Saturday, February 24, 2018

Integral Spirituality pt2

Below is what was originally submitted for the Multi-faith Charter for COP23 to the COP23 Secretariat... the final version was a much more secular version and no Pacific "mana"...

“Our Spiritual Imperative for the Earth” 

Multi-Faith Charter for COP23

A deep spirituality permeates the communities of the Pacific and is at the heart of the Pacific people’s relationship with each other and the environment.
Spirituality is integral to the way we interpret, understand and interact with one another, and with the natural world.  This spirituality is enhanced by (Christianity and) the many faith traditions of the world which have grown roots in our diverse Pacific communities. These faith traditions are shared with the vast majority of those who share this planet.

Acknowledging and embracing the significance and centrality of such life-affirming spirituality has the potential to not only underpin the negotiations of COP23 but mobilize billions of like-hearted people as allies in the challenge to address Climate Change, providing an important catalyst for grass roots action. 

As the nations of the world gather for COP23 under the presidency of Fiji, it is our common hope and constant prayer, as people of faith, that the reflections and discernment and life-affirming responses of such spirituality remain as critically important as scientific and political conversations in the decision-making processes during COP23.

As people of faith, people with spirituality:
We strongly express our deep concern over the warming climate that threatens the Earth and especially our vulnerable sea of islands, which we hold in trust. Our care for this Earth is our legacy for our children; we are therefore responsible as stewards of Mother Earth to keep it well.  

We acknowledge that humanity has been entrusted with the stewardship of this planet, her trees, gardens, rivers, oceans and all the living creatures that depend on her nurture.

We acknowledge that the scientific community’s consensus that climate change is caused by human activity is a call to action for all the nations of the earth.

We confess that we have been poor stewards and that our gluttonous and unsustainable lifestyles have led to the impacts we see today - climate change and massive loss of species –  fish, coral, wild creatures, jungles,  forests and clean water sources.

As custodians of this great planet, it is our spiritual, moral and ethical responsibility to collectively take urgent action to do all that is possible to combat climate change and save our planet and humanity.

The solutions lie in our hands through the traditional, scientific and technical knowledge we have amassed.
We must sacrifice our current self-centered attitude, unsustainable habits and consumption patterns. We must now find and keep within us the will to do what is right and just, the foresight to forgo immediate gains for the greater good, and the hope that we can pass on to our children a better world than we inherited.

We commit to work within our faith communities to encourage our people to take all actions necessary to consume resources responsibly, protect the world’s biodiversity and help reduce carbon emissions.
We believe that individual commitment to this task in our daily lives is essential. We will also encourage the faithful—and all people—to press their leaders for action at the international, regional and local levels to curb carbon emissions, to build community adaptation and resilience to impacts of climate change and adopt policies that will educate and encourage each individual to do his or her part.

It cannot be denied that there is an urgent moral and spiritual imperative to act decisively now.
Our people need assurance of a safer and sustainable future for themselves and their children.  We strongly call on all political leaders to renew and intensify their commitments to act and, where necessary, show the courage that leadership demands. Specifically, we reaffirm the interfaith statement made in Morocco at COP22.

We:
·       Urgently ask States to take bold action to rapidly reduce emissions, in line with the 1.5°C goal;
·       Seek an effective Facilitative Dialogue that delivers: 
o   greater pre-2020 ambition 
o   improved NDC post-2020 emission reduction targets 
o   speeding the advance to low-carbon economies
o   increased and innovative public and private finance to enable achievement of the 1.5C target
·       Urge the global community to support through sustainable financing, capacity building and technology transfer for ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction as  cost effective tools for all small island developing nations



And we invite and encourage all men and women and groups of good will to endorse this statement by affixing their names at http://www.etc.

Integral Sprituality Pt1

The following was my introduction and conclusion to the inter-religious prayers/invocations at the official opening of  International Civil Society Week 2017:

His Excellency the President and Mrs. Konrote, distinquished guests and friends and fellow workers for justice and peace. 


A deep spirituality permeates the communities of the Pacific and is at the heart of the Pacific people’s relationship with each other and the environment. 

Spirituality is integral to the way we interpret, understand and interact with one another, and with the natural world.  This spirituality is enhanced by the many faith traditions of the world which have grown roots in our diverse Pacific communities. These faith traditions are shared with 85 percent of those who share this planet. 

