Tri-City Interfaith Council hosts interfaith remembrance service

FREMONT, 30 March 2015 -The Tri-City Interfaith Council invites the public to attend their annual Holocaust Remembrance Service on Sunday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. The service is held at Temple Beth Torah, 42000 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont

This year, Jack Weinstein, the director of the San Francisco office of Facing History and Ourselves will be the featured speaker. Weinstein’s talk, titled “Memory and Legacy – A Holocaust Educator’s Journey,” will include personal stories about how the Holocaust touched his life, a generation later, and the impact being a teacher of acceptance has had on him.

The service is free and open to everyone from all religious backgrounds, and no religious background. A free will offering will be received for Facing History and Ourselves. More information is about their work is available at www.facinghistory.org

Founded in 1976, Facing History and Ourselves combats racism, anti-Semitism, and religious bigotry by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe. Teachers and students benefit from resources from Facing History and Ourselves

to help them find new ways to confront the difficult issues of the past and present. They provide middle and high school educators with tools for teaching history and ethics, and for helping their students learn to combat prejudice with compassion, indifference with participation, and myth and misinformation with knowledge.

Weinstein helped establish the northern California office of Facing History and Ourselves in 1996, and since that time, more than 6,000 Bay Area teachers have received training and support from Facing History as they teach about Holocaust and Human Behavior, Genocide and Human Rights, and Race and Membership in American History. The regional office began in Weinstein’s garage but now serves teachers in more than 75 school districts out of its Hayward office.

Jack taught at Milpitas High School from 1978 to 1996, where the Facing History course he developed is now in its 25th year as a full-semester study. Now, an additional 250 schools in the Bay Area offer a version of that course or multi-week studies on the Holocaust within required courses.

The Tri-City Interfaith Council, sponsor of this service, is an interfaith organization made up of leaders and representative of over 35 faith communities in Fremont, Newark, and Union City. Their mission is to promote respect, understanding, cooperation, and appreciation for the many religious and faith traditions within our community.

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Gun Violence Prevention – An In-Depth Look at Where We Are

Presented by: Amanda & Nick Wilcox

Legislative and Policy Chairs of the CA Chapters
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Amanda and Nick Wilcox have been involved with gun violence prevention for more than ten years. You will learn about current laws and pending legislation at the state and federal level, the politics driving the discussion, and whether gun laws work. A question and answer session will follow their presentation. Actions to support sensible change will be considered.

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Fremont Congregational Church
38255 Blacow Road, Fremont

6:30 p.m. Meet and Greet
7:00 p.m. Program Begins

An Atheist In Interfaith

Let me start by introducing myself, I’m Jack Herrington, the atheist member of the Tri-Cities Interfaith group. I get asked a lot of questions about that from both my theist and my atheist friends. So I want to talk a little about why I joined and what I’ve learned from the experience.

I joined the TCIC because I’ve seen over the years that people of faith tend to have a negative impression of atheists. If you watch a movie like God’s Not Dead atheists are portrayed as angry and evil people. And I figured that by joining I would offer a face to atheism. Like me or hate me on a personal level, at least atheism will be ‘that guy’ instead of ‘those guys’. For you psychology folks out there that’s the whole in-group out-group bias thing which is actually interesting reading if you have the time.

Now that I have spent a little time with the group, running the website, participating in the meetings and the events, I think you’ll find that if you ask any one of the members they’ll tell you I’m just a nice guy. I don’t hate God (it’s hard to hate what you don’t believe in). I don’t want to disparage anyone’s faith or take it away from them. I’m just a nice guy who happens to not believe in God.

I’ll tell you honestly though, I never realized how in just a short while how my mind could change about people of faith. Just as people of faith had misperceptions about me, I too had misperceptions. Which goes to show my own “out-group bias”.

Where I used to think of people of faith as one coherent group to which I was something akin to an enemy, I now count good friends among several religious groups. I’m not going to change their mind about God and their not going to change mine. But in the Venn diagram of commonality we share so much interest about helping our community and fostering dialog, that the disagreement over the existence of a supreme being is but a small slice.

I know that one atheist demonstrating that he isn’t a monster to a group of theists isn’t going to move the needle of public disapproval for atheism. Atheists, in case you don’t know, rank below used cars salesmen on the likeability scale. But as strange as it may be, the inclusion of an atheist in the world of interfaith somehow ends up growing both for the better.

Maybe this is just another lesson in how, when we put down the pitchforks and stop squabbling over what we call God, or if we call God, we can found a lot of commonality of humanity.

