TCIC Statement in Support of the Muslim Community

The Tri-City Interfaith Council condemns the inflammatory rhetoric and acts of aggression that are taking place against the Muslim community in the United States. These actions are unacceptable and only promote divisiveness in our country.

We view this discrimination, not only as immoral, but as counter to the very premise upon which our country was founded. We are a nation of immigrants. Many of us, or our ancestors, have come from all over the world specifically seeking a life of freedom, justice, and equality.

Robert F. Kennedy said, “Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.” We are blessed to live in a diverse community and we appreciate the gifts that each culture and faith tradition brings. We reach out to our neighbors with compassion and celebrate our diversity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We will not be silent in the face of such prejudice. The Tri-City Interfaith Council stands in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We defend the rights of Muslims to practice their faith in peace and safety. We defend and uphold the human rights and dignity of all people.

We invite our entire community to do the same. It is only by treating others as we wish to be treated that we will find lasting peace.

Statement on the Syrian Refugees Crisis

Adopted by the Tri-City Interfaith Council on Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Tri-City Interfaith Council is horrified at the violence we witness in our world, and we are appalled by the recent acts of bloodshed in San Bernardino, Paris, and throughout the Middle East.  We continue to pray for all who suffer as a result of these senseless acts of terror.

We also pray for the strength and courage to respond to this violence with love and mercy.  We refuse to let these acts of death and destruction sow the seeds of fear and mistrust that threaten to tear our communities apart and lead inevitably to more violence and harm.

We are witnessing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.  More than 4 million Syrians have fled violence in their homeland and 12 million more are displaced internally.  Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that we have witnessed in these past few weeks.  More than 250,000 have lost their lives; many more have lost family, home, and community.

At a time when the world is in desperate need of humanitarian relief, some are calling for suspension of the US refugee resettlement program, an end to funding for Syrians, or a rationing of mercy based on religious creed.  Such restrictions violate the tenets of our many faith traditions and the principles of our nation.

As an Interfaith organization, we choose to stand for life and hope.  We condemn the use of Islamophobia to divide us.  We will not give in to fear.  We will not allow others to divide us by race or creed or nationality and we will not turn our back on our Syrian sisters and brothers in their hour of greatest need.

Ramadan Open House

Know Your Muslim Neighbors Know Your Muslim Neighbors at the Ramadan Open House

Union City Library
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd, Union City
Thursday, June 25, 2015
5:00pm to 7:00pm

Presenter: Ameena Jandali (Islamic Networks Group)

Join us for an evening of Snacking, Sharing & Learning! For all ages!

Sponsored by: Tri-City Muslims Co-sponsored by: Interfaith Women of Peace

For more info, call Shamsa For more info, call Shamsa Rafay @ (510)-324-1826 or E 1826 or E 1826 or E-mail: Shamsa.R.Masood@gmail.com mail: Shamsa.R.Masood@gmail.com

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.

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