Acknowledging and embracing the significance and centrality of such life-affirming spirituality has the potential to provide important catalyst for grass roots action.  

In Fiji, just as in many other parts of the Pacific and the world, faith communities were the pioneers of education, healthcare and social justice work. They will always be a part of the social-politcal milleau in which Civil Society engages – in some places they are the largest Civil Society Organisations. 

This evening we have representatives from 3 world faith communities present, to offer words of scripture and reflection to inspire and challenge us and prayers for the blessings of the divine on the gathering tonight and the days ahead. 

Pundit Vigyan Sharma, National Treasurer - Shree Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha Fiji;

Maulana Abdul Alim, Head Imam of Samabula Mosque - Fiji Muslim League;

and

Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa – General Secretary and President-Elect of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Chair of the Bible Society of the South Pacific.

For those of other paths of spirituality or worldviews, I invite you to use this spiritual pause as a way to affirm the work the work you do, to receive some positive vibrations and energy and experience the unity in diversity many of us in Fiji strive for… 
I now invite Pundit Sharma to begin:

(…. After prayers)

I said earlier that Spirituality is an integral part of the worldview of Fiji and the Pacific. That spirituality is not only experienced through faith communities but also through indigenous culture – that deep sense of vanua – of rootedness not only to land, rooted in respect and in celebration of just relationships with all creation.

I invite you to experience that now with the traditional i-Taukei ceremony of welcome.... 

Closing the Gate and Loving the Neighbour

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall  with Padre James Bhagwan
1st February, 2017

In the past weekend, two items of news caught my attention.

The first was the immigration and refugee ban enacted by US President Donald Trump. The second was the story of the Iranian young man who fled from Papua New Guinea and is seeking refugee status in Fiji.

CNN has described Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations as, “an early defining moment for his presidency and an inflection point in America's posture toward Islam and the outside world that could resonate in history.”

On Monday, Al Jazeera published an article on six other occasions in which the United States have banned immigrants. The article stated that over the past 200 years, successive American presidents have placed restrictions on the immigration of certain groups.

Chinese
Signed into force on 6th May, 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned "skilled and unskilled labourers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering the US for 10 years and was the first significant law restricting immigration to the country. It came at a time when the US was struggling with high unemployment and, although Chinese made up a very small segment of the country's workforce, they were nevertheless scapegoated for its social and economic woes. The law also placed restrictions on Chinese who were already in the US, forcing them to obtain certificates in order to re-enter if they left the country and banning them from securing citizenship.

The Geary Act of 1892 placed additional restrictions on Chinese residents of the country, forcing them to register and to obtain a certificate of residence, without which they could be deported. This changed in 1943 with the Magnuson Act - which allowed some Chinese immigration and for some Chinese already residing in the country to become naturalised citizens, but which maintained the ban on property and business ownership. This came at a time when China was a US ally during World War II.

Jews
As millions of people became refugees during World War II, US President Franklin D Roosevelt argued that refugees posed a serious threat to the country's national security. Drawing on fears that Nazi spies could be hiding among them, the country limited the number of German Jews who could be admitted to 26,000 annually. And it is estimated that for most of the Hitler era, less than 25 percent of that quota was actually filled.

In one of the most notorious cases, the US turned away the St Louis ocean liner, which was carrying 937 passengers, almost all of whom are thought to have been Jewish, in June 1939. The ship was forced to return to Europe, where more than a quarter of its passengers are thought to have been killed in the Holocaust.

Anarchists
Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on March 3, 1903, the Anarchist Exclusion Act banned anarchists and others deemed to be political extremists from entering the US. This followed the fatal shooting in 1901 of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz, an American anarchist who was the son of Polish immigrants.The act - which was also known as the Immigration Act of 1903 - codified previous immigration law and, in addition to anarchists, added three other new classes of people who would be banned from entry: those with epilepsy, beggars and importers of prostitutes.

The act marked the first time that individuals were banned for their political beliefs.

Communists
Passed by Congress on August 23, 1950, despite being vetoed by President Harry Truman, the Internal Security Act of 1950 - also known as the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 or the McCarran Act - made it possible to deport any immigrants believed to be members of the Communist Party. Members of communist organisations, which were required to register, were also not allowed to become citizens.

