me slides

Friday, 30 January 2009

Human Rights heroines in Iran

One of the phrases President Obama used in his inauguration speech I have heard repeated below are many many open hands reaching out in hopes that they will find US hands open as well.

I have just finished reading Iran Awakening, the memoir of Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace prize for her work as a human rights lawyer in Iran. She has worked there tirelessly on behalf especially of women and children. Custody rights, divorce, and morality laws have been heavily repressive under the Islamic Republic.

In order to publish her memoir in the US, Ebadi had to file a lawsuit against the US Treasury, because of the trade embargo against Iran. Her publishers in the US otherwise would have faced the possibility of prison time.

This book, along with two others I have read over the last few years (Persepolis--a graphic novel that is now a film and Reading Lolita in Tehran) have given me a great appreciation for the strength, wisdom and resilience of women in the Islamic Republic. They give me hope for the possibilities of change, yet I worry that if the US puts too much pressure on Iran, they will be unable to secure the change they work so hard for. A nation on the defensive has the tendency to increase, rather than decrease, repression.

Women were a major force in bringing the Ayatollah Khomeini into power in the first place. Angered and weary of the Shah's repressive regime, his lavish lifestyle while poverty gripped the lives of many, and his unyielding secularism, women took to the streets in millions to chant revolutionary slogans and demand the toppling of the Shah's regime. They claimed a public voice, organized tirelessly and paved the way for Khomeini's return from exile in France to become the supreme leader of Iran.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Braving the Chaos

John 14:18-27 (Jesus speaks to his disciples as part of his "farewell discourse")
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. "
New Revised Standard Version

This sermon celebrates the ways in which the Holy Spirit empowers people to come alongside those who live on the edge of chaos, embodying the ministry of the Advocate. Most of the stories used in this sermon come from the ministry of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Click here to listen:



Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Peace be with you

This sermon, though it was preached the second Sunday of Easter a couple of years ago, speaks to the current challenge of peace in the Middle East.

Peace be with you
A sermon on John 20:19-23

"When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ " New Revised Standard Version

Click here (I hope) to listen:



Wounded and Blessed

A sermon on Genesis 32:22-32
"Wounded and Blessed"

"The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle." New Revised Standard Version

Click here to listen:



Sunday, 4 January 2009

Remembering the shedding of a Palestinian's blood 2000 years ago.

Today was communion Sunday at St. Andrew's United Reformed Church in Gerrards Cross, England. As I lifted the communion cup to encourage all gathered to drink out of tiny cups containing juice representing the shed blood of Jesus, I suddenly realized we were "drinking" the shed blood of a Palestinian. Many Palestinians have been dying in the last few weeks and many I fear will die today as Israel's ground offensive into Gaza has begun.

I have always found communion to be powerfully BOTH a somber rememberance of the tragedy of humankind's penchant for killing the innocent and trampling on the bearers of peace AND a celebratory foretaste of the Kingdom of God. It was no less this morning. I am filled with such sadness at the lack of imagination of those in leadership in this crisis, and so wish that those committed to peace and justice for Israel and Palestine would be heard and their wisdom heeded.

Among the wise Jewish voices I have come across recently is the rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin. He is the director of George Mason University's Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution and a senior researcher at the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy's Institute for Human Security. He is in Jerusalem right now meeting with religious and political leaders on all sides of this conflict. I listed to a podcast of a recent phone conference he participated in on the crisis. He said several things which I found enlightening.

He cited a statistic that 2/3 of Israelis think there should be negotiation with Hamas. We as Americans know only too well of late that the average person in a country is not necessarily in favor of the options his/her government chooses. Gopin further added that the best way to create fragmentation in Hamas is to invite Hamas to the table. Some Hamas members/leaders will be anxious to come to the table and others will not, thus creating more division within the movement. He reminds listeners that in any organization, even one labeled a terrorist organization, there are people who want to negotiate and engage in diplomacy and those who want to attach violently.

Gopin reminded listeners that Israel and its allies often use a group or nation's unwillingness to recognize Israel's right to exist as a reason to refuse to negotiate with them. He looks back at history and points out that countries in conflict with the US did not make this demand as a condition of deescalation. He argues, you will see from the quote below, that a long term ceasefire and the opening of commerce for the Palestinians is much more likely to lead to this recognition and that insisting on this from the outset is fruitless and unrealistic. Here is a section of his comments:

"My intuition when it comes to the issue of the recognition of Israel and their charter, is that the great agreements of history, that prevented a catastrophe in the 20th Century, and it saved the United States from its own civil war were with Vietnam and with the Soviet Union. In neither case, did either Vietnam or the Soviet Union say, we need you to recognize our right to exist. If they had said this, if the Soviet Union had said, we will not de-escalate the nuclear conflict, unless you recognize our right to exist, then we would have to recognize their illegal and forceful occupation of half of Europe. And we couldn’t possibly do that....

....My reason why I’m so convinced of that is that if we indeed have a ten year hudna, a long term cease fire, where these Islamists are not required to say that they will recognize Israel’s right to exist, in ten years a full normalization of relations and commerce, I assure you the resilient middle class on the Palestinian community in Gaza, will not go back to a suicide bombing in Intifada. This is a process of easing a terribly wounded community out of a desperate embrace of Hamas. And I think it’s possible, with pragmatism, with care, and with a realist verification of the conditions of that treaty and that this is the most clever, and most intelligent way to pull us back from the brink of a Jihadi war, which if it escalates, will be a global Jihadi war against Israel where Jihadi will be coming from everywhere to this location. "
He leaves us with a chilling warning.

Gopin is one of those thinkers who reminds us that supporting Israel may involve trying to keep Israel from provoking even greater animosity, and finding those who are creating relationships across the Israeli-Palestinian divide of hatred and praying, supporting, speaking up for and sending money to them.

To listen to the podcast with Dr. Gopin:

other sites of interest:

Pray for the peacemakers.


A friend who is involved in mediation work with me sent me this piece. It was written by a friend of his. It reminds me of the famous "serenity prayer." It is as if it is a longer version of it.

Be understanding to your perceived enemies.
Be loyal to your friends.
Be strong enough to face the world each day.
Be weak enough to know you cannot do everything alone.
Be generous to those who need your help.
Be frugal with that you need yourself.
Be wise enough to know that you do not know everything.
Be foolish enough to believe in miracles.
Be willing to share your joys.
Be willing to share the sorrows of others.
Be a leader when you see a path others have missed.
Be a follower when you are shrouded by the mists of uncertainty.
Be first to congratulate an opponent who succeeds.
Be last to criticize a colleague who fails.
Be sure where your next step will fall, so that you will not tumble.
Be sure of your final destination, in case you are going the wrong way.
Be loving to those who love you..
Be loving to those who do not love you; they may change.
Above all, Be yourself.Just Be Yourself.



Friday, 2 January 2009

Celebrating the New Year each day

There’s something about a new year, the way it offers opportunities for new beginnings, a fresh start, a reevaluation, a new endeavor. It gives me a sense that there is no obligation to hold onto past patterns, grudges, burdens, habits, and that this year I might truly release myself fully into God’s love and the compassion of Jesus.

Perhaps I have a short attention span or a lack of willpower, but I'm not good at New Year's resolutions. A year is too big a unit of time for me, and I give up before I've even started.

On the other hand, a day is a unit of time I can think about.
Each day might be considered a microcosm of the year.
Each new day can provide, as does each new year, an opportunity to relinquish the old and embrace the new.
Each new day is a fresh start, time filled with great potential, a bud ready to open into flower.

In this new year, I think I will fare better if I focus in each new day on relinquishing that which is not of God, and opening myself, moment by moment, to the love, mercy and transforming spirit of God.

This sense of cultivating the possibilities in each day comes about for me best when I take the time to release the day in the evening before sleeping, and when I take time to embrace the day and connect with God each morning through prayer and reflection.

The most valuable, simple and meaningful way that I have found to release the day in the evening is to practice something called the Daily Examen, which comes from Ignatius of Loyola. It is a short, easily remembered practice that can be done in 5 minutes or less, but can offer a great sense of perspective, connection with God, gratitude and calm as one approaches night.

Here is one set of instructions for the Daily Examen:
1. Light a candle and sit quietly for a moment, noticing the rhythm of your breathing.
2.Ask God to help you identify the moment today for which you are most grateful. Recall that moment in as much detail as possible. What made it so special? "For what moment today am I most grateful?"
3. Ask God to help you identify the moment today for which you are least grateful. Recall that moment. What made it so difficult? "For what moment today am I least grateful?"
4. Pray a prayer of thanksgiving for the presence of God throughout the day.

If you have a journal, you might write down any thoughts or insights that you would like to refer back to later.

I have used the daily examen many times with a group (Bible Study, end of session or deacons meeting, retreat) and, in this context, it is very meaningful to allow for a few minutes of time for participants who wish to share short responses to the process.

So....may each new day hold for you the same possibility as the new year.