Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC Attracts Peace Workers and the Faithful

A political convention is the last place I expected to hear about peace, compassion, and loving kindness. Is that jaded? Maybe. But the peace seekers are here.

I started "DNC Sunday" morning (like Superbowl Sunday to me), with a visit to the NSP Interfaith Workshop at St. Paul church, where a large crowd gathered to pray for peace and hear from Rabbi Michael Lerner, a co-founder of the NSP. (The other two co-founders are Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and longtime social justice advocate, and Dr. Cornel West, professor of religion at Princeton University, and author of Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America (with Rabbi Michael Lerner)).

Rabbi Michael Lerner told the group NSP believes that generosity and genuine caring for other people is a more effective and ethical approach to human security than military aggression or other, “softer” means of using U.S. power to serve our own interests. Rabbi Lerner said that a strategy of generosity requires that we reconnect with the human capacity to recognize the other as an embodiment of the sacred, or, in secular language, as fundamentally valuable for who they are rather than what they can do for us. The bonds of genuine care among human beings can and must be fostered by our public policies.

The service itself demonstrated the diversity the NSP seeks to embrace. The Mariachi Colorado de Santiago Ramirez opened the service with a flair befitting Colorado, which is a Spanish word for "the color red," (for our famously beautiful red rock formations). The Rev. Toni Cook welcomed the group, and African Griot and Spiritual Teacher Opalanga Pugh gave the Mbira Invocation (a musical meditation performed with a finger xylophone), followed by inspiring readings by activist elder Professor Vincent Harding, scholar of religion and social transformation. Other voices included spiritual director Sister Rose Annette Liddell, S.L.; Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni, Shiite Clerk and Director of Abrahamic Initiative; Yogacharya Srinidhi Baba, founder fo the Denver Kriya Yoga Center; Rabbi Brian Feld; and Venerable Claude d'Estree, University of Denver Buddhist Chaplain.

One of the highlights of the meeting was jazz-singer Rene Marie's compelling performance of "Lift Every Voice & Sing/Star Spangled Banner." You may remember the controversy reported after Rene Marie blended the words of the so-called Black National Anthem with the music of the traditional National Anthem when she performed for the Denver mayor's annual state of the city address in July. She says she was expressing her love for her country by blending the two songs to capture her personal experience as an American. The NSP crowd expressed their pleasure with a standing ovation. She said it was the first time she has performed the song publicly since the mayor's state of the city address. Although she clearly was moved, her voice never faltered. No one can dispute her incredible voice.

Although I missed the next session so I could attend the DNC's first ever Interfaith Service, it is worth noting that Rabbi Michael Lerner, spiritual teacher Matthew Fox, and community activist Dr. Peter Gabel presented "The Spiritual Covenant With America," which seeks to change the country's Bottom Line by proposing an 8-point plan. For details, see

The NSP also plans to spell out its Middle East strategies for the DNC. Monday morning Rabbi Michael Lerner will discuss a Middle East Strategy for Spiritual Progressives with Imam Mohamad from the Colorado Muslim Society. They will be joined by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, a Baptist preacher, who will be speaking about Iran and a global approach to nuclear weapons. Tyler is the director of the Two Futures Project, an evangelical initiative seeking nuclear disarmament as a matter of Christian conviction.

The discussion will continue Monday afternoon when Rabbi Michael Lerner, Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, and Evangelical minister Dr. Tony Campolo discuss "The Global Marshall Plan." The NSP is asking the advanced industrial countries of the world use their resources to eliminate once and for all global poverty, homelessness, and hunger; provide quality education and health care for all; and repair the global environment. As an initial commitment, NSP wants the U.S. to donate at least 1-2% of its Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty (though the amount may be less if other countries join in the effort, more if they do not). The discussion will take place in Downtown Denver at the Curis Hotel, 14th & Curtis.

So, if you hear that a Rabbi, a Priest and a Baptist are seen walking into the DNC, it's no joke. These are serious peace workers with a message for healing the World.

For more information about The Network of Spiritual Progressives, see