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.

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

Bringing Recognition of International Day of Peace to Your Local Community

Nashville Cooperation Circle holds a community service where nine people from different religious traditions discuss peace.

Around the world, a minute of silence will fall at 12 p.m. in each time zone on Sept. 21, as people gather together for meditation and prayer for global peace.

International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by a United Nations resolution that devoted a day to “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.” United Religions Initiative (URI) has been a partner of International Day of Peace since it was established in 2000. The minute of silence in recognition of this day begins on Sept. 21, when the Secretary General rings the Peace Bell at the UN Headquarters.

Continue reading “Bringing Recognition of International Day of Peace to Your Local Community”

Interfaith Profiles: 3 followers of Eastern Traditions engaged in interfaith work

All too often when discussing interfaith work and dialogue, we are quick to think of cooperation amongst the major Abrahamic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. After all, they are the most popular religions in the Western world. However, interfaith cooperation in North America is hardly limited to these three traditions.

Continue reading “Interfaith Profiles: 3 followers of Eastern Traditions engaged in interfaith work”

URI North America’s #TangibleHope Campaign continues beyond end-date

On Aug. 29th, the United Religions Initiative in North America launched its first every social media campaign: #TangibleHope. Over the course of four months, powerful stories of folks collaborating across their lines of difference were shared on social media and beyond using the hashtag #TangibleHope to highlight these stories that give the world Tangible Hope. 

The campaign was set to run through December 9th, but we’ve received feedback that the messaging has resonated, so we’ve decided to continue it! You might notice some changes, but it’s still the campaign that you love.

Click here, to find out how you can continue to participate in the campaign. 

You Could Be Heading to the United Nations.

Photo: The General Assembly room at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. 

The United Religions Initiative has a longstanding relationship with the United Nations and this year we are proud to sponsor URI North America members to travel to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week!

To apply to participate, fill out the form below or click here

Want a better idea of what this trip could mean for you? Read through some of the reflections from last year’s delegation to the United Nations:

 

Details of this Year’s Trip: 

  • The trip to New York will include an experience at the United Nations with URI UN Representative Monica Willard. It is likely that this will include a public opportunity for participants to share about the work of their Cooperation Circle. 
  • URI North America will provide a trip for three members of three different North America Cooperation Circles or Affiliates to the United Nations in New York, NY. 
  • We plan to fully fund the trip for participants. The details, will be announced privately to trip participants.
  • The duration and exact dates of the trip have not yet been determined; however, the general time frame is February 1 – 13.  
  • Participants will be selected by members of the URI North America Leadership Council – Priority consideration will be given to youth. 

Requirements:

  • The applicant must be a member of a URI North America Cooperation Circle or Affiliates.
  • The applicant must have celebrated International Day of Peace 2016. 
  • The applicant or someone from their Cooperation Circle/Affiliate must submit a report of this celebration at: http://urinorthamerica.org/web/idp_report_2016/
  • This application form must be submitted by December 13  at 9am (PST). Applicants will be notified of the results by January 6

Please email northamerica@uri.org with any questions.  

San Francisco Bay Area Cooperation Circles Denounce Incidents of Hate Targeting Religion

This week, over 45 San Francisco Bay Area faith leaders (including members of six Cooperation Circles) denounced incidents of hate targeting religion. Below, you’ll find a message of solidarity from: San Francisco Interfaith Council Cooperation Circle, Interfaith Center at the Presidio Cooperation Circle, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County Cooperation Circle, Marin Interfaith Council Cooperation Circle, Tri City Interfaith Council Cooperation Circle. 



SF Bay Area Faith Leaders Denounce Incidents of Hate Targeting Religion

December 1, 2016

News of a hateful letter received by the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose and at least five other mosques is the most recent of an increasing number of incidents targeting people of different religions across the country.

As religious leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area, we cherish the rich diversity of religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions that comprise the mosaic that is America. Our diversity is a resource rather than a barrier to the democratic nation that we seek to be. Incidents of hate, such as this, seek to dehumanize “the other” and contradict the most basic principles common to our age-old faith teachings and those religious liberties enshrined in the American Constitution.

The rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in our country, catalyzed in part by the divisive rhetoric of the current political climate, is of great concern to all who seek cohesive and peaceful communities. When any one religion comes under attack, all religions come under attack. Therefore, we unite in condemning such acts. We stand together to denounce this and all acts that seek to marginalize and target entire faith communities.

G.L. Hodge, Chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council
Rita R. Semel, Past Chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council
Michael G. Pappas, Executive Director, San Francisco Interfaith Council

Imam Abu Qadir Al-Amin, Resident Imam, SF Muslim Community Center
The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, The Episcopal Diocese of California
Rev. Fr. Mesrop Ash, Parish Priest, St. John Armenian Church
Fatih Ferdi Ates, Director, Pacifica Institute
The Rev. Sally Bingham, Canon for the Environment, The Episcopal Diocese of California
Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown, Pastor, Third Baptist Church & President, SF Branch-NAACP
Rev. Angela Brown, JD, Associate Pastor, GLIDE
Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., Interim Senior Pastor, GLIDE
Rev. John Buehrens, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Society of SF
Ken Chambers, Executive Director, Interfaith Council of Alameda County
Most Reverend Salvatore Cordileone, Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco
Linda L. Crawford, Executive Director, Interfaith Center at the Presidio
Sister Chandrika Desai, Director, Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center, SF
Pastor Elizabeth Ekdale, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Maha Elgenaidi, Chief Executive Officer, Islamic Networks Group (ING)
Fred Fielding, Board President, Interfaith Center at the Presidio
Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., President, University of San Francisco
His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco
Rabbi Marvin Goodman, Executive Director, No. California Board of Rabbis
Julie Greenfield, Facilitator, Eden Area Interfaith Council
Iftekhar Hai, President, United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance
Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI North America
David Hoffman, Chair, Interfaith Council of Sonoma County
Rev. Mark W. Holmerud, Bishop, Sierra Pacific Synod, ELCA
Rev. Theon Johnson, III, Associate Pastor, GLIDE
Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice, Archdiocese of San Francisco
The Rev. Victor Kazanjian, Jr., Executive Director, United Religions Initiative
Rev. D. Andrew Kille, Chair, Silicon Valley Interreligious Council
Rev. Ronald Kobata, Resident Minister, Buddhist Church of San Francisco
Rev. Deborah Lee, United Church of Christ, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity
Dr. James McCray, Jr., Tabernacle Community Development Corp.
Rev. Will McGarvey, Executive Director, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County
Abby Porth, Executive Director, Jewish Community Relations Council
Rev. Scott Quinn, Acting Director, Marin Interfaith Council
Rabbi Larry Raphael, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Sherith Israel
Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, Superintendent, Bridges District, CA-NV Conference-UMC
Moina Shaiq, President, Tri City Interfaith Council
Rita Shimmin, Executive Director, GLIDE
Rabbi Jonathan Singer, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Emanu-El
Rev. John Weems, Pastor & Head of Staff, Calvary Presbyterian Church
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young, Dean, Grace Cathedral
Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Sherith Israel

For additional information, please contact Michael G. Pappas at (415) 425-9631.

Cooperation Circles Celebrate International Day of Peace

 

URI North America Cooperation Circles and Affiliates are ready to celebrate International Day of Peace (IDP) 2016! The theme for IDP this year is “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Building Blocks for Peace.” Our network is building off of these blocks for peace by creating moments of #TangibleHope that strengthen the ideals of peace, both within and among their diverse communities.

Click through this slideshow to see what they’re up to! You can also check out the URI North America IDP Program Bank to find inspiration for IDP celebrations in your community for years to come. If you have an event to report, click HERE to submit it and qualify for a trip to the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week!

 
 

You can also check out events happening all around the world, hosted by URI CCs and others, on this map produced by URI Cooperation Circle UNIFY.

