Moral Courage: The courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risks

  

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

Janess Gans Wilder, founder and CEO of the Euphrates Institute:

What gives me #TangibleHope is the moral courage of the people around the world with whom I have the privilege of working. Moral courage is the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. The task of interfaith activity and peacebuilding is not easy. It often involves taking great personal risks and sacrifices to address the issues of violence, extremism, racism, and discrimination non-violently.

A very meaningful and eye-opening example of this indomitable courage occurred for me last week. I was on a conference call with our Euphrates Chapter Leaders. (The Euphrates Insitute is a United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle that has a network model much like URI, but on a much smaller scale. We currently have 25 local satellite groups around the world who further the Euphrates mission in their communities.) Our Chapter Leader from Sudan discussed how aggressively ISIS is recruiting in his area and how he is using it as an opportunity to increase his efforts to educate people about peace, bridge-building with the West, and turning the ‘Other’ into a brother as a counterpoint to the terrorist group’s narrative.

I asked him how he was dealing with being aligned with an American-based organization started by a former U.S. government official. “Isn’t that risky?” I pressed. “What about your personal security? Wouldn’t the government, and/or ISIS folks try to brand you as a spy, unpatriotic, infidel, etc, etc. How do you deal with that?

Everyone on the call got quiet to hear his response.  

“Of course it is risky,” he acknowledged. “You took risks in your life, going to war zones. And I take risks in mine. This is a big mission. We must take big risks. It’s because we believe in this and know it will help people. We must give the young people the chance for a different life.”

We were all touched. He repeated the ideas several times and with such sincerity. One lady even had to turn off the video, she told me later, because tears were streaming down her face.

His remarks served as a powerful reminder for me of the risks and sacrifices all of us are taking in this work, and to not take them lightly. The moral courage of folks like him who are working around the world to further peace, respect for other religions, finding common ground, overcoming oppression, is what gives me #TangibleHope on a daily basis.

In my own journey, moral courage has evolved from seeing the people of the Middle East as the “enemy” to seeing them as partners, friends. Through my work as a counterinsurgency analyst in Iraq, I was involved in the “military solution” as the way to deal with conflict, but ultimately found it to be a fruitless effort that did not stem the problem of war at the root. It felt like catching drops of water from a leaky faucet, which doesn’t actually fix the faucet.

I believe the transformation I experienced from seeing Iraqis as the ‘Other’ to seeing them as brothers is possible for each one of us when we open our hearts and minds to whomever the ‘Other’ is to us in our lives. (See my TEDx talk on this topic to hear more.)

I invite you to contemplate the question “Who is my ‘Other’?” Is it a group from a different religion, nation, ethnicity, race, gender, political party? Can you open your thought to having an encounter, a personal experience with your ‘Other’ in a fresh way? You may find the results to be utterly transformative.

Imagine each of us doing this. Talk about #TangibleHope.

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Janessa Gans Wilder is a former CIA officer turned peacebuilder, social entrepreneur, and nonprofit executive. She is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Euphrates Institute, an organization that builds peace and understanding about critical Middle East issues. She founded Euphrates after five years at the CIA focused on the Middle East, including serving 21 months in Iraq from 2003-2005. Janessa is a frequent speaker in interfaith, community, government, international, and educational settings. She has written dozens of articles and been interviewed by major news outlets, including CBS, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Democracy Now, and many more.

Finding Tangible Hope in Keeping Tradition Alive

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

Leah Schwartz, young adult interfaith activist responds:

Last year when I was studying abroad in Barcelona my host family asked how I could put my body through the process of fasting for Yom Kippur. I began to question what meaning it had, especially when I wasn’t performing the rite with my family and friends at home. However, I was soon reminded of my grandfather and his commitment to Judaism despite the anti-Semitism that he faced in his lifetime.

Although sometimes it seems foreign to practice Jewish rituals in a secular(ish) environment, whether it be at college or abroad, I like the idea that that these holidays and traditions somehow connect me to my grandfather and my ancestors.

My grandfather was a holocaust survivor and a venerated member of the Jewish community within Caracas, Venezuela.

When I was ten years old, on Mother’s Day, my mother received a call that her father had been hit by a bus in Caracas that ran a red light. The family festivities were interrupted and she quickly made arrangements to get to Venezuela. Later that week he passed away.

I never got the chance to ask him what it was like to be in a labor camp or how he stayed devoted to the idea of Hashem, G-d, in such a bleak circumstance. It felt wrong that, after all he had been through, he was robbed of his life in this way.

The Jewish High Holidays give me time to to not only reflect on this life event and how it affects me, but also its larger societal context. In this time of reflection, I feel Tangible Hope wash over me.

I have the power and the agency to keep a tradition alive that was once under the threat of being wiped out.

I have hope that I can continue to pass on these customs one day when I have children of my own — that I have the power and the agency to keep a tradition alive that was once under the threat of being wiped out. I have hope that, through interfaith work, I can contribute to creating a more inclusive atmosphere where no one feels threatened due to their origins or practice.

