7 Days of Silence — India

Its strange when there is so much to say and so little to say at the same time. The most valuable things I do not think I could put into words, and if I was able to, I doubt they would be understood in the way they were felt. And then there is the additional element of recognizing how early I am in the journey of that kind of discovery, so wondering if anything I have to say at this point would be worth much anyway.

Still, I’ve created this short video of my experience at least, — and for anyone interested in perhaps engaging in a length of silence – I would highly recommend it.

I like the quote at the end of the video — which was sent by my friend Joey:

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
~ Carl Jung

Does anyone else have any experiences with Silence or self-discovery they would like to share?
Any ideas why lengths of Silence can be such a powerful and poignant experience?

What is it about You as a human that makes You close, and what makes You open?

What is it about human nature that often makes it difficult for us to enter a place of uncertainty or at least openness to listen & learn without needing to so quickly prove & convince? What do You think it is that might allow You to open vs close?

I went to a protestant Christian church today where they had invited a man from Pakistan to speak about Islam.

He did a great job of emphasizing how Islam stands for peace, how Judaism, Christianity and Islam are historically three branches of the same tree, and a beautiful job of resolving some potential misunderstandings while establishing common ground. He spoke of the love he felt from Christians that he could take back and speak about.

Almost immediately after, there was a man who got up to establish clearly the differences between the faiths, and to reinforce his own belief in Christianity as what he saw as a clearly superior choice.

Try to reserve judgment and just observe human nature with me. Both had courage to speak in the ways they did.

Still, whatever the context, it seems as if humans need to have some sense of Significance and Certainty. When put in a religious context, and the feeling is that salvation is at stake, perhaps emotions run a little more raw – but it still seems to be need for significance and certainty that drives a lot of the behavior.

What is it about human nature that often makes it difficult for us to enter a place of uncertainty or at least openness to listen & learn without needing to so quickly prove & convince?

Gay and Mormon: Trying to understand Homosexuality and Christianity

Gay and Mormon: Trying to understand Homosexuality and Christianity

In the last 6 months I have been to almost a dozen countries presenting at conferences or attending valuable workshops. One of Two great peoplethe most interesting presentations I was asked by Fred and Marilyn Matis to give was at a meeting (called a “fireside”) that is for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who either struggle with same-sex attraction or have friends/family that do.

In previous blog entries I talked a little about what it was like growing up a Mormon, and later answered some questions in a blog entry on what do Mormons believe, and so this whole topic is one that is interesting and important to me.

At the Matis event, I was asked to speak for about an hour on a a fun topic – some of life’s greatest lessons that I learned from a friend and mentor, a retired Air Force fighter pilot – who was an inspiring example of how God can definitely work with and through people that are imperfect (which always gives hope to me).

I know that homosexuality in the context of Christianity is a sensitive topic, and there is a lot of tension and misunderstanding on all sides of the issue. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some things I have learned:

• I am convinced that in most instances, same-sex attraction is not a choice. In our society, why would anyone choose it?A great friend
• As the Matis’ point out – instead of worrying about a “cause” or “cure” – both of which we might never find – we should focus more energy on “care”. How can we learn to care more about people around us regardless of how they are different from us? And not just caring about them but also learning from them – because quite often they are inspiring!
• Most of these individuals are not a threat to anyone – but have actually spent a good portion of their lives beating themselves up about something they did not choose, wishing they were different, and trying to hide it from others. In trying to hide anything, it seems to magnify it out of proportion. When any of us begins to focus on some thing(s) that we don’t like about ourselves, we often miss seeing how much good there is in who we are.
• The way our society, media, etc… deals with matters of sex and sexuality are usually based more on image, indulgence, anxiousness, lust, fear, and unrealizable expectations instead of on principles of real love, thinking of others more than ourselves, and respect. This makes it difficult to understand or discuss these matters.
• When there is a judgmental culture, it influences people to hide anything about themselves which others might potentially look down on. That often limits their ability to feel truly accepted and loved/lovable.
• This does not mean that “anything goes and is equally OK” – or that we can have no basis for choosing personal standards because that might mean that it seems we are also placing a judgment on others. Just letting anyone do whatever they feel like never has led people to be more more wise or happy. Rather, it means that we do always seek and strive for those things which really do unlock the greatest potential in ourselves, others, and society as a whole – while at the same time having more patience and compassion for others (and ourselves) in the process.
• At our core, what we all want more than anything (regardless of who we are) is to be loved and accepted. One great thing about these meetings is that it allows people to be honest about themselves (in some cases for the first time), to recognize they are not alone, and especially to realize that there is nothing about who they are that needs to keep them from being truly loved and accepted (especially things which were not a choice). We all have our own difficulties and differences (whatever they may be), yet innately want to be close to God and others.

Those are some of the things I have been learning, as I am trying to make sense of homosexuality in light of Christianity.

Do you agree/disagree on any of these points?
Does anyone have anything additional to add?

Nobel Peace Prize winner F.W. de Klerk on global inter-connectedness, the root causes of conflict, and the role of U.S. leadership: What can one person do?

Nobel Peace Prize winner F.W. de Klerk on global inter-connectedness, the root causes of conflict, and the role of U.S. leadership: What can one person do?

What can one person do to make the world a better, safer place?Clint Rogers and Nelson Mandela

In a previous blog entry I talked about meeting Nelson Mandela, who is such an inspirational character. On Tuesday of this week I met and shook hands with his predecessor as president of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk.
It is strange that I never really thought much about F.W. de Klerk before – but he is a man who has shown incredible humility, FE deKlerk handshakestrength, and courage in his role of surrendering power to negotiation while doing away with apartheid as well as what he has been doing since then.

He offered a great speech to a group of students and faculty at BYU about how interconnected we all are in the world now, the role of leadership the U.S. plays in that (whether they like it or not), and the responsibility we all have to eliminate as much as possible the root causes of conflict (poverty, ignorance, repression, and fanaticism).

It is hard to select which parts of my notes to share, but on my plane ride to Toronto I typed up a summary of some of the main points he made.
At the end I ask the question that this entry began with.

Global inter-connectedness
Globalization shrinks the world.
We have a more interconnected financial system
In a shrinking world, problems of one region will be problems of another region.
(e.g. AIDS, or how sub-prime loan crises in the US influences the economy all over the world)

Nothing would appear more secure and American than Utah. Yet you all will be affected by the global stage (China, India, Middle East, Iraq, Financial Crises, Global Warming, etc.)

Conflicts can reverberate all over the world.
Who would have thought a few years ago that fanatics in the caves of Afghanistan could pose a threat to the financial nerve center of the most powerful nation on earth?

Root causes of conflict
The root cause of conflict is: poverty, repression, ignorance, and fanaticism.

While we are here, children are starving, ravished – living in unacceptable conditions – so much pain.
2 billion people still live beneath the poverty line, and this unacceptable. Here is the gap which needs to be breached.
The per capita of the wealthiest countries is 84 times the per capita of the poorest countries.

There is laid the foundation of a supranational power, a global interconnectivity – and we can no longer ignore problems elsewhere.
It is less and less possible to ignore how much of the world lives in poverty, ignorance, and oppression.

You need to develop the policy, skill, and will to tackle the root causes of conflict.
There is a symbiosis between freedom, economic development, democracy (rule of law), and a vibrant civil society.

One of the main sources of conflict is the inability of different ethnic/cultural/religious groups to peacefully co-exist.
Only a few of the worlds most significant conflicts have been between countries – the rest are conflicts within countries (e.g. Middle East).

Israel and Palestine must find a way to peacefully live together!

In South Africa [during apartheid] we experienced isolation, restrictions, sanctions and we felt the pressure of it. FW deKlerkAs a result, we pulled back to reconsider what we were doing and learned there was another way.
We learned we could not dictate in negotiation, but negotiation needed to be inclusive. All sides had to take enormous risks, and make painful compromises.
In negotiation, we must always be trying to see things from the other side as you move forward.
If we could do it (in South Africa), they can do it too.

Role of U.S. leadership
How will the US play the global leadership role in a world full of threats and full of opportunities?

