The five interlaced rings of the Olympic flag — blue, yellow, black, green, and red — Pierre De Coubertin said in 1931, represent "the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism." No continent (now region) is assigned a specific color. Perhaps that's why graphic designer Gustavo Sousa intentionally chose not to provide a legend or key for the illustrations above.
In his illustrations, Mr. Sousa assigns each color of the Olympic rings to a specific continent and then pairs it with a variety of data sets: obesity, gun ownership, McDonald's outlets, population, homicides, people living with HIV, military expenditures, Facebook users, number of Catholic priests, percentage of homes with televisions, to name a few. He requires the viewer to ponder, to reflect, to think, to make sense of the information.
As Mr. Sousa explained to Fast Company, "The rings represent healthy competition and union, but we know the world isn’t perfect. Maybe understanding the differences is the first step to try to make things more equal.”
On a Wednesday afternoon a profound stillness swept through the Hall of Philosophy at the Chautauqua Institution as Roshi Joan Halifax led the audience through a meditation that touched on death, grief, and acceptance.
In a series of conversations based on the theme “Krista Tippett and Friends Who Inspire, Commit, Act,” Roshi Halifax sat down with the radio host and producer and discussed her life, Buddhist faith, inspirations, and the vast and human concepts of death, compassion, grief — and neuroscience.
Roshi Halifax is a medical anthropologist, and founder and abbot of the Upaya Zen Center. For the past 40 years, she has helped the dying and their families comprehend and grasp the reality of death and the rituals and feelings that go with the experience of dying. She has studied and written on topics such as death and compassion. “Her wisdom about dying is informed by her wisdom about living,” Ms. Tippett said.
Roshi Halifax’s path toward Buddhism began when she was four years old. She contracted a virus that left her blind for two years. During those formative years, children are immersed in the process of discovery. Blindness forced Roshi Halifax to turn her curiosity inward.
“Another level of your life opens up when you recognize that you have a life that is inside.”
The internal sight she examined during her spell of blindness deepened as she grew older, in part because of her participation with the civil rights and antiwar movements. During the 1960s, Roshi Halifax fought for civil rights alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Later, she protested for peace during the Vietnam War.
“It was a time where we felt we really had the opportunity to engage, not only psychologically, but also socially in terms of changing the global culture — not just our national culture."
Though fighting and supporting the causes constituted doing what Roshi Halifax felt was right, it also left her feeling very polarized, she said. At that time, in her world and philosophy, right and wrong were definite, set in stone. Roshi Halifax said that sense of polarization caused her to suffer.
About the time she first became acquainted with great Zen Buddhist writers such as Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki, she was attracted to the Buddhist emphasis on training the mind. After she attended their lectures and began reading their literature, Roshi Halifax said she felt she had found her path.
“I went, ‘You know, I’m one of these.’ It wasn’t about religion — it was about a philosophical perspective.”
Buddhism taught Roshi Halifax that she could take agency over her own mind and mold it in a direction away from feelings of suffering or desire and toward clarity and truth.
“In Buddhism, there are practices about actually stopping or cessation, about taking a backward step about coming to a place where the heart and mind are genuinely reflective, where we’re able to perceive reality in an unfiltered way.”
While in her 20s, Roshi Halifax traveled across the Sahara desert to observe the Dogon people. The Dogon are an indigenous people who participate in a rite of passage every 53 years. The actual experience of the rite of passage lasts seven years.
“What I saw was an entire society, an entire culture going through a rite of passage where they died and were reborn."
That experience prompted Roshi Halifax to question what sorts of rites of passage exist in the United States. She concluded that apart from war, there were very few such rites in the U.S that sacralized life or marked maturation of an individual or a society.
“I became very interested in the effects of rites of passage, how we actually mature ourselves and how we integrate into the various life phases — or into the transitions through loss, through death, through geographical change, moving from one place to another and so forth."
While observing the Dogon, Roshi Halifax realized the importance of ritual. Ritual allows people to transcend chronological time. Ritual can provide a sense of both sacredness and normalcy. The combination is particularly important in the experience of dying, Roshi Halifax said.
Roshi Halifax recently returned from a trip to Japan, where she was involved in a discussion regarding palliative care. Increasingly in Japan, the process for dealing with a dying person includes palliative sedation, or “putting a person to sleep,” before he or she dies. With the method, the patient is often unaware he or she is are dying, Roshi Halifax said. It impedes the spiritual and natural experience of dying that is understood in the West.
In the experience of dying, it is important that the patient and those close to him or her experience the rituals that include reconciliation, expressions of love, reflection, and forgiveness.