Truman opposed the law, stating that it "would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights".

Sections of the act were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1993. But some parts of the act still stand.

Iranians
Following the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, during which the US embassy in Tehran was stormed and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, American President Jimmy Carter cut diplomatic relations with and imposed sanctions on Iran. He also banned Iranians from entering the country. Today, Iranians have again been banned - one of seven Muslim majority countries included in Trump's executive order.

People Living With HIV/AIDS
Under President Ronald Reagan, the US Public Health Service added Aids to its list of "dangerous and contagious" diseases. Senator Jesse Helms' "Helms Amendment" added HIV to the exclusion list.In 1987, the US banned HIV positive persons from arriving in the US. The laws were influenced by homophobic and xenophobic sentiment towards Africans and minorities at the time, as well as a false belief that the HIV virus could be spread by physical or respiratory contact. Former US President Barack Obama lifted it in 2009, completing a process begun by President George W Bush.

On the way home the other day the conversation between my wife and I drifted to the new US leadership and the beginning of Mr. Trump’s presidency. His opening words at the address given at his inauguration were ““From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.”

This new vision was stamped by the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Ever the history teacher, my wife mentioned that it seemed that the US would now revert to the isolationism it practiced from the War of Independence until World War Two. However, she added that historically isolationism, the shunning of alliances with other countries and refusal to be involved in the affairs of other nations, had been a contributing factor of the world wars.  The is also the thinking that the isolationist policy will eventually morph into imperialism, again another contributing factor for the world wars.

What is interesting about the original decision by Mr. Trump’s political ancestors to adopt the policy of isolationism was that the American colonies were populated by many people who had fled from Europe, where there was religious persecution, economic privation and war. Their new homeland was looked upon as a place to make things better than the old ways.


This new ban seems to ignore that.

More than 2,000 faith leaders, many of them Christian, have signed a letter to urge the US Congress not to ban refugees according to religion or nationality. Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, pleaded with fellow evangelicals—who voted for Trump overwhelmingly—to not let “alternative facts” drive refugee policy. The president of World Relief, a humanitarian organization affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals, said, “Any limitation against any vulnerable population is to fly in the face of human dignity, of people made in the image of God.”  

Rev. Steve Martin, communications director for the National Council of Christians—one of the largest coalitions of Christian churches in the country said, “I’ve been away of the rising tide of Islamophobia for a number of years. I can’t even believe that things are getting as bad as they are—that state sponsored persecution of a class of people is happening.”

Now in Fiji we have a young Iraqi seeking refuge. Sadly, already social media is abuzz with comments not addressing his plight, as a boy who fled torture in Iran, was held on Manus Island for more than three years, whose time in PNG has been punctuated by beatings, bullying, imprisonment, illness, suicide attempts and living on the street in Lae, one of the country's most dangerous cities. (Source: Michael Gordon, Sydney Morning Herald). The focus is on Loghman Sawari’s nationality and his religion, not on his humanity, his dignity, his life.

Speaking at the United Nations in 2015, Fijian Prime Minister warned of a refugee crisis caused by climate change. Already we have internal refugees in the aftermath of cyclones and flooding.

How does our treatment of people in need reflect who we are and what we really believe?

Our culture is supposed to be one of hospitality. Or is that only reserved for the paying tourist and not the refugee? We say “Mai kana,” to people walking past as we eat. Are we willing to sit and share with those different from us or only our friends?

For the majority Christians in Fiji, what does our faith tell us to do? Here are the words of a man who fled persecution as an infant and lived as a refugee for the first three years of his life. They are the words of the one who Christians believe came because God so loved the world.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus  provides a litmus test for entrance into heaven. At the Last Judgment, he will say to people, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” And people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Dolph Lundgren and Matters of Masculinity

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=386629

The name Dolph Lundgren is associated with the big macho action films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Lundgren became famous around the world when he played the role of steroid-enhanced Soviet Union star boxer, Ivan Drago, who killed Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) in the boxing ring and then lost to Rocky Balboa (reprised by Sylvester Stallone) in the climactic fight of the film “Rocky IV”. He went on to star in other action “flicks” such as “Red Scorpion”, “Universal Soldier”, “The Punisher”, and “Masters of the Universe” (meaning he’s already played to comic/cartoon characters: “The Punisher” and “He-Man”).  The younger generation may know Lundgren from his role as Gunner Jensen in the “Expendables” movie franchise.

