UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter

THE URI GLOBAL COMMUNITY: An inspirational message from the hub

A Reflection from the URI President, RET. BISHOP WILLIAM SWING

Five years ago a few men commandeered four airplanes. Two crashed into the World Trade Center Towers and one into the Pentagon. This scene of horror was motivated by a conviction that God would be praised by such devastation. Two years ago hurricanes Katrina and Rita carved a path of destruction through Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, causing many people to wonder if there was a message from God in those events.

One year ago a tsunami washed away villages, towns, adults and children throughout the Indian Ocean region. Flurries of articles were written by believers and non-believers as to whether God had visited these places with divine justice.

The question arises: can the hand of God be perceived by sifting through the rubble created by planes, hurricanes and tsunamis?This kind of question was once raised in Hebrew Scripture. Elijah, a prophet, went up to Horeb, the mountain of God. While he was standing on the mountain “Behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains…but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the lord was not in the earthquake; and after this earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in this fire, and after the fire, a still small voice.” (I Kings, 19:11-12)

How to make sense of the world where constant claims are being made that destruction is god-like, god-inspired, god-pleasing? How to make sense of a God who may well be recognized in the unfolding of human and natural drama? Clue: trust the still small voice.

In interfaith dealings, people of various religions don’t agree on doctrines or dogmas. Nevertheless, despite wide and deep chasms gouged by centuries of differing beliefs and conflicting destinies, there is a bridge connecting the various boundaries, a bridge where orthodoxies are not threatened and actual accords can be discovered. The bridge is formed by sitting together, quietly, in common respect for the still small voice.

Almost any ritual of one religious group has the potential to offend people of other religious groups. If that is the case, can people of differing religions find any middle ground for being together reverently? Yes, we can all be quiet together, on alert to hear the still small voice. This has promise and actually happens.

Personally, I muse about the core of the United Religions Initiative effectiveness, i.e. the basic Cooperation Circle (CC). What each CC is supposed to do is not handed down from headquarters. Instead, it is discovered in locales around the world. At least seven people of three or more religious/spiritual traditions sit together until it becomes clear as to their unique and inspired agenda. The question is always, “What should we do together? What is to be our common vocation in the local community? Where does a still, small voice direct us in finding a common vocation for the good of all life?”

All options are self-generated and all of them are tested by the participants. There is no book of objectives to choose from. Each CC is on its own to weigh the possibilities. To sit quietly together and pay attention to the still small voice that matters ultimately. And, once there is agreement, action commences.

The 14th Principle of the URI Charter states: “We have the right to organize in any manner, at any scale, in any area, and around any issue or activity which is relevant to and consistent with this Preface, Purpose and Principles (of the URI).” The entire enterprise holds together in trusting each other’s discernment of this tiny body’s primary focus. Something special happens when peoples of different faith traditions map out their specific destinies together. Today we are witnessing a burst of energy globally as new Cooperation Circles come into being daily and the world begins to change in an interfaith direction.

Interesting enough, after 9/11, people around the world began to turn to the URI in hope. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, URI volunteers flooded the South. After the 2005 tsunami URI CC’s all around the Indian Ocean began to respond to the devastation and are still hard at their tasks today.

The genius of the Elijah story would say that the will of God could not be recognized in the crashing airplanes or in the howling winds or in the rising, rushing water. But afterwards, in the still small part of the heart, the conscience, the exposed soul, a voice was heard. That voice collects people together and propels them in a clear, good direction. Paying attention to the still small voice is, in my opinion, at the center of the URI. It is the essential context in which we discover our core authority and find our mutuality. We never make a noise unless we are silent.

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.