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Leah Schwartz Tangible Hope Diary

 

Leah Schwartz is a senior at the University of Rochester. She is an intern at the university’s Interfaith Chapel and President of the Students’ Association for Interfaith Cooperation.

 

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.

This Election Season, Hope is Hard

Valarie Kaur's #TangibleHope Diary

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

Valarie Kaur, filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, activist and Sikh thought leader, responds:

Sometimes hope is hard to see.

This election season, rage and fear have dominated American politics. Communities of color have been vilified, shamed, and intimidated; hate groups have increased for the first time in five years, and reports of hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans have tripled.

This election season, hope is hard.

But my Sikh faith teaches us the spirit of Chardi Kala ever-rising optimism and revolutionary love even in darkness.

For me, this means I must fight despair with optimism each day. And when I do this, I begin to see signs of #TangibleHope all around me.

I see this in my family friend Rana Sodhi.

On September 15, 2001, Rana’s brother Balbir Singh Sodhi, a turbaned Sikh father who lived and worked in Arizona, was the first of dozens killed in hate crimes in the aftermath of 9/11. Since then, Rana and I — along with a generation of activists — have fought to end hate in America.

But 15 years of activism could not prevent this era of enormous rage. So to test our own ability to love this election season, Rana Sodhi and I did something we had never done before.

We called his brother’s murderer in prison — and Rana forgave him.

It was the first step down a long and difficult road toward reconciliation. But in a time when America is grappling with a seemingly endless cycle of violence — terrorism followed by hate violence, followed by another terror attack and even more violence — Rana’s example models a kind of love that breaks the cycle.

This is Revolutionary Love — love that drives courageous and loving action in the world, even for those who disagree with us or hurt us.

I have seen a movement for Revolutionary Love emerge this Fall. Thousands of American gathered together in 100+ dialogues and film screenings across the nation on how to meet hate with love and courage this election season. Two hundred became Ambassadors of Revolutionary Love, committed to championing love in their lives — at schools and workplaces, online, at the kitchen table, and in the voting booth. And together, we took the message on the road through the Together Tour — a first-ever women’s speaking tour that reached 20,000+ people in packed theaters across America, championing the call to love this election season.

Now we are turning that love into action in the countdown to Election Day. Our Revolutionary Love Ambassadors are teaming with Emerge USA to stand with Muslim Americans and support their right to vote. With every new threat of voter intimidation at the polls, Muslim families worry that they may not be able to exercise the sacred and fundamental right to vote. We are making 10,000+ calls offering support and key polling information, a simple but substantial act that increases the likelihood that they will vote — and feel supported by their fellow Americans.

We have a choice this election season: Will we let the next generation inherit our fear and rage? Or will we recommit our nation to love? Thousands of Americans are choosing love.

And that gives me hope.


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valarie-kaur

Valarie Kaur is an award-winning filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, activist, author, entrepreneur, Sikh thought leader, and movement-builder who uses stories to drive social change. Inspired by the Sikh faith, her new venture, the Revolutionary Love Project, harnesses the ethic of love to drive courageous action in American public life. Learn more about it here: http://revolutionarylove.net/

Hope in Interfaith Leaders 

tangible hope diaries eboo patel and mesha interfaith youth core

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

Eboo Patel and Mesha Arant (Interfaith Youth Core), active proponents of young adult leadership in the interfaith movement respond:

On a crisp morning in September members of the IFYC staff in Chicago waited in expectation; would the hundreds of guests we invited to welcome the Honorable Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, show up? Mayor Khan is the first Muslim elected to lead a major western capital city. We believed his visit would serve as an opportunity to highlight the importance of interfaith cooperation on the international stage. And while we knew the significance of this visit, we were unsure if Mayor Khan’s presence was enough to entice college students to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning.

“Hello,” “good morning,” “As-Salamu Alaikum,” laughter, and conversation soon filled the synagogue’s fellowship hall and our staff breathed a sigh of relief.

We opened the doors to Temple Sholom and Muslims, Jews, Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, and those who choose to identify in a host of other ways filled the space. “Hello,” “good morning,” “As-Salamu Alaikum,” laughter, and conversation soon filled the synagogue’s fellowship hall and our staff breathed a sigh of relief. Hundreds of college students and community members were there to show their support for religious pluralism.

I’m never quite sure why we worry in these moments—maybe it is the uncertain nature of event planning or the certitude of day-of hiccups. But this moment served as an affirmation for what we already know to be true: when young people are given the opportunity to advance interfaith cooperation, they show up.

Each person who walked through the door on that September morning served as a tangible manifestation of the vision we hope to concretize for our generation.

Our work at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has shown us this to be true time and time again. Our organization is built on the idea that young people are the key to making interfaith cooperation a social norm in our lifetime. We have built networks, programming, and resources to bring this idea to life. Each person who walked through the door on that September morning served as a tangible manifestation of the vision we hope to concretize for our generation. Our hope is in them.

At IFYC we believe that civic interfaith leadership is a necessity for a healthy religiously diverse democracy. Our alums touch all sectors—they work in healthcare, for the government, create educational programs on the importance of religious literacy, teach children, become clergy, and host trainings. They are consistently bringing the values of interfaith cooperation into broader society. They are the Mayor Khan’s of tomorrow. 

