Does not matter what religion we claim we are of, or we think we belong to: we all share one non-qualifying belief – that we have the right to laugh. This right you will agree is old and even ancient but always also refreshingly new – isn’t it?
So let me try laughing with you … we - justice and peace loving activists are battering ourselves a bit too much, surrounding ourselves with deep anxieties and a bit of self-suffering, sometimes simply for not having enough choices of fine grape juices around us (remember Muslims don’t drink fermented grape juice) … no that’s not the joke!
Well, look at the ancient Greeks: smart guys. They understood that comedy (the gods' view of life) is superior to tragedy (the merely human way to look at life). I think our culture - western culture has grandly screwed this up. We overvalue tragedy and undervalue comedy.
My kids were perplexed watching me super giddy these past few days. I could not help it. I was very happy to hear that we all were “scheduled to meet the Lord” on the 21st of May at 6 pm! I thought to myself: “at least we will not have any budget problems to grieve about!” And no, that’s not the joke either! Here’s a real joke for you:
The young lady's hopes had been high for two whole years while this handsome young man remained silent on the question of marriage. Then one evening he said to her, "I had a most unusual dream last night. I dreamed that I asked you to marry me. I wonder what that means." "THAT MEANS," said his girlfriend, "THAT YOU HAVE MORE SENSE ASLEEP THAN WHEN YOU ARE AWAKE."
All right my good friends – enough laughing – let’s be real … let’s suffer a bit now …
Among ourselves, I think we can claim that this is a live gathering of the oldest religions with shared values that each one of us would die fighting for.
The question I pose to you today is, “What is old that is also new? And what is new that is also ancient?”
I find the answer to this question in the research conducted by two management experts Kouzes & Posner. They titled it – I think appropriately – “The 21st Century Leadership Challenge.” They interviewed 10,000 CEO’s from over 100 different countries between 2001 & 2010 & published their work. Their entire research project can be summed up in one word: “honesty.” A quality that 21st century leadership does not have; an ancient concept but badly needed for our times.
Indeed the leaders of our time are very honest when they report and celebrate our nation’s progress in reducing joblessness. They said we made progress when joblessness dropped from 10% to 9.98%. I guess they are right, technically, down to the very last decimal point.
But when I ask my good friend David who is unemployed for over a year about this version of progress, he politely reminded me of Malcolm’s response to nation’s racial progress at the time. He said, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you are making progress.”
There is now a new paradigm emerging as an acceptable norm in the collective psyche and culture of our country: that the powerful and the rich have an inherent right and entitlement to exploit the poor and the powerless in the most inhumane way!
Here are two most recent examples …
I believe the muscular moron (former Governor of our State) did not just have a relationship out of heartfelt love for the maid but rather simply took full advantage of her poverty. Similarly, the rapist-in-chief of the International Monetary Fund physically assaulted a powerless single mother while his organization did (& continues to do) exactly the same figuratively to many under-developed countries.
Then how dare we have the audacity to expect the victims of rape to be silent and not scream out loud for justice?
I am one of those victims and you are one of those victims. Yes, I am also a perpetrator and you are a perpetrator. It is in my name and your name that our leaders are pillaging our State and our Country and the powerless people of the world.
This must stop and no one is better suited to do so than we are. We have the ability so long as we are full of authentic anger and are committed to work with genuine humility to better our world.
I seek refuge in this ancient expression from a scholar of Quran from the 8th century: “Nothing you seek relying on your Lord will ever be difficult, and nothing you seek relying on yourself will ever be easy.”
As people of faith, our equation of reliance is perhaps a bit out of balance. Clearly we (in our times) are conditioned differently than our ancient sages.
One such sage from the 3rd century was asked by a disciple about reliance and he answered, “when I see my pantry all empty – my reliance on God is complete.”
While the rich of our times are reveling in Rolls Royces and roll-overs we are asking our poor in the pews to wait patiently for a better day, but we know they are being raped and are forced to survive with pangs of hunger into perpetuity!
I do believe from the depths of my heart that neither Moses, nor Jesus nor Muhammad (peace & blessings be upon all of them) nor any man or woman of true piety and virtue could resist boiling over in pain and rage for the deception, dishonesty and exploitation of the poor in our society.
The Prophets of God embraced the poor for they are - the most loved by our Creator and that all of us are inherently entitled to live with equal dignity and honor as one people. And this vision, we must uphold.
A while back I heard a friend speaking on “Unity, Purity, and Miracle.” Unity, he says, means “y’all come,” purity means “most of y’all go away,” and for the two to be resolved “would take a miracle.”
So I ask myself today if we should wait for a miracle or must we intentionally create one?
Let us not remain fooled by the modern maniacs of mathematics who lure us to invest our pension funds in derivatives and bundle our homes into a sovereign wealth fund and when nothing works, encourage the populace to go shopping.
As we depart today, I would like us to remain fiercely vigilant about who we are: we are created by God, uniquely gifted by Him with intellect and intelligence bestowed on no other creature, so no more shall we be fooled by anyone, including those who are tasked by us to work for us and not against us.
We have all inherited the responsibility to lead a shared vision for our society. Shared leadership, after all, is to create a diverse world that is inter-dependent and not independent of each other. Our world was created neither with windows or doors nor in colors of red, blue or purple.
Since I started invoking (this talk) with the right to laugh let us return to laugh again for a minute …
A man meets an old friend and says "It's funny, but I was told you were dead." The friend says, "Well, you can see I'm still alive." But the first man disputes this on the grounds that "the man who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you."
Yes my brother – yes my sister – you are more reliable to me than those who brings us the daily dose of deceptions on the morning and evening news. The death of democracy may be a lie, but while it is not dead it is indeed sick. I know, however, that we can rely on each other to help it regain its vigor. We will continue this fight together, not for a penny but the fortune that is owed to us all.
In closing, as a person of faith I admonish myself and may I dare say admonish all of us with a 200 year old - Revolutionary Proclamation (of the Junta Tuitiva) made in La Paz in 1809 which states: “We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity.”
The time to speak is now. The moment to act is here. And it is only with our shared leadership that we can restore the old virtues in our broken new world!
A talk at California Faith for Action – a statewide Interfaith coalition for a moral budget – May 25, 2011 – Sacramento.