Peace

A New Relationship with Iran

DEALING WITH IRAN is complex for many reasons. This is not a made-up country whose borders were dictated by politicians in the last century; it is Persia—the great empire that fought with Greece before the beginning of the Christian era, the Asiatic power that imperial Rome was never totally able to subdue. From that long history emerged a people with a deep sense of proud history and a realization of national sovereignty that helps guide the destiny of the nation and its peoples.

I recall a conversation years ago with then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami about nuclear power. He was not in favor of creating weapons of mass destruction, but he clearly promoted Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. To deny this right is an affront to national sovereignty, he argued.

After the unfortunate history of the past government, once again Iran is governed by a president and a cabinet that call for peaceful nuclear development and for a new and more open relationship with the West. This is the fact that has emerged into a clear interim agreement between the so-called P5+1—the members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. As reported, the goal of ongoing negotiations is to open the door to a 24/7 inspection of nuclear facilities and other guarantees to ensure that Iran will not make nuclear weapons.

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Did Jesus Pray to Allah?

IS IT WRONG for a Christian to pray to Allah? When a Muslim worships Allah, is she worshiping God?

Questions like these have arisen with more urgency than usual in the months since a Malaysian lower court ruled in October that the word “Allah” was exclusive to Muslims and therefore the Herald, a Malay Catholic newspaper, could not use the word “Allah” in print. (The decision is currently under appeal.)

Many Christians lament the lower court’s decision. They see it as an infringement on the rights of religious minorities. But other Christians welcome the ruling. They claim that it actually helps Malaysian Christians by protecting them from confusion and preventing them from making a grave mistake.

For example, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in the U.S., has argued that Christians should not call upon the God of the Bible using the word “Allah,” because “Allah” refers only to the god of the Quran, a god who is radically different from the true God of Jesus Christ.

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Interfaith Peacemaking Workshop This Weekend

The Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition, made up of organizations promoting peace, many churches, adjudicatories, the Unitarian church members of the Niagra Foundation, Jewish South Street Temple, and Muslim representatives have organized the weekend Peacemaking event to stimulate conversations among the three faiths to promote understanding, friendship and possible continuing activity as a peacemaking community. Past speakers include Jane Goodall, Jim Wallis, Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Helen Caldicott, Matthew Fox, William Sloane Coffin and Joel Sartore.

7 Lessons About Peace From My Time in the Middle East

Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Having just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts, and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times, and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged, and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict.

Here are 7 learnings that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

Peaceful Words for Angry Birds

Angry Birds app, Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

Angry Birds app, Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

While Angry Birds has produced a massive monetary windfall over the past few years, the game has endured a significant level of controversy, especially in recent months. In January it was revealed that Angry Birds was a “leaky application,” as it was used by the National Security Agency and Government Communications Headquarters to collect private data about its users, such as residential location and sexual orientation. According to numerous online and print media investigative publications, the private user information of Angry Birds users was leaked through the application itself and collected by government authorities and private retailers for detailed analysis (under the stated purpose of research and national security). In the midst of it all, the incriminating evidence revealed that Angry Birds was a massive privacy hazard, as the Rovio Entertainment application allows the intimate details of its user identities to be stolen and even sold.

Attn SBNR: Biblical Violence Matters to Peace

Crown of thorns, Stephanie Frey / Shutterstock.com

Crown of thorns, Stephanie Frey / Shutterstock.com

It baffles me when people who are deeply concerned about peace and peacemaking define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” In pursuit of personal and/ or global peace, they shun organized religion in favor of indigenous spirituality. Celtic music, eastern spiritual disciplines like yoga and meditation, and the Native American relationship with nature all seem so attractive and obviously non-violent. I actually have nothing against any of those expressions of spirituality – allow me to offer as proof the trip my husband and I will be taking in July. We will be touring Northern Ireland to enjoy the “storytelling, music, art and peace” of Celtic culture “ancient and new. Great food, inspiring art, and beautiful journeys on foot will form the heart of this soulfully unique and transforming experience.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Normally this sort of description would not entice me. It sounds vaguely new age-y, all too “spiritual but not religious.” So why am I going? Because one of the tour leaders is my friend and brilliant cultural critic, the founder of the Wild Goose Festival, Gareth Higgins. Gareth understands that alternative forms of religiosity and spirituality are a necessary part of the revival of Christianity that is going on today, but he also understands that without “religion,” the pursuit of peace is at a serious disadvantage.

I am aware that such a claim runs counter to the primary reason many people give for being spiritual but not religious. They blame religion for violence and war, and there is no denying that many people have killed in the name of their beliefs. Somehow those who abandon organized religion believe that the cure for violence is to purge themselves of religious texts and doctrines that have any reference to violence in them. Why read the Old Testament or believe in a God who requires the death of an innocent victim to be reconciled to us? How could that possibly lead to a more peaceful world?

Cine-Monastic Disciplines

ONE OF THE paradoxes of writing about film is the application of one form of language to interpret another. The medium we’re discussing here is visual, and despite the relevance of the word “poetic” to the great works of cinema, to interact with the movies means, as writer-director John Sayles says, to “think in pictures.” In an age with multiple ways to consume films, and the pressure to respond with the immediacy of social media, to think deeply about movies is a countercultural act.

I noticed this again after being given a record player a few weeks ago. I’ve listened to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks more than pretty much any other album over the past 20 years and now on the vinyl recording I can actually hear instruments I’d never noticed before. I can’t deny the superiority of the medium, at least in terms of what we might call “musical richness.” But digital transmission makes the sound crisper and more available.

There’s a parallel paradox with cinema, in that the experience of watching films has both diminished and expanded over most of our lifetimes. There are more portals than ever (you can watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story or Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on your phone, for goodness’ sake). Yet the opportunity to see films in optimal settings (decent projection, focused audience, without 25 minutes of commercials for soda mingling with threats of prosecution directed at the people who have paid to see the film by the industrial complex that depends on them) doesn’t come often for most of us. Without conscious resistance, the flattened culture of entertainment globalization is going to continue to dominate.

So, as a modest proposal, I’m considering some contemporary cine-monastic disciplines for the renewal of the cinematic mind:

Hospitality: I’m trying to watch one non-English language film (or one from the U.K., Canada, or Australia/New Zealand) for every U.S. one.

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Theology Quotes: Lisa Sharon Harper

I'm taking a course this semester on Spirituality and Leadership. The course has just started but we've already heard a wonderful variety of voices. This week, our readings include an article by Lisa Sharon Harper, the director of mobilizing for Sojourners. I heard her speak a few years ago at an Interfaith Immigration breakfast in Seattle and was deeply inspired by her commitment to a lived faith that does justice. I just finished reading her chapter, "Singing the Creator's Song in a Strange Land," in the book Learning to Lead: Lessons in Leadership for People of Faith. I am challenged and inspired by this quote, which I in turn share with you in the latest installment of Theology Quotes on the blog.

62 Organizations Warn Senate Against New Iran Sanctions

Sixty-two organizations delivered a joint letter to the Senate today urging the Senate to oppose new Iran sanctions legislation, S.1881, that they say would “critically endanger the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear-armed Iran and an unnecessary and costly war.”

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