Hope is only hope when…

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

Bishop William Swing, President and Founder of the United Religions Initiative:

What fills me with hope is going out into the driveway in the morning to pick up the newspaper. I brace myself for the experience. I walk slowly and dawdle. I breathe in self-consciously. For a brief moment, I am in awe.  What is it that holds me in its power and glory? The sunrise!

Sunrise is so quiet.  No one owes it or can control it. Sunrise brings a blanket of undeniable freshness as if all the soiled garments of life had just been laundered.

It accentuates the beauty of everything it touches.

Sunrise has always worked its magic on me no matter where it has encountered me.  Picking blueberries in the hills of West Virginia, drawing water in jungle river in Papua New Guinea, walking hot streets in India, trudging roads above the Arctic Circle, walking into prisons, TB hospitals or mental facilities, filming in a desert in Judea, strolling along a beach in Rio de Janeiro, watching old couples ballroom dancing in China.

When the sun comes up, hope peeks through the gloom and whispers a word of promise.

It is morning in Burlingame, California, where I live, and I stand for the briefest of seconds holding my newspaper basking in the sunrise.  In my hand, I hold the incomprehensibly complicated news of a world gone mad, and on my face, I feel the light of infinite possibility. Hope is only hope when it is confronted by the specter of hopelessness.

I raised myself on the music of optimism.  “Oh its a good day for paying your bills and a good day for curing your ills.  So take a deep breath and throw away your pills, cause its a good day from morning till night,” says in 1940’s song. And I sang it on the surface of my life. But optimism only carries you as far as the edge of intractable suffering.  Then the journey can only be made by internalizing rays of hope that warm you from vast reservoirs of primal energy. Sunshine!  Or its equivalents! Or its Author!

Today’s prevailing hopelessness is captured in the phrase, “Religions have always fought in the past, and they will always fight in the future. You can’t change that.” There is a great deal of truth to that statement.  But there is a great deal of error in it, as well.  Religions have not always fought.  As a matter of fact, people of different and conflicting religious claims have consistently discovered practical ways of living side by side in far-flung locales and at various moments of history. They do today, all over the world, but this news will not be in the newspaper that I hold in the driveway.

Every day, I go inside my house, turn on my computer and get reports through the United Religions Initiative. These are real stories of people of all sorts of religions and other traditions, finding each other, tapping into good hearts, and discovering creative ways of serving specific needs.  To what do I attribute this newsworthy phenomenon?

I think that religious people pick up the absolution, the invigoration, the beauty of holiness that sunshine bestows, each day, on the earth.  Promiscuous grace bestowed in all directions, on the most undeserving as well as the most exemplar! Ordinary believers intuit that the One they worship is exceedingly generous and practical, and so they feel at home with other souls, of other traditions, who are inspired by Divine generosity and practicality. Together they publish a different kind of news — a digest of hope.

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bishopswing1-250_250Bishop William Swing is the President and Founder of the URI. He had the original vision of URI in 1993 in response to an invitation from the United Nations which asked him to host an interfaith service honoring the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. He  served as the Episcopal Bishop of California from 1980 until his retirement in 2006. In that capacity, he was a national and international leader in response to the AIDS crisis, co-founded Episcopal Community Services to address San Francisco’s homeless problem, and co-founded Community Bank of the Bay to support local businesses and the economy.

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.

Teen Interfaith Leadership Council Goes to Santa Fe

Diane Fisher (Jewish) and Deacon Steve Herrera (Catholic) from the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council CC (SiVIC) took eight teenagers on an interfaith immersion experience in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The teens explored various religious traditions in Santa Fe, engaged in interfaith dialogue, and shared prayer practices and information about their religious traditions with each other.

Seeret, one of our Sikh participants said about the trip that “the in-depth experience of talking to an elder of a particular faith, and hearing words of wisdom and sage advice about life as well as the faith was exceptional and unexpected. I just thought it would be an introduction to faiths and then we’d look around and leave, but the fact that we were able to ask so many questions and have them answered with so much respect— that in and of itself made the trip wonderful.”

