Community Engagement for the Week of July 25th, 2011

Originally posted by Danny Fisher.

by Danny Fisher

I had initially planned to do one post for each day of the work week (totaling five by the end of the week), but a lot of things change in the execution, don’t they? It’s making more sense for me to think about a total of three posts each week: “Dharma Talk” on Monday, “Buddhist Studies” on Wednesday, and then there’s Friday…

Friday is the day that we will focus on Community Engagement – which I understand as the wide range of works that we can undertake that benefit others locally and globally. Put another way, community engagement is one important area in which we live our values as Buddhists. The Los Angeles Buddhist Union — my own spiritual “home base” these days, as well as the home of the International Order of Buddhist Ministers to which I belong — states that it “promotes practice in meditation, mindfulness, Dharma study, and community engagement” (emphasis added). Part of my job as a lay Buddhist minister, then, is to put some focus on community engagement.

Now, I think there’s definitely a limit to how engaged with the community one can be while on the internet. You’ve got to unplug and go out and be among others to be fully engaged with them. So these “Community Engagement” posts will only serve as a start, a stepping stone. (That’s true of the other posts, though, too: my “Dharma Talk” posts aren’t substitutes for real Dharma practice and study with a teacher, and my “Buddhist Studies” posts really only work in conjunction with your own hard work looking at the materials I’ll be covering.) I think these will be the most freely-formed of these weekly posts. Maybe some days I’ll tell you about things I’m doing in my local communities — the ones I live and work in, Buddhist ones, academic ones, activist ones, and so on. Maybe some days I’ll reprint letters I write to newspaper editors and elected representatives. Maybe some days I’ll offer resources for and notifications about service opportunities. Maybe some days I’ll do a little bit of all these things. Maybe some days I’ll do something completely different.

Before moving on with the first of these “Community Engagement” posts, I think we should do a little housekeeping. So, you know what the three posts of the week will and won’t encompass. I’d like to talk briefly about one of the things I won’t be doing here, and that is aggregating Buddhist news items. I decided during my little renovation here to restrict the newsy stuff to Twitter. And, as it turns out, that’s something readers seem to appreciate there perhaps more than here: I was honored and delighted to be named one of the “12 Buddhists You Should Be Following on Twitter” by The Huffington Post this past week. Since most of what I do on Twitter is Buddhist news aggregating, I’ll now restrict it to that venue pretty exclusively. So if you liked what I was doing in terms of tracking news items, I’ll still be doing that, but on my Twitter feed @RevDannyFisher.

I’ll now also find more creative ways to let you know when I’ve published something somewhere else or have something to promote. (I just did that above by slipping the mention about The Huffington Post thing in with the housekeeping.) But I won’t do the “Hey, check this out!” posts anymore either.

OK, now on to the first “Community Engagement” post…

This past week saw a truly terrible event in a typically quiet part of the world. In Norway, 77 were killed and 96 wounded in two sequential terrorist attacks by a far right-wing extremist we’re told was reacting against the embrace of multiculturalism generally and support for Muslim communities specifically in Europe.

Somewhat strangely, these attacks come in the wake of some European leaders (such as British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel) stating publicly that multiculturalism has “failed,” and some nations adopting policies that have been deemed unfriendly to Muslim communities there (including the bans on burqas in France, and the building of minarets on mosques in Switzerland).

This devastating tragedy was very much in my thinking this week as I relaunched the blog. It’s one of the reasons I chose to focus on intra/interfaith harmony in the first “Dharma Talk” post, and I made such a point of exploring the possibilities and problems with essentialism and inclusionism in the first “Buddhist Studies” podcast. Thinking about how to respond directly has proved perhaps a bit more tricky.

Of course, the first thing to do is offer sympathies to all those who have been affected by these awful incidents. We mourn the dead, and wish that there may be peace for those left behind and all the rest in Norway. May there be peace. May there be peace…

In terms of what action to take now, I think one small thing we can do is to do our best to address religious intolerance. The Norway attacks are about much more than religious intolerance, no doubt about it — gun control and mental health care, among other things, must once again be discussed — but we must also make a special effort to look at all aspects of this horrific moment in history.

We have to find better ways to communicate with one another, even when it’s difficult — probably especially when it’s difficult. Obviously, we can’t all take responsibility for the actions of a homicidal madman or others doing despicable things; but I think we can take this opportunity to look carefully at those places in our daily lives where there might be uncomfortable resonance with aspects of the killer’s thought. We can have our differences and disagreements, certainly, but dogmatic bigotry in no way serves to make our world a better place.

To that end, I’d like to recommend five organizations dedicated to engagement with others — specifically, religious others. I think these five organizations are doing extremely important work in terms of helping us all find wise and genuinely beneficial ways forward in a religiously plural world. Each offers opportunities and resources we can all take advantage of, wherever we are. I urge you to take a look at them. They are…

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