If we are living in a global village, the U.S. is the mayor and chief of police.
Not acting as an elected leader, but as the unchallenged economic, military dominance and preeminence.

Success makes you a target for disaffected groups.
The role of preeminence is always unpopularity. Even your allies are jealous of you. To quote Bart Simpson, “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.”

How should the US lead? Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
It might be true that Iraq, the Middle East, and the world is a better place without Hussein. But what is the lasting solution?
Military force has a role, but it can not provide a lasting solution.

The US must have an iron will and force, but not in a way that is inconsistent with democratic principles.
In the global leadership role, constantly consider speaking with a “soft voice”
This is not the same as weakness. It involves a multi-lateral approach to international crises. You do not forgo using a big stick, but you have to get more consensuses if ultimately it is to be used.

In the U.S. don’t lose faith, but don’t be overly concerned with what others have accused you of doing wrong. FW deKlerk BYU Speech

Focus instead on what you have done great and right, redouble those efforts. You are the most democratic country the world has ever seen.
You, the people of the U.S., are free – and engaging in the 4 year celebration of that freedom – the election of your next president.
You have no idea how much influence your current election is having on the world. So many are watching it with interest, that some feel they should also have a vote.

One of the wonders of freedom in the U.S. is how few restrictions there are for entrepreneurs – there are so little restrictions on them, so they can follow their dreams.
You have fostered a healthy spirit of competition which has inspired excellence in scientific discovery, technological development, etc.
You can also appreciate fostering healthy competition between countries.

The greatness of America is not in its army, but the greatness of America lies in its ideals: freedom of religion, democracy with the rule of law, the faith of the majority of its people, etc.

If the US is true to their ideals, there is no doubt you will succeed in your mission: you must take the leadership in poverty elimination, promoting democracy, in finding peaceful solutions to the conflicts that face the world
The US will have to play a disproportionate role in facing these challenges.

But it is only in speaking with a “soft voice”, multi-lateral approaches, and international collaboration that lasting solutions to the world’s problems can be found.

Whether you are in the 1st or 3rd world, we are all part of the fragile interconnected globalized society.
Regardless of how rich a country is, security can only be handled when the international community works together in concert with each other.
__

In the Question and Answer session after his speech, one person asked a question that I’m sure a lot of people were asking themselves. It is the same question that a friend asked me in an email a few minutes later.

In light of how interconnected we are, and how we can less and less ignore the poverty, ignorance, and oppression that exists in the world –
What can one person do to make the world a better, safer place?

I think this is a common question that a lot of people ask, and this is my question for you – what ideas do you have? With problems so complex and overwhelming, can one person really make a difference?

(After some responses, I’ll share what Mr. deKlerk’s suggestions were, as well as some of my own thoughts)

The power of “this moment”: …and questioning how to deal with soul pain?

The power of “this moment”: …and questioning how to deal with soul pain?

Several times in my life I’ve heard a saying that goes

“The past is history; The future is a mystery. This moment is a gift — that’s why it is called the present.”

To be honest, previously I just saw it as a clever little saying and then didn’t think much more about it.

It has only been in the last year that I have really been struck with the idea of how powerful it is to live in the moment. (Appreciating the idea, however, is very different from actually living the application of it, which is still difficult for me). Peaceful WarriorI watched a movie called “The Peaceful Warrior” (that I would highly recommend) which helped me see the importance of letting go of some control (or illusion of control) and the value of living in this moment, right now. Most of the time our minds are worried about something in the future which we can’t control or contemplating something in the past, for better or worse – but rarely do we stop and enjoy or even just experience right now, which is really the only thing we have.

I’ve now talked to 4 friends (two from the US – one of which was in India, one from Germany living in Finland, and one from France living in China) who have attended a Vipassana meditation course (absolutely free of charge) where you try to apply this principle through 10 days of total silence and Buddhist meditation – just trying to focus your mind on the experience of now. Each has said that for most people the first days are way more difficult than they would imagine, and even painful (being left with nothing but your thoughts, fears, doubts, regrets, uncertainties and trying to focus on the moment, without talking for the entire time – one of my friends could only last a few days). The three that were able to make it all 10 days said that by the end of the experience their life was changed – one of the most powerful experiences they have ever had.

It is more personal than I usually get on my blog, but over the last two weeks I’ve been experiencing some pretty intense “soul pain” (the kind of emotional grief which can seem at times worse than physical pain). I read some scriptures in The Book of Mormon which talk about the value of “today”, and I thought about my friends who have attended this Vipassana course. While feeling a deep sadness, I started to ask the questions:
How is it possible to value this moment when I am in pain now?
How can I focus on now and not think of past joy and/or hope somehow for a better future than the present moment?
What is there to see of value in this very moment, even when the moment is one filled with pain, sadness, and/or uncertainty?

I had a few experiences (which I might or might not share later) where I came to understand some of the answers to these questions for my situation, helping to provide meaning for being in the moment, even if it was hard and regardless of what happened in the past or what the future held.

One friend of mine shared with me some stories of others in her life who are going through some pretty severe trials, and it reminded me of hearing a poignant thing from President Henry B. Eyring when he indicated that you could go up to almost anyone and instead of asking “How are you doing?” – you could ask “Where does it hurt?”
So that makes me curious for anyone reading this:
How would you answer those questions (e.g. for the hard times you have gone through)?
Do you think it is possible to treasure (or at least value) a moment even when that moment is filled with sadness, pain, and uncertainty? Why and How?
Even when unpleasant, how can you want to experience and be in this moment, as opposed to any other ones that you could imagine?

America’s Greatness: It Has Never Really Been Politics

America’s Greatness: It Has Never Really Been Politics

Everywhere I go, I am surprised how much people all over the world know about the U.S.
• When I was in Russia a couple weeks ago, a young man came up to me and asked me if I was from the US. American FlagThen he began to ask me all kinds of questions about the housing market and sub-prime loan crisis. He wanted to know when I thought the market was going to recover, and what the relationship was going to be between the stock market and the upcoming elections.
• When I was in France, a woman who was originally from Scotland but now living in Norway taught me some interesting things I didn’t know about the current US presidential political candidates.
• When I was in China, a few people talked to me about wanting to move to the U.S., one man describing to me the uniqueness of some of the freedoms we have.
• When I was in Finland, I heard a black man from Tanzania defend the current situation in America to a white woman from South Africa who was speaking against certain parts of it.

I know other countries are talked about (e.g. French president’s new wife, Spain wining the Euro 2008, Russia’s and Putin, Zimbabwe’s election scandal…) but the situation in the US seems to command so much of the discussion of ordinary people around the world. To be honest, sometimes the discussion has made me feel somewhat awkward to be from the US, and at other times it has made me feel some degree of pride – but always it makes me think what a big responsibility it is to be the focal point of so much discussion.

I heard the CNN news host Glenn Beck talk at the Freedom Festival on the BYU campus about how much America craves for a Glenn Beckleader, but how the greatness of America was never found in Washington DC or any of its politicians.
He talked about how in America we all now have been bombarded with talk and recognition of all of the problems and all of the dangers we face – and now the whole world knows all our problems. We often talk so much about the problems we currently face, that we totally miss the blessings and opportunities that we so easily take for grant it. So what is it that contributes to the ways in which America is great?

There has been a lot of new technologies and innovations which have come from America:Freedom Festival Logo
• Light bulb
• Car
• Television
• Movies
• Telephone
• Assembly line
• Artificial heart
• Safety pins
• Computer
• Water tower
• Popsicle
• Polio vaccine
• Cotton candy
• Blue jeans
• Scones

But this is not really what he thought makes America great.

Where is the greatness?

From his message, at least part of greatness of America is captured in two phrases:
1. “We the People” – the first three words on the Declaration of Independence – in large print. This is the belief that government does not solve our problems, but we solve them by serving our families and communities. Glenn Beck said: “We can solve any problem. Not in Washington, but right here. The answer never comes from Washington, it never has… The answer comes like a beacon in these three words – ‘We the People’”
2. “In God we Trust” – this phrase should bring humility, not arrogance. It is the belief that if we humble ourselves and trust in God, He can guide us into an uncertain and difficult future to do things that will benefit ourselves and those we care about (both in and out of the country).

