Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview with Barack Obama

Wanted to share a link to a good interview of Obama by Rolling Stone. I am impressed by his knowledge and consistent stance on things.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interspirituality and "What makes a Christian a Christian"

Brian Gorman started a blog topic (http://brianjgorman.wordpress.com/ "Drawing and Erasing Lines") about what makes a Christian a Christian, among other things. The two of us and some others have an interesting conversation and exchange going on. Feel free to check it out and make some comments if you're interested.

I'm focusing more on interspirituality and cultural critique of the bible (to sort out what is myth/story that points to truth (or contains truth) instead of actually BEING the truth itself, for example.

I find it a really fun conversation - I hope someone else checks it out and finds it interesting!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Mosque - Part 2

The Rev. Terry Jones of the congregation in Gainesville, FL that was going to burn Korans has called it off. http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/09/11/florida.quran.burning.imam/index.html?iref=allsearch

As reported in the article above, he arrived in NYC last night and he met with the imam in charge of the new mosque. After that meeting he is committed to not burning the Koran ever. I'm curious what their interactions were like, and what this pastor dude has learned. I want to see more details! I'm just glad that he was willing to meet with the imam in the first place. Just a small seed of open mindedness can grow bigger!

This afternoon, Ebeth, myself, and our friend Misha will be riding around NYC via bicycle and will check out the 9/11 site. Here is an article about the construction that is planned and underway in the area. It's actually starting to come along!


Friday, September 10, 2010

NYC Mosque

I think I will keep this blog for all my general blogging, even though I started it just for my trip to Haiti. It also serves as a good reminder of Haiti now that I'm back in the states.

A friend shared this link through facebook to an article by a Muslim woman reflecting on the controversy over events related to the mosque in Manhattan near the 9/11 Ground Zero site (a few blocks away from it) - http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/08/ground-zero-mosque-obama-muslim

This is a topic I'm passionate about and hope to write about in my forthcoming book, a response to Sam Harris' "A Letter to a Christian Nation". I submitted some hastily written thoughts to the website and am including them below.

Thank you, Matteen for this article - I appreciate your insights, the struggles you face, and your efforts at being involved in civil society. This is a very complicated subject because in all religions there is hypocrisy and people who twist the religion for their own ends. That said, it seems that people do need to have a conversation about what is actually in the contents of the religions. The Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament) does have a lot of horrible violence in it, with very similar laws or themes as the Q'uran. There doesn't seem to be a problem now with religious Jewish people taking those laws too literally - was this a long process of getting past it, or did Judaism somehow "effectively deal with this problem"? I don't know. Then you have Christianity which proclaims Jesus as the consummation of the old laws, and he is consistently nonviolent and pacifist - even Paul with his line of "do not return evil for evil but return evil for good - this is like heaping burning coals over your enemies' heads" is committed to a love that overcomes and transforms evil. Yet, in the course of history Christianity has been extremely violent and many of the people fighting the biggest wars in history say they are Christians, and fought other Christians no less (like WWII for just one example).

In addition, many countries in the West have political leaders that claim Christianity as their religion (and as others have pointed out, this is even an important qualification for many of the highest positions) - yet foreign policies are often very destructive (like US policy in Haiti - see "Damming the Flood" by Peter Hallward). Why is there not as big a push from people to make Christianity more consistent? I think it's because being a dominant structure/institution in the West, it is powerful, it feels harder to criticize it, and because with this power and level of acceptance it can do evil in a less conspicuous (more hidden) way. Contrast that to Islamic extremism which is very open and a goal of it is often to draw attention. I for one, am ashamed of all the evil that has been and is being done in the name of Christianity (as well as in the name of anything) and I am trying to speak out about it, to do something about it. It just seems that one can never do enough!!!

As for the mosque, here's a suggestion. Once it's built, why not start a program there in cooperation with churches, synagoges, and other groups to bring Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, etc. together so these different groups of people can actually get to know one another? That would be a great way to show that the mosque can have a positive effect in the NYC community at large and is trying to address some of these questions. And by the way, it's not just the mosque's responsibility to do this - synagogues, churches, non-religious groups, and so on should be doing similar things! It's silly to say "the Muslims need to do this x, y, or z good act." EVERYONE needs to do good acts!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Last Days in Haiti!

I am already back in the states, making my way up north by bus and train. My last couple of days in Haiti were fun and interesting. I spent them in the capitol, Port au Prince, where most of SOIL's action is happening. They are taking a hiatus from building ecological toilets to meet with the various camps who use them, to make sure they are being used and to answer concerns, questions, etc. I thought this was a smart move - sometimes such details get swept under the rug in a big push to get work done!

While in PAP, I attended one such meeting above and met a sweet little girl who is either moving to NYC or just visiting for awhile. I spoke with her mom for a little while too. The meeting was held near the major composting site where the contents of the toilets are emptied and left to compost. (Contents = poop + sawdust + sugar cane fiber shreds [bagasse]). It was hovering around a temperature of 140 degrees, indicating that the thermophilic (heat producing and loving) bacteria are doing their job and making it nice and safe from pathogens. I got to talk to one of the co-founders, Sasha Kramer, who to me is like a rock star.

Another morning I got to go on a "drum run" where they drive around to a number of camps and pick up the full drums with their contents and replace them with clean empty ones (and also replenish their supply of bagasse and sawdust). The hardest was a camp where the toilets were down a significant hill. And because the camp was large, there were 15 or so drums to collect! Each of these probably weighs between 30 and 60 lbs, as some were more full and compressed than others. Literally hundreds and perhaps a few thousand people live in some of these camps, in improvised tents made from tarps. At one camp, there were a number of rather strong young guys hanging out and I talked to them some, wondering if they had a basketball court as they looked like they could be ballers. They didn't and asked if I could pay for one. Oops, I walked right into that one! As I was leaving, one guy asked me for money and treated me like I was the leader of the group. I explained I really was working for the Haitians I was with, and that I don't have money (at least now that is true as I don't have a job...). It was just strange to be assumed that I was the boss largely because I'm white. As if young white people don't have a lot to learn and need to move up in experience, and can't be inexperienced compared to Haitians who have been working in SOIL for a long time!

In the afternoon, most of the SOIL group went to an area of town called Cite Soleil, an especially poor and crowded area for a toilet inauguration. This is where a big party is thrown kicking off the grand opening of the toilets, and staging some theatrics to show how they are used. This gets a lot of audience participation, and in general it's quite a sight because we all get rushed by bunches of young eager kids wanting to play, to hold our hands, to teach us their secret handshake, and so on. One early adolescent girl brought me a young child who was crying so I just took her and held her and she felt better and within a few minutes completely passed out in my arms. I had never experienced that before, and had always marvelled when I would see how konked out little kids could be in their parents' arms. Loud noises, moving around, etc. don't phase them - they are out cold!

Then I met up with a guy from Mennonite Central Committee for dinner in town, with an exciting 15 minute motorcycle taxi ride to get there. We had fun, and when I returned to the house, partied it up with some of the other guys there who were also leaving the next day. (The house I stayed at had people working for other NGOs or as freelance journalists). There were some really neat people there and we had a lot of fun.

So that was the last day and a half in brief. It's good to be back - being so poor at Kreyol was a little overwhelming. I wonder when I will go back again (I want to) and will also try to find some Haitian folks to practice with in NYC.

Not a lot of reflection in this post - I'll take a stab at that later!