Appreciating Diversity, Finding Inspiration: My URI Trip to the UN

Commission on Social Development Rico Ocampo

Rico Ocampo traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America program to help connect young adult interfaith leaders to the United Nations and each other and to promote World Interfaith Harmony Week, International Day of Peace. Ocampo is the Program Director of Camp Anytown, a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.

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“Diversity is a source of inspiration.”

Those are the words that were uttered from the Hungarian Ambassador to the United Nations, Katalin Bogyay. Those exact words were ingrained in my soul during an interfaith service that was part of my trip to New York City where I had the utmost privilege of attending the 56th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations.

This trip took place as part of a celebration for World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) and was put on by the United Religions Initiative (URI), an organization that has allowed me to look at interfaith through a worldwide lens. The trip is one that I will never forget and an experience that I will invariably hold close to my heart. My views on youth development and the world have fiercely risen and it is all due to the efforts of URI and their commitment to creating wider bridges between people of all beliefs.

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Ohio Interfaith Group Comes Together To Build Community and Understanding

By Robyn Lebron

URI North America is thrilled to welcome one of our newest Cooperation Circles. We know that we are stronger together!

SAFE ALLIANCE OF INTERFAITH LEADERS (S.A.I.L.), Columbus, OH

  • Contact Person: Greg Davis, Secretary, sail@uri.org
  • Purpose: The Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders is formed solely for charitable, religious, and educational purposes to foster peace, tolerance, and understanding among different faiths through constructive dialog, education, and community activities and service. The Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders will fulfill its purpose by creating an interfaith community among faith-based congregations, organizations, and individuals in the Northwest Columbus area who share an interest in working together toward mutual understanding and action for the well-being of all people, and to promote respect, friendship, and trust within our community.
  • Areas of Focus: Community Building, Interfaith and Intercultural UnderstandingandDialogue
  • Website: safeallianceofinterfaithleaders.org

“We value opportunities for people to come together, face-to-face, to get to know people from different faith traditions and backgrounds. We value opportunities to share with the public the fact that people of many different faith traditions and backgrounds can share common goals and be friends.”

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As Barb Anderson, president of Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders (S.A.I.L.), spoke about the organization’, she had a sense of pride in her voice.

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In times of great loss, Northern California faith communities prepare to support those affected by wildfires

Photo from The Red Cross

There is no rule book for responding to crisis on this magnitude, Executive Director of the San Fransisco Interfaith Council (SFIC) Michael Pappas said. As the fires In California rage, he is focused on being a “portal of communication” to other faith leaders who are in a better position to help during this humanitarian crisis.

Although he is not in the heart of the chaos, which is focused in Sonoma County and Napa Valley, Pappas said that The Red Cross and Salvation Army, which are best prepared to deal with this crisis, are headquartered in San Francisco. Working with them and the San Francisco Public Health Department, Pappas’ role right now is to stay in constant communication, sending out advisories to his 4,500 contacts and encouraging them to repost on their social media and share with their congregations.

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Breaking Bread More Powerful Than Hate in Countering Anti-Sharia Protests

Leaders in interfaith communities knew they had to meet protest with peace when the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the U.S. announced demonstrations to take place on June 10.

“It was incredible to see the turnout [of counter-protesters] who were there to show solidarity,” said Kate Chance, interfaith coordinator at the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a nonprofit organization that counters bigotry through conversation and interfaith engagement. “I thought it was really peaceful as a whole,” she said of the Unity Rally she attended in San Jose, Calif.

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Living in Community is Hard, and Thank God for That

By Jaya Priya, Kashi Ashram Cooperation Circle

Living in community is hard. Anyone who tells you differently hasn’t done it. That said, the places of difficulty are also the places of beauty. In each other we see our own reflection and are presented with the frequent opportunity to learn about ourselves. Often, this learning is experienced as judgment of either ourselves or the other. But sometimes, when equipped with the right tools and an open heart, we might experience compassion instead. This is the gift that satsang (spiritual community) offers us every day; an opportunity to build a compassionate relationship with ourselves and others. The opportunity to practice.

If we consider ‘being in relationship’ as a space for our practice, then we also understand that ‘communication’ is what allows us to pass meaning between us in relationships. Living in an intimate community, communication becomes the center of daily life. I find the words of M. Scott Peck to capture this connection accurately: “The words “communicate” and “community”, although verb and noun, come from the same root. The principles of good and bad communication are the basic principles of community building. And because people do not naturally know how to communicate, because humans have not yet learned how to talk with each other, they remain ignorant of the laws or rules of genuine community.”