Jesus, The Radical

(Originally presented at the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation)

I grew up in a Protestant Christian home and attended church and Sunday school regularly. This is what I learned there:

  • Jesus loved little children (like me) and wanted them to come to him, even if there were adults in the way.
  • Jesus worked many miracles curing sicknesses, raising the dead, etc., proving he was supernatural.
  • Jesus wanted the world to be at peace.
  • Jesus told us to love God and our fellow human beings, even our enemies.
  • All we needed to do to have everlasting life in Heaven was to “believe in Jesus”, which I learned meant to believe he was the unique son of God, that all the miracles were literally true, and that he was resurrected after he died.

As I grew up I, began having questions about what I learned, like:

  • After a loved one suddenly died, I asked: If there is a God, why do tragedies happen?
  • After taking many math and science classes, I asked: How did the miracles square with these facts I was learning?
  • After taking history classes, I asked: How could loving evil people be justified? What about Hitler?
  • After I experienced “godly” acts by other people, I questioned whether Jesus’ divinity was unique?

In other words, as I learned that the world was a more complex, sometimes sad and, for many, an unjust place, my beliefs were modified. I eventually found a spiritual home with Unitarian Universalists where questioning was welcome, even encouraged. In fact, we say, “We live the questions.” “We live the questions.” In seminary and since, I had the opportunity to study the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll share some of what I learned today, and I’ll ask you to reflect on these questions that it unfolds:

  • What is history?
  • What is the place of prophecy in history?
  • Whose story gets told?
  • Why does this matter?

The Jews in Palestine

At the time that Jesus lived, Palestine was a back-water province of the Roman Empire. After being settled by the Jews in about 1200 BCE, it had been invaded and occupied repeatedly. The Babylonians destroyed the Temple built by Solomon and sent the Jews into exile in Babylon for 50 years, whereupon the Persians invaded and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland from Babylon. Two centuries later, Alexander the Great invaded. Two centuries after that, the Jewish Maccabees reclaimed a portion of the land of Israel, but were driven out by the Romans. The Romans remained another three centuries.

The Temple

The constant desire of the Jewish people during these centuries of exile and occupation was to reestablish their homeland and rebuild their Temple. This yearning, which remains to this day, is a continual theme in Jewish history. They await a messiah, an anointed one, who would restore the glory of David and Solomon, the Temple, and reestablish the nation of Israel. This was the meaning of “messiah” to the Jewish people.

The role of the Temple in Jewish life was primary. It had a number of increasingly holy courts. The innermost court was called the Holy of Holies. It was a gold-plated sanctuary where God physically dwelt.

Nazareth

Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, was a very small village of illiterate peasants, farmers and day laborers. It was so small that it wasn’t on any contemporary maps. The birth stories in the gospels of Luke and Matthew explain that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. However, they are not in the earliest Christian documents.

Some speculate why these stories were written. They don’t square with the historical record. Dr. Reza Aslan, wroteZealot – The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. He explains that the definition of “history” has changed from those times to our factual understanding of the term. He says that writers then were less interested in what actually happened, and more in what it meant.

Jesus, after all, was a simple almost certainly illiterate peasant who died without restoring the nation of Israel, which was what a messiah was supposed to do. Aslan and other scholars assert the links to the Old Testament prophesies were added afterward to make him a credible messiah.

This kind of bending the facts challenges our understanding of what “history” is, but I contend that it isn’t all that far from what we sometimes practice. Sometimes we are less interested in what actually happened, and more in what it meant, too. Let me give a couple of contemporary examples of how this alternate kind of “history” might work.

  • A contemporary example: Private Jessica Lynch was a soldier in Iraq when her convoy was ambushed and she was seriously injured and captured. Her subsequent rescue received considerable media attention and was the first successful rescue of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam. It was reported that she had combat experience and heroically fought back against her captors. In an interview months later, Lynch claimed, concerning the media and the Pentagon, “They used me to symbolize all this stuff. It’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed [my rescue] or why they say these things.” We can speculate that we were all hungry for positive, heroic stories, so we created one to fit our need. The story was about what it meant to the hearers, rather than what was literally true.
  • Here is a hypothetical example: Suppose a wealthy but somewhat abrasive individual joined our congregation. He wasn’t unkind or disruptive, just occasionally unpleasant, and sometimes the minister received complaints from someone whose feelings he hurt. (I assure you this is hypothetical. I have no one in mind.) Then, suppose he dies and leaves several million dollars to the congregation, enough so that we can afford to build our own building. My guess is that in the future, we would refer to him more as a benefactor than as someone who was sometimes difficult.