George Washington, the first president, was a good example of this – not looking for power of government position, not interested in being a politician, but simply in doing his duty to serve for the sake of freedom. Glenn Beck pointed out that when George Washington was making his stance at Valley Forge during the war of independence, he was just a short way from the government capitol (which at that time was Philadelphia). During the cold winters, his wife was the one who made shirts and pants for the soldiers. “The government and congress did not do much to help them then. The situation has not changed that much today.”

____
As a strange side note, one of the news stories in the U.S. this year is that the fireworks displays tonight might Freedom Festival Logonot be as spectacular this year because it was more difficult to get fireworks from China due to the recent earthquake.

So even in talking about the positive aspects of American society, I can not get beyond the reality of how interconnected the world is now-a-days.

Question Mark
Since we are so interconnected, I’m curious – from an international perspective what do you think have been some of the positive and negative impacts America has made on the world?

Why would you want to be a Buddhist monk?

Why would you want to be a Buddhist monk?

Early I had a blog entry about Catholic monks. Thai Buddhist monks Now I had the opportunity to ask the above question to two Thai Buddhist monks who were visiting Joensuu for a few days. I spoke with them briefly before a couple of meditation sessions that my good friend Antony invited me to (which they kind of took us through).

So why would you want to become a monk?
I was told earlier that in certain Buddhist traditions every boy is expected to spend a period of 3-6 months as a monk (as a sign of love to his mother), but only certain ones decide to continue to live in the monastery and spend their life as a monk.
One of these monks said that he wanted to become a monk since he was a small boy. He always spent all his extra time at the temple which was in his village, respected the monks, and knew that is what he wanted to do.
Buddhist monks getting ready for meditationThe other monk said that he came from a very poor family and always wanted an education beyond the primary school. Being a monk allowed him to continue his studies, and he has now graduated from the Buddhist university in linguistics, having studied semitic languages and Buddhist traditions.
Both seemed very happy (aside from the cold weather, that is.)

I’ve never tried Buddhist meditation before, but I found it quite difficult yet enjoyable. I also think it is a healthy thing to do. There are different kinds, but we sat with our legs crossed, back straight but not rigid, and hands comfortably in our lap. You close your eyes and only focus on “seeing” your breathing. Wherever you feel your breath the most (tip of nose, throat, stomach, etc), you try to focus on that area – and clear your mind of any other thought.

meditatingI don’t know if you have ever sat for an entire hour before in the same position and just tried to only focus on one thing in the moment – but it is tough. As I was sitting there, my brain kept rushing through thoughts of things that had happened or things that were coming up which I needed to do. It was also difficult not to be distracted as my legs and butt slowly felt more discomfort from sitting in the same position, as I felt an itch on my face, or as some other distraction occurred in the room – but supposedly those distractions provide the best opportunities to really focus on your breathing in deeper way.

Me with monks

Why I think meditation is healthy?
Here are my thoughts, but if anyone else knows better – feel free to correct me.
There seems to be something good about being in the present moment. Slowing down enough so that your conscience can speak – digging past appearance to substance – transcending the immediate emotion or feeling to the deeper parts of existence and the core of who you are. (Although it is not about Buddhism, it reminds me of movie called “Peaceful Warrior” which I would recommend that deals with being in the present moment. It is one of my favorite movies at the moment. 🙂
Maybe I’m totally missing some of the most important things, so feel free to correct me if you know any better.

I’m curious what stuff other people do to slow down for a bit and contemplate?
Or does anyone know any other reasons why meditation is healthy?

Is the Dalai Lama lying? Conflict, hypocrisy, and miscommunication – the Dorje Shugden

Is the Dalai Lama lying? Conflict, hypocrisy, and miscommunication – the Dorje Shugden

Shouts with a call: “Stop lying”

Response (by the crowd): “Dalai Lama”

What are some human tendencies in responding to conflict?

While walking this morning along the streets of Oxford (to a conference I am presenting at this weekend), I saw a group of people gathering and asked what was happening. They said the Dalai Lama was coming. Is the Dalai Lama lying?So, like any tourist, I wanted to see him and get a picture if possible. I came back in an hour when there was a much larger crowd and heard people shouting something in a chant.

I will soon post here some pictures from the event. I didn’t end up getting a picture of the Dalai Lama, but I did get a lot of conversations that were perhaps even more valuable.

I assumed the shouting were either from Tibetans protesting China or Chinese protesting the Dalai Lama. Then I looked over the crowd and started to realize it was separated into three parts. Only a part of the crowd was holding Tibetan flags on one side, there was a small gathering around a Chinese flag in the center, and then a large group on the other side – many of which were dressed in long Buddhist robes – holding signs that said the Dalai Lama was lying. This is where the shouting was coming from. Buddhists protesting the Dalai Lama?

So I went back and forth between the different groups in the crowd in order to get a better understanding of what was happening. I have captured the conversations that came from it, and I think you will it interesting how people reason and make sense of the situation.

The situation itself is interesting, but the conversations around the protest is what I am more interested in discussing and hearing your thoughts about. They surprised me in some ways, and helped me understand a little more how people deal with conflict: always questioning the motivations of others (especially repelled by any sign of hypocrisy), making quick judgments based upon assuming negative motivations, asking so few questions (and usually only the kinds of questions which help them justify their previous opinions), and then giving labels for the people they feel are opposed to them.

 

Conversation #1 (To a person with a Tibetan flag)

Who are the protesters, and what is their concern?

“They are all just a bunch of communists.”

Conversation #2 (Walking over to a protester who hands me a pamphlet)

What are you protesting? What do you think the Dalai Lama is lying about?

“He is lying because he says he is hypocritical saying he supports human rights, but he suppresses them amongst his own people. He has outlawed people from being able to practice something called Dorje Shugden (a prayer to a certain Buddhist deity) – said there was an evil spirit in it – and if people do practice it then they have had their houses burned down, and some people have even been killed.”

Why do you think he outlawed the practice?

“For political reasons. He wants to unite Buddhists, and while politically that might make sense, spiritually it is very destructive.”

Oh, someone told me that you were communist protesters

“Yeah – they don’t really know what they are talking about.”

Conversation #3 (Walking back to someone with a Tibetan flag draped around them)

What do you think they are protesting about?

“Oh, they are angry that about the practice of a certain kind of prayer that the Dalai Lama has spoken against. It is a complicated split in Tibetan Buddhism. But they don’t even know what they are talking about. Go over there and ask them, and most of them are just westerners and don’t even know why they are protesting. They don’t even know what they are talking about. You don’t see any Tibetans over there, do you?

The Dalai Lama just said that he wasn’t going to practice the Dorje Shugden anymore, but he does allow religious freedom to people, but just asked if they follow him not to practice the Dorje Shugden as well. He doesn’t say that they can not practice it, just that he finds an evil spirit about it.

You don’t see any Tibetans over there, or hardly any. They don’t even have any intelligent chants. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were paid to come together. You know that happens. Paid mob.”

[And she handed me a statement from the Tibetan government describing their view on what had happened.]

Conversation #4 (Walking again over to a different protester)

What do you think the Dalai Lama is lying about?

“He has suppressed the practice of Dorje Shugden – even though his spiritual leaders practiced it. In Buddhism, you are supposed to follow your spiritual leaders. Now, people in the Tibetan communities of India (where they are living in exile) are forced to carry cards that indicate that they do not practice the Dorje Shugden. If they do not have the card, they get persecuted – and even their lives are in danger. There are even stores that say above the entrance that if you believe in Dorje Shugden then you can not shop there.”

Why did he think the Dorje Shugden was an evil practice?

“Oh, it was just some dream he says he had. Stupid. Really he is both a spiritual and political leader, and so he makes certain decisions for political reasons that are devastating spiritually. Westerners understand that you can not do this, that it is unhealthy and wrong, and so we are speaking up to try and get his attention. We do not hate him, we love him, we have peace in us, and we cheer at the end of each chant to show it is a peaceful rally. But we just want him to listen and he is not even open to dialogue. It is not democratic at all, but more like medieval ages in the west when the rulers made spiritual decisions for political reasons and then forced them on people. That is the problem when someone is both the spiritual and political leader. In the west we know that is wrong, but that is where they are stuck. It is not a democracy at all, he won’t even discuss it with people. Western media is just so nice to the Dalai Lama, not recognizing the hypocrisy – but we are trying to change that with demonstrations like this.”

