Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Leonard Abess

I excerpt this from President Obama's speech which this evening to the joint houses of Congress.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.”

Leonard Abess has left more than heart prints. We have a very serious shortage of such people around. It seems that the shortage is even greater in the biggest enterprises.

Life is such that there is no way to find such people until they show themselves, but we hope to encourage and nuture more of such types. By blogging this, I am voting for it in a very small way. Many drops will make an ocean. So here is my drop. The good teachers, the film makers similar websites and story tellers are adding theirs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Heartprints from the most unexpected quarters - Politicians

With seemingly insurmoutable problems before the us, inspiration and call to faith have come from the most unexpected quarters - Politicians, often not more trusted than the used car salesperson. But this are not normal times, so for such times leaders emerge. Thank you Lorraine for bringing this two speeches to my attention.

I reproduce here the transcripts of Tony Blair and Barack Obama speeches with parts of their speeches made available on Youtube.

Tony Blair's speech

Transcript of Blair's speech

It is an honour to be here. A particular honour to be with you Mr. President. The world participated in the celebration of your election. Now the hard work begins. And now, also we should be as steadfast for you in the hard work as in the celebration. You don't need cheerleaders but partners; not spectators but supporters. The truest friends are those still around when the going is toughest. We offer you our friendship today. We will work with you to make your Presidency one that shapes our destiny to the credit of America and of the world. Mr President, we salute you and wish you well.

After 10 years as British Prime Minister, I decided to choose something easy. I became involved in the Middle East Peace Process.

There are many frustrations - that is evident. There is also one blessing. I spend much of my time in the Holy Land and in the Holy City. The other evening I climbed to the top of Notre Dame in Jerusalem. You look left and see the Garden of Gethsemane. You look right and see where the Last Supper was held. Straight ahead lies Golgotha. In the distance is where King David was crowned and still further where Abraham was laid to rest. And of coursein the centre of Jerusalem is the Al Aqsa Mosque, where according to theQur'an, the Prophet was transported to commune with the prophets of the past.

Rich in conflict, it is also sublime in history. The other month in Jericho, I visited the Mount of Temptation. I think they bring all the political leaders there. My guide - a Palestinian - was bemoaning the travails of his nation. Suddenly he stopped, looked heaven wards and said "Moses, Jesus, Mohammed: why did they all have to come here?"

It is a good place to reflect on religion: a source of so much inspiration; an excuse for so much evil.

Today, religion is under attack from without and from within. From within, it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other. I am what I am in opposition to you. If you do not believe as I believe, you are a lesser human being.

From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance.

And yet, faith will not be so easily cast. For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanises, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good. This is faith in action. Youcan see it in countless local communities where those from churches,mosques, synagogues and temples, tend the sick, care for the afflicted,work long hours in bad conditions to bring hope to the despairing andsalvation to the lost. You can see it in the arousing of the world'sconscience to the plight of Africa.

There are a million good deeds done every day by people of faith. These are those for whom, in the parable of the sower, the seed fell on good soil andyielded sixty or a hundredfold.
What inspires such people?

Ritual or doctrine or the finer points of theology? No.

I remember my first spiritual awakening. I was ten years old. That day my father - at the young age of 40 - had suffered a serious stroke. His life hung in the balance. My mother, to keep some sense of normality in the crisis, sent me to school. My teacher knelt and prayed with me. Now my father was a militant atheist. Before we prayed, I thought I should confess this. "I'm afraid my father doesn't believe in God". I said. "That doesn't matter" my teacher replied "God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return."

That is what inspires: the unconditional nature of God's love. A promise perpetually kept. A covenant never broken.

And in surrendering to God, we become instruments of that love.
Rabbi Hillel was once challenged by a pagan, who said: if you can recite the whole of the Torah standing on one leg, I will convert to being a Jew. Rabbi Hillel stood on one leg and said "That which is hateful to you, do it not unto your neighbour. That is the Torah. Everything else is commentary. Go and study it."

As the Qur'an states: "if anyone saves a person it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity".

Faith is not discovered in acting according to ritual but acting according to God's will and God's will is love.

We might also talk of the Hindu "Living beyond the reach of I and mine" or the words of the Buddha "after practising enlightenment you must go back to practise compassion" or the Sikh scripture: "God's bounties are common to all. It is we who have created divisions."
Each faith has its beliefs. Each is different. Yet at a certain point each is in communion with the other.

Examine the impact of globalisation. Forget for a moment its rights and wrongs. Just look at its effects. Its characteristic is that it pushes the world together. It is not only an economic force. The consequence is social, even cultural.

The global community - "it takes a village" as someone once coined it - is upon us. Into it steps religious faith. If faith becomes the property of extremists, it will originate discord. But if, by contrast, different faiths can reach out to and have knowledge of one another, then instead of being reactionary, religious faith can be a force for progress.
The Foundation which bears my name and which I began less than a year ago is dedicated to achieving understanding, action and reconciliation between the different faiths for the common good. It is not about the faith that looks inward; but the faith that resolutely turns us towards each other.

Bringing the faith communities together fulfils an objective important to all of us, believers and non-believers.

But as someone of faith, this is not enough. I believe restoring religious faith to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future, is itself of the essence. The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.

I do not mean by this to blur the correct distinction between the realms of religious and political authority. In Britain we are especially mindful of this. I recall giving an address to the country at a time of crisis. I wanted to end my words with "God bless the British people". This caused complete consternation. Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast. Finally, as I sat trying to defend my words, a senior civil servantsaid, with utter distain: "Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know."