Revolutionary Acts of Jesus

There were a number of Jewish rebellions against Roman rule and failed messiahs who led them. Some of these failed messiahs exhibited what they called zeal. To them, zeal meant:

  • Strict adherence to the Torah and the Laws of Judaism
  • The refusal to serve a foreign master, i.e., Rome
  • The devotion to the sovereignty of the Jewish God

There was widespread feeling among zealots that the Jewish Temple priestly hierarchy which had been appointed by Rome was corrupt, interested mostly in power and money.

There are acts reported in the Gospels that show Jesus to be a revolutionary, in line with the zealot philosophy. They include:

  • Jesus goes into Jerusalem riding a donkey, which fulfills a prophecy in the books of Zechariah and the Maccabees.
  • Jesus goes to the Temple and upturns tables of money changers and releases sheep, cattle, and birds to be sacrificed. He proclaims, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” There is an incident in the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah where he overturned furniture in the Temple.

Naturally, these acts of Jesus did not go down well with either the Jewish priestly hierarchy or with the Romans who want to keep order. For these offenses, Jesus was convicted of sedition, that is, engaging in zealous activities. He was crucified because his messianic aspirations threatened the Roman occupation of Palestine, and because his zealotry endangered the Temple authorities.

So one can say that the Jesus of history was a revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth. He defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem. And he was a radical, charismatic Jewish nationalist who drew crowds of followers and who challenged the Roman occupation. This vision of Jesus has largely been lost to history. It certainly wasn’t in the lessons I learned in Sunday School as a child. The reasons for this have to do with what happened after Jesus was crucified.

After Jesus’ Death

After Jesus died, his brother James kept the faith alive among Jews in Jerusalem along with some of Jesus’ disciples. James was highly thought of in the early church, and his message was similar to Jesus’s message, and meant for the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, Paul, a Jew who had been punishing Christians, had a dramatic conversion experience and became a Christian evangelist. His was a different approach. He had very little luck in trying to sell his message to Jews, and finally had a fair amount of success with Gentiles in a number of communities throughout the Mediterranean area. This message redefined the term “messiah” to be the divine only Son of God, sitting at the right hand of God, and God made flesh. This was a blasphemy of the Jewish idea of a messiah. This was a new definition and a new religion.

Some scholars believe the miracle stories were added to the Gospels because they were characteristics of divine power, to emphasize that Jesus was divine. But there are others who believe at least some of them are legitimate – after all, we hear of people today who have healing powers. In fact, some in our congregation, including me, have experience with healing energy work.

Needless to say, Paul and James did not get along. The New Testament has examples of James’ emissaries visiting Paul’s congregations trying to undo some of what Paul said. And stories of Paul angrily trying to re-do his undone teachings. Yet even though Paul’s vision of Christianity was reviled at the time by people who knew Jesus and what he taught, it is Paul’s vision that has prevailed. It prevailed due to historic events. Chief of these was that most of the Jewish followers of Jesus, including his brother James, were annihilated in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE. The letters of Paul to his various communities were the first written accounts of Christianity, written before the Gospels. Reza Aslan states, and I think it is true, that if it were not for Paul, there would be no Christianity. It would have been another Jewish sect that died out when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.

Three centuries later, when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, Rome desired a religion that was peaceful and encouraged people to obey. Paul’s Christianity fit the bill, or as some believe, was altered to fit the needs of the Roman Empire. I think some of these dynamics continue today.

My questions

All of this brings up some questions for me that I will pose for your thought and ideas:

  • What is history?
    Is it what factually happened, or is it stories that people need and want to hear? How much of what we are taught as history is literally true, and how much has been selectively chosen and maybe augmented? In Jesus’ story, we see a challenging of “factual history.”
  • What is the place of prophecy in history?
    Stories of Jesus’ birth and some of his actions were added to match the prophecy of Old Testament prophets. Can you think of examples where this happens to the stories we hear today?
  • Whose story gets told?
    Who writes the history and what interpretation are they putting on the facts that they are writing? I remember a quote by Winston Churchill which said, “I will come out well and Chamberlain will come out of this rather badly, where history is concerned. I know this because I intend to write the history.” How do we know the viewpoints and maybe invisible biases of historians?
  • Why does this matter?
    Does it matter that we are getting historical facts that are biased? What about the peaceful Jesus story that I grew up with? Is there something to admire in that Jesus? I think there is; it clearly worked for many people for 2000 years. Would it be possible for a false story to lead us to believe and do things that we wouldn’t otherwise do? Think about the stories of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, or the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Finally I would like to ask: What are the nascent stories, histories and myths of today? Here are my own answers:

  • We should have compassion for others as expressed in the Golden Rule. This I keep from the Jesus I learned about as a girl, as well as similar sayings in other world religions.
  • The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. We need to be sure that it continues to do so by taking care of those who have been oppressed. Jesus clearly cared about the oppressed, and I share this sentiment.
  • This is one world and all human beings are inherently worthy. This I get from the intent of most systems of justice which aim to treat all fairly, and from my life work helping those who are commonly maltreated by society.
  • A life well-lived is a life of meaning and purpose. This I learned from my own life journey, and sharing the journeys of others. Jesus clearly thought he had a mission to live out.