“The potential within the dying process to refine one’s priorities, to enter into relationality that has been turned away from and also to find meaning — to make meaning of one’s life — is really extraordinary."
Scientific and medical technologies have blossomed during the past decades. It is time to reintroduce spirituality to medicine, she said.
“As medicine has unfolded in the West, it has become kind of a technological miracle but an existential nightmare.”
Roshi Halifax has cared for the dying since 1970. Last year, she was the distinguished scholar at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, where she developed a lecture titled, “Inside Compassion: Edge States, Contemplative Interventions, Neuroscience.”
During her conversation with Ms. Tippett, Roshi Halifax discussed the different facets of her scholarship. “Edge states” are the psychological and emotional places to which caregivers are pushed when confronted with the overwhelming challenges of caring for the dying. There are three main edge states: pathological altruism, vital exhaustion and vicarious trauma, Roshi Halifax said.
Pathological altruism refers to when a person sacrifices his or her own well-being in the care of another.
“We harm ourselves physically or mentally when we engage in care of others. This actually affects many women whose identities are actually related to the act of giving care, and who become very self-harming in engaging in giving care, in a way that causes harm to their own lives.”
Vital exhaustion, or burnout, occurs when a caregiver is unable to create a proper separation or boundary between himself or herself and the person or institution for which he or she works. Vicarious trauma refers to when someone works with those who are suffering and begins to take on that suffering as his or her own.
“Say, you know, you’re a person who works in the end-of-life field, or a person who’s a chaplain in the military where you’re hearing these terrible stories of pain and suffering, violence and abuse, and it begins to get you, so you suffer these effects vicariously.”
In today’s day and age, where news media constantly bombard people with horrible news and images, they are often pushed in the direction of edge states. The sadness of the world’s suffering can be consuming, Roshi Halifax said.
“We enter into what we call a state of moral distress and futility, and moral distress is something where we see that something else needs to happen. We feel this profound moral conflict, yet we can’t do anything about it.”
In response to the overwhelming feelings of pain and futility, Roshi Halifax said people often choose one of three routes: moral outrage, avoidance through substance abuse or other means, or elected numbness. “A good part of the globe is going numb,” Roshi Halifax said.
We are privy to so much suffering and horror in our lives, through our own experiences and through what we see on the news, that we never have time to stabilize. Stabilization is almost like pushing a metaphorical reset button on our lives. It can be attained through various means: by going to a refuge of peace and tranquility, such as Chautauqua, or by practicing a form of contemplative meditation, Roshi Halifax said.
“When we are more stabilized, then we can face the world with more buoyancy. We have more resilience, you know. We’ve got more capacity to actually address these very profound social and environmental issues.”
Compassion is not sorrow, or pity, it is a multifaceted virtue, and it is good for us, Roshi Halifax said. People can use techniques such as contemplative intervention to train and mold their minds so that they are still sensitive, compassionate and empathetic without becoming overwhelmed, morally outraged and ultimately numb, Roshi said. Training the mind can allow people to better handle pain and sorrow, so that instead of descending into an edge state, they can remain present, compassionate and active, she said.
A neurological study of the brains of Tibetan monks, by Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry, has proven that the brain changes throughout a person’s lifetime. It never stops growing and never reaches a place where it cannot be changed, if we want to train it, Roshi Halifax said.
“But you have to practice,” Ms. Tippett said.
In the study, the section of the brain that controls our sense of compassion was located. Researchers found that when Tibetan monks, who meditate for thousands of hours in their lives, encounter instances of suffering and pain that these instances elicit a compassionate response. They feel that compassion more acutely than the average person, but they are also able to let it go faster.
“It’s not like meditators are in this state of numb equanimity; in fact, they feel the deep press of suffering, but it is a much briefer impact of suffering on the individual."
When they let go of the sorrow quickly, they are able to embrace their compassion and take positive, effective action. There have been many incredible new studies about the human brain, feelings and virtues — courtesy of neuroscience, Roshi Halifax said. For example, it was recently discovered that there is a bit of the brain that holds the capacity to distinguish self from other.
“When you’re able to distinguish self from other, you can feel the resonance and sense into their suffering, but you can also simultaneously understand that you are not in reality experiencing that pain.”
Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is constantly growing and changing, so it is important to understand that many of the traits and values human beings possess can be trained or further developed through practices like meditation. Although it is possible to further develop people’s traits that cause them to behave compassionately — traits such as focus, attention and positive affect — it is not possible to train compassion, Roshi Halifax said.
