participants also have the option to commune with nature, meditate, read poetry and explore personal and social journeys.
5. Theatre of Witness
By working with people who have suffered (e.g., domestic violence, immigrants/refugees, sanctuary families, homeless people, prison inmates etc.), the artistic director invites them to tell their stories, helping them to shape their stories into a dramatic presentation inviting audiences into discussions to share their reactions to the presentations.
TOVA has produced several videotapes from these presentations (one on domestic violence opens up this difficult topic for discussion). It shows women and men coming to terms with and changing abusive behaviour. There is also a remarkable video called: Living with Life about people sentenced to life in prison. The video is thought provoking about the Justice system and the death penalty.
6. Dhamma Yattra (Dhamma Walking Activities)
This model is described as a dialogue of experience and dialogue of life between Buddhists and Christians or other people of faith designed to respond to ecological violence and to violence related to war. The objective is to solve the environmental crisis and to call for peace to remove landmines in Cambodia.
The project for getting rid of ecological violence (structural violence) has been held in Thailand by a group of Engaged Buddhists. The project for removal of landmines took place in Cambodia under the auspices of the Supreme Patriarch Buddhist Monk of Cambodia.
Both projects were led by Buddhist Monks, lay leaders and some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), sharing the same objective.
Personal Commentary: Dr. Parichart Suwanbubbha, Thailand, Theravada Buddhist
"I consider these Dhamma Walks as examples of models to overcome violence through inter-religious dialogue. People come together through cooperation and action to address the problems of ecological crisis and the violence directed against the Cambodian people.
"The monks are the leaders and they walk through the forest or lake to invite villagers and others to realize the endangered ecological situation and in Cambodia the loss of life and organs of the victims of landmines. The monks and lay leaders stop at the village. Villagers offer them food to make merit. The monks chant for them, teach them the Dhamma and the basic knowledge of preserving trees, water and forest and call for the cooperation from many countries to remove the landmines that have been left in Cambodia after the civil war.
"I consider these projects as the interreligious dialogue of life and experience because both sides, Buddhist Monks and people of NGO’s experience the danger, the tiresome walk, the devotion, and the compassion during the time of Dhamma Walking. The NGOs join in listening to Dhamma teaching, eat food offered by villagers who would like to make merit through gifts to the Buddhist monks. They participate, observe and experience Buddhist rituals during the time of Dhamma Walking. They all have a chance to learn and understand the concept of loving kindness, Karma, interconnectedness and other principles emerging through Dhamma Walking."
For further information on this particular DHAMMA Walk contact:
Professor Parichart Suwanbubbha
7. Adopt-a-Landmine youth project
At Webster United Church of Christ, in Michigan, following a visit to the United Nations, a group of youth decided to participate in the adopt-a-minefield project. They used the website to gain additional information about the magnitude of the problem and were exposed to a broad range of information about the prevalence of landmines in the world. They selected a site and began fundraising in their church and throughout the community. Their aim was to de-mine one field. They were able, in a short period of time, to raise over $8,000 for this purpose.
This was their contribution to overall peace building. This is also a tool that can be used in conjunction with such things as the DHAMMA Walk because it provides an international link around the same goal of defusing land mines.
8. Midnight bus - Buddhists learn from Christian activities
This is a kind of dialogue of life and dialogue of experience between Christian and Buddhist people in order to respond to direct violence towards the poor and the homeless. They need help to improve their self-identity, self-esteem and their basic needs in daily life.
Personal commentary: Dr. Parichart Suwanbubbha
"I, as a Buddhist, joined this program with Christian people called Diakonie in Hamburg, Germany, seven years ago. Our team was composed of three volunteers, a driver of the van and two women sitting in the back of the van. We prepared pots of boiling hot water, paper cups, tea, coffee and instant soup. We began our volunteer job at 7 p.m. in the evening by collecting cakes and bread from the bakery. These cakes and bread were going to be thrown away because they wanted to sell things fresh each day.
"We gave the food to the people. We were in the van driving around in downtown Hamburg. Here we could meet many homeless people, who stood in front of pubs and bars in order to beg for some money from people who enjoyed nightlife. Some of them slept close to heaters of department stores, some of them slept under the bridge, at the corner of the building. We woke them up and gave them food. I considered this project as inter-religious dialogue of experience because I, as a Buddhist, could learn and understand clearly the meaning of carrying the cross. I experienced the tiresome devotion, the danger and the risk presented to these Christian volunteers. This may be a model of cooperation to learn from each other to reduce the direct violence of the homeless."
9. Hoza circle of compassion
Hoza is a unique form of group counselling guided by trained lay leaders. The members of a Hoza group usually sit together in a circle, creating a sense of oneness among members for open discussion in light of Buddha’s teachings. Through Hoza practice, which is an important feature of Rissho Kosei-kai, members wholeheartedly learn how to live their lives as bodhisattvas, followers of Buddha, by applying Buddha’s teaching to the solution of their daily problems. Sharing suffering or grief of others as his or her own is the key concept of Hoza counselling.
10. North American Interfaith Network (NAIN)
NAIN is a non-profit association with a membership of more than 60 interfaith organizations and agencies throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its purpose is to provide Communication, Understanding, and Mutual Strengthening between interfaith agencies, organizations and offices of denominational, religious and educational institutions. NAIN has held interfaith conferences (NAINConnects) across the continent. Future conferences are planned for Winnipeg, Wichita, Columbus, Ohio, and Mexico City.
11. Riverside language program
Riverside is an intensive (5hours a day, 5 days a week) free English language school for newly arrived adult immigrants and refugees resettled in New York City from all over the world. Through the common experience of needing to learn English in order to participate in American society, people from many different countries, native languages, religions, races, politics, economic background, education, professions, etc. come together to learn about one another as the subject of their English. Though one goal is the new language itself, another goal is learning the human commonalities of feelings and experiences despite so many differences.
Contact: Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Executive director/founder
12. Circles of Ten
“Circles of Ten, Women for World Peace” is a grassroots peace movement that envisions a world community whose women, men and children are actively working for personal, interpersonal and worldwide peace. This is done by meeting in circles and using a simple 3-step process, identifying, carrying out and making public acts of peacemaking. Through answering three questions and telling a peace story participation in the circle is widened. Participants send a post card or submit stories directly to the website, answering the following questions:
Contact: Circles of Ten, Women for World Peace
13. Sanzule women’s circle
This is a project that was initiated by a local church in USA. Women in the Sanzule Krisan Refugee Camp in Ghana, West Africa were without resources or an outlet to sell their crafts.
Webster United Church of Christ developed a micro-economic sewing circle to provide start-up funds and purchased sewing machines. Orders were placed for over 150 dresses, skirts and shirts and sold at local churches and communities in the US. Each dress had a story and a picture of a refugee family. This served two purposes, funds were sent back to the refugee camp to support the women and their voices and stories were read and shared with people in the US who may not have been aware of the plight of refugees in Ghana.
Contact: Rev. LaVerne M. Gill
14. Schools of world peace
There are some centres for academic reflection on matters of peace and non-violence (such as the Peace Studies department at Bradford University in the United Kingdom or Peace Studies in Costa Rica). There are also places, which provide training in non-violence, such as Kurve Wustrow in Germany or the Karuna Centre in the USA.
Contact: Kurve Wustrow Bildungs- und Begegnungsstätte für gewaltfreie Aktion e.V.
15. Reflective listening
In the 1940s, the psychologist Carl Rogers introduced the idea of non-directive therapy and the skill of reflective listening as a tool to show that the expert “knower” was not the professional (doctor, therapist, teacher, minister, lawyer, etc.). The client (patient,
The skill of reflective listening is applicable in all situations of conflict or difference. It is a non-judgmental way of being present with another person to hear them clearly and fully without letting the mind get distracted by one’s own thoughts, experiences, or judgments. Instead, one repeats in one’s own words the essence of what the speaker has communicated, in that way the speaker feels fully listened to and often gets to hear the true self clearly. For a brief period of time, the listener enters into the world of another person.
While this is a skill that must be taught and practised, it is doable by all, not just by pro-fessionals. It is a deeply spiritual exchange, guided by heart rather than by mind.
It should be taught in peace curricula, in conflict resolution, training in couples-family therapy classrooms organizations, etc.
Contact: Rabbi Phyllis Berman
16. Peace Gathering Litany
Ashes, Stones, & Flowers
Text can be found: www.shalomctr.org
Rabbi Phyllis Berman, USA (Jewish)
article: The dialogue of religions: source of knowledge? means of peace? – John D’Arcy May