Hmmm… Compassion. Justice. Worthiness. Meaning. This list sounds like some of our UU Principles.

Who do you think will write today’s history? What events will alter the shape it takes? In the best Unitarian Universalist tradition, I invite you to live the questions I’ve posed today. Live the questions. I’d love to hear your answers.

So may it be. Amen.

-Rev. Barbara F. Meyers

None So Blind

(Originally preached by Rev. Jeffrey Spencer at the Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California. More of Jeffrey’s sermons are available on their site.)

John does tell a good story. I suppose one could reduce this story to three lines: Once upon a time there was a man who was born blind. Jesus saw him and said, “Here’s mud in your eye.” The man said, “Wow! So that’s what pizza looks like.” The end.

Well, four lines, with the “the end.” I prefer to think of this story as having three acts.

Act One: The Healing. Jesus and his disciples encounter this man born blind. The disciples see the man as an object. Let’s talk about him, not to him. “Who sinned,” they ask, “the man or his parents?” They think there has to be an explanation about this suffering.

Jesus says, wrong question. This is not about judgment; this is about compassion. This is an opportunity to express love. He sees the man and literally touches him. In his act, the man gains the ability to see.

Fr. Samuel Candler wrote: “What an amazing way to interpret human need or suffering! When Jesus sees someone in need, he does not use that person’s plight to develop a political or moral agenda. Jesus sees opportunity, a chance to recognize God’s work. God’s work is revealed, not in moral statement, but in an act of mercy, in an act which pays close attention to the need itself.” And I would add, an act which pays close attention to the person herself or himself.

Act Two: Trouble at the Synagogue. Jesus isn’t part of this act; he and the disciples have walked off stage. In this act, the man who had just been blind gets into trouble. “Is this him, the man we knew who was born blind who we used to see begging?” They can’t believe their eyes – our first clue that this story is about blindness, but not of the man born blind.

The people want to know how it happened. He tells them. They want to know about this Jesus guy – who is he? The man replies that he doesn’t know. They call in the Pharisees. The Pharisees get all upset that this happened on the Sabbath. There’s renewed doubt about the healing being authentic. The parents are brought in (and they don’t want to get involved). Under continued questioning from the Pharisees, the man moves from saying, “a guy named Jesus did this,” to saying that Jesus is definitely “from God.” And for that testimony, he gets thrown out of the synagogue.

Act Three: The Return of Jesus. Jesus hears that the man has been thrown out of the synagogue and, like the shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep, he returns. He talks with the man and the man becomes a follower of Jesus.

Then we get to the tough part of the story. “Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’

Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.’”

It’s so easy for me to identify with the man born blind. I know I’m growing in my understanding. I know I’m growing in my relationship with God. I know I’m growing in my relationship with Jesus. The thing is, I want to be the blind man after he can see, but these final words of Jesus remind me that if I think I can see it all now, that means I’m being blind to something.

If I didn’t have other things to do, I could spend all day Saturday listening to KQED-FM. Without a doubt, my favorite show from Saturday’s line-up is “This American Life.” Yesterday’s episode was titled “Batman” and if you listen to podcasts, I recommend getting this one. The show was about expectations and how our expectations of others shape how they perform. As a case in point, they investigated the impacts of sighted people’s expectations of blind people on those blind people. It turns out that the impact is real.

The program begins by introducing us to Daniel Kish, a man who had to have his eyes removed because of cancer at a very, very young age. As a toddler, he started quite naturally making clicking noises with his tongue and started listening to his clicking to “see.” He uses echolocation to navigate. It has allowed him to do things like ride a bike.

The part of the show that I think really relates to today’s sermon is how Daniel’s brain processes the echoes he creates. Lore Thaler, a German neuroscientist at Durham University in the United Kingdom studies vision in the brain, literally how the images we see are constructed. She knows a ton about the visual cortex.

She wondered what was happening in the visual cortex of someone who is blind and uses echolocation. So she brought Daniel and a few other people who can echolocate into her lab and she put microphones in their ears and made stereo recordings of them echolocating various objects. She had them echolocate things like a car, a lamppost, a salad bowl, and a salad bowl in motion (hanging from a fishing rod). Then she put her test subjects in fMRI machines and played back the recordings through stereo earphones and watched what happened in their brains. And she compared those readings to what happens in sighted people’s brains when they visually locate the same objects.