“You cannot train people in compassion, but what you can do is you can train people in the processes that prime compassion.”
During the later moments of their conversation, Ms. Tippett asked Roshi Halifax how people should consider grief. The experience of grief is universal — grief is about loss, and everyone has lost something — people, things, ideas and values. In life, we experience the feeling of loss over and over again, Roshi Halifax said.
“The experience of grief is profoundly humanizing,” she said. “We need to create conditions where we are supported to grieve and we are not told, ‘Why don’t you just get over it.’ ”
The experience of grief helps people locate their internal self and truly define their priorities. The challenges of grief highlight the value of contemplative practice, or meditation, Roshi Halifax said.
“When you are in a state of deep internal stillness, you see the truth of change, the truth of impermanence, that’s constantly in flow moment by moment. That becomes a kind of insight that liberates you from the futility of the kind of grief that disallows our own humanity to emerge.”
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
— The Olympic Creed
Attributed to Pierre de Coubertin, the creed was inspired by a sermon given by the Bishop of Pennsylvania on the first Sunday of the London Olympic Games in 1908. During a religious service in St. Paul's Cathedral, the bishop delivered these words, "The important thing in these Olympiads is not to win, but to take part."
The creed has been displayed during the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games ever since.
At the Inner-City Muslim Action Network in Chicago, Rami Nashashibi uses religion, art, and culture to fight for social justice.
Mr. Nashashibi sat down with radio host and producer Krista Tippett for the fourth installment of the Chautauqua Institution's lecture series based on the interfaith theme, “Krista Tippett and Friends Who Inspire, Commit, Act.” In their conversation, Ms. Tippett and Mr. Nashashibi discussed his personal faith journey to Islam and the work he does for social justice through his nonprofit organization, IMAN.
Mr. Nashashibi’s relationship with Islam resembles that of a convert, he said. Though born in Jordan, Mr. Nashashibi grew up all around the world and spent much of his early life living in Europe. The home he grew up in was not ideologically secular but areligious. Little focus was placed on the study or practice of Islam.
When he reached college-age, Mr. Nashashibi came to the Southwest Side of Chicago on a soccer scholarship. When he arrived, he was confronted with the reality of American life in a city rife with economic disparity and racial violence.
Mr. Nashashibi was horrified by the continued social segregation and inequality he witnessed. The early years of his time in Chicago coincided with America’s first Gulf War. While he still lived on the Southwest Side, he began to receive strange vibes from people in the community, at one point via a hateful note on his door.
He soon decided to move to another college campus on the North Side of the city. The campus he moved to was more racially diverse, and when he arrived, he actively engaged in fighting for social justice issues with the black and Latino communities.
“I became increasingly fascinated and drawn to the African-American narrative, and in the process of doing that, became more and more familiar with — and interacted with those from that narrative who encountered Islam. The African-American encounter with Islam is truly an American story, and it’s one that’s deeply anchored in the larger American narrative.”
Mr. Nashashibi said he soon became fascinated with the stories and people who had participated in movements, such as the Black Panthers and Black Nationalism. Many of the activists and former members of those organizations were devoutly Muslim. They often would ask why he lacked a stronger, more formalized faith, Mr. Nashashibi said.
Mr. Nashashibi would respond that he was agnostic and did not believe in organized religion. Early on in his activist career, he could not understand how the intellectual social justice activists he admired were also so reverently faithful to Islam, Mr. Nashashibi said.
“So for the first time, I really started to read the Quran only to refute these guys. And I remember seriously the first year just extracting verses from the Quran only to come back and say, ‘Do you really believe in this?’ ”
Soon a transformation began, and during the course of a few years, he began exploring the Qur'an and asking honest questions about the Muslim faith. He began to embrace the religion as a vehicle for social justice. At first, his relationship with Islam was based solely in the political and social context, but as he continued his exploration of the religion, he realized he was missing its greater spiritual aspect.
Eventually, he also turned to the faith for his spiritual needs. In the 1990s, Mr. Nashashibi began to work with Muslim youth from Chicago’s Southwest Side, an area plagued with violence, drugs, and poverty. In its early days, the program focused on bringing together Muslim children from the inner city and other groups of Muslim children, such as African-Americans from nearby suburbs.
“When we brought all of this eclectic mix together — middle class immigrant Muslim kids brought up in the suburbs, young immigrant Muslims brought up in the hood, African American Muslims who have generations of experience on the South Side of Chicago — that produced this extraordinary excitement, a sense of possibility, something that had not been done, something whose time had come.”