Lundgren was a star in the era of hyper masculinity and violent, testosterone-fuelled action films.

“The man who asserts his identity through violence is a very old fashioned idea,” says Dr Mike Chopra-Gant, lecturer in media, culture, and communications at London Metropolitan University.  

“You can take that back to John Wayne in the 1950s. It’s a version of that. It seems quite anachronistic.”

“If we’re constantly presented with an image of masculinity, that becomes ingrained in the culture as a norm,” says Dr Chopra-Gant. “It doesn’t have a direct effect in a simple way, but it does have some kind of influence on our ideas of what it means to be a man, and what a real man is.”

Yet Lundgren’s action film work is not the focus of today’s reflection, nor his celebrity, nor even his academic achievements – he has a masters in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and speaks five languages (Swedish, English, German, French and Japanese).  Rather, it is his childhood that calls our attention.

As a little boy, Dolph Lundgren was physically abused by his father. His father said he was useless and incompetent and beat him up.

“My dad was a smart man, very successful engineer, but he was physically abusive. So I was really traumatized as a kid. I never got to express it, really, apart from a little bit in karate and as a fighter. Like a lot of boys who become football players or boxers I had a [bad] situation with my dad.”

As a teenager, Ludgren took up karate to learn a defensive skill because of the violence at home, resulting in injuries and torn out hair.

“It was a way to feel safe. No one was going to hurt me ever again. And that was because of my dad. It could get bad. I’d go to school with bruises and be embarrassed by them. I was always trying to hide the scars from my friends.”

The trauma from childhood had a long-term effect on Lungdren.

“What happens is when you’re a kid, if your dad gives you beatings, beats you up, which happened in my case, that’s his frustration. When you’re a kid, humans have a fight-or-flight syndrome. If an animal attacks, you either run, or if the animal is weak enough, and if you have a spear, you can try to kill them. But if it’s your parents, you freeze up. You can’t run because you’re at home, and you can’t fight back because it’s your dad. So that gets locked inside. It becomes like a piece of ice or something, inside you. Then, in order to escape that feeling, you have all these escape patterns. You can drink, you can hurt yourself, you can do violent things like get in the ring and get beat up, and that makes you feel good. Or you can have an extramarital affair and mess around if you’re married, that kind of thing, because it’s a way to escape that feeling inside. I had a combination of all of those things. I always stayed in shape, I always worked out, but that’s why I ended up breaking up with my wife.”

It took Lundgren a long time to finally process the trauma of child abuse. While his acting and action roles may have helped him not get caught in the cycle of remaining a victim in the home or society or shifting from victim to perpetrator, it was not until he sought counselling that he was able to deal with the trauma.

“I always thought that acting is like therapy. When you’re acting, you don’t need therapy. It’s not true. When you’re acting you’re hijacking your emotions for your job, but you don’t really resolve anything. Three years ago I started therapy here in L.A. and I’ve overcome a lot of those physical sensations from abuse. They’re like knots in your stomach that you have to break to be free and feel safe. And because I’ve worked through that bad stuff, [good] things are happening in my career.”

 At his father’s funeral he was able to forgive what had been done to him.

In 2009, Lundgren wrote an open letter, in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, to children who suffer abuse, titled “It’s Not Your Fault”:

Everything is going to be all right
I know it hurts, both inside and out.
I know you're crying.
I know that you love your Mom and Dad and always will.
They love you.
Sometimes grown-ups have problems too.
Maybe they were abused as children
The most important thing to remember is that it's not your fault.
It's not your fault.
Listen:
IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT
If you need help there is a number you can dial:
0200-230 230 to BRIS (note: this is a childrens' rights foundation in Sweden – in Fiji call 1325)
My father beat me when I was a child and I wish I could have had someone to talk to
I kept on going and didn't give up
Now when I make movies in Hollywood I draw strength from my experiences
I have children of my own now and I don't beat them
I love them more than anything in the world

Things worked out for me
They will work out for you
I promise
A great big bear-hug
/Dolph

In an interview with progressive culture magazine Spook, Lundgren shared, how as the father of two young women, the 61-year old actor, has become increasingly aware of women’s issues as he focuses on what kind of world his girls will become a part of as adults.