Taking this a step further, we might also consider the inevitability of conflict as the greatest opportunity for our practice. Recently, I learned that there are a number of communities and schools that have come to terms with this truth and created containers (whether they be physical spaces or practices) that they call “fight rooms”. Like all of our other basic needs, such as sleep or eating for which we build bedrooms and kitchens, conflict too has its space: hence the fight room. Although the name may be misleading, they are not spaces for violence. Instead, these are spaces for the intentional and conscious engagement of conflict that are more likely to result in a restoration of relationship and a deepening of understanding. To achieve this, they are designed around a set of agreements on ‘how we will be together’ which draw from philosophies such as Nonviolent Communication and Restorative Justice.

At Kashi, for the past year and a half we have been employing listening circles as a means to work on our communication skills and build community and connection. This particular form of listening circles comes from the field of Restorative Justice. Based on our experiences with circles, we more recently realized that the tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) might be a natural complement to our efforts to build understanding and compassion among our satsang.

As a result, over the weekend of November 11th – 13th, Kashi hosted a three-day workshop on Nonviolent Communication with professor and facilitator, Mikhail Lyubanski. Mikhail’s work is broadly focused on conflict and restorative responses to conflict. Since 2009, he has been facilitating, teaching, and writing about Restorative Circles and Nonviolent Communication. Thanks to Mikhail’s generosity, Kashi was also able to hold trainings for all of our staff, our board members, and our swamis, in addition to the open weekend workshop. I was able to participate in all of the sessions with Mikhail, and feel inspired to share with you a bit about what we learned and how I foresee this work impacting Kashi in the future.

Traditionally, NVC is characterized as a philosophy and practice based on historical principles of nonviolence – the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. It is both a practice that helps us to see our common humanity and a concrete set of skills, which help us create life-serving relationships and communities. According to Mikhail, Kit Miller’s (director of the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence) description captures the essence of this practice most acutely. Kit says, “NVC is a spiritual practice masquerading as a communication tool”. Based on my own experiences over this powerful weekend, I would agree.

Over the course of the weekend we explored the personal practice of NVC, but we also looked into its use in our relationships and in our community. To do this, Mikhail focused us on the following: (1) the importance of walking towards conflict (2) how principles of NVC can be used as “inner work” to deepen self-connection (3) strategies for moving from judgment to connection during challenging encounters (4) ways to find a win-win during conflicts and heated interactions (5) the underlying meaning of “hard to hear” messages and (6) how NVC can be used as a tool in group decision-making.

To conclude our event, we explored the meaning of “financial coresponsibility” and what that meant for our relationships in the practical context of economy. One of the tenets of the Nonviolent Communication movement is that we are all responsible for how things go—whether in an interpersonal encounter or at a learning event like this one. With that in mind we designed the community event so that it was accessible to everyone (there were no fees for entry). However, to cover the costs and make future events like this possible, expenses were disclosed and, toward the conclusion of the event, participants were invited to consider the benefits of their learning and decide what they would like to contribute. As a learning community, we collectively pooled our resources and came to agreements about how to distribute those funds. What I came to learn through thisprocess was that it was not only about the financial resources circulating, but about the open space we created for expressions of gratitude and meaning to pass between us. Again, a focus on relationship.

Looking into the future, I am personally inspired to learn what conflict has to teach me within my own self, as well as within my community. I trust that our work with listening circles has equipped us with enough mutual understanding and practice in deeply hearing one another, that we are prepared to engage the juiciness of conflict with curiosity and compassion. In the words of Dominic Barter (founder of Restorative Circles), “Conflict is the river.”

The Power of Choice

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”


Sister Jenna, spiritual leader, author, radio and TV personality, renowned speaker and founder of the Meditation Museum I & II:

Before I began my spiritual journey, over twenty years ago, I had no interest in spirituality of helping humanity from the inside out. I was driven more towards success in business, the ownership of beautiful things, and the prestige of important relationships. Then one day, I had a vision and experience of Light. And, without my asking, I found myself in a completely different way of seeing myself and the world around me. It was one that was focused on inner treasures, fine-tuned through silence, and in relationship with a Source beyond material possessions. It touched a truth in me so deeply that it transformed my whole story. 

In 2013, I began the America Meditating Radio Show. The intention was to highlight everyday Americans, and others around the world, living their truth and as a result, inspiring others to do the same. To hear the story of another, and see their courage and triumph offers hope. I have interviewed hundreds of folks, from celebrities to survivors, politicians to artists. All responded to a moment in their lives that invited them to change, let go, create newness. This has given me deeper insight and conviction while journeying: the proof that each and every one of us can do better, and live our truth fascinates me.