One of the first initiatives of the program was called “Takin’ it to the Streets.” The event was held in the same park the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was stoned, in 1966. The point of the event was to take the work IMAN was doing and bring it out for the world to see, Mr. Nashashibi said.
About 900 people attended the event, and the organization raised $20,000. But, it could have been 900,000 people and $2 million judging by the amount of momentum and excitement it inspired, he said.
IMAN stems from a core Muslim principle, the call for social justice, Mr. Nashashibi said. Jesus Christ is often credited with working for and championing “the least of these,” but serving the marginalized was also an action and focus of the Prophet Muhammad, Mr. Nashashibi said.
The poor and marginalized sections of society, including women and slaves, were some of the earliest converts to Islam, Mr. Nashashibi said.
The disparities of wealth and opportunity based on arbitrary boundaries or uncontrollable events — such as a person’s race or the ZIP code in which he or she was born — motivate Mr. Nashashibi to continue to work for change, he said.
“For me, this work is in part a way to deal with the anxiety, the spiritual anxiety of those disparities. I can’t feel religiously comfortable in simply accepting that type of division in the way we live our lives.”
Mr. Nashashibi said he understands how it can be difficult to stay faithful and committed to the idea of social progress, especially when problems can seem overwhelmingly large and the actuality of change distant.
“It’s one thing to aspire towards those type of parities in our lives that we think are more reflective of the spiritual calling that we all attempt to implement into our lives and implement into society. It’s another thing when, you know, you’re walking 4- and 6-year-old girls down a block where, you know, two days earlier there was a gang shooting.”
Recently, Mr. Nashashibi was walking down his block on the Southwest Side with his young daughters. As they passed a stoop, the smell of marijuana smoke wafted in their direction. After dropping his children home, Mr. Nashashibi left his house and returned to the offending stoop and walked up to one of the men seated there.
“Listen man, can I holla at you for a moment?” Mr. Nashashibi asked. The man listened, and Mr. Nashashibi expressed to him that he did not want his daughters to smell marijuana every time they walked home. Within moments, the man had his arm around Mr. Nashashibi, apologizing and promising that it would not happen again.
“I want to grow with you, I want to learn with you, I’ve been watching you, and don’t worry, you won’t have to deal with that next time you walk down in front of us,” the man had said.
When the enormity of the world’s problems becomes overwhelming, micro-moments such as that human-to-human interaction reaffirm his belief that change can happen.
“You can engage those who sometimes you’re told to fear, who you’re told to write off,” Mr. Nashashibi said.
At the heart of IMAN is a dedication to art — visual and musical. The incorporation of art in the program reflects the Muslim understanding of God as beautiful. There is a Muslim tradition that says God is beautiful and loves beauty, Mr. Nashashibi said. In Islam, God is also referred to as a beautiful storyteller. In one of the Suras of the Quran, the story of Yusuf is told. The chapter about Yusuf begins, “We reveal to you the most beautiful of stories,” Mr Nashashibi said.
“The idea of God and the divine as a beautiful storyteller is also really at the core of our tradition."
IMAN brings musicians from all around the world to perform at its events, including opera singers and spoken-word artists, Mr. Nashashibi said. The use of art, specifically hip-hop music, began organically as an effective tool for bringing together those Muslim youth from diverse backgrounds.
“It became the most powerful and useful way of bringing together young kids in Chicago who were totally disconnected from one another while living and sharing the same kind of urban experiences,” Mr. Nashashibi said.
One of the earliest uses of hip-hop culture and art happened in 1995, when Mr. Nashashibi asked a well-known graffiti writer in Chicago to write a phrase from the Quran on a wall in graffiti. The phrase said, “We created you into nations and tribes so that may get to know each other, not hate one another, and the most dignified among you is the one with the most consciousness of the divine,” Mr. Nashashibi said.
The artist did not write in ornate Arabic calligraphy, but his transcription and artwork was so perfect that a Palestinian man walking on the street stopped to ask how long he had been training. The unveiling of that project showed Mr. Nashashibi art’s strong, uniting force. Since then, it has been a fundamental aspect of the program. Today, the biyearly “Takin’ it to the Streets” celebration has more than 20,000 attendees each year, with huge celebrities and artists in attendance, Mr. Nashashibi said.
“The arts have become the real factor for us in both humanizing each others’ stories, connecting our stories and, I think, revealing to one another the possibilities of what a better world can look like."
The idea of a collective American-Muslim culture is one Mr. Nashashibi holds dear and tries to spread through IMAN’s programs. It stems from the work of Malcolm X, following his trip to Mecca. After returning from Mecca, Malcolm X wrote to his wife that he no longer believed in race-based segregation within Islam. He had an image of Islam as a “powerful conduit in reconciling some of the great tensions of his time, of our time,” Mr. Nashashibi said.