“Women have more power and professional opportunities that they didn’t before—which has thankfully changed,” Lundgren notes. “One hundred years ago they couldn’t even vote or own property. But I think the main thing for me that I’m upset about when I read about women’s issues and feminism is the violence against women, whether that’s domestic violence or rape.”

The absolute worst of this, he says, is the millions of nameless and faceless women who are sold into human slavery.

“I’m involved in anti-human trafficking campaigning because most of the victims are women,” he says. “It’s terrible that in this day and age they’re being sold as cattle and into the sex industry as workers—most of them underage girls as well. It has to stop.”

Lundgren is a spokesperson for CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) in the US, organising charity events and speaking out about the cause whenever he can.

“They do what they can do to give these girls a better life.”

An significant perspective from someone considered the image of masculinity.


“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”. 

Sharing the Light

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=385024

The words “theophany” or “epiphany” generally refer to the manifestation of a divine or supernatural being. In Christian world history, “The Epiphany” marks a visit to the baby Jesus by The Magi, (the three Kings, or Wise Men). For Christians it celebrates 'the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ'.

In the West, Christians began celebrating the Epiphany in the 4th century, associating it with the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the three kings found baby Jesus by following a star across the desert to Bethlehem.

The three kings - named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar - followed the star of Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus. The three Kings represented Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively.

According to Matthew 2:11, they offered symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gifts were symbolic of the importance of Jesus' birth, the gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.

Epiphany was celebrated last Friday, the 6th of January, twelve days after Christmas. The ancient Christian feast day is significant as a celebration of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, as well as a more general celebration of his birth. The six Sundays which follow Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation.

As I reflected on the manifestation of the Christ-light in this world, during my Epiphany meditation, I read the January 2017, “First Friday,” Letter from the World Methodist Council. It included a message from the chair of the Council’s Inter-Religious Standing Committee, on which I serve as one of two Fijian Methodist members on the World Methodist Council.

In his Epiphany greeting, Rev. Dr. R. F. Leão Neto shared a photograph of a painting from the collection of art in Wesley’s Chapel in London, dated 1820, of Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, as he is engaging in Inter-Religious Relationships with two “Priests of Buddha” from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Peter Forsaith describes Clarke, who served as president of the Wesleyan/Methodist conference in Britain on three occasions, thus:

“Yet in some lights he seems to have remained an outsider, partly because of his intellectual (and financial) independence. Although based in London during a key part of his ministry, he preferred the periphery, serving in circuits in the Channel Islands, Cornwall and Shetland (where he was the founder of the Methodist work). He championed mission with the poor and marginalized, supported the abolition of African slavery, and helped to found Strangers’ Friend Societies. His theological views verged on the heterodox, partly influenced by his extensive reading of Eastern texts in the original tongues. Yet he steered a middle course between being sympathetic to radicals and loyal to the Wesleyanism where he had found his salvation.”

According to Forsaith, Clarke:
“comprehended Wesley; he shared Wesley’s emphasis on the primacy for religious experience, over and above dogma, churchmanship, education. Moreover, he shared some of Wesley’s ambiguities, a complex personality with a depth of learning yet adhering to simplicity. Clarke’s ‘Wesleyanism’ was continuation of the man’s mission, forward-looking and flexible, not the defence of an institution.”

The painting mentioned above, shows Clarke in an inter-religious dialogue with two Buddhist monks. In the background of the painting hangs a picture which depicts the Buddha, alluding to Clarke’s knowledge of Eastern spirituality and philosophy. The event depicted in the painting took place in 1818, when the returning Chief Justice of “Celyon”(now Sri Lanka), Sir Alexander Johnston (1775-1849), brought with him the two monks who had come at their own request to be instructed in Christianity. Forsaith identifies these two young men in their mid-20s as members of the Buddhist monastic order, the Sangha.

According to Forsaith, during this period Buddhism in Ceylon was in transition, and the position of the Sangha in particular was under some threat. The conciliatory nature of Buddhism, with its capacity to understand other religions peaceably, meant that it absorbed some of the features of Christianity. Further, the relative peace and prosperity which the island experienced led to the emergence of a middle class which, like free churches in Britain, tended to generate a stronger role for the laity.

