THE OPPORTUNITY OF TRAGEDY


On March 15th at 1:40 pm a shooting began at the Al Noor Mosque and continued at the Linwood Islamic Centre at 1:55 pm. In this shooting in New Zealand 50 people died and 50 more were injured. Most of them were Muslim people doing nothing but practicing their faith. The suspect considered himself a Christian from the far right political movements. In the wake of these shootings many well-meaning Muslims lived in fear and with a feeling of persecution.
On April 21st in Sri Lanka 3 Christian churches were bombed along with luxury hotels. In this terrible attack 253 people were killed and another 500 injured. Most of them were Christians celebrating one of their holiest days. After the bombings curfews were in effect and even Muslims that wanted to help were told to stay home for fear of retaliation. The perpetrators were members of Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist group.
On April 25th there was a shooting at a California synagogue that left one person dead and several more injured. The shooting happened on the last day of Passover, an important Jewish celebration. The shooter was a 19 year old student who was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own pastor said of the events, “It’s a deplorable act of wickedness.”
Reading these events in your local newspaper, online or whatever source you get your news from could leave you thinking how sad, angry and frightening this world has become. To some extent that would be a correct statement. What these events also show is that no belief is safe, and further, no belief is completely innocent. Victims and attackers cross lines of faith, color, race and creed. In a world where tragedy seems to highlight the agendas that seem to tear apart at the very fabric of our humanity, there also lies the seed of opportunity.
What you may miss in the news coverage, and if you do you are not to blame as it is usually buried, if mentioned at all, is the help that also crosses those same lines. One of the greatest challenges is to accept help from the very same group that staged the attacks. With such strong feelings of grief, sadness, loss, pain and even hate these events often have the effect that those responsible desire. They increase the divide among different groups of people.
In looking at the three events listed above, which sadly are only a few examples of hate crimes that are becoming all to common, you can see that the group that was attacked on one occasion can be the very group doing the attacking the next. This does present us a chance to stand up not only as a strong and noble representation of our faith, but of humanity as a whole. This takes courage.
What takes just as much, if not more courage, is accepting help from members of the same group that just attacked you. In the example of Sri Lanka, Muslims were told not to go to their houses of worship for fear of retaliation from angered Christians. One could understand that thinking. When you see so many loved one’s lives innocently taken from them you want to lash out. As one observer noted, “When you are bitten by a bug, you want to kill all of the bugs like that.”
As we can see in the above examples, every faith has its devils. Every faith also has it’s angels. In each one of these cases prayers, tears and help came forth from true members of every faith. It is these moments of hate and tragedy that have the potential to either tear us a part, or bring us together. It takes courage on both sides to do so. It also requires a realization that every group contains both the guilty as well as the innocent victims. It is only as individuals we can reach out to our neighbors of different faiths to increase communication and understanding.
Just as every faith contains both the innocent and the guilty, every faith also contains brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Pain, fear, anger, sadness and frustration are also something that is shared by everyone. So is hope, peace, joy and love. Let us do our part to help heal and understand the former while sharing the latter with everyone regardless of faith.

WORRY ABOUT THE ROOT AND NOT THE FRUIT

On a site dedicated to living a positive rewarding life, it is sad we must address issues like the shooting that happened at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Living a rewarding life does not mean blinding ourselves to the harsh realities of the world around us. It means finding constructive ways to address and positively affect that world. It is easy to grow weary with each new report of these crimes of hate. It is easy to believe that things will keep getting worse.

To me, it creates a sense of urgency. Time to take actions to bring the people of the world together is more important than it ever has been. With people in places of power that propagate hate and division, it is up to all of us to not only make sure we put people in power who have an agenda of peace and understanding, but live by such a creed ourselves. It may seem like an individual person has very little power in changing the world, but that could not be further from the truth. It is only through individual change that we will bring about global change.

There is a lot of debate when it comes to gun control, placing armed guards in our schools and places of worship. There are also studies on the effect video games and the media that may desensitize us to violence. What are the answers from a legal and political standpoint I do not confess to know. What I do know is that is treating the fruit. What we as spiritual warriors need to do is treat the root. What causes this behavior in the first place. That can range from the disintegration of families, the forums we give those who preach hate, continuing hateful beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation, and the way we carry ourselves. No matter who you are, no matter what gender, what belief, what nationality or any other category you belong to, there is someone who harbors feelings of hate towards you. They only way to prove those individuals wrong, and to bring a better sense of understanding is to be a positive example of the groups we belong to. It is very hard to maintain of feeling of hate for any group, when every person belonging to that group is a positive example.

Another great thing that we as individuals can do to create global change is to change focus. Begin to talk about and promote positives, especially in those that are different from us. In the wake of the Tree of Life shooting, I have seen pictures of many interfaith vigils. This is great and should be spoken of with equal measure to that of the violence. It does bring to mind why there are not more interfaith activities before tragedy strikes. It is up to those as religious leaders to make that happen, but also to us as individuals. What is to stop a group of people from different faiths from coming together to pray, meditate or just to socialize and better understand each other? There is nothing. It can be extremely difficult for some to cultivate a sense of understanding for those who believe different from us. That in the end is what will change the world.