“Nowhere is that dream, that broader dream, more possible, more relevant, more germane and, I think, more urgent than it is here within the context of the American experience."
Sept. 11 changed the lives of Muslims living in America, Mr. Nashashibi said. There are still vast parts of the United States where strong traces of fear of Islam and Muslims remain. For example, legislatures in states such as Oklahoma are introducing bans on Sharia law, he said.
Following Sept. 11, Mr. Nashashibi said he began to begrudge the eagerness with which Islamic leaders would frequently make statements distancing American Muslims from the attacks. He said he felt and feels Americans do not need to hear about how American Muslims are not this, or not that. But, he said, they should be exposed to American Muslims living the American experience.
In Chicago, Mr. Nashashibi does not have to tell people he is not from a religion of violence, because people see him holding prayer sessions on street corners where violence takes place, and they know he is fighting violence.
“There’s an anxiety for me even, about when to be OK with talking about the very basics and when to say: ‘Hey, damn it, we’ve been here, we’ve been doing great things, we shouldn’t have to convince you that we are part and parcel of the American experience.’ ”
By Trent Gilliss | Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 10:17am
Another serendipitous pairing one often sees in his Tumblr dashboard if he pays attention. It seems to point at something in our cultural consciousness that we need to connect more. What a juxtaposition in scale and how the forms sit in their environment.
Several weeks ago, Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., buried his 183rd young person.
In 1988, he buried his first, an identical twin named Raphael. At Raphael’s funeral, his twin brother, Roberto, looked into the coffin, a living reflection of the body contained within. That picture of a young man staring into the coffin that held his brother, his mirror image, has stayed with Fr. Boyle: “That was my first introduction to the great loss and unspeakable grief of it.”
The “it” Boyle refers to is gang violence in streets of Los Angeles. Fr. Boyle is a Jesuit priest, former pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, and the founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program. He is the author of the book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.
Homeboy Industries seeks to improve and transform the lives of gang members by employing them at one of the Homeboy businesses, which include a bakery, café, a silkscreen and embroidery shop, and others. Homeboy Industries also provides support services including therapy, GED classes, and tattoo removal, Boyle said.
In the July 10th Interfaith Lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, the second of the series’ week three theme “Krista Tippett and Friends Who Inspire, Commit, Act,” Ms. Tippett sat down with Fr. Boyle in the Hall of Philosophy to discuss his life, work, inspirations, and relationships.
Boyle grew up in Los Angeles and was educated by Jesuits. In his time spent with the priests, he found them to be joyful and prophetic.
“The combination of the prophetic and the hilarious — I loved that,” Fr. Boyle said. “So I thought, ‘Boy, I want — I’ll have what they’re having.’”
Being a Jesuit priest is about being a companion of Jesus, he said. St. Ignatius said that Jesus is standing in the lowly place:
"Standing in the lowly place with the easily despised, and the readily left out, and with the demonized — so that the demonizing will stop — and with the disposable — so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. That gives me life, that’s where I want to be. I think that’s where Jesus insists on standing."
After his ordination, Fr. Boyle spent some time working with the poor in Bolivia. When he returned to Los Angeles, he asked to be sent to the poorest place he could be sent. He was placed in the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles. At the time, the area had eight different warring gangs and the highest gang activity levels in the world, Fr. Boyle said.
The work Homeboy Industries does can be categorized as service work, but it is important to understand the mutuality of the relationship between the former gang members or “homies,” who participate in the program, and Fr. Boyle. One of Fr. Boyle’s messages is the necessity of “delighting in people.” Delighting in people means moving past defined identities such as “service provider” and “service recipient” and reaching a kinship, Fr. Boyle said.
“I think that’s where the place of delight is, that I’ve learned everything of value in the last 25 years from precisely the people who you think are on the receiving end of my gifts and talent, and wisdom and advice, but quite the opposite — it’s mutual.”
In the Acts of the Apostles, it is written, “awe came upon everyone.” The expression teaches that the measure of our human compassion is not based on the amount of work we do for those in the margins, but on our willingness to form a kinship with the marginalized, our willingness to move away from judgment toward awe, Fr. Boyle said.
He said he is perpetually in awe of the homies he knows and works with. In his conversation with Ms. Tippett, Fr. Boyle told the story of José, a former gang member and heroin addict who now works for Homeboy Industries. Recently, at a social worker’s training event, José told the audience that when he was six years old, his mother asked him, ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself?’ When he was 9 years old, she drove him into Baja California, Mexico, and left him at an orphanage. He stayed at the orphanage until his grandmother picked him up 90 days later.
