Martin Luther King Celebrations Bring Together People from All Walks of Life

By Robyn Lebron

As we ponder all the different messages that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left as his legacy, there is so much to learn from: his call for freedom and justice for all people, his comments about peaceful protests for a righteous cause, and his profound quote about unity. “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

There were countless celebrations and activities honoring the different facets of Dr. King’s legacy on Martin Luther King Day this year, but we will focus on two events that focused on his call for unity.

The Interfaith Roundtable of Kaua’i (IROK), a Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, commemorated with a celebration of cultural diversity with the theme One Garden, Many Flowers. Al Albergate, co-chair of IROK, shared that the planning team chose this theme because of a desire to focus on unity.

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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.

URI Cooperation Circles Call for Solidarity, Action After Killings

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PPPs in action

In the light of the recent killings both by and of police officers in the United States, several URI Cooperation Circles have issued statements and calls to action.

“All Lives Are Precious and Irreplaceable,” declared the San Francisco Interfaith Council in a statement penned by board chair G.L. Hodge. “Now is the time for us to work together on implicit bias, poverty, education for all our children, income inequality, safety and security for all — on all the issues which keep us from moving ahead as a strong, democratic society with equal rights for all. Violence is not the way….The San Francisco Interfaith Council, its Board and its members implore our sisters and brothers everywhere to shine the light of love and condemn the darkness of hate. We ask faith leaders everywhere to raise their voices against violence, preach messages of peace and redouble efforts on issues that will bring true equality.” (Read the full statement here.)

The Council has also announced that they are working with the Office of Diversity at USF and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to offer “Implicit Bias Training” to San Francisco’s congregation leaders civil rights activists.

Following the killing of police officers in Dallas, the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County issued a statement of solidarity and sympathy and also called communities to action.

“While nonviolent rage, anger and lament are valid expressions in times like these, we also call on communities around the country to start meeting with their local police departments to discuss how to work together to make our communities safer for all.”

The Marin Interfaith Council expressed grief over all of those who have lost their lives in recent weeks.

“We hold in our thoughts and prayers those who have lost their lives and lost loved ones during the tragic events of the past few weeks. May we rededicate ourselves to build bridges of understanding, promote justice, create safe space for difficult conversations, and practice radically inclusive hospitality for everyone.”

The Arizona Faith Network, based in Phoenix, Arizona, is joining the call of local pastor Warren Stewart Sr. to urge President Obama, U.S. House Speaker Ryan and U.S. Senate President McConnell to convene a 2016 National Summit on Racism in America, which would acknowledge and address systemic racism in the United States. You can read more about this effort here.