Why do you think there are not more Buddhists protesting?

“There is a couple, but they are putting their life at risk by being here. The Dalai Lama has a group that will find him out and punish him if they can. All the ones over there feel they need to be submissive to him no matter what, they think that he can’t be wrong because he is their spiritual leader, and the Buddha. [He did a mock bowing motion]. Crazy. In the west we know that is not right.”

Conversation #5 (To the Tibetian on the protester side)

Why are you protesting?

“I went into the monastery when I was 12. I was there for 40 years, but because I did not want to agree and so I was cleared out. After 40 years! That was my home. If I had a family in India, and they did not have the passes, then the children would be cleared out of their schools, they would be cleared out of their community.”

Why do you think that the Dalai Lama felt this Dorje Shugden was evil?

“There are four branches of Buddhism in Tibet, and he is only the spiritual leader for only one of them. He wants to weaken the strongest branch, if he can, so that he can be a stronger leader by making all the branches more equal. The main thing is that in the west is freedom of speech – and he does not allow that.”

Why do you think more Tibetans don’t stand up to this?

“They just don’t understand.”

Conversation #6 (Then talking to a couple of Chinese representatives who gave me a pamphlet about how beautiful Tibet is)

Why are you here?

“We just want China to be one – to be united.”

Why do you think Tibet want to be free from China?

“I really don’t know.”

What percent of people in Tibet want to be free of China?

“I don’t think there are many left in Tibet that want to be free anymore. It is just a small percent. But they are doing violent things, surrounding the Olympics, and that is not good.”

What do you think the Dalai Lama wants?

“I think they were just in power before China took over, and so they just want the power again.”

They say that you might be getting paid to be here. Is that true?

“No! We are just here. That is not the reason we are here! Just look at the flag – we don’t even have enough money to buy a good flag.”

What do you think about the recent talks between Chinese government and the Dalai Lama?

“We support them. It is a good thing, and we hope it continues. The Dalai Lama just keeps speaking the same things – and there is no progress. We want to see things improve.”

Conversation #7 (Walking once again to the Tibetan side and talking to a caucasian woman holding a Tibetan flag)

Why do you think the people over there are protesting?

“I can’t imagine!”

Why do they say that the Dalai Lama is lying?

“They’re just horrible people! They are shouting horrible things! I’m Roman Catholic, but I know the Dalai Lama stands for peace! I don’t know why they would do such a horrible thing!”

Why does Tibet want to be free from China?

“I would want to be free from them! They’re barbarians – they murder their own students. They are just horrible barbarians.”

Conversation #8 (To a Tibetan man holding a Tibetan flag)

Why does Tibet want to be free from China?

“The Chinese do not allow any religious freedom. They make it so that we can not pray and practice as we would like to.”

Why do you think the people are protesting?

“They are upset about some direction that the Dalai Lama gave on changing something. But it was even his own practice, and he recognized that he needed to change too.”

And then I had to get back to the conference…

I’m sure there a lot of nuances in the actual conflict which I am not aware of. But I don’t want to discuss the conflict itself – I am more interested in discussing the approach to the conflict that was taken by people on different sides of the argument.

First let me say that I am aware that people frequently can have less-than-the-best of intentions – and so it makes sense that as humans we are always questioning the motives of others.

My questions for you:

  • At the same time, doesn’t this tendency to quickly label the intent and intelligence of others frequently lead to unnecessary labels/judgments and miscommunication?
  • Do you agree/disagree – or see anything else in these conversations?
  • Any suggestions for how to get around skepticism, quick labeling, and the resulting miscommunication?


The Ideal Mindset for Intercultural and Interfaith Communication and Collaboration

The Ideal Mindset for Intercultural and Interfaith Communication and Collaboration

Through a recent dialogue I have been having online (with someone who is trying to convert me to their world view) – I have more clearly got an idea for what I think is a more helpful mindset and approach to intercultural or interfaith communication. It is a sensitive issue, and I am sure I have made tons of mistakes already in my attempts to build trust and collaboration among different people – so I am very curious what your thoughts are too.

The ideal in my mind is if people go into a situation/conversation/collaboration with the idea that the two or more people (with different perspectives and from different backgrounds) can come up with a better solution than either could on their own. So, in practical terms, that Africans and Europeans, Chinese and Americans, Mormons and Catholics, Muslims and Hindus, Men and Women, etc., etc., etc. (or any number of combinations) working together could come up with a better overall solution than either could on their own.

I now realize that some things help foster the effective collaboration of people with different perspectives, while other things make it very difficult. I’m curious what you think too.

Here is just one thought –

What to do: If the situation is set to invite each person to go into the conversation looking for what the strengths of the other persons perspectives are, and searching for how the best in what the other person believes/perceives can be utilized to the overall benefit of the relationship – that seems to help inspire trust and make for healthy productive collaborations – where a lot of open and interesting learning and innovation can occur.

What not to do: If, on the other hand, either party begins the conversation by feeling it their duty to try and prove something (either the superiority of their own perspective or the faults in the other persons perspective) – assuming the world would just be better if everyone saw things the same way that they did – I think this pushes the conversation into a situation that is less than helpful. I think it is very helpful and healthy to talk about differences and alternative perspectives (especially after a core of trust and respect has been established) – but this ethnocentric/condescending approach (consciously or unconsciously assuming the world would be better if everyone saw things the same way as you) seems to:

  1. – push the conversation into defensive mode, where each party begins to look for the flaws and holes in the others approach/perspective,
  2. – closes off the participants to a greater richness of life that comes from seeking to learn, love, and listen, with no strings attached.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree?

What do you think helps for the most productive interfaith/intercultural communication and collaboration?

Differences in Perception, Logic, Reasoning

A war with Iran? Islamic perspectives and efforts toward peace

A war with Iran? Islamic perspectives and efforts toward peace

Shirin EbadiToday I heard Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi speak about the laws and policies in the US, in her own country (Iran), and around the world – and the ways in which they contribute to peace and human rights or promote war. The stark differences in views toward women and children contribute to very different policies.

I had never heard the Iranian perspective on these issues before, and so I found it fascinating to hear her thoughts and how she wished that things would change. I wasn’t aware before of the many men and women in Iran who are trying to establish more equality, democracy, and peace. She said that they realize that improving the situation in Iran is needed, but that it is the responsibility of Iranians alone and has nothing to do with foreign military troops. She said even a threat of a military attack would significantly worsen the efforts for human rights in Iran. [To applause from the audience.]

“We are fully aware that democracy and human rights can only flourish in a sound and peaceful environment.”

“There is no doubt that Saddam Husein was obviously a dictator. But I have a question for you. Was he the only dictator in the world? Unfortunately the world is full of those people. Perhaps the only difference between Saddam and the other dictators is that he sat on a lot of oil.

So the Iranian people understand that the problems in the government will not be solved by foreign military force. Long live the friendship between the people of Iran and the United States!” [Applause]

She talked about the different interpretations of Islam, and her belief that using Islam as a pretext to enforce will upon the people is wrong. She said against the government there is a weight of Islamic intellectuals who believe that they can come up with an interpretation of Islam that promotes peace. She said Islam is open to very different interpretations, and gave as an example the varying status of women across the Islamic world (Saudi Arabia where women can’t even drive vs. Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan where they have had women presidents). She said people in the Middle East are demanding an interpretation of Islam that demonstrates it is compatible with human rights and democracy.

In memory of Ruth Sowards – one of the greatest

In memory of Ruth Sowards – one of the greatest

The problem with making friends with older people is that they don’t stay Clint, Ruth, and the cake she got for my birthdayaround very long, leaving the broken-hearts behind of those who deeply miss them. The blessing, however, of knowing someone like Ruth Sowards is that her quick wit, profound wisdom, and genuine love has left such a deep impression that it will live on in my life (and the thousands of others who she has touched for the better) continuing to inspire us to be better people regardless of what side of the veil she is on.