By contrast, the incoming missionaries brought an implicit conversionist approach, with a negative view of the beliefs and culture they encountered.

Elizabeth Harris discusses how ‘the early British visitors’ considered the Buddhism they experienced. Much hinged upon the (perceived) rationality of their religious beliefs and customs; and not infrequently there was thought to be little reason in them. Clarke differed. In his eyes, referring to the two ‘priests’:

“These men cannot be treated as common heathens; they are both Philosophers – men of profound erudition in their way; with as far as I canjudge, a powerful command of Eloquence. They are deeply read in the most speculative, most refined and purest ethics of the braham and Budhoo systems. In these respects their acquirements are immense.”

In his 1820 Clavis Biblica, which set out the Christian principles he had taught the two monks, he ‘affirmed that the Holy Spirit was present in the hearts of all people…[having] an inclusivist stance rooted in natural theology, reinforced, perhaps, by his dialogue with the two monks.’

Clarke stood in contrast to the ‘hard’, anti-democratic and dogmatic Methodism of his era. Like Wesley, he was more concerned with experiential faith than right doctrine or church loyalty.

John Wesley himself had addressed the issue of religious intolerance and prejudice in a sermon entitled, “A Caution Against Bigotry”:

“What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian, casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid him either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still.

“O stand clear of this! But be not content with not forbidding any that casts out devils. It is well to go thus far; but do not stop here. If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in His work, and praise His name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give himself wholly up thereto. Speak well of him wheresoever you are; defend his character and his mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, his sphere of action; show him all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in his behalf, that he may save both himself and them that hear him.”

People of a faith that is based on the unconditional love of God, need to remember that it is not with a heart of stone, but a heart of love alone that we must engage in the world around us, the world in which we live.

There are lessons on life, love and peace that we can learn from each other, which will not only make us better adherents of our faith, but better children of God.


“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Potholes on the Road to Peace

Published in the Fiji Times as "Understanding peace" 
in Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, January 04, 2017 
http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=384290

As we begin a new year, apart from the usual “happy” and “prosperous”, you may have also been wished a “peaceful” New Year. 

How can we ensure that 2017 is peaceful and peace-filled for our families, communities and society? 

Perhaps the first step is to really understand what peace is: 

Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies often refers to the distinction between ‘negative peace’ and ‘positive peace’. Negative peace refers to the absence of violence. When, for example, a ceasefire is enacted, a negative peace will ensue. It is negative because something undesirable stopped happening (e.g. the violence stopped, the oppression ended). Positive peace is filled with positive content such as restoration of relationships, the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole population and the constructive resolution of conflict.

Peace does not mean the total absence of any conflict. It means the absence of violence in all forms and the unfolding of conflict in a constructive way.

Peace therefore exists where people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively – with respectful attention to the legitimate needs and interest of all concerned.

The challenge with broadening the path of peace for a few into a road of peace for many, is no different from turning a track for foot traffic into a road for vehicles.

The challenge includes the need to deal with the ground on which the road is being built and the obstacles that lie in the path. There is sometimes the desire to bulldoze through a forest in order to make the road as straight as possible, rather than go around the forest which are the lungs of the earth. There is the integrity of materials used and of the preparation, care process followed in the building of the road to withstand not only the natural stress of daily traffic, but the stress from the natural environment, from heavy rain to shifting soil. 

Likewise the path to a peaceful home and a peaceful society must keep in mind the different types of violence that exist. 

Johan Galtung’s article “Violence, Peace and Peace Research,” written in 1969, covers some fundamental concepts that are still relevant today, even though sometimes with different kinds of modifications. Galtung lists six dimensions of violence explained through sets of contrasts.

Galtung’s six dimensions of violence:

1. Physical and Psychological violence: 
Galtung is careful to include psychological violence, (violence not as the direct result of one of more persons acting on one or more persons) as equal to physical violence. Psychological violence may take the form of simulating torture which is the treat of actual violence. 