Understanding other religions can be more difficult than it sounds, so having an intentional space for that express purpose allowed for a more enriching experience. Carly, a Jewish participant observed that “on a trip like this you make friends and learn about new religions, and it’s a really cool experience. You learn so much and go to places you would never go otherwise, and are encouraged to appreciate your own faith more as you learn to embrace differences.”

Karen, a member of the Shinnyo-En Buddhist Order, remarked that it was nice “being able to share with other faith-minded teenagers, because often people think of religion as just some superstition that you believe in because your parents do. So sharing with people who also have faith, especially from different religions, understand that it’s something very much a part of us. Being able to have an understanding of other religions helps people to peaceably talk things through, as well as see things from others perspectives.”

Diane Fisher (Jewish) and Deacon Steve Herrera (Catholic) were the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council Cooperation Circle‘s board members who facilitated the teen interfaith immersion trip. They are Co-directors of the Teen Interfaith Leadership Council of Santa Clara County, affiliated with the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council Cooperation Circle. Deacon Steve Herrera produced the video.

The “Ask a Muslim” Series: A Space for Courageous Conversations

“Can Muslim women lead prayer?” “What is Sharia law?” Can you be gay and Muslim?”

These are but some of the questions Muslim panelists are asked during monthly Ask a Muslim gatherings co-hosted by The Markaz Arts Centre for the Greater Middle East, an Affiliate of The United Religions Initiative (URI) North America in Los Angeles.

Once a month, this collaboration with Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), invites members of the public to listen to, and engage with, a diverse group of Muslims responding to a variety of prompts, such as “Islam 101,” “Women in Islam” and “LGBTQI and Islam.” Participants are encouraged to ask clarifying questions without the fear of feeling ignorant. Ask a Muslim seeks to counter the islamophobia presented in the mainstream US media by putting faces and stories to the life experiences of Muslims in the United States and beyond.

Co-organizer Jordan Elgrably, founder of The Markaz, describes these events as conversations and safe spaces that foster “an ongoing open dialogue for debate and understanding around today’s pressing questions about Islam.” The vision for this program came from a real need Jordan identified within his community and beyond.

“In this country, we don’t talk about race, religion, politics, with great depth – we need safe places for public conversations,” he said. “We need to peel away our onion layers with each other and talk honestly about our fears and confusion.”

Los Angeles is not the first place this series has taken place. This past summer, Ani Zonneveld, founder and director of MPV, brought Ask a Muslim to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. During her time at the HRC, MPV hosted tables for passerbys to spend a moment with the Islamic scholars and Imams who traveled with MPV as part of their “ImamsForShe” initiative. This project facilitated meaningful, one-on-one connections between strangers and helped break down barriers that had previously existed between people.

The Ask a Muslim series employs the age-old peacebuilding tactic of using open and honest conversations as a tool for dismantling stereotypes and challenging implicit prejudices. It aims to change people’s hearts and minds about Muslims by creating a space where participants are encouraged to reach within themselves and ask what is truly on their mind – free of judgment from other participants.

All across the US and Canada, grassroots interfaith groups are making strides to break down these barriers and create safe spaces for the deep conversations of which Jordan speaks. The Love Your Muslim Neighbor panel discussions hosted by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County CC facilitates crucial conversations, within a variety of church congregations, regarding some of the major misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims, with up to 200 participants. Additionally, InterfaithWorks Cooperation Circle, based out of Syracuse, NY, hosts an Interfaith Dinner Dialogue series, wherein participants gather over a free meal to discuss questions posed by a facilitator and share their experiences regarding faith and spirituality with friends and strangers alike. Examples of such events continue with: Kashi Ashram Cooperation Circle, an interfaith intentional living community hosts “Listening Circles,” the Arizona Faith Network Cooperation Circle, hosts community discussions on local issues, their most recent one being on Environmental Racism, and the National Peace Academy‘s “Truth Telling Project” aimed at implementing and sustaining grassroots, community-centered truth-telling processes to share local voices, to educate America, and to support reconciliation for the purposes of eliminating structural violence and systemic racism against Black people in the United States.