I met Ruth Sowards through Colonel Butler, and instantly fell in love with her sense of humor and Ruth Sowards and Colonel Butlerher eyes that sparkled. In some of the darkest days for me over the last four years, she offered me invaluable wisdom, hope, strength, and laughter which lifted my spirits. She made the dark days brighter, and the sweet moments sweeter. I remember as we were eating diner together one day, she leaned over to me to ask what my goals in life were. I thought for a moment, and told her that my main goal was to have integrity. At first I thought she was going to say something like, “Oh, come on – you have integrity” – but her wisdom and wit was sharp as always. She just wryly smiled, nudged me and said, “Why do you have to be so different from the rest of us?”

Especially as Colonel and her aged in years, he would visit her almost every day until his passing. When I was in the country I was lucky enough to be able to go with him on many of those visits, easily coming to understand why thereRuth and friends were so many people that loved Ruth. One woman confidently told me that if I just kept listening to people like Ruth, I would turn out OK. After Colonel’s death, Jeremy and I tried to fill in for him and visit her every day possible, but last week she took a turn for the worse. The instant I found out about her condition and new location I dropped everything on a Friday night and went to go see her.

Tucked in the bed of the nursing home room, she looked like she was in a deep sleep. Her daughter asked if I wanted to hold her hand, and when I touched her gently her eyes weakly opened. At first she looked blankly at mRuth Sowards and Grandma Pughe, and I wondered if she would recognize me at all. In a few short moments, however, a bright smile came over her face, and looking at me (with a familiar sparkle in her eyes) she asked her daughter what she was doing hanging around with people like this! With strength she grasped my hand and pulled me close so she could give me a kiss and tell me she loved me. She propped herself up to tell me she loved me more than she ever had and share with me a few more words before she drifted off again into a deep sleep. I came to find out that the local Bishop had also come to visit her a little before I did. As he was getting ready to leave, he held her hand and told her that he was going to be leaving now. As she lay there dying, she stirred long enough to tell him to make sure and call her if he needed anything. So characteristic of Ruth!

Over the next 7 days, her grasp got weaker and her words more unrecognizable… As she would sleep, her children would share with me stories about her life that would make me laugh and leave me feeling inspired. Lincoln and RuthAlthough her physical strength was weaker each day, my recognition of how truly amazing she is got stronger. Her father died when she was young leaving her mom to raise 4 children through the depression years. Her only two brothers also died when she was fairly young, one in a car accident and the other died in World War II. She ended up marrying a great man, and raised her family while running a golf club, boy scout meetings, an investment club for women, and many church relief society activities, just to name a few of causes she was devoted to. As a woman of compassion, anyone was welcome and felt welcome in Ruth’s house – but as a woman of strength (and without pretense) no one was too high and mighty to avoid her firmly correcting them if she felt they were doing something wrong. The investment group she started with other women invested early in a company despite her husband telling her that he was sure it would fail (he called it “the greasy spoon” but we all know it now as McDonalds). She knew and was respected by the most well-known in the area (many of whom she had held when they were babies – maybe making it OK for her to tell them off if they needed it) and she was equally friendly with least well-known in the area. It didn’t matter if you were a leader of a corporation or a little child from next door – she somehow saw the best in you and helped you see it too. And especially important, she absolutely loved her husband and raised wonderful children. How on earth she did what she did in her life is amazing to me – and how lucky I felt to be counted as one of her friends.

That is part of what made it so difficult today at about 8:00pm when she quietly passed away into the next life. Her only sister, who was in a similar condition, joined her only a couple of hours later.

  • Ruth’s funeral will be at 3050 Mojave Lane, Provo UT 84604 this Monday, April 21st, at 11:00am (click here for a map). The viewing will be at Berg Mortuary the night before from 6:00pm-8:30pm.

Ruth – you will be deeply missed. This world is a better place because of the laughter and love that you filled our lives with. God be with you ’till we meet again.

For those of you who knew Ruth, do you have any favorite memories, stories, quotes of her that you could share?

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Here are some pictures from the funeral.

Ruth’s Funeral

Moving to the Resting Place

At Grave Side

We will miss you Ruth

What do Mormons believe?

What do Mormons believe?

Someone asked me recently “what do Mormons believe?” My previous blog entry, About Being a Mormon Christian: Facts about Mormons, briefly summarize some of the basic beliefs Mormon’s have (e.g. Facts, Faith, Family, Fruits). Click here to read that entry.

For this entry I wanted to briefly summarize a few things I have learned recently about the consequences of these beliefs – how the beliefs of Mormons translate into different actions.

I have always known that, for the most part, Mormon beliefs seem to produce pretty happy, normal people… VeNiciaJonny FudgeOur Trip to ChinaJeremy, Joey, ClintDad

Last weekend, however, I thought about things in a new way as I attended the semi-annual general conference of the Mormon church (which is really called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – “Mormon” is just a nick-name). It is an interesting event where the leaders of the Mormon Church give messages they feel are most pressing topics to address for the 6 months until the next conference. This conference was especially memorable as there was a new president and new first presidency called and sustained (one of whom is a retired Luftansa pilot from Germany). Over 100,000 people attended at the 5 different sessions at the conference center in Salt Lake City, and the meetings are also broadcast via satellite all over the world in almost 80 languages.

In one of the addresses at conference, Bishop David H. Burton was speaking about the story of the good Samaritan in the Bible and asked, in todays world – who is my neighbor? He then shared some statistics about the humanitarian efforts of the Church that I think even most members of the Mormon church didn’t know.

In 2007, the Church responded with support and supplies to those affected by:

  • major earthquakes in 5 countries,
  • massive fires in 6 countries,
  • hunger and famine in 18 countries,
  • and flooding and severe storms in 34 countries.

For example, when the firestorms in southern California destroyed 1,500 homes and forced over a million people to evacuate, the Mormon Church responded quickly by providing cleaning kits, blankets, hygiene kits, and food. Over 5,000 Mormon volunteers along with missionaries cleaned, cooked, comforted, and cared for those affected.

Additionally The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sponsored:

For example, over 54,000 Church members volunteered to help, working with the World Health Organization, to eliminate measles (a killer of almost a million children each year). A Church member in Nigeria wrote: “I called our labor the ‘rescue of the innocent.’ We went house-to-house and village hall to village hall. A woman told us she had lost three children to measles. She told her story with such grace and passion that there was not a dry eye in the house, mine included.” Our volunteer observed, “The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things that you do for others remain as your legacy.” And especially the legacy of your faith in something greater than you.

As another example, the Church is still in their fourth-year of helping those devastated by a tsunami in Indonesia and southern Asia. Funding was provided to help build 902 homes, with 3 community centers, 24 village water systems, 15 schools, and 3 medical centers. In Ethiopia, the Church drilled wells and constructed storage tanks for helping give access to clean water. Communities organized a water committee and dug the trenches needed to pipe the water from the storage tanks to each village. In some cases this was a distance of over 3 miles (5 km).

In total The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members responded to 170 major events—nearly one every two days for the entire year. Bishop Burton said, “It was a busy year with many opportunities to serve.”

Another story I found interesting was shared by Elder Henry Eyring. He was in the office of President Hinckley, then president of the Church, when President Hinckley was asked to take a phone call. He said there was a brief phone conversation and then they returned to their conversation. But President Hinckley took a moment to explain. He said that the call was from the president of the United States, who was flying over Utah in Air Force One on his way to Washington. The president of the United States had called to thank President Hinckley for what Church members had done in the aftermath of a hurricane. The president of the United States had said that it was a miracle that the Mormon Church was able to get so many people, so quickly, working together so well. He praised the Mormon church by saying that they knew how to do things.

The way in which the Church is prepared to help people in need is impressive to most people but, more important than any praise from a leader or dignitary, it is most important to those who are in need and to those who are blessed to be able to be the ones helping.

And one thing that I think impressed me the most was that all of it is done with no strings attached. There is not even any proselyting attached to any humanitarian effort, and often the Church will provide the resources – but work through a local organization to make sure that impact is put before worrying about who gets credit. There is a big emphasis on making sure service and aid is given at the right times of need, but also given with the right motivation (not for any praise, but simply out of love).

