Archive for the ‘URI Multiregion Blogs’ Category

International Day of Peace – Environmental Satellite

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

A step back in time: 2012…

The theme of 2012’s International Day of Peace was “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Environment.” And it was in the spirit of this theme that the Environmental Satellite Cooperation Circle announced the recipients of the 2012 Environmental Seed Grants. The grants support awareness raising, education and training programs, individual projects and longer-term programs carried out by CCs in their local communities.

As September 21st approaches we will have more International Day of Peace coverage – new and old…

The Weekly Shot: Environmental Satellite
To learn more about the Environmental Satellite Cooperation Circle, click here.

Get Ready for the International Day of Peace

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014


The Art of Peace at OUR HOUSE, the Store that Artists Built

Our House, the Store that Artists Built, is an incubation of Project Row Houses and an initiative of Think Peace International (TPI). No matter how you define yourself as an artist, we believe art CAN and DOES change the world for good. An artist’s art is as different from another artist as there are flowers in a garden. No one compares a rose to a tulip as they each are unique in their design nor does one have to decide which is prettier or more fragrant. You can pick one or both. This is what we teach within the curriculum and workshops developed at Our House. Opportunities are provided by many outlets, including the Saturday Artists Circle and the monthly Project Row House Third Ward Community Market and Talent Show. Our House collaborates with many venues to provide artists with ample opportunity to showcase their “wares”–no matter the genre.

The International Day of Peace (IDP) weekend is a prime example of this collaborative spirit. The A-Fest event at the House of Deréon and PRH’s Third Ward Market provides a wonderful opportunity to help artists reach demographics throughout the communities of Houston. It is good when the IDP lands on a weekend because it increases more participation and synchronization of multiple events. The IDP, however, is more than recreation time. It is a time to consider what it will take to learn how to respect and understand those who may seem different and to recognize that because of those differences … WE NEED EACH OTHER more than ever.

The lessons learned at Our House promote this idea, recognizing that every piece of art designed, crafted or created makes a difference in the world. Contact us at 713.893.1304 if you are interested in being a part of the Our House initiative where artists work together in building community through art.

~ P. K. McCary

Living Principle 5: A Message From Kiran And Victor

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Living Principle 5: A Message From Kiran And Victor

The message below comes from URI’s Global Council Chair, Kiran Bali, MBE JP, and URI’s Executive Director, The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr.

Dear friends,

In light of the violent conflict that is devastating so many regions of our world, we call to your attention one of our guiding principles that helps to shape our communication with one another within URI and with others around us:

Principle 5 of URI’s Charter states, We listen and speak with respect to deepen mutual understanding and trust.

Living into this principle is a hallmark of URI and one of the most powerful examples of the peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings for which we strive.  It is also especially challenging in moments of violent conflict such as that in the Middle East. The horrors and pain of such violence challenge our resolve to practice non-violent communication as well as non-violent action with one another.  Only through the practice of non-violence in our words and actions can we create spaces of honest and open dialogue that invite connection rather than alienation. The practice of non-violence shapes spaces in which pain and anger can be shared amongst others who have made a commitment to maintaining respectful relationships. 

One of URI’s guiding statements calls us to the “maintaining of respectful spaces” in our relationships. It reads as follows,

“URI is by intention a community of great diversity, including diversity of perspectives on a wide range of global, regional and local issues. We believe that this diversity of perspectives has the potential to deepen our understanding and lead to shared insight and wisdom. For this to happen, members of the URI community must do our best, individually and collectively, to create and maintain a respectful space for diverse points of view, especially minority points of view, in free and open dialogue.

Whether we are engaged in deliberations on the Global Council, Regional Leadership Teams, Global Staff, within a Cooperation Circle or on the CC contacts listserv (and on social media forums such as Facebook or Twitter), it is important to be guided by Principle 5 of our PPPs. It is important to ask – before we speak or write – if we are expressing our opinion in a way that is both true to our experience and what we believe, and also invites opinions from others who have different experiences and beliefs.