Galtung also notes that inequality of a form of psychological violence, such as “when access to transportation is very unevenly distributed”. Limiting mobility, as well as limiting resources to a small class, is indirect violence. While not physical, it is something that can be prevented and therefore is a form of violence because it is something being withheld. For example, if a country is rich in resources but the wealth does not circulate beyond a select few; with most of the nation living well below the poverty line. That essential resources are withheld when there is enough revenues to extend the wealth the general population, is a form of violence.

2. Positive vs. Negative approach to influence: 
The dominant group not only has the power to withdraw what it desires to punish behavior but also to increase what it desires to promote behavior. As such manipulation can take place on a subtle level. 

Capitalism rewards individuals who prioritize the desired goals and processes of the dominant system, arguably, at the risk of more inclusive, human rights oriented and more productive functions of government. Any system that perpetuates itself through rewarding participants and limits productive growth is a form of violence.

3. Whether or not there is an object that is hurt: 
A person does not have to be hit or hurt for violence to be occurring. Testing nuclear arms, or just the existence of nuclear arms, maintains the threat of violence and preserves the dominant group’s power. 

North Korea’s testing of weapons and maintaining their threats to South Korea and the West promote and maintain a system of violence. This is a type of psychological violence as there does not need to be actual physical harm for implement this form of violence.  

Also, the destruction of things held meaningful to the things owners without any damage to the owners is also violence. For example, burning down a library may not result in the loss of life but has irreparable short term and long term negative impacts.

4. Whether or not there is a subject (person) who acts: 
There does not have to be an individual acting out for there to be violence. Direct or personal violence is when there is an actor immediately implementing that act of violence. Indirect or structural violence is when there is not a single actor implementing that act of violence. 

Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals.  Structural violence is subtle, often invisible, and often has no one specific person who can (or will) be held responsible (in contrast to behavioural violence).  I also hold that behavioral violence and structural violence can intertwine — some of the easiest examples of structural violence involve police, military, or other state powers committing violent acts; of course one can blame the individual soldier, but the factors that lead to a soldier killing a civilian are far more complex than that explanation would imply.  

Dr. Paul Farmer, an American anthropologist and physician who is best known for his humanitarian work providing suitable health care to rural and under-resourced areas in developing countries, beginning in Haiti, describes structural violence as: 

“one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.”

5. Intended vs. Unintended violence: 
Galtung also differentiates between violence that is intended and that which is unintended. In most cultures guilt is decided according to violence committed with intent rather than violence with as a consequence of actions. A times, structural violence is a consequence of actions. 

Systems of domination which preserve oppression do so in ways that are not always carried out in direct ways. When we focus on individual acts with individual actors and fail to critique the foundational settings that are unjust we fail to recognize structural violence as well as unintended violence.

6. Manifest vs. Latent violence: 
Manifest violence is that which is observable whether or not it is recognized as is the case for some forms of structural violence. Latent violence “is something which is not there, yet might easily come about”.

Latent violence is the underlying potential for violence which may lead to manifest violence. That which limits a society or group from realized potential is a form of violence. Latent violence occurs when actual realization decreases. Latent violence is the conditions that exist that make manifest violence more likely to occur.

Obstacles, conditions and situations that we encounter on the path and road to a peaceful Fiji. Some are obvious and some a very subtle. Some are individual and some social, political and economic. Yet they all are potholes on the road to peace. And some are just too big to drive around. We will have to fill them in to ensure others may travel safely.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

(Material for this article was sourced from http://www.irenees.net/, https://nobullying.com/structural-violence/ , http://allmyneighbors.org/2013/12/09/johan-galtungs-six-dimensions-of-violence/ , http://www.structuralviolence.org/structural-violence/, https://www.transcend.org/ , https://www.galtung-institut.de/en/ )

Decoration or Declaration

Published in the Fiji Times as Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=383540

RECENTLY I was sitting at an airport, waiting to board a flight for a work trip overseas, when I had a simple yet poignant encounter.

The gentleman sitting next to me leaned over, pointed to the small wooden cross I normally wear around my neck and asked me: "What's that for?"

"What's what for?" I responded, not sure where his question was leading.

"The cross, what's it for?" he clarified.

To be honest, I was caught for a moment as I went through a list of possible answers and his responses in my head. This was a person I did not know; who did not know me. My next words would determine how our getting to know each other would progress.