I encourage all of us to reach out to others and begin to speak peace and togetherness starting today. Focus on all the joy and greatness we share on this planet. If you disagree with someone, do so with tact and compassion. We are the peacemakers and the agents of change. It is time to put into practice the power we have.

WATCHING YOUR DIET

People are so careful about their diets today. Gluten-free, Paleo, low-carb, high-fat. It seems every day there is another healthy way that we should all be eating. Then there are the new allergies that people have to look out for. Some are allergic to nuts. Some people cannot consume dairy products or shellfish. In other words, these days people are being far more discerning as to what they put in their bodies. All this is good. It is good that we are eating with the idea of helping our bodies function at peak efficiency.

Ironically, and somewhat tragic to me, is that is where the discernment stops. We spend our days listening to music that is sometimes filled with violence and a total lack of respect. We watch television shows where characters try to get laughs by putting each other down with sarcastic barbs. We read stories in the newspaper, online and social media (more about that tomorrow) that are filled with harsh judgments, political rancor and other drama. Then at the end of the day we wonder why our energy is drained and we feel stressed out.

Like the picture above mentions, we need to mindful of the things we put into our body emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We will do our best to avoid that sweet treat that will only end up giving us cavities and some extra pounds to carry around with us. We should take the same approach on deciding if what we are going to consume with our eyes, ears, mind and spirit will serve us or contribute to our daily downfall. Will reading that article about the latest mass shooting really bring anything good into our lives? Does being inundated with the latest chapters of what is wrong with the world give us anything but a sinking feeling of depression and a sense of hopelessness?

Am I saying we have to be worried about every little thing we watch, read, listen to or even people we hang around? Not at all. That will only cause you to be stressed out about the things that can be unconsciously stressing you out. That would be…well…very stressful. What I am asking you is to be more aware of what is going into your body. In the beginning especially it can be hard to think of I have to get rid of that or I have to stop doing that. That can leave you feeling like your brain is fighting you and with a feeling of deprivation. As I do in all of my practices, here I advocate increasing the positive to decrease the negative.

How do we do that? Do your best to include reading a few pages of something inspirational. Those Chicken Soup for the Soul books work well. Filled with short inspiring stories that fill you with joy, they can add a little something special to your day. On this site and in my book we talk about creating a Happy Playlist of songs that bring cheer to your day. Spend time with people who make you laugh, smile and bring your spirit to life. As far as social media, we will delve into that tomorrow. If you have any other suggestions for things to add to your Diet feel free to leave them in the comments below.

WE ARE ALL VERY TIRED

One thing that I think we can all agree we are growing weary of is what seems to be the growing rate of violent crime in our world today. As I write this there are reports from the great state of Maryland of a shooting at a newspaper office where 5 people were killed and others were injured. It seems every night you turn on the news, or every morning you pick up the newspaper you read about senseless violence where someone has lost their life. Is this a result of better technology in communicating these crimes? Is it the result of the internet making this a smaller world? Are we becoming less tolerant? Are we becoming desensitized to violence and death due to media and video games? I imagine the answer is probably a little of all the above.

With all of the consumption of negativity you can find yourself feeling quite down. With more people reading more stories of violence we could quickly find ourselves living in a world of people depressed and losing hope. It is my belief that this lack of hope and barrage of negative news can push people who are on the edge to slip into a world of violence.

What is the solution? Are we to bury our heads in the sand and pretend all of this is not happening? The answer is both yes and no. Certainly you need to be aware of your world and what is transpiring, but you do not need to be inundated with it. You must ask yourself if reading every article on every mass shooting will do anything to enhance your life? What it will do is drain your spirit. This is why this and many other sites advocate limiting or better yet eliminating consumption of nightly news. There are apps for weather, sports or anything else you may need to know.

Is there something that we can do that is proactive? The simplest thing we can do is also one of the most powerful and also one of the most difficult. Do not let the constant feeding of negativity get us down. Easier said than done, but it can happen. When I hear of stories of great tragedy in the news I always look for the helpers. A secret I learned from Mr. Rogers. Eventually and in some way tragedy has a way of bringing the best out of some people and bringing people together. If you can’t find a helper, or even if you can, focus on being one.

When I hear of violence or some other tragic news story I know there is even more importance in what I do. The world needs more of a balance of positive to the negative. This was the very reason I began what I do. When I hear of violence in the world I use it as a stark reminder I have far more work to do, and urgent motivation to reach more souls. Victims and their families and friends are not the only people who need encouragement. Those committing the crimes may feel there is no hope. If only they knew they were people who care, even if they are half a world away.

This is where you come in. My words can’t reach everyone. Especially Iceland and Greenland who seem to be two countries I just cannot reach. What we need to do is all work on becoming lights to the world. Whether it is meeting your neighbors as discussed in last week’s post, sharing this blog or just encouraging someone who needs it. Let us all remember it is only light that can remove the darkness.