By intentionally creating spaces conducive to open and honest dialogue, each of these initiatives creates opportunities for people, from a variety of different backgrounds, to show up, engage and take ownership of their learning.


Anissa

Anissa Abdel-Jelil joined the URI North America as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator in May 2016, after a seven-month fellowship with the organization. She brings with her a passion for social justice and storytelling. Her international and interfaith upbringing, paired with her academic journey, opened her eyes to the community-based peacebuilding work taking place all over the world. Her experiences in the fields of international human rights and humanitarianism, health, wellness and intercultural bridge building have equipped her with a hybrid lens for problem solving and clearly communicating complex information. Anissa’s combination of work and volunteer experience and language, graphic design and social media skills will allow her to make a meaningful contribution to the URI North America team. Throughout her time with us, she hopes to emulate the creativity and resilience she sees throughout URI’s network.

jordan picJordan Elgrably is an award-winning social entrepreneur, producer, writer, editor & the founding director of The Markaz, Arts Center for the Greater Middle East, in Los Angeles. A curator and producer of public programs, Jordan is of Moroccan and French heritage. He has been passionately committed to strengthening Arab/Muslim/Christian and Jewish relations for many years. In addition to The Markaz, which he co-founded in 2001 as the Levantine Cultural Center, he founded the New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers International in 1996 and Open Tent Middle East Coalition in 1999. He was a producer for the Dalai Lama’s World Festival of Sacred Music in 1999, 2002 and 2005. As well, he has launched several original initiatives, among them the Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief; Beirut-LosAngeles.org; CelebratePalestine.org; and New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, with funding from the Golden Globes/Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Jordan attended the American University of Paris (formerly ACP) and was based for a number of years in Paris and Madrid, where he worked as a journalist and associate producer for TF1. His essays, articles and stories have appeared in many anthologies and periodicals. He is a member of PEN Center, the international advocacy organization for writers and journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, and the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. In 2008, the L.A. Weekly featured Jordan Elgrably in its People of the Year issue and he received the Local Hero Award from the Foundation for World Arts and Culture; in 2011 and 2014, he was an Annenberg Alchemy Fellow; in 2013 and 2015 he was nominated for the James Irvine Leadership Award. In 2014 he received an American Express Award and in 2015, the Rachel Corrie Conscience and Courage Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He is a 2016 Ariane de Rothschild Foundation Fellow. Jordan lives near San Luis Obispo with his wife and son.

ani picAni Zonneveld is founder and President of Muslim for Progressive Values (MPV). Since its inception, Ani has presided over MPV’s expansion to include chapters and affiliates in 12 countries and  19 cities. She has organized numerous interfaith arts and music festivals, participated in many interfaith dialogues and is a strong supporter of human rights and freedom of expression. She is the brainchild of Literary Zikr – a project that counters radical Islam on-line and co-editor of MPV’s first book, an anthology titled “Progressive Muslim Identities – Personal Stories from the U.S. and Canada”; she has contributed to many forewords and numerous anthologies too many to list; is a contributor for HuffingtonPost, OpenDemocracy and al-Jazeera, and recently gave her TEDx talk titled – Islam: As American As Apple Pie; and the subject of a documentary title “al-imam” featuring Ani’s activism works. As an award winning singer/songwriter, she utilizes the power of music and the arts in countering radicalism as she speaks-sings her message of social justice and peace from a progressive Muslim woman’s perspective, and is the first woman to release an English Islamic popalbum in the U.S. in 2004. Born and raised Muslim from Malaysia and based out of Los Angeles, Ani spent a good portion of her formative years raised in Germany, Egypt and India as an Ambassador’s daughter. Her exposure to different politics, religions and cultures has shaped her inclusive worldview.