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Leslie Gabriel Mezei




This is the first issue of a regular column by Leslie Mezei, with a focus on Interspirituality. The opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Interfaith Unity. We welcome your opinions and information about topics he raises, and suggestions of other topics.

An Interspiritual Perspective on "Obama-Day"

by Leslie Gabriel Mezei

Barack Hussein Obama II is hailed as the first African-American President of the United States of America, the most powerful country in our world. But in my view, born in Hawaii of a black Muslim Kenyan father and a white Christian Kansas woman, brought up in part in Indonesia, the world sees him as a multi-coloured, multi-ethnic, multi-faith individual, a true citizen of the globe. He was elected not as black or white or brown, but as someone comfortable with all races, all ethnic groups, all religions, all levels of society. He said in his sober, non-clichéd inauguration speech, watched by the largest global audience for any event in history: "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. … To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

Whatever he can achieve as President might become overshadowed by the pent-up potential he is releasing in all of us around the world. He built his campaign on one word: Hope, the commodity we cannot live without. Early in his campaign he unleashed the slogan history will remembered him by: "Yes, We Can!" Not "I Can" or "You Can," but "We Can" — together. His spiritual side has been under-reported; so I will share some quotes of his, and of others:

Some excerpts of Obama’s beliefs follow from an interview with religion reporter Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times in March 2004.

"I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."
"I don't think as a child I had a structured religious education. But my mother was a deeply spiritual person, and would spend a lot of time talking about values and give me books about the world's religions, and talk to me about them. And I think her view always was that underlying these religions were a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people and how you aspire to act, not just for yourself but also for the greater good."

"I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others. I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding, just because I think people are limited in their understanding. I think that, particularly as somebody who's now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty."

"Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure."

"A standard line in my stump speech during this campaign [his first, to become the Junior Senator of Illinois] is that my politics are informed by a belief that we're all connected."

Kim Lawton, reporting in a TV show on Religion and the Inauguration, (see item at source by clicking READ FULL REPORT and VIEW VIDEO)

"Religious diversity was on full display Wednesday when the Obamas and the Bidens attended what was billed as a National Prayer Service at Washington’s National Cathedral. …. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu leaders were among those who took part in the service, offering prayers and guidance from their faith traditions.

Faith-based activists at an interfaith peace service pledged to continue working toward King’s full vision for America. Many here were optimistic about a positive relationship between Obama’s administration and the religious community."

A comment on the show from a viewer, Jeanne:

"I have faith in President Obama because he has strong morals. I am glad that he acknowledges all religions."

As I was celebrating all this, another theme also emerged for me. While Barack Obama symbolizes at this time the equality of people of all races and religions, for complete equality we need to address the next frontier: We must do the same for women, fully half of the human family that continues to suffer much inequality in most, indeed all, of the world.

Reverend Sharon Watkin, President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), was the first woman ever selected (by Obama) to deliver the sermon at the National Prayer Service, a tradition since 1789. She chose the story of the two wolves as the main theme of her message to the new President:

"There is a story attributed to Cherokee wisdom: One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.

‘There are two wolves struggling inside each of us,’ the old man said.

‘One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, selfpity, fear . . .

The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love . . .’

The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: ‘Which wolf wins, Grandfather?’

His grandfather replied, ‘The one you feed.’ "

"We need you, Mr. President and leaders of this nation, to feed the good wolf within you, to listen to the better angels of your nature, and by your example encourage us to do the same."

"Recently Muslim scholars from around the world released a document, known as ‘A Common Word Between Us.’ It proposes a common basis for building a world at peace. That common basis? Love of God and love of neighbor! ... So how do we go about loving God? Well, according to Isaiah, summed up by Jesus, affirmed by a worldwide community of Muslim scholars and many others, it is by facing hard times with a generous spirit: by reaching out toward each other rather than turning our backs on each other. … Even in these hard times, rich or poor, we can reach out to our neighbor, including our global neighbor, in generous hospitality, building together communities of possibility and of hope."

As fate would have it, we had scheduled our own Universal Worship Service for the very evening of "Obama-day." To put the profound significance of the day in perspective, in my introductory remarks I referred to the horrendous scenes we saw on TV the day before — on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — of the bloody struggle for the rights of black people in America, within the living experience of many leaders and marchers of all faiths, some of whom openly wept on Inauguration Day. And I mentioned my own case, the little boy in pre-war Hungary whom the other kids ran after yelling "dirty Jew," and whose father was gassed in Auschwitz. But I am grateful that I had the good fortune of being admitted to Canada, to learn, succeed, and grow, to become an Interspiritual Minister, to bring the message of Unity in an inclusive worship service only some 80 years old.

In that role, I had been privileged only a few days before to partake in an interfaith prayer service at the Noor Cultural Centre, with Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy. As the Catholic Register story relates below, we each prayed for all those affected on all sides by the Gaza conflict, showing great respect for each others’ way of expressing our faith. And only a few weeks before that, I also participated at a multifaith service at the Vedic Centre in Markham for the victims — and victimizers — of Mumbai, and for the whole world. I led a few hundred people there in singing the same peace chant: Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Pacem, Gowa, Peace, words of profound significance in many religions.

In our service on this special day, we read from the scriptures of many of the world religions, which coexisted peacefully on the altar, while gazing at the inspiring light of candles kindled to honour each of them. Our theme was healing, which is what we all need, as individuals, organizations, and nations. And we were blessed by the enchanting flute of Debbie Danbrook, a local professional musician. She became the first woman to master the Japanese Shakuhachi bamboo flute, after great difficulty in finding a traditional teacher in Japan. The sounds of Debbie’s instrument entered the depth of our souls with a healing vibration. Her example, as that of Obama, raises my spirit of hope for all women too. I am strengthened in my case for optimism by both. Yes, we can!



Rev. Leslie Gabriel Mezei (leslie@barberry.ca ) is a Minister of the Universal Worship and Founding Publisher (2002) of the Interfaith Unity e-mail newsletter and on-line Resource Centre (www.interfaithunity.ca)