For decades neuroscientists have assumed that the visual cortex goes dark when you’re blind. Daniel’s was lighting up like a disco ball.

It turns out that there are all these different parts of the brain involved in vision. So there’s an area that’s specifically dedicated to processing motion, and that’s way over behind the ears. And then there are completely different areas for shape, for texture, for how bright something is. And in Daniel’s brain, many of these areas were lighting up. The color and brightness had no action. But motion, when he was echolocating the salad bowl in motion, the motion area behind the ears started pumping with blood flow. He was, in essence, “seeing” the movement of the salad bowl.

I thought about that old saying, “There are no so blinds as those who will not see.” It turns out that the saying is not from the Bible. It resembles Jeremiah 5:21, but it actually only goes back to 1713 and the “Works of Thomas Chalkley.” Regardless of its origins, it just seems so apropos.

Daniel Kish is not just blind; he has no eyes. And yet, he sees.

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor tells about Jacques Lusseyran, a Frenchman who was not born blind, but who became blind after a grade school fight. While most of the people around him thought his blindness was a total disaster, his parents did not. They kept him in the public school and his mother learned Braille with him. They never described him as “unfortunate.”

Soon after his accident, his father said, “Always tell us when you discover something.” “In this way, Lusseyran learned that he was not a poor blind boy but the discoverer of a new world, in which the light outside of him moved inside to show him things he might never have found any other way…. ‘The only way I can describe that experience is in clear and direct words,’ he wrote. ‘I had completely lost the sight of my eyes; I could not see the light of the world anymore. Yet the light was still there. Its source was not obliterated. I felt it gushing forth every moment and brimming over; I felt how it wanted to spread out over the world. I had only to receive it. It was unavoidably there. It was all there, and I found again it’s movements and shades, that is, its colors, which I had loved so passionately a few weeks before.

“‘This was something entirely new, you understand, all the more so since it contradicted everything that those who have eyes believe. The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves.’”

Lusseyran learned to “attend so carefully to the world around him that he confounded his friends by describing things he could not see. He could tell trees apart by the sounds of their shadows. He could tell how tall or wide a wall was by the pressure it exerted on his body.”

One of the greatest discoveries he made “was how the light he saw changed with his inner condition. When he was sad or afraid, the light decreased at once. Sometimes it went out altogether, leaving him deeply and truly blind. When he was joyful and attentive, it returned as strong as ever. He learned very quickly that the best way to see the inner light and remain in its presence was to love.

“In January 1944, the Nazis captured Lusseyran and shipped him to Buchenwald along with two thousand of his countrymen. Yet even there he learned how hate worked against him, not only darkening his world but making it smaller as well. When he let himself become consumed with anger, he started running into things, slamming into walls, and tripping over furniture. When he called himself back to attention, the space both inside and outside of him opened up so that he found his way and moved with ease again. The most valuable thing he learned was that no one could turn out the light inside him without his consent. Even when he lost track of it for a while, he knew where he could find it again.”

It is so easy to interpret today’s scripture lesson as a teaching about spiritual blindness. Our story ends with Jesus saying, “I have come into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” How do we hear these words? As a threat? As a promise? As a hope?

At the very least, these words make me wonder if my seeing has made me blind – “by giving me confidence that one quick glance at things can tell me what they are, by distracting me from learning how the light inside me works, by fooling me into thinking I have a clear view of how things really are, of where the road leads, of who can see rightly and who cannot. I am not asking to become blind, but I have become a believer. There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.”

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind by now I see.” That is one of the ways grace works – it finds us and give us sight. And I’ll sing those words with you in just a moment. But if I’m right, that there is a celestial brightness that has nothing to do with sight, we may need to add a verse. We may need to sing something like, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a soul like me. You’ll lead me gently to the dark, and there your glory see.”

Amen.

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In Response To The Charlie Hebdo Attack

We, the members of the Tri-City Interfaith Council, express our horror at the senseless killings at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, on January 7, 2015. We stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters locally and across the globe who repudiate these acts. We strongly reject the notion that these actions were taken by anyone following the true intention of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) or the faith tradition of Islam. We believe that as we share our stories with each other, we grow in our ability to see our similarities more than our differences. In that light, we extend a welcome to all in the community to join our second annual Interfaith Harmony Day, which will be held in Fremont at the Veterans Hall in Niles (37154 2nd St) on Saturday, February 7, 1-4 PM.  Peace and blessings to all. Je Suis Charlie.