When José’s mother was not actively trying to abandon him, she beat him relentlessly.
Throughout his years in school, José said he was forced to wear three layers of shirts to mask the wet blood that would seep from open wounds on his back. As he grew older, he continued to wear three shirts every day because he was ashamed of his scars. At the end of his story, José told the audience that today his wounds are friends. He said, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?” Fr. Boyle said.
"And awe came upon everyone. Because we’re so inclined to, kind of, judge this kid who, you know, went to prison, tattooed and is a gang member, homeless, heroin addict — the list goes on. But he was never seeking anything when he ended up in those places. He was always fleeing the story I just told."
The role of people on earth is to try to imitate the kind of God they believe in, Fr. Boyle said. If a person’s understanding of God is as a source of love and compassion, then that is what the person should reflect on earth. In human interactions, people should work to show others how special and deserving of love they are, Fr. Boyle said.
“You want people to recognize that they’re the truth of who they are — that they’re exactly what God had in mind when God made them,” Fr. Boyle said.
Alice Miller, a child psychologist, said that we are called to be “enlightened witnesses” who return people to themselves, Fr. Boyle said. In doing so, they will return us to ourselves.
To illustrate that concept, Fr. Boyle told the story of an 18-year-old he works with named Luis. Luis is exasperating and sometimes whiny, Fr. Boyle said. Recently, after talking with Fr. Boyle, Luis asked the priest for a blessing:
“I said, ‘You know, Luis, I’m proud to know you, and my life is richer because you came into it, and when you were born, the world became a better place, and I’m proud to call you my son. Even though’ — and I don’t know why I decided to add this part — ‘at times, you can really be a huge pain in the ass.’”
In response, Luis looked up at him and said, “The feeling’s mutual.”
“Maybe I returned him to himself, but there is no doubt that he’s returned me to myself,” Fr. Boyle said.
Ms. Tippett noted that in Fr. Boyle’s books he often references the greatness and vastness of God. She said the words he uses often seem to contrast the dismal statistics associated with the work he does and the neighborhood in which he works. In response, Fr. Boyle said people should always be attentive because the vastness of God is always happening everywhere.
In his first few years at the Dolores Mission Church, Fr. Boyle said he would often walk through the projects at night. One evening, he stumbled on a 16-year-old boy named Mario sitting alone on the porch stoop. When Fr. Boyle approached Mario, the boy said it was funny that the priest had appeared at that moment, because he had just been praying and asking God to show him a sign. That encounter touched Fr. Boyle deeply and helped establish his understanding of God’s vastness:
“It came by way of knowing that the day won’t ever come that I am as holy as the people I am called to serve, that the day won’t ever come that I have more courage, or am more noble or am closer to God than the 16-year-old gang member sitting alone on his porch. And that’s important, because I think that’s sort of where the vastness of God resides.”
Homeboy Industries has a 75-percent retention rate, which means 75 percent of the people they work with do not return to prison. Since the late 1980s when Fr. Boyle first began working in the Dolores Mission Church, his approach to fighting gang violence has evolved. A variety of successes and failures has offered new insights into what are the most effective practices:
“Anything worth doing is worth failing at, I think — that will be on my tombstone. We had seven businesses, but not all of them worked. You know, Homeboy Plumbing was really not a huge success. Apparently people didn’t want gang members in their homes — I didn’t see that coming."
In the early days of his work in Los Angeles, Fr. Boyle would actively work to draft peace agreements and ceasefires among warring gangs. Today, he does not work with gangs as complete units, only with their disparate members who seek help from Homeboy Industries. Peace-making agreements require conflict. In gang warfare, it is important to understand that there is gang violence but not actual conflict. The violence has no foundation, Fr. Boyle said.
“It’s about a lethal absence of hope. It’s about kids who can’t imagine a future for themselves. It’s about kids who aren’t seeking anything when they join a gang. It’s about the fact that they’re always fleeing something,” Fr. Boyle said.
When Homeboy Industries first started, it was mostly an employment referral agency. The slogan on its T-shirts still reads, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” Fr. Boyle said. In the last five years, Fr. Boyle said he’s beginning to see that employment is only part of the battle. Eighty percent is about having a job and having a paycheck, but the other 20 percent comes from being a part of a healing community, he said.