Something equally interesting to me was attending a conferenceNobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus (left) with Warner Woodworth. The Bangladesh-based pioneer of micro-credit finance calls young Latter-day Saint volunteers the 'Mormon Peace Corps' the day following conference hosted by the LDS International Society. I quickly became aware that it was not just the central Church organization doing things to make this world a better place, but many ordinary members take upon themselves to start NGOs or join humanitarian efforts which really have made a difference for millions and millions of people around the world. For example, this picture is of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus (left) with Warner Woodworth. The Bangladesh-based pioneer of micro-credit finance calls young Latter-day Saint volunteers the ‘Mormon Peace Corps’. I would share more examples of ordinary members who have made a big difference, but fear this blog entry is getting too long already. Perhaps I will add a few of them as a comment later.

So why? Why does the Church and so many of its members do all of this?

One reason might be because of how Joseph Smith articulated what itJoseph Smith means to be a Christian. He taught that “love is one of the chief characteristics of Diety, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 174).

On another occasion Joseph Smith said something else I liked, “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, yet deals justice to his neighbors and mercifully deals his substance to the poor, than the smooth-faced hypocrite. I do not want you to think that I’m very righteous… There was one good man, and his name was Jesus” (Documentary History of the Church, 5:401). [For more Joseph Smith quotes, click here.]

So what do Mormons believe? In short, they believe in trying their best to be more like Jesus – to be better Christians. I think everyone sees their own imperfections, but if people are really trying to live like Jesus taught (which is no easy task), then that desire provides limitless opportunities for imperfect people to see how they are needed in helping to make the world a better place.

Flag at half staff for my best friend

Flag at half staff for my best friend

Flag at Half StaffOne of the first times that I met Colonel Eugene Haynes Butler, an 80 year old retired air force fighter pilot, he said to me: “You know one of the biggest problems with your generation?” I waited for a totally different remark than the one which followed. After a short pause he said with a smile, “That I am not a part of it.” (then laughing his unforgettable laugh)

If you have ever met someone who is full of compassion, humor, and seems always able to make any situation they enter better by being in it – then you might have an idea why it was so easy to love and want to be around Colonel Butler, with his unique combination of being confident (e.g. “the best fighter pilot ever”), colorful (e.g. calling bad drivers on the road “thoseYoung Colonel as Pilot perverts!”, always adding either “Mr.” before your name or “baby” at the end of your name – for example, “Speak to me Mr. Joey” or “Hi Jeremy-baby”), and compassionate (in too many ways to name). Over the next few years we ended up forming a friendship that has changed me in ways which words can not do justice – who I am because of him is forever changed for the better.

Just try to imagine for a moment having someone walk into your life who then begins to do everything in his power to make you happy and successful, who introduces you to all of his favorite people, who teaches you things about generosity and true friendship through his everyday example, who makes you laugh every day, who convinces you that he would do anything he could for you, who talks about how great of a person you are to everyone he knows (even when they get sick of hearing it), who wColonel Butler and Meants to get to know everything he can about you, and who (even knowing your weaknesses) still would defend your name to the death – all the while making you feel like it is you who is doing him some great favor! And then to see first hand how he was also able to do this for countless others in various degrees without making you feel any less special!

If you can even begin to imagine what that would be like, then you will know why it was so difficult for me to go to the intensive care unit of the hospital on Thursday to see this friend of mine unconscious in a coma and on life support, then within 25 hours watching him peacefully slip away into the next life.

I have the burden and honor of speaking at his funeral this Wednesday, and then trying the rest of my life to somehow live up to his personal example and his belief in me.

One thing he always joked about was his own death, and I have wondered since his passing why he was so fearless of death? Being Easter yesterday, I thought specifically of how he repeatedly said his favorite song of all time was Amazing Grace – and the few times he would open up and share with me his feelings about God (not in a contrived, self-righteous way at all – but with a tone that was totally void of pride yet still confident, grateful, and secure).

For so many reasons, I am not worried about him now – I believe he is in a much better place and that one time in the future I will be able to see him again. It just is so hard to think of life without him for now.

If you ever come to Provo, look aroundColonel by a River and see if you can find a framed quote posted in several of his favorite places…

“Once in a great while, a certain somebody comes into our lives who mirrors our thoughts, lifts our spirits and brightens our hearts. And all of a sudden, life has new meaning and greater purpose than ever before.” (Marieta Donaldson)

(In honor and memory of Colonel Eugene Haynes Butler, war hero, true friend, and loyal patron of Chuck-a-Rama)

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Here is a link to the speech that I gave at his funeral: The poetry of Colonel’s life

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Here is the memory video I created in his honor. (If you can’t view it, then click here.)

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Here are some pictures from the day of the funeral (click on title to see picture):

Placing Flowers on Casket

Bagpiper Playing Amazing Grace

A Fighter Pilot’s Casket

Headstone of an Everyday Hero

Lance Armstrong – and the call to “active citizenship”

Lance Armstrong – and the call to “active citizenship”

Lance ArmstrongI heard Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist and cancer survivor, speak last night at the Omniture 2008 Summit. Through sharing his story of surviving cancer, his multiple Tour de France wins, and his hugely successful LiveStrong movement (already sold nearly 70 million of those yellow bands) – his main point was to encourage everyone in the audience to do more to bridge the gap in society between what we know and where we actually are.

Funniest part: when he described the doctor who was trying to explain how simple his cancer surgery would be. The doctor enlisted the metaphor of Halloween – and had Lance envision taking a pumpkin, cutting the top off, carving out everything that was inside, and then just putting the top back on. Lance had testicular cancer! So it is understandable when he said he has never seen Halloween quite the same since then, and prefers if his kids ask his wife to help with the pumpkin carving.

Main Summary: He invoked the notion of active citizenship – or all of us being more involved in our community. He said that we know we need to because we are falling short, in schools, hospitals, homes, – we need to somehow shrink the gap between what we know and where we are at. “That is the gap between what we know how to do vs what we actually do – and everything in the middle is a moral and ethical failure in America.”

Speaking of the 70 million who have boughtLance Armstrong the yellow LiveStrong wristbands, he said it is nice to have an army of people who believe in change and want to do something about it. He emphasized that it was not just with cancer, but with so many things. He encouraged everyone to find the issue that they were most concerned about and then do something (even if not with money, then with time).

“We need your time, your energy, and most importantly your passion.”

Personal Reflection and Question: I think one of my key “issues” is intercultural (and interfaith) communication, collaboration, and innovation. It fascinates me and I think there is so much good that can be done through it for everyone involved. I think, however, that is part of my larger issue/passion – which is finding anything that helps people to see and reach more of their potential.

Question Mark

 

What is one of your issues?
For whoever reads this, pause for a moment and post something, anything. I am really interested to know what it is that you care about?
Please post something, the first thing that comes to your mind – I am really very curious.

 

 

Why would you want to be a Catholic monk?

Why would you want to be a Catholic monk?

That is the question I was able to ask several times as ISt. Louis Abbey lived this last weekend with monks in a monastery at the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Louis. It might seem strange to meet someone on a plane, keep in touch via letter off and on until 10 years later you ask if you could go across the country to visit them for a while – but in this case, that is exactly what I did.

10 years ago I sat next to a most remarkable man on an airplane traveling from the UK to the US – I was 21 years old and returning from 2 years of being away from home as a Mormon Patrick Barry and Clint Rogersmissionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Patrick Barry was 80 year old man who had spent most of his life as a Catholic Priest and monk after the Benedictine order. We had a great conversation (very interesting, open, and edifying), the end of which he we mutually agreed to pray for each other and keep in touch.

Since over the last year I had been thinking, talking, and writing a lot about interfaith communication, collaboration and innovation [feel free to join the FaceBook group on this topic], when I was writing my Christmas letter to Patrick, I wondered why on earth I hadFather Augustine Br Cassian and Clint Rogers not ever gone to the monastery to visit this wonderful man and learn more about what his life and work was all about, and asked him if it would be possible and appropriate for me to come visit. He responded warmly, and when the flights were cheap I bought my ticket.