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Interfaith Youth Core #TangibleHopeEboo Patel

Eboo Patel is a leading voice in the movement for interfaith cooperation and the Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national nonprofit working to make interfaith cooperation a social norm. He is the author of the books Acts of Faith, Sacred Ground, and Interfaith Leadership. He is a frequent guest speaker on college campuses, a regular contributor to the public conversation around religion in America and served on President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council. Eboo holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

URI North America #TangibleHopeMesha Arant

Mesha Arant is an Associate at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Mesha received her B.A. in Religion from Wofford College in 2012 and her Master of Divinity from Yale in 2015. Her current interests include African-American humanism, ethics, and bridging the theist/non-theist divide.


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.

Hope is a Flame

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

P.K. McCary, a founding member of the United Religions Initiative and a dedicated Peacemaker.

I was born less than a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation. That fact was lost on me until recently. I guess, as we get older, our skills for understanding grow and our hindsight increases. So in hindsight, the passing of time is not insignificant. Time is fluid and as such, everything that happens is but a moment in the fabric of the good and the not so good times of life. And that fabric shapes our lives in more ways than we imagine.

What triggered this realization, I believe, had to do with something I was asked to do and then the pieces started falling into place. I was asked to tell my story or a story for the campaign created in the region of North America called #TangibleHope. There are many campaigns going on in the world centered on issues such as nuclear disarmament, immigration, racism, police brutality and more. The list is very, very long. The list is so long, a person could become overwhelmed with the choices. Do I work today on ending police brutality or feeding the homeless?

Every story has the power to influence and inspire, but not every story can resonate with everyone.

I ask myself similar questions almost every morning. I usually schedule those things I wish to accomplish, but I’m flexible to what comes my way. I’m a peacemaker, which makes activism high on my list of priorities. That’s why it is near impossible to find and tell one story and have it represent the concept or meaning of Tangible Hope.  It is both. Even as I was having a hard time deciding on one story, I understood the need to allow storytelling to serve as a vehicle for not only helping people grasp the concept and meaning, but to embrace and encompass it as well. The truth is that there is not just one story. There are many. Every story has the power to influence and inspire, but not every story can resonate with everyone.

We are Americans whose roots were cut away because of the enslavement of some of my ancestors.

My story starts with this new realization. Often I have defined myself as a child of the Diaspora. I cannot tell you where my ancestors hailed from. I’m a Texan and two of my children are as well. My youngest was born in Washington, DC. We are Americans whose roots were cut away because of the enslavement of some of my ancestors. And it is here that the concept and meaning of tangible hope resonates so deeply with me and where the separate and conjoined significance of each word plays a part in the work that I do.

Tangible means something concrete. Hope is defined as a wish or desire. A tangible hope could be a concrete desire, something that a person can truly expect, but hope can be so intangible as to be fleeting for many. We can recognize the symptoms of hopelessness in the choices we make and today, the world thrums with anticipation of desires gone amok. Will we survive the consternation of those who feel that they aren’t being heard or worse forgotten? Will hope serve as the bridge to something better or must we face the storms of discontent because we have forgotten its power, its gift?

Hope does not disappoint. ~ Roman 5:5

I was taught that I am the hope of my ancestors, a hope that belies the struggle of those enslaved. Both sets of grandparents articulated this biblical adage from Romans in some way or another to us growing up. In spite of the hardship that many endured, including those who were beaten and killed, somewhere in the tangibleness of their present situations, they had a hope that was unfathomable … far from concrete and on the surface, foolish to anticipate. And yet, this hope resides in me. As a black woman grown, I am a representative of that hope. Maya Angelou expresses this in “And Still I Rise“:

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I am a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling, I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise

Tangible hope resonates in me because I anticipate the power and promise of it, knowing that it exists, even when I sometimes can’t grasp it in the so-called realities of our time. Maybe that is why being reminded that while I’m not so far removed from slavery in America, the shame and burden of that time, I am still the hope of their suffering simply because I am here.

The hope that lives in me and in others carries us through the tough times of grief and sadness. I know I can get through these times because the intangible hope of the slave is made tangible with me.

I am here, passing hope to my children, grandchildren and those I love so dearly. My gifts come through that hope—the ability to listen, to care, and to get back up when realities knock me down. The hope that lives in me and in others carries us through the tough times of grief and sadness. I know I can get through these times because the intangible hope of the slave is made tangible with me.

Tangible is the seen. But, tangible hope is much more. Because this tangible hope lets you believe, hope, even in the darkest hour. It is the flame that serves the soul well, to believe in peace and justice even when you can’t see it clearly through the haze of all the troubles of the world. It is the flame that starts small, but burns bright because it can do nothing else. And the more flames lit by the stories of triumph and courage, the brighter the world will be. So, tell your stories. Light flames across the globe for all of humanity and together we can find peace and love that derives from that tangible hope.

Peace.

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pk-mccary

P.K. McCary, a founding member of The United Religions Initiative is a dedicated Peacemaker based in the U.S.A.

 

 

 

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.