“It’s about what psychologists would call attachment repair, you know, because gang members come to us with this disorganized attachment,” Fr. Boyle said. “Mom was frightening or frightened, and you can’t really soothe yourself if you’ve never been calmed down by that significant person in your life.
“It’s never too late to kind of gain this, so they repair this attachment and gain some resilience, and they redefine who they are in the world,” he said. “And then we send them on, beyond us, and then the world will throw at them what it will, but it won’t topple them.”
In the concluding moments of their conversation, Ms. Tippett discussed how Fr. Boyle’s work and philosophy truly embodies the incarnational heart of Christianity.
“The truth is, you know, we’re so used to a God — a ‘one false move’ God and so we’re not really accustomed to the ‘no-matter-whatness’ of God, to the God who’s just plain old too busy loving us to be disappointed in us,” Fr. Boyle said. “That is, I think, the hardest thing to believe, but everybody in this space knows it’s the truest thing you can say about God.”
One of the things I find I most enjoyed — and, now, most miss — about my travels to the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Istanbul is the periodicity of the muezzin's call to prayer. It greets you in so many unexpected ways.
Standing on the Mount of Olives, one call drifts across the valley from the Old City only to be washed over by another call to prayer down the way. But walk within its walls, and it beckons you to stop — sometimes sternly and, at others, as a mother would remind her child.
Walk around a corner in Ramallah and the muezzin's voice may greet you as a friend and wrap its arms around your shoulders; walk down another alley and it barks at you. Sit atop a rooftop patio in the oldest parts of Istanbul and several voices vie for your affections without competing with one another. The voices of small, underpowered speakers from a nearby local mosque provide background vocals for the melodic mix of the more prominent mosques like the Sultanahmet Mosque, the Blue Mosque, in what seems like a talent show of some of the world's finest muezzins.
And, then there's the greeting from one's home, as you can hear in the audio embedded audio above. It's the maghrib athan, the fourth call that summons the faithful to prayer just after sunset, during Ramadan from what seems like an apartment window somewhere outside of Nablus.
One sees so many sites, eats so much delicious food, meets so many wonderful people. But it's the rhythmic reminder that stays with me, a discipline I'll cherish long after the memory of such encounters slowly erode themselves in my mind.
About the photo: The muezzin at the Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo demonstrates his vocal abilities in the liwan. (Photo by Christopher Rose/Flick, licensed under Creative Commons)
On Tisha B'Av, a family reads Lamentations at the synagogue Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in East Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Photo by Brian Negin)
According to Sefer Yetzirah, to each month of the Jewish calendar there corresponds a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a zodiac sign, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, a sense, and a controlling limb of the body...
That's from The Month of Tamuz According to the Book of Formation (Sefer Yetzirah) at Inner.org, a website which collects the kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh. R' Ginsburgh teaches that the sense associated with this month is sight. And the tribe associated with this month is Reuben — a name which comes from the same root as the verb "to see."
Our task this month, he teaches, is to rectify, or heal, our own sight. "[O]ne must train one's eyes (both spiritual and physical) to see only the inner positive dimension of reality and not to focus upon reality's outer, negative 'shell.'" On another page at that same site — The Month of Tamuz: The End of Tragedy — we read:
The sense of the month of Tamuz is sight. This means that the month of Tamuz is the best month of the year to learn to exercise our sight in the most positive way possible. Rectified sight involves both shying away from that which is negative (an ability associated in Kabbalah with our left eye) and training ourselves to see things in a positive light (associated with our right eye). In essence, both aspects are included in the right eye, which means that we should seek to see only the good points in others.
I love this idea: that this month it is our task to learn to stop seeing the bad in people, and to perfect the art of seeing the good in people. I make a year-long practice of trying to see the good in people, but there's something especially meaningful to me about the idea of strengthening that practice during this time.
We've entered the Three Weeks when we are bein ha-meitzarim, caught in the narrow straits of remembered grief and suffering. We remember the sack of Jerusalem and the fall of the Beit haMikdash, the house of holiness where we once understood God's presence to dwell. I keep returning to the text from Talmud which teaches that it was sinat chinam, needless hatred between and among our community, which brought the Temple down. And I find that I'm feeling even more keenly than usual the wish that I could create bridges of understanding between people who don't see eye to eye.
If we could all spend these Three Weeks healing our sight so that we truly only see the good in one another, how might the world be different? I'm not talking about superficial pretense, but about really training ourselves to see the best in people. Imagine seeing the best not only in your friends, but in the guy who cuts you off in traffic; in someone who looks different from you; in someone whose political positions are the opposite of yours.