Neither do I decry the work of humanists, who give gladly of themselves for others and who can often shame the avowedly religious. Those who do God's work are God's people.

I only say that there are limits to humanism and beyond those limits God and only God can work. The phrase "fear of God" conjures up the vengeful God of parts of the Old Testament. But "fear of God" means really obedience to God; humility before God; acceptance through God that there is somethingbigger, better and more important than you. It is that humbling of man'svanity, that stirring of conscience through God's prompting, thatrecognition of our limitations, that faith alone can bestow.

We can perform acts of mercy, but only God can lend them dignity. We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin.

And only through God comes grace; and it is God's grace that is unique.

John Newton, who had been that most obnoxious of things, a slave-trader, wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace".
"Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved."

It is through faith, by the Grace of God, that we have the courage to live as we should and die as we must.

When I was Prime Minister I had cause often to reflect on leadership. Courage in leadership is not simply about having the nerve to take difficult decisions or even in doing the right thing since oftentimes God alone knows what the right thing is.

It is to be in our natural state - which is one of nagging doubt, imperfect knowledge, and uncertain prediction - and to be prepared nonetheless to puton the mantle of responsibility and to stand up in full view of the world,to step out when others step back, to assume the loneliness of the finaldecision-maker, not sure of success but unsure of it.
And it is in that "not knowing" that the courage lies.

And when in that state, our courage fails, our faith can support it, lift it up, keep it from stumbling.

As you begin your leadership of this great country, Mr President, you are fortunate, as is your nation, that you have already shown in your life, courage in abundance. But should it ever be tested, I hope your faith can sustain you. And your family. The public eye is not always the most congenial.

I was reminded of this, as I waited in London in the snow to fly to America and made the mistake of reading a British newspaper. It was the very conservative Daily Telegraph. A few days ago I gave an interview in which I remarked how much cleverer my wife was than me. The Telegraph has a famous letters page. In it was a letter from a correspondent that read something like: "Dear Sir, with reference to your headline 'Blair admits wife more intelligent than him', I fail to see why this is news. Most of us haveknown this for a long time." As a PS perhaps: "the bar, however, has notbeen set high".

I finish where I began: in the Holy Land, at Mount Nebo in Jordan, where Moses gazed on the Promised Land. There is a chapel there, built by pilgrims in the 4th Century. The sermon was preached by an American, who spent his life as an airline pilot and then, after his wife's death, took holy orders. His words are the words of a Christian but they speak to all those of faith, who want God's grace to guide their life.

He said this:
"While here on earth, we need to make a vital decision ... whether to be mere spectators, or movers and shakers for the Kingdom of God... whether to stay among the curious, or take up a cross. And this means: no standing on the sidelines ... We're either in the game or we're not. I sometimes ask myself the question: If I were to die today, what would my life have stood for... The answer can't be an impulsive one, and we all need to count the cost before we give an answer. Because to be able to say yes to one thing, means to say no to many others. But we must also remember, that the greatest danger is not impulsiveness, but inaction."
It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country's history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God's work and follow God's will.

And by the way, God bless you all.

Barack Obama's Speech

Transcript of Obama's speech

Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast,Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I'd also like tothank Tony Blair for coming today, as well as our Vice President, JoeBiden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends,and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I knowthis breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has alwaysbeen a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much athome and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our timehere.

It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in thecity of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work. Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything.

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those whowere suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do somethingmore: they prayed. It didn't matter what party or religiousaffiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morningas brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God.

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quicklyspread to cities and towns across America, eventually making theirway to Washington. A short time after President Eisenhower asked agroup of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it becamea national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries herefrom every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of therare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faithwielded as a tool to divide us from one another-as an excuse forprejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have beenslaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted,all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some ofour beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. Wefollow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how wecame to be here and where we're going next-and some subscribe to nofaith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that thereis no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God whocondones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much weknow.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law thatbinds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thyneighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful toyou, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith thatreads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brotherwhat he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists andHindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, ofcourse, the Golden Rule-the call to love one another; to understandone another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom weshare a brief moment on this Earth.

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the mostchallenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure ofresponsibility for the well-being of people we may not know orworship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us toreconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And thatrequires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not onlyto believe, but to do-to give something of ourselves for the benefitof others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us canpromote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart,our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry andcomfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife andrebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hardtimes. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty ascitizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White HouseOffice of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I'mannouncing later today.

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group overanother-or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simplybe to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work onbehalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the linethat our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work isimportant, because whether it's a secular group advising familiesfacing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training tothose who need work, few are closer to what's happening on ourstreets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world tofoster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don'texpect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe thatlong-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believethat if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhapsold rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin toemerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we canbegin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make roomfor the healing power of understanding.

This is my hope. This is my prayer.

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that allis possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and whatI have lived.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had afather who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents whowere non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who wasskeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, mostspiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as achild to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I wouldwant done.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved tothe South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because ofindoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent monthafter month working with church folks who simply wanted to helpneighbors who were down on their luck-no matter what they lookedlike, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on thosestreets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spiritbeckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose-His purpose.

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense ofpurpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayerbreakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying timefor our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so manyfaiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanksand seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission oflove and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St.Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Workas though everything depended on you."

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us alsowork together in all the days and months ahead. For it is onlythrough common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters,that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I askyou to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me,for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thankyou.