During my visit to India earlier this year, one of the first questions posed to me was regarding the presidential election in the United States. It was clear that this election was already having a global impact. I sat with the question during early morning meditation, and felt a #TangibleHope arise. There was a way that concerned citizens of the world could come together on a neutral platform and discuss not what was most important to the candidates, but what was most important to us. So, an alliance of friends formed the movement, Meditate The Vote. 

The primary aim of #MeditateTheVote is to invite individuals, Americans and abroad, to explore the power of choice and how important it is for us to gain deeper awareness of who we are. The current presidential election is focused on dis-empowerment, of candidates and citizens. One of its goals is to incite the need for external forces in power to re-deliver what means the most to us. However, in order to truly know what does mean the most to us, and who holds it for us, we need to ask ourselves the critical questions we continue to wait for others to answer:

Are you powerful enough to affect change? What do you value most about America? Do you believe in your self-worth, and how does your life model that belief? Is there a way for us to engage in conversation without creating separation or division? If so, how?

These questions serve as the foundation for engagement with the #Meditatethevote initiative. Events have taken place throughout the country in museums, coffee shops, community spaces, homes, and Universities. The movement has engaged various genres of folks from around the country. Black, white, rich, poor, republicans, and democrats have all participated.  All events introduce and offer the tool of meditation, an exercise in how best to interpret the scenes and folks we encounter.  The intent is to stimulate a broader view of choices and how best to make a decisions that’s beneficial for all. 

These are hopeful times and we are being challenged to raise our way of thinking and being. I believe the story of humanity is being tested everywhere and we are being called to ask ourselves the right questions, so that we can experience deeper answers of who we are. Our inner judgments and fears are rising, to give way to a deeper understanding and compassion. We are receiving countless opportunities to choose to come from resistance, or love. More people are recognizing this choice, and more are finding the courage to love. This is #TangibleHope.

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Sister JennaSister Jenna is a spiritual leader, author, radio and TV personality, renowned speaker and founder of the Meditation Museum I & II in metropolitan Washington, DC. Selected as one of the Empower a Billion Women 100 List of Most Influential Global Leaders Empowering Women Worldwide and served as a principal partner with the Oprah Winfrey Network and Values Partnerships on the Oprah Winfrey Belief Team, a community of individuals from diverse spiritual, cultural and faith backgrounds, and as an influential connector, she coordinated bringing on-board organizations and thought leaders to engage in this global dialogue on Belief.

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.

Why Mourning #Orlando in Diverse Communities is Powerful and Necessary

interfaith vigils orland
Community members gather in Phoenix, Arizona for an interfaith vigil.

By Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI North America

With Sunday’s shooting in Orlando, Florida, our hearts break. We mourn. We grieve. We weep.

In this difficult time, we are grateful for those creating opportunities for ALL of us to be together, mourn together and heal together.

“Through our tears, we connect to those who suffer, and we humanize a situation caused by the dehumanizing actions of others.”

These are words from the Rev. Victor Kazanjian, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative, a global grassroots community of people who stand for the equal inclusion of all people, not in spite of, but because of — and in appreciation of — our differences.

We are a community built on the conviction that there is power and beauty in our diversity. We believe that we – people of all religions, spiritualities and convictions – need each other, to bring peace, justice and healing to our world.

God event Reno June 12, 2016
Leaders gather in Reno, Nevada to mourn the Orlando shootings.

In the good times, we need each other to build programs that educate students in the Golden Rule, to care for our homeless neighbors, to support refugees and immigrants. And, on days like today, we need each other to cope with our grief.

I have heard many complaints that vigils and prayers are not enough. And I agree that, if we stop there, they are not. But today, tomorrow, in the coming days, we need to BE together. Together, people of various beliefs and backgrounds around the world create safe places for all to mourn. And only together can we “awaken to our deepest truths…to manifest love and justice among all life.” When we gather together, we tap into the power of mourning in community –  a power that transcends our individual capacities. We tap into something deeper.

In being in a place where what is unique about each person is appreciated, we come up with solutions — previously unseen — to help heal our communities.  We inspire one another and come one step closer to making our world a place where peace, justice and healing prevail.

“As our hearts break, let them break open as we extend our love to all those who were affected, and our solidarity to those who feel increasingly vulnerable as the targets of hate and bigotry,” Kazanjian wrote on Sunday.