Many readers would assume that being a Christian minister, it would be expected of me to use this as an opportunity to evangelise this person who did not know why someone would wear a cross. Some might hold the view that in a secular state and a rapidly secularising society, I should not impose my beliefs on another, or that I might be on the receiving end of an anti-Christian or anti-religion tirade.

I even thought about giving a long explanation to justify why I was wearing a cross — family history and personal spiritual journey etc. All these thoughts were processed in about TWO seconds (my mind can work fast when it has to).

In the end I responded with simplicity and honesty:

"I wear this because I'm a Christian and because of my vocation as a minister. It's what I believe in, who I am, and what I do."

I awaited the response.

"Good," he said. "Same here."

As it turned out, the gentleman beside me was also a Christian, and a retired Anglican priest!

As we conversed my neighbour said, pointing to my little cross once more, "At least you're wearing it for a reason. I see so many people wearing things because it 'looks good,' without realising what it means or says about them."

We use symbols every day to identify ourselves — where we are from, what we believe, what we stand for, what we identify with, which team we support, our culture, and our lifestyle.

In their introduction to the book, Modern Fashion Traditions: Negotiating Tradition and Modernity Through Fashion, M Angela Jansen and Jennifer Craik suggest that: "Due to prevalent Eurocentric perceptions of fashion, people fail to comprehend that fashion is not inherent to an object, but rather that its socio-cultural-historical context renders it fashionable."

Yuniya Kawamura suggests the most important distinction between fashion and dress is, "that while dress refers to tangible objects, fashion is intangible and provides added value to dress that only exists in people's imagination and beliefs".

In her contribution to Modern Fashion Traditions, Janaki Turaga writes: "In clothing and fashion there has been a sea-change in the clothing styles of communities and people that reflects clear negotiation between tradition and modernity, a marked transition from traditional to modern, and multiple fashion trends.

"It is argued that this era is characteriSed by the critical rethinking and interpretation of nearly all elements of life and society, and the redefining of the value systems that structure lives and lifestyles. This critical recasting process is reflected in the more visible areas of religion, fashion and modes of articulation in the realm of popular culture."

However sometimes, when these symbols become fashionable to the extent that they become commodified these symbols may begin to lose their intrinsic value. Its value is now only in its status as fashionable.

Therein lies the rub.

Since the beginning of this century, as a by-product of globalisation, there has been a burgeoning of the "secularised sacred".

According to Turaga, in some cases, the wearer of symbols, "crosses the traditional rules of engagement with the sacred, taking elements of it into the non-sacred domain, which ironically proclaims the fashionableness of the wearer, while at the same time proclaiming and underscoring his or her underlying religious and spiritual beliefs".

She writes that in this sense, the "secularised" sacred is still an element of the sacred (object, image, text, verse and so on) that despite being desacralised, still retains in its new "secular" avatar, some of its sacredness, which functions as its identifying marker.

"The sacred is exclusive, while the secularised sacred is more inclusive, with unrestricted usage and open accessibility to all in the public domain which gives it the secular identity marker."

Turaga also points out that while wearing significant symbols as fashion may be considered, "cool", some wearers may not be aware of the cultural taboos regarding the usage of these symbols in daily life, viewing them merely from a fashion and aesthetic point of view.

In the context of Fiji, where there has been a critical response by some to what they consider to be the (mis)appropriation of Oceanic (Pacific) cultural symbols by Disney in the movie Moana; there has been much conversation on the issue of protecting traditional knowledge and the symbols that give our cultures meaning.

In the context of fashion, Craik and Turaga write that visual elements that have deep, mystical meanings in their culture of origin, unknown except to those steeped in the culture are extracted from those dense meaning systems and then paraded as commodities down fashion street cloaked in new mythologies and exogenous narratives.

Images, symbols, myths are manipulated for marketing purposes. And we buy into them - our own and those of others.

As we prepare to enter a new year, perhaps this is the time for all of us to take a step back and look at ourselves - what we wear, and what it mean to ourselves and to others; not just in terms of fashion and how we dress, but in terms of how we value symbols of others and our own.

Each of us is making a statement by what we chose to wear. Is it a decoration, a fashion statement? Or is it a declaration of what we value, what we find meaning in and what we stand for?

"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity."

* Reverend James Bhagwan is an ordained Methodist minister and a citizen journalist. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.