Imagine Democrats and Republicans not just pretending to like one another, or focusing on their common ground in order to get along, but really figuring out how to see the good in each other. Imagine AIPAC supporters and Jewish Voice for Peace supporters doing the same. Secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Soldiers and refuseniks. Israelis and Palestinians.
The classical tradition, I suspect, would argue that our task is to learn to see the best in each other within our community, not outside the bounds of our community. (Define those boundaries how you will.) But my teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has taught that in this age of paradigm shift, we need to move beyond triumphalism to an organismic understanding of our place in the world. Each religion is a necessary organ in the body of humanity; we need to maintain our differences, but we also need to communicate and connect. Maybe the best way to do that is to learn to see the best in one another.
May our vision be healed; may we learn how to look at each other and to see not our flaws and failings and differences but our holy sparks, our souls which shine, no matter who we are.
Rachen Barenblat is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, Massachusetts. Better known in online circles as the blogger Velveteen Rabbi, she's also an ordained mashpi'ah (spiritual director) and poet. Her first collection of poems is 70 faces: Torah Poems.
The Mormon scholar Joanna Brooks describes celebrating Pioneer Day as a young girl by donning a "pioneer calico bonnet and skirt handmade by my mother every July 24 to celebrate my great-great-grandmother and other ancestors who had come from as far away as England to build an American Zion in Utah and Idaho."
Flyin' to Zion blimp float in a local parade celebrating Pioneer Day. (Photo by Martijn van Exel/Flickr, cc by-nd 2.0)
(Photo by Arby Reed/Flickr)
Photo by Edgar Zuniga Jr./Flickr, cc by-nd 2.0
Photo by Arby Reed/Flickr, cc by-nd 2.0)
Ronda Robertson from Farmington, Utah pulls a handcart through The Needles area of southwestern Wyoming as a vivid reminder of the hardship endured by early Mormon pioneers. (Photo by Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Crossing the swiftly moving Sweetwater River, Mormon youth grip a rope to keep them from being swept away in the current towards the end of their 10-mile trek. (Photo by Jill P. Mott/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
The first temple built by the LDS church after their arrival in Utah is the St. George Temple.. (Photo by J Brew/Flickr, cc by-sa 2.0)
Fireworks close the celebrations on Pioneer Day.
The University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Pioneer Day. (Photo by Sam Klein/Flick, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
By Trent Gilliss | Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 10:06am
"Innovation is the exit strategy for aid."
—Dr. Abdallah Daar
"Inspire. Commit. Act." This was the theme of Krista Tippett's week-long series of interviews at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Fresh off a plane from Istanbul, our host hopped on a flight to New York last week and interviewed six people over five days. The first conversation to kick of the series: Dr. Abdallah Daar.
Born and raised as a Sunni Muslim in Tanzania, the professor of public health sciences and of surgery at the University of Toronto is a leading expert in the field of global health, with a focus on righting inequities by studying how medical research and vaccines can be taken more quickly from "lab to village."
“I call them inequities, and not inequalities or disparities, because inequity is an ethical term which means that it is something that is both unfair and unjust and that you can do something about."
As he tells Ms. Tippett in this interview, his passion for improving global public health was inspired in part by losing his sister to malaria, a preventable and treatable condition. “The thought that in this day and age, 1997, someone could die of a preventable and treatable condition was just shattering to me, and for a family member to depart in that situation was really shocking,” Dr. Daar said.
The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger for faith — and the challenges of faith — for people living now. After a Texas upbringing soaked in a history of violence and a charismatic Christian culture, he was agnostic until he became actively religious again in his late 30s. Then he was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable blood cancer. He's bearing witness to something new happening in himself and in the world.
Disruption is around every corner by way of globally connected economies, inevitable superstorms, and technology’s endless reinvention. But most of us were born into a culture which aspired to solve all problems. How do we support people and create systems that know how to recover, persist, and even thrive in the face of change? Andrew Zolli introduces "resilience thinking," a new generation’s wisdom for a world of constant change.
The best way to nurture children's inner lives, Sylvia Boorstein says, is by taking care of our own inner selves for their sake. At a public event in suburban Detroit, Krista Tippett draws out the warmth and wisdom of the celebrated Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. And, in a light-hearted moment that is an audience pleaser, Boorstein shares what GPS might teach us about "recalculating" and our own inner equanimity.
How do we prime our brains to take the meandering mental paths necessary for creativity? New techniques of brain imaging, Rex Jung says, are helping us gain a whole new view on the differences between intelligence, creativity, and personality. He unsettles some old assumptions — and suggests some new connections between creativity and family life, creativity and aging, and creativity and purpose.
An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.