We should take special care, especially when addressing a volatile issue, to communicate strongly held beliefs and opinions in language whose tone and content is respectful of members in URI’s community with different beliefs and opinions.”

This guiding statement in no way is meant to constrain the free and open exchange of ideas that is so important to the life of our community and the world. Rather, it is meant to offer guidance, particularly in times of conflict, to help us stay true to URI’s values to which we have committed ourselves. 

May we continue to strive to live the PPPs of URI in all that we say and all that we do. 

In peace…Kiran and Victor

Bishop Swing: Carrying the Agony in Hope

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Bishop Swing: Carrying the Agony in Hope

I could hear it in words of President’s Council member, Cissie Swig,  who met with URI leaders in Jerusalem and wrote: “URI is needed now more than ever.”  I could hear it in the voice of Global Council Trustee, Tariq al-Tamini, whose home in Hebron had been ransacked.  I could hear it in the writings of Global Trustees, Bart ten Broek and Ari van Buuren who, in the Netherlands, were numbered among the mourners of the victims of the Malaysian Flight 17, I could read it in the email from Despina Namwembe, whose security guard, Mohammed Hassan, had just been murdered last month in her URI office.  What I heard was agony.

Agony is different than pain. Pain is personal as in the pain I feel in my back.  Agony can have a reach far beyond myself. I can be in agony as I witness and imagine great sufferings that others are enduring. At this moment the daily news floods our awareness with millions of people in excruciating agony and distress.  Young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Families fleeing into bomb shelters in Israel while families are bombed in Gaza.  Christians told to convert or pay a high tax or be murdered in Iraq.  Muslims in Burma being horribly persecuted by Buddhists.  Desperate children begging at the gates of the United States hoping for entry. Frantic people exiting Syria in almost 360 degree directions. “The whole world groans in travail..” Agony seems to be contagious and ubiquitous. I can certainly hear it in the voices of URI people around the world.

So what do we, the people of URI, do with our agony? We resist the temptation to use it as a reason to unload vengeance on our natural enemies. Instead we carry our agony with restraint and hope while searching for others of competing loyalties who are carrying their agony with restraint and hope. We have an outrageous confidence that colleagues of all religions, indigenous traditions and spiritual expressions can be found and together we can alter the arc of this world’s agony.

How do we go about our task?  Slowly and in small segments!  One little Cooperation Circle at a time and each one a miracle of community in the midst of disunity!  It doesn’t sound very impressive in terms of imposing an order on society, but in every corner of the world where URI has taken root, civil society has become more humane at some level and local problems have been solved or healed.

The possibility of our revolutionary organizational design is being recognized by many unlikely voices throughout the world.  For instance in a July 16, 2014 editorial in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman said, “When all the old means of top-down control are decreasingly available or increasingly expensive (in a world of strong people and strong technologies, being a “strongman” isn’t what it used to be) leaders and their people are going to eventually have to embrace a new, more sustainable, source of order that emerges from the bottom up and is built on shared power, values and trust. Leadership will be about how to cultivate that kind of order.”

In my opinion, URI is on the right track, actually the only track that ultimately makes sense.  Bottom line:  people have got to learn to live together…from the bottom up.  That’s it.  That is the whole thing. After 1,400 years of blood feud between the Shia and the Sunni, why don’t they just learn to live together?  Israelis and Palestinians, someday they are going to have to live together.  The USA and Russia, someday they have to stop investing in destroying each other with nuclear weapons and instead have to invest in how to live together.

In the midst of the insanity, someone has to model sanity.  Someone has to demonstrate a better alternative.  Someone has to nudge civil society toward its best promise.  Picture Baghdad, today, in July 2014. ISIS with all of its raw fury is within measured miles. Inside the city of Baghdad, terror attacks are at a high not experienced since the first days of our invasion. And the elected leader of Iraq is teetering on being deposed, overthrown and forced to resign. Today in the middle of that city, URI has a Cooperation Circle entitled UR for Interfaith Dialogue and Peacemaking whose single task is to bring together Sunni and Shia leaders in an effort to arrive at a peaceful equilibrium.  Therein lies the extravagant hope of URI in the face of seemingly intransigent enemies.