When thinking about visiting a monastery, I had no idea what an enjoyable trip I would end up having… [to be continued…]

A great man and a personal hero, President Gordon B Hinckley, died today at age 97

A great man and a personal hero, President Gordon B Hinckley, died today at age 97

It is strange to have never met a person, and to still feel so close to him/her, like that person has made such a difference in your life, and even as if they are one of your most trusted friends. Gordon Bitner Hinckley was one of those people for me. His words have entertained and inspired me for most of my life, and without a doubt my life is better because of him. He will be missed.

Some clips from the press release of his passing:

“President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through twelve years of globalPicture of President Hinckley expansion, has died at the age of 97…

President Hinckley was known, even at the age of 97, as a tireless leader who always put in a full day at the office and traveled extensively around the world to mix with Church members, now numbering 13 million in 171 nations.

His quick wit and humor, combined with an eloquent style at the pulpit, made him one of the most loved of modern Church leaders

He was a popular interview subject with journalists, appearing on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and on CNN’s Larry King Live, as well as being quoted and featured in hundreds of newspapers and magazines over the years. During the Salt Lake Olympics of 2002, his request that the Church refrain from proselytizing visitors was credited by media with generating much of the goodwill that flowed to the Church from the international event…

President Hinckley received a number of educational honors…

President Hinckley was awarded the Silver Buffalo Award by the Boy Scouts of America;

was honored by the National Conference for Community and Justice (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews) for his contributions to tolerance and understanding in the world;

and received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 2004, President Hinckley was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in the White House…

President Hinckley wrote and edited several books and numerous manuals, pamphlets and scripts, including a best-selling book, Standing for Something, aimed at a general audience. In it he championed the virtues of love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness, mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude, optimism and faith.”

I liked this tribute, from a well-known CNN broadcaster:


Gandhi, Hindu philosophy, and the connectedness and unity of every one with all living things

Happy 2008! I have always admired Mohandas K. Gandhi, but that admiration and respect has been deepening as I decided to start this year by reading a book called “Words of Gandhi”.

Just one of many quotes I have already enjoyed (that capture simple, yet profound thoughts) is this:

“I do not believe…that an individual may gain…while those around him suffer. I believe in advaita*, I believe in the essential unity of man and for that matter, of all that lives. Therefore, I believe if one man gains spirituality, the whole world gains with him and if one man falls then the whole world falls with him to that extent.”

*(advaita…is one of the two branches of Vedanta…holds that Brahman, the Self, is ultimate reality, and that the world has come into being from Brahman and is wholly dependent on it)

When I asked my Hindu friend last night what she thought about this quote and more about what it might mean, she told me that she wasn’t so sure about Hindu philosophy, but that she strongly agreed with the idea that we are all connected, that – because we are all connected – when one succeeds we all succeed, and that when one fails we all fail to that same extent.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the last few years – and about what is it that makes some people jealous of another’s success, feeling like it is somehow their own failure?

This is just my idea, but perhaps because we focus way too much on what we are getting (and what we have) than who we are becoming (and what we give), and in that way are deceived in our understanding what true success is?

I like the concept that we are all connected – and that when one succeeds, all humanity succeeds to that same extent. But what does it mean to really “succeed”? Any ideas?

Perhaps that is material for a blog entry on a different day…

The Role of Faith / Religion in Education and Intercultural Communication – Questions regarding peaceful co-existence and collaboration of people with different belief systems

Today I sent an email where I raised this discussion and these questions on the ITForum Listserve. I will try to summarize the best comments I receive from them as they come, but I am also interested in anyone else’s thoughts and feelings.

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I realize that this email ventures into the realm of one of the two forbidden topics in polite conversations – but if it makes any difference, at least I’ll try here not to mention the “p” word ( i.e. politics). 🙂
</end – my weak attempt at being funny to try and defuse a potentially sensitive topic>

In studying cross-cultural issues over the last several years, I have been fascinated by the impact culture has in how people define themselves, their relationship with others, and their perspective of the world. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like at the heart of education, we are interested in these same issues? Or can someone define the purpose of education in a way that is completely unrelated to these issues ( e.g. identity, relationships, world-view, etc)?

Although we rarely talk about it in academic settings, it seems that one of the most pervasive influences in how people in various cultures and sub-cultures develop identity and purpose is their faith and religion (including, of course, even the belief in no God).

I have recently witnessed several disturbing scenes in which religion became the point of stereotyping, skepticism, and conflict (something not uncommon in the history of the world) – which leads me to the questions that I have for all of you:

  • Is it possible to discuss the role of faith in education (or religion in general) in a safe way in which people don’t feel threatened? (If so, how?)
  • Is it possible to discuss these issues in a way that people can set aside (at least for a moment) any personal agenda or need to convince/persuade/defend – but rather to simply seek for increased mutual understanding and respect?
  • From what you have seen/experienced, how can arrangements be structures so that people of very different belief systems can understand/respect each other, peacefully co-exist, and even collaborate with each other on joint projects intended to make the world a better place?

I realize that this is a deep and sensitive topic, and I realize that in even asking the questions I am making certain assumptions (which, by the way, you are also free to challenge if you wish).

I have some initial ideas of my own in answer to these questions, but I am very interested in any comments that you all might have. Please don’t feel like you need to be an expert in the topic to respond, initially you can just share your personal strategy, thoughts, reactions, etc.

Even you don’t have any answers to the questions, I am almost equally interested in your general reaction to being presented with questions like these.

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Difficulties in intercultural communication: What not to do

What is it that makes intercultural communication, especially about sensitive issues, difficult?

I can think of many reasons – and I’d be interested in also hearing your thoughts. As one of many of the difficulty, I think the following pattern frequently occurs:

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When people get defensive about sensitive issues they often make generalizations and give labels intended to attack the credibility/image of another person or group (e.g. derogatory slurs – which are too abundant to name them all – or terms such as worthless, “evil”, bigot, and so on). In an emotionally vulnerable state – instead of isolating conversation to specific aspects of an issue or policy that they disagree with (while generally having respect for the people involved), too often people make sweeping generalizations that do little good (even for their own cause) and usually only end up doing more to alienate groups and polarize differences. In this kind of an environment people tend to minimize their own faults (and if they admit them at all, justify them through some sort of blame) while at the same time over-emphasizing the negative in the other side.

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These kinds of interactions are painfully evident internationally in disagreements between China and Japan, arguments between various racial groups in South Africa, and the controversies between Sunnis and Shiites, Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East, the so-called “war on terror”, and the list goes on and on.

In the U.S., this kind of pattern has contributed to an increasing divide between liberals and conservatives (as seen in unfair over-generalizations by either side of controversial political figures such as Hillary Clinton or George Bush).

Historically and recently inter-religious discussions also prove difficult.

So it is not surprising what happens when you combine religion and politics. It easily becomes evident why religion and politics are two issues that usually are omitted from polite discussions.

I’d like to look at recent online discussions about politics and religion, and briefly compare them to some larger international issues. I want to also consider the interesting dynamic that occurs with Internet communications; one aspect of which is how people can anonymously post comments regarding sensitive issues. Additionally I’d like to question to role of existing media and entertainment sources in existing interpersonal and intercultural relations.

I’m very interested in other people’s thoughts on the pattern that I speak about.

  • Do you see the same pattern?
  • What, in your opinion, contributes to it?
  • What do you think are the best approaches to mediate such conflicts?
  • How can disagreements about issues be productive instead of destructive?
  • What has been the role and impact of the Internet?
  • What has been the role of media and entertainment sources in either propagating or dismantling stereotypes, etc.?

To be continued…

About Being a Mormon Christian: Facts about Mormons

About Being a Mormon Christian: Facts about Mormons

In studying cross-cultural issues, as I do, it is virtually impossible to ignore the influence of faith on human identity and relationships. I’m not a spokesperson for my Church, and I’m not interested in imposing my personal beliefs on anyone else. At the same time I think it is good to have thoughtful conversations about things like faith.

Salt Lake Temple

Although academicians are usually mute on issues of faith, I have created this entry for two reasons: (1) I have recently received more questions than usual about being a Mormon, and (2) I have been surprised by how much confusion and misrepresentation there is about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (both on the Internet and in mainstream media) – sometimes by those with malicious intent, but usually (I believe) by well-meaning yet misinformed individuals.