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Rev. Erin Tamayo of the Arizona Faith Network speaks at an interfaith vigil in Phoenix, Arizona.

Today, many URI members and other interfaith organizers around the United States, are creating these spaces:

  • In Sebastian, Florida, the interfaith intentional community Kashi dedicated their Sunday Evening Arti and prayers to all the victims and their families.
  • In Phoenix, Arizona, Mayor Greg Stanton, Equality Arizona, and allied organizations and faith leaders, including members of URI Cooperation Circles Sun Devils Are Better Together and Arizona Faith Network, convened a candlelight vigil in solidarity for the victims.
  • On Sunday, the San Francisco Interfaith Council invited faith leaders to assemble at Harvey Milk Plaza for a vigil to honor, remember and pray for the victims who lost their lives.
  • In Toronto, Ontario, Toronto’s Church and Wellesley village hosted a multifaith vigil attended by hundreds of community members. Toronto MP Rob Oliphant spoke at the gathering, denouncing the violence against the gay community whilst also denouncing anyone blaming the violent tragedy on the Muslim community. He shared, “While I heard the news and the numbers of those fatalities kept growing in the morning, my body reacted and I had two impulses,” he said” The first he said was to reach out to his gay and lesbian friends and seek solidarity with those who have experienced homophobia. “But my second response was to reach out to my Muslim brothers and sisters to say hate can never be met with hate; hate has to be met with love… We know better than anyone else that it is by love that we are saved.”
  • The community of Bainbridge Island, Washington, including URI member Interfaith Council of Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap, gathered Monday for a community vigil and to write messages on scrolls that will be sent to both Orlando and Charleston.
  • Multifaith leaders in Reno, Nevada gathered on Sunday to condemn the shooting and to light lamps in honor of those who have passed.
  • The Tri-Cities Interfaith Council in Fremont, California will gather Thursday for interfaith prayers and remarks before moving to stand together near the road as a visible reminder that they refuse to stand for these hateful actions.
  • On Thursday, the Sundial Bridge NorcalOUTreach in Redding, California will sponsor a vigil in solidarity with the communities, families, and victims of the massacre.
  • In Cary, North Carolina, the Community Peace Project and Islamic Association of Cary hosted an interfaith and community vigil on Monday.
  • The Interfaith Alliance of Idaho gathered on the steps of the state capitol in Boise Sunday for a vigil and a call to exercise love and not hate.
  • In Austin, Texas, interfaith leaders and the LGBTQI community gathered Sunday at the Texas State Capitol for a vigil.
  • In Olympia, Washington, Interfaith Works, Capitol City Pride, and Unity in the Community held a vigil Sunday at Sylvester Park.
  • In Kingston, Ontario, Anglican Bishop Oulton sponsored a vigil Monday at Springer Market Square and encouraged parishes and individuals to contribute to an interfaith book of condolences that will be sent to the mayor of Orlando.

There are many more interfaith vigils and events than can be shared in this post; to read about them click here for a full list. WeAreOrlando.org is also a website that has been setup to track vigils, of all kinds, happening across the United States; follow that link for more information.

In these days, may we mourn and grieve and weep together. And, in these spaces and many others, may we also be inspired to act together, for the well-being of our communities, our countries and the world.


The United Religions Initiative is the world’s largest network of grassroots interfaith peacebuilders, with 787 member groups in 95 countries all working with coalitions of people of multiple religions, spiritual expressions or Indigenous traditions to create cultures of peace, justice and healing. To find out how to get involved, click here

SARAH Cooperation Circle Welcomes New Advisory Council Member

 

Rupsi Burman

“When I wear this pin I remember that I am a woman of my community, dedicated to creating a safe and harmonious environment with my daily actions” 

Earlier this month, Rupsi Burman, founder of Hope in Life Foundation, a Multi-Region Cooperation Circle and chair of the Orange County Task Force – Cities for CEDAW Program, was welcomed onto SARAH’s, the Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope Cooperation Circle, Advisory Council.

During the process, she pledged to remember her role as a woman of her community, dedicated to creating a safe and harmonious environment with her daily actions.

SARAH Cooperation Circle
Members of SARAH welcome Rupsi Burman to their Advisory Council

SARAH’s purpose is to “empower the community, learn from each other, and enlighten one another. To create a culture of peace.” They are Southern Calfiornia Based, but their work knows no boundaries. If you are interested in forming a SARAH Circle in your community, click here.

To learn more about their peacebuilding work, click here.