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Interfaith service focuses on moving towards lasting peace

Interfaith peace service

Mona Ali of Spokane Islamic Center lights a candle
during the interfaith service

For a recent interfaith service during 11 Days of Peace in September, the Interfaith Council of Spokane and One Peace Many Paths gathered people of different faith paths to learn about each other.  Participants shared what their faiths say about moving “Toward a Lasting Peace” and taking “Next Steps for Mother Earth and Her People.” 

The Rev. Joe Niemiec of the Interfaith Council and Center for Spiritual Living said awareness that someone believes in God can open doors to relationships.

The Rev. Joanne Broeckling of One Peace Many Paths, which emerged from a Unity Church peace group, said peace and healing require patience and humility.

Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye, a Buddhist monk in the Universal Compassion Movement and a visiting professor at Gonzaga University, promotes peace, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion and love.  He pointed out that religions have existed thousands of years and continue to evolve.  Each teaches what is necessary for peace. 

“We need to understand mutual practices and put aside differences,” he said.  “We need to change ourselves and forget our differences, so we can be the change.  We need to clean our hearts to let wisdom and compassion grow.”

The Rev. Clare Austen of Unity Church explained that Unity was part of the metaphysical new thought denominations that grew up in the United States in the 1800s.

Unity believes all faiths are in touch with Mother Earth and that peacemakers transform thoughts of division to oneness. 

She said that Unity is a way of life that can turn around thoughts of hate, revenge and anger so people can find their peaceful centers and become the ones to change before they look at the world. 

“If we know how wondrously made we are, how can we ever hurt others?  We need to open our spiritual eyes to see the intrinsic worth of all,” she said.

The Rev. Todd Eklof of the Unitarian Universalist Church gave an overview of religious thinking: Citing beliefs and values expressed in Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism, Buddhism and physics, he pointed to their understanding that various parts are interdependent parts of the whole.

“Religion means ligament or root.  It is intended to create bonds of solidarity among people who are separated and segregated,” Todd said.  “When it is used to exclude or discriminate, it separate us, and it is a sin.  We need to mend fences of religion to realize our oneness.”

Agnes Broncheau, a Nez Perce-Colville descendant of Chief Joseph, welcomed worshipers to “Turtle Island, the original name for Mother Earth.”

“We must help heal Mother Earth,” she said, telling of her work with the SHAWL (Sovereignty, Health, Air, Water, Land) Society to clean up waste from uranium mines on the Spokane reservation.

“People of many tribes hope for better life,” she said.  “We need to have inner peace and mend minds, so we can be part of the bigger circle.  We are to know our neighbors.  Then we need to become allies and help our neighbors and the original tenants of the land.”

The Rev. Liv Andrews Larson, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, hopes churches honor people’s tears, allowing people to join in public lamentation.

In this capitalist economy that wants people to buy things, “we can let tears surface, knowing that children and others suffer while some make profits,” she said.

Liv urges engaging in the Christian practice of hope “to rehearse a new future in singing, dancing and playfulness in public places,” as retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “rather than succumbing to oppression.”

Joe Urlacher, who is Baha’i, shared a prayer for America that calls for the oneness of humanity, for seeing all faiths as one and none as self-sufficient.

He quoted from the Baha’i Peace Pact, calling for sovereigns to establish universal peace and unions of nations of the world to agree to a binding covenant to respect clear frontiers and limit armaments.

Mona Ali of the Spokane Islamic Center said peace is a universal goal all humanity longs for.  Peace in Islam begins in the heart of an individual before the community or society, she said.  It comes through a relationship with the Creator, a bond with God, so people set aside negative emotions, are more patient, and have peace in our hearts and our interactions.

Mona said bringing peace in Islam means doing good and abstaining from the bad, because Mohammed said human rights, justice, tolerance and respect were the way to peace, while intolerance and ignorance hurt people and society.

She believes people’s differences exist so they can come to know each other and build bonds over the barriers.

Sree Nandagopol of India’s Hindu tradition said the greeting, “Namaste,” means “I see the God in you.”  She said that means “no matter who we are, man or woman, or what race we are, we see the soul over the body. Nonviolence is our greatest duty,so most Hindu people are vegetarians.”

When Sree first moved to Spokane 35 years ago when her husband came as city engineer, people asked her why her skin was brown, why she wore a dot on her forehead, why she dressed as she did and more.

She decided to dedicate her time to educate people, starting with the kindergarten class of one of her children.

“I want to move people from untruth to truth, from ignorance to knowledge,” she said.

Sally Duffy and Charmarae Moffet, a grandmother and granddaughter, spoke. They are associates of the Sisters of the Holy Names and part of UNANIMA International, a coalition of Catholic sisters promoting human dignity and peace.

Charamarae believes joy requires making a habit of the serenity prayer “to change what we can, accept what we cannot change and know the difference.”

Sally said, “There’s no difference between the many and the one.”  She read from the Earth Charter principles for sustaining the future with respect, ecology, democracy, nonviolence and peace.

Rabbi Michael Goldstein of Temple Beth Shalom said that the Hebrew word for peace, “shalom,” is from “shelem,”which means whole or complete.  People are all kinds of sizes, dimensions and angles.  Each is a piece.  “Apart, we are alone.  We can appreciate what is unique about each of us, and when we step back, we can see how we fit with the others,” he said, noting that peace is about living in coexistence—recognizing “what separates us” and still being able to live in harmony.

“God did not create us the same, but to celebrate our diversity in color, size, diversity of religions.  Each unique individual is an image of God,” Rabbi Michael said.

“We need to reprioritize the allocation of resources so health, safety, education and basic needs will be protected,” he said.  “We need to build civil discourse, rekindle hope and trust in caring community and a just society to enhance the social contract and the bond of humanity.  We need to repair the broken world through prayer and dialogue.”

Ghani Tom Schmidt of the Baraka Sufi group said that a common phrase of his faith is: “In the Many Names of the One who is mercy.” To close the service, he invited participants to gather with speakers, choose a simple phrase from their faith, and say or chant it simultaneously while walking forward to form a circle. 


Copyright © October 2011 - The Fig Tree