One thing that makes these discussions tricky is that faith is usually not anything that can be proven with the tools of “reason” and “logic” traditionally used in Western society (e.g. scientific method, etc.). I don’t want to get hung up on this, for fear of making the entry too long, but I have put three initial responses to this issue in the first comment (on this post), for anyone interested.

I also think people of any denomination might be hesitant to speak about their faith because they recognize it is a sensitive issue (and a source of far too much conflict). Often, people of faith seem to have an automatic defensive response – waiting for someone to attack (usually on the basis of some obscure part of history or scripture that isn’t really central to who they are or what they believe). My feeling is that although I can not know every minute detail of history, or perhaps even speak very accurately for what happened in the past (because obviously I wasn’t there), I can simply speak briefly about my personal experience growing up and living as a Mormon, what I have seen in the mainstream beliefs/teachings of my faith, and what I have respected so much in the leaders and teachers that I have had.

I have personalized some thoughts into four categories that were originally suggested by a leader of the Church.

Facts:

  • First, “Mormon” is a nickname for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members are often referred to as “Mormons,” “Latter-day Saints,” or “LDS.” The term “Saint” means “member.” (Why that nick name? What “Mormon” means – which quite honestly would sound strange to me if I was not a member – is explained in the last point about faith.)
  • Second, the Church was restored in 1830 in rural New York – we believe it is a restoration of the church structure taught by Jesus. Today the formal Church headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah, with President Gordon B. Hinckley as the current prophet.
  • Third, there are now over 13 million members in 176 countries and territories. [Source] I have attended Churchglobe meetings in over a dozen countries and consistently am amazed by the strength and faith of the local leadership and local members, the instant warmth and welcome that I feel, and how much I have learned about what it is to live like a Christian from people with vastly different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
  • Fourth, about 6 million members live in the United States, making us the fourth or fifth largest Christian denomination there. As one of the fastest growing Christian faiths in the world, the LDS Church completes a new chapel somewhere in the world every working day. Members voluntarily pay a tithe, which is 10 percent of their income, making this, as well as many welfare and humanitarian programs possible.
  • Fifth, local congregations are led by volunteer, unpaid members. Both men and women serve in assigned leadership positions.
  • And sixth, Mormons are not told what political party to vote for but they are encouraged to serve in the communities which they live according to their conscience and talents. As a result, they are increasingly represented in politics and government (in the United States, for example, there are currently 16 Mormons in Congress, from both political parties). Members also serve in high and trusted positions throughout the world in business, medicine, law, education, media, sports, and entertainment. Approximately one third of all Boy Scouts are Mormon, which is not always particularly “cool” to tell your friends when you are a kid (that you are a Boy Scout), but it was fun going camping and scouting with most of your friends in church, and you appreciate it all more when you are older.

Faith:

  • If I was going to summarize the purpose of our faith, I would say it is to help each individual develop a personalwashington DC temple relationship with God, so much that you can feel His presence, His love, and His guidance in your life. All aspects of the religion (prayer, baptism, scripture reading, church attendance, service, education, code of health, etc) assist with getting people to that point, and/or come as a result of feeling His love.
  • We believe in the eternity of the soul, that God is the Father of our spirits, and that we can return to Him after death.
  • We believe that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior, and we try to model our lives after Him and His teachings. We commemorate Christ’s atoning sacrifice in our Sunday worship services, similar to taking communion in other churches. We accept as fellow Christians all who believe Jesus Christ to be the Savior of mankind. Many Christians do not understand that we have much common ground with them. Joseph Smith taught that Jesus Christ is the core of our belief, and everything else is an appendage to it (see Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 44). The name of the Church is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.
  • We believe that shortly after the death of Jesus and his original apostles, the original church structure that Jesus established was lost (and many beliefs such as baptism, priesthood, nature of God, etc were altered) and that these have been restored again in our day. The priesthood, the authority given to man to act in behalf of Christ’s Church, with apostles and a prophet, has been restored as have all necessary principles by which man can draw near to Heavenly Father and accomplish our unique purposes in life.
  • We believe in and we use the Holy Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.
  • And we believe in the Book of Mormon and other books of scripture which support and authenticate the Bible and testify of the ministry and divinity of Christ and of God’s ongoing revelation to man. Mormon was the name of the man living around 400AD who compiled the record of his people, known as The Book of Mormon. As it is a record of God’s dealings with them and their faith in Christ, the subtitle of the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

Family

Most people already know how family-centered our theology and our lifestyles are, but here are a few facts:

  • Mormons place particularly strong emphasis on family as the basic unit of the Church and of society. We have a deepSome of my family commitment to marriage (defined as a union between one man and one woman), and believe it need not be “till death do you part” – but can continue for eternity. Polygamy, a limited practice in the early pioneer days of the Church, was discontinued in 1890, a long 117 years ago.
  • Families and individuals, whether members of our faith or not, can attend Sunday meetings in our chapels, where we share and learn about living a Christ-like life.
  • Latter-day Saint families are encouraged to hold family home evenings weekly, usually on Monday nights. Although in my home (with 8 kids) they were a little chaotic at times, they were great times for my family to learn together and just have fun. Even many people not of our faith are beginning to adopt this practice with their own families.
  • The Church has special organizations for men, women, youth, and children. These programs provide such things as religious instruction, opportunities for Christian service, sports, drama, music, and Scouting.
  • And there is also much focus on extended family, genealogy, and personal family history, providing young and old with a stronger sense of roots, identity, and belonging. The highest and most sacred practices of our faith relate to our families, both living and dead, and some of these ordinances take place in our temples.

Fruits

It was Jesus who said “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20; emphasis added). A church, or any way of life, should be judged by the fruits or the results that it generates. Here are a few examples based on United States statistics. But these would be similar throughout the world among practicing Mormons:New Era cover - LDS magazine for youth

  • A $4 million dollar study conducted at UNC – Chapel Hill studied youth and religion – and found that of all the religious groups surveyed, Mormon teenagers fared best at avoiding risky behaviors, doing well in school and having a positive attitude about the future. [Source]
  • One of the fruits is a longer life. Studies show that practicing Mormons are healthier and therefore live longer than the national average. [Source] In 1833 Mormons believe the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the Word of Wisdom, as a way to live in order to enjoy a long and healthy life.
  • Those who are married in and attend the temple regularly have a divorce rate far below the national and world average. [Source]
  • Members of the LDS Church achieve an educational level that is higher than the national average. In fact, there is research evidence that as Latter-day Saints become more educated, they are more likely to be active Church participants, a trend opposite what seems to be found elsewhere. [Source]
  • Self magazine has repeatedly ranked Provo and Orem, Utah as the number 1 or 2 healthiest city in the country for women. The article said that the Mormon influence is the reason women in Provo experience such low incidents of cancer, smoking, drinking, violence, depression, etc. [Source]
  • Over 70,000 members volunteer each year at their own expense to serve for 18 to 24 months in humanitarian efforts, Church service assignments, and full-time missionary service throughout the world. [Source]
  • There is strong emphasis on self-reliance and a solid work ethic. We encourage active involvement in our communities and in providing service to others. The Church continues to donate substantial money, goods, and services to humanitarian causes around the globe [Source], including untold hours of labor donated by members to assist in disaster cleanup [e.g. Source about hurricane Katrina] and relief [e.g. Source about working with Muslims in the Middle East crisis relief].Humanitarian services
  • In March 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to provide members in developing countries with opportunities to gain education and training which lead to employment opportunities in their own countries. Within months of being announced members had donated millions to fund this effort. [Source]
  • I have found so much to respect in most (all though not all) of the Mormon’s that I have met. I am amazed by the time and interest that so many of my teachers and leaders have spent in service to me and others. [Link to listen to recent talks given by leaders of the Church]

Hawaii temple
Well, I hope this entry came across as I intended. It represents some of my personal observations and experiences. I have spent some time studying many religions, and I am fascinated by the topic. For anyone interested in a safe, non-confrontational discussion about any religion, I am open to it.

 

Some additional links for anyone who is interested: