Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Marrakesh Declaration

This last week, a beloved church sister took part in an important conference in Marrakesh, where this vital declaration was signed by Muslim leaders re-affirming a traditional Islamic belief in religious liberty. Important, history-making stuff, this.

The Marrakesh Declaration

WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one's point of view;
WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole;
WHEREAS, this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith;
WHEREAS, hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organizations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities, gathered in Marrakesh on this date to reaffirm the principles of the Charter of Medina at a major conference;
WHEREAS, this conference was held under the auspices of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and organized jointly by the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in the United Arab Emirates;
AND NOTING the gravity of this situation afflicting Muslims as well as peoples of other faiths throughout the world, and after thorough deliberation and discussion, the convened Muslim scholars and intellectuals:

DECLARE HEREBY our firm commitment to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, such as freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense, as well as principles of justice and equality before the law; and that,
The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in harmony with the Charter of Medina, including consideration for public order.
NOTING FURTHER that deep reflection upon the various crises afflicting humanity underscores the inevitable and urgent need for cooperation among all religious groups, we
AFFIRM HEREBY that such cooperation must be based on a "Common Word," requiring that such cooperation must go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias, and arrogance.

Call upon Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of "citizenship" which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global changes.
Urge Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addesses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies;
Call upon politicians and decision makers to take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens, and to support all formulations and initiatives that aim to fortify relations and understanding among the various religious groups in the Muslim World;
Call upon the educated, artistic, and creative members of our societies, as well as organizations of civil society, to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorites in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the success of these efforts.
Call upon the various religious groups bound by the same national fabric to address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviving this tradition of conviviality, and restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression;
Call upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, villification, and denegration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry;
AFFIRM that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

January 2016, 27th

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Juggling Facts and Weighing Opinions

I'm lifting up a question/response between Marshall and me from an earlier post to its own post because I think this is a very good point and gets to the heart of some disagreements I have with gentlemen like Marshall and other conservatives. It has to do with whether or not conservatives “know” as a “fact” that God opposes something as, on the face of it, moral and healthy and loving as a marriage between two guys or gals. Of course, Marshall thinks he does know it as a “fact” because of some lines in the Bible that, to him, are “obviously” saying that, yes, God would not approve.

Now, we are both/all clear that there is not a single line in the Bible that says “God would disapprove of marriage between homosexuals in the context of the 21st century world and the sex that would presumably occur therein...” That is, of course, not in the Bible. At all.

No, what is there are verses like rules given directly and specifically to ancient Israel like “men should not lie with men, if they do, kill them...” in Leviticus (two places in Leviticus... in one place it does not include the command “kill them...”). AND, if one holds the presumption that there really is a God and that this God really did communicate with humans and gave them a Bible and in that Bible, there were commands that were universal rules for what humans should and should not do, one could begin to make a reasonable case that this kind of rule really sounds like it's condemning all gay behavior (not at all an airtight case – at all! - but at least a reasonable case). However, there are all sorts of presumptions that have to be held in place before you could accept that as a reasonable argument.

At any rate, Marshall and folk like him thing they can “know” God's opinion of guys marrying and “know” it as a “fact,” not just a theory or a guess or a hunch. Of course, I respond by saying that no, it's not a fact, it's a subjective opinion based upon a fallible human interpretation of an ancient text. It could be a fact or it could be mistaken, but it is not demonstrably a fact nor does Marshall “know” it as a point of fact.

Marshall continually disagrees (demonstrating, I believe, that he does not understand what a demonstrable fact is). To try to find a way to communicate with Marshall on this point, I asked him this question:

There's a fella who says, "I KNOW that God wants us to cut off the hands of thieves. This is a fact about God because the Koran has a line that says that and I interpret that to mean what it clearly means - that in any and all circumstances and cultures, what God wants is for people to cut the hands off of thieves..."

Is that "hard data..."?

If not, why not?

Marshall's response was...

“In any case, unlike some, I do not believe the muslim god is God. Therefore, I don't need to argue against what the koran says...”

1. He didn't directly answer my question (“is that hard data?” - the answer is, of course, No. Presumably, Marshall agrees.)

2. His response, instead was, “I do not believe the muslim god is God. Therefore, I don't need to argue against what the koran says..."

 Now, setting aside the fact that he didn't answer my question directly (and that, presumably, he agrees with me that it is not a fact), he is arguing (correct me if I'm mistaken) that he does not even need to argue against the point made by the fictional Koran-believer because he does not share the presumptions of this man.

That is, the Koran believer (in this case) held some presumptions - that there is an Allah/God, that God wanted to communicate God's will in a holy text, that this holy text perfectly records what God wanted, that the holy text was written in such a way as to communicate God's rules for humanity, that these rules were universal, etc - and since Marshall does not share those presumptions, he doesn't even care to argue the point.

It's not actually a completely bad point that Marshall has made.

Like Marshall and this fictional Koran believer, I do not share Marshall's presumptions (at least some of them) regarding the Bible and how Marshall thinks it should be treated/read. So, I am wondering: Is Marshall making the case that I - like him in regards to my question - do not need to argue against Marshall's points because I - like him - do not hold the same presumptions that he does?

I also wonder, does Marshall agree that the fella saying "the Koran says it, therefore I 'know' it is a 'fact' that God wants us to cut off thieves hands" does not make it a fact? It just isn't and the reason it isn't is that the fella can't demonstrate it with hard data that can be substantiated.

Facts are data that can be tested, weighed, measured, considered, seen. One person's assumptions about how the Bible (or Koran) should be interpreted can't be weighed to see if it is "right." It is, like the Koran-believer, an unsupported and unproven and unprovable opinion.

Just as a point of fact in the real world. I wonder if, given this analogy and some time to consider it and his own answer to it, that Marshall (and others like him) can see that now?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Obama Got Right

What Obama got right (quoted from his final State of the Union speech)...

"We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people. And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

What was true then can be true now. Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.

In fact, it’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible. It’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector; how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans, and how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.

But such progress is not inevitable. It’s the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?"


We need to choose to unite, not divide. Disagree with grace, not bitterness. If we engage in rants and spouting off (and this is human, it happens, it's okay to a degree), let us acknowledge the difference between blowing off steam and making actual false claims and not backing down from false claims.
"Obama is trying to destroy our military! Liberals hate the US! Conservatives are Nazis!" these are rants. As a rant, as blowing off steam, that's fine if overly harsh. But to make these as a claim, well, they are false claims and we need to choose to abandon false witness and slander.

While I disagreed strongly with Reagan on a large number of his policies, he was a positive man who projected a promising future and noted that our strengths lie in our ideals, just as Obama was pushing last night. Let us abandon fear and divisiveness and live in the strength and comfort of our better ideals... ideals about human liberty, religious freedom (ie, the freedom to make your own choices of moral conscience, not the "freedom" to impose those beliefs on others) for all.

Our dear conservative family and neighbors are not the enemy. Our beloved liberal family and neighbors are not the enemy. Our Baptist, pagan, Muslim, Jewish, gay, lesbian, transgender, Catholic neighbors are not the enemy. We will disagree on implementation of our ideals, but that disagreement does not make them the enemy. Let us choose to work on the great progress we have made in our nation and do so together, as neighbors.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Two Old Oaks

Two old oaks on Whitney Avenue
 that have been around for decades
 came down today and damn the symbolism.

I and my family have been tending my parents even more closely over the last month or so, as they both have had downturns in their health. The last month almost, we have been on 24/7 rotation caring for my Dad. He's not near death, so far as we can see, but he is just not doing well. But this post is not to mourn their decline, it is to celebrate their lives.

Dad taught me, over his lifetime and without ever teaching me directly, to be an artist in all I do. Not to try or hope to be an artist, maybe, one day. He has taught me to be an artist, here, now. I may be an imperfect artist... okay, certainly I am an imperfect artist, but I am an artist in my eye, in my observation, in my passion, in my creativity and passion. This is largely due to my father, who is still an artist in all he does. Thanks, Dad.

My mother has taught me a great deal about how to help people. I learned that early on from her. I remember once, when I was about 16 or 17, I brought home a homeless family who had asked for some help. Mom didn't blink. Fed them dinner and clucked over their children. And WHY had I brought home a homeless family in the first place? Because of my mother's undying love for everyone, especially those who are downtrodden and in need of a friend. In countless ways, every day of her servant life, she has poured out her life in grace and love in ways as practical as a homemade meal right here, right now, when needed. Thank you, Mom.

I love walks in the woods and all of outdoors - rain or sun, snow, blasting heat or hurricane winds - and this is because my parents shared with me that love of God's good creation. They taught me that God created all things and God created them "very good." They taught me that we are not to exploit of abuse this very good gift, but to honor it and the God that created it. To walk in nature lightly and with joy and love. I have an indescribable appreciation for woods, mountains, streams, forest paths, fallen leaves crunching beneath my feet... for all aspects of creation (except for mosquitoes) and it has been an incredible joy in my life. I can never thank you enough, Mom and Dad.

With love,


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Winter's Coming

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.... In winter the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity.

~John Burroughs
I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. 

Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. 

~Andrew Wyeth

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.

~John Burroughs
What nutriment can I extract from these bare twigs? Starvation stares me in the face. "Nay, nay," said a nuthatch, making its way, head downward, about a bare hickory close by, "The nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat.... If at any time the weather is too bleak and cold for you, keep the sunny side of the trunk, for a wholesome and inspiring warmth is there, such as the summer never afforded...." "Hear! hear!" screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, "winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it."... [A] red squirrel... came running down a slanting bough, and as he stopped twirling a nut, called out rather impudently, "Look here! just get a snug-fitting fur coat and a pair of fur gloves like mine, and you may laugh at a northeast storm."

~Henry David Thoreau

One of my current pet theories is that the winter is a kind of evangelist, more subtle than Billy Graham, of course, but of the same stuff. 

~Shirley Ann Grau

What a wild winter sound,— wild and weird, up among the ghostly hills.... I get up in the middle of the night to hear it. It is refreshing to the ear, and one delights to know that such wild creatures are among us. At this season Nature makes the most of every throb of life that can withstand her severity.

~John Burroughs 

Against the grey and brown debris
there gleamed a jade reminder
tho' Winter ruled for months to come
Spring was soon behind her

Said Spring, to me,
"Don't rush it, please,
dear Winter has her reasons.
Embrace the cold
breathe deep and hold
Don't wish away your seasons...

~Dan Trabue