“The whole world groans in travail.”  It is hard for the feeling, thinking person to speak these days without genuine agony in his or her voice. Certainly this is true among the people of URI.  Our task is to carry the agony in hope.

Living Into the Purpose of URI

Monday, July 28th, 2014


While these words appear on materials boldly proclaiming the purpose of the United Religions Initiative, they are for us more than words to be read or recited. These are words to be lived.

In the face of a world seemingly addicted to violence, we at the United Religions Initiative are committed to creating alternative spaces of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Amidst the firestorm of political rhetoric that deepens disputes and dehumanizes others, URI’s network of Cooperation Circles create places where relationships are built and understanding of a common humanity is reached between diverse peoples. As bombs and rockets fall and bullets fly, as planes are shot from the sky, devastating the lives of so many innocent people, we gather together with those who suffer, so that we create unbreakable bonds of relationship by sharing the pain of great losses – bonds that can withstand the calls for revenge and retaliation, and offer instead reconciliation and restoration. In the face of all this violence, we choose to work together for positive solutions that break the cycle of violence and create peace.

This is the United Religions Initiative. This is URI.

The events of these past weeks in the Middle East and the Ukraine, akin to similar to events along the United States/Mexico border, in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, and in communities around the world, paint a clear picture of the cycle of violence infecting our world. These events show how the use of violence perpetuates more violence, ultimately creating a culture in which the wanton destruction of human life becomes the “normal” state of human relations, and in which a culture of peace is increasingly seen as a naïve dream. This is the illusion that those who use violence would have us believe. “Violence is inevitable.” “Violence can only be effectively met with more violence.” If one did nothing but watch daily news broadcasts, one would think that violence was the only way in which human beings relate to one another.

But the hundreds of thousands of members of the United Religions Initiative who gather regularly in interfaith grassroots Cooperation Circles reject these calls to participate in the culture of violence. We know that violence leads to more violence, whether it be the violence of bombs dropped or rockets fired into neighborhoods, the violence of children imprisoned for seeking asylum, the violence of the kidnapping and abuse of women and girls, or the violence of poverty gripping the lives of so many people around the world. We denounce this violence as a rejection of the religious, spiritual and humanitarian values at the heart of all of our traditions. Rather, we proclaim a commitment to the power of peace and the practices of dialogue and non-violent collective action that seek to address conflict and transform injustice.

We proclaim the power of peace because every day we hear stories of Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, Kenyans, Nigerians and Ugandans, Americans and Central Americans, and people of all cultures and religions working together to create peace and justice in their communities. In a world addicted to violence, we must teach others that dialogue, negotiation and relationship-building are the best options for resolving conflicts. We must show others that differences of religion, ethnicity or ideology do not necessitate destructive and violent interaction, but are rather resources for building healthy, sustainable, diverse communities. We must tell the stories of all the peoples of the planet as being interconnected and interdependent rather than incompatible and contradictory. Ultimately, our most effective response to violence is to live the purpose of URI in all that we do.
We invite you then to join us in the daily practice of living the purpose URI:

Join with others in Cooperation Circles in your community or globally in actions to address issues of conflict, violence and injustice.

Share with others in the URI Network and beyond stories of positive peacebuilding and justice-seeking in which you are involved.

Spend as much time reading about the stories of hope and possibility, of justice-seeking and peacebuilding from our Cooperation Circles around the world as you spend reading, watching and listening to stories of violence and destruction.

Reach out in support of URI sisters and brothers and show your support and solidarity for their work.

Speak out on behalf of those suffering from the impact of violence in the world and promote the values of peace and justice, while refusing to engage in stereotyping and dehumanizing rhetoric that diminishes the lives of others.

Offer your thoughts and prayers and those of your community for the peoples of the planet that all people may experience the peace and justice that we seek.

In the face of violence, let us then not just talk about peace, but rather let us practice peace by living the purpose of URI every day in all that we do.

In peace… Victor