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From Brooklyn to Birmingham, a contemplative stroll

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — unity in the face of difference, radiance in the face of rage ]
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This little pilgrimage began when I saw this tweet, reteeted by The Bridge initiative:

A Taoist, and from Brooklyn — okay!

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I went off to track down Jackie Summers from Brooklyn, and behold, checking his FB feed I run across this, from a few days back:

which sends me to this deliciously quiet and unassuming TV news report from, yes, New Zealand if I’m not mistaken:

[ would that all the world’s newscasters showed such restraint ]

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That newscast in turn let me to this tweet from a British MP:

And this even more glorious photo of Saffyah Khan‘s face, taken from the Guardian’s report, Protest photos: the power of one woman against the world:

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From that Guardian article:

Shows of strength and defiance aren’t in short supply at your average protest – demonstrating, by its nature, requires a level of commitment that weeds out the bystanders, the unimpressively apathetic. But what is it that makes the money shot? The protest photo that goes viral? Well, for one, women. Or, more accurately, one woman. Often a striking, beautiful-looking woman. But mostly, a woman who looks like a badass without seeming to do anything much that is dramatic at all.

For anyone trying to work out the Venn diagram of iconic protest imagery, three tropes will immediately jump to the fore: the quiet dignity of said woman; the battle-hungry paraphernalia of male authority (your shields and batons and chunky uniforms); and the dramatic flip of power that clash presents.

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Pretty much all of the above — the Taoist, the Hassidim, the Muslim lady with child, the radiant protester Saffiyah Khan, Jess Phillips MP — have gone viral, in a world that thirsts for such things.

Deep bows to them all!

Shahbaz Qalandar shrine bombing DoubleQuote

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — qawwali vs bombing — tragic though this week’s deaths are, music, poetry, and devotion transcend death ]
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I thought this horrific announcement:

deserved a response of a very different order:

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That’s it, that’s my response.

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By way of background:

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan, whose shrine in Pakistan was bombed this week, was an Ismaili Shiite poet-mystic, perhaps best understood via his poetry. Shehram Mokhtar in a Master’s thesis on Qalandar writes:

His title of Shahbaz (royal falcon) is associated with him because of the mystical and spiritual heights he attained. This is reflected in his own poetry: “I am the royal falcon, that has no (fixed) place i.e. I am always in flight; I cannot be contained in any place; I am the phoenix, that cannot be restrained in any symbol or form” (Qazi, 1971, p. 26).

Further:

The third title associated with saint’s name is Qalandar. Muhammad Hussain bin Khalaf Tabrizi, the writer of a famous Persian dictionary defines Qalandar as someone “so much spiritualized that he is free from social and customary inhibitions and taboos” (Mohammad, 1978, p.7). Many other references have used terms like, “intoxicated in spirituality” to define the term Qalandar. The title of Qalandar has been associated with three saints, Lal Shahbaz, saint Bu Ali Sharfuddin of Panipat and a female saint Rabia Basri (Mohammad, 1978).

A taste of his poetry gives a taste of the man:

I am burning with Divine love every moment.
Sometimes I roll in the dust,
And sometimes I dance on thorns.
I have become notorious in your love.
I beseech you to come to me!
I am not afraid of the disrepute,
To dance in every bazaar.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is both transgressive – a frequently overused term, yet entirely applicable in this instance – and transcendent.

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It’s not always easy to get a fix on Sufi poet-saints. Consider this tale of Kabir, a Muslim from Varanasi, who obtained initiation from the Hindu saint Ramanand:

One of the most loved legends associated with Kabir is told of his funeral. Kabir’s disciples disputed over his body, the Muslims wanting to claim the body for burial, the Hindus wanting to cremate the body. Kabir appeared to the arguing disciples and told them to lift the burial shroud. When they did so, they found fragrant flowers where the body had rested. The flowers were divided, and the Muslims buried the flowers while the Hindus reverently committed them to fire.

Shahbaz Qalandar’s death seems similarly shrouded in mystery – so much so that the quai-authoritative Wikipedia entry for him reports both “Died: 19 February 1275 (aged 98-99) and “Lal Shahbaz lived a celibate life and died in the year 1300 at the age of 151. “

It is his death – considered as his marriage with the divine beloved – that is celebrated at the three-day urs (literally: marriage) festival, attended yearly in Sehwan by upwards of a half-million devotees, at which the divine love is glimpsed through a dance – the dhamaal – similar in function to, though not the same as, the sama dance of the dervish order order founded by Qalandar’s contemporary, Jalaluddin Rumi. The dancers’ characteristic experience is one of divine intoxication, mast.

It was Qalandar’s shrine / tomb that was the site of the IS-claimed bombing this week.

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With appreciation & and hat-tip to Omar Ali, and condolences — also to Husain Haqqani, Raza Rumi, Pundita, and all those who live, work and or pray for a peaceable Pakistan.

Divinely appointed killing in Gita and Summa

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two focal texts for Landmines in the Garden plus the matters of just war / peace ]
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Herewith two quotes, one (upper oanel) from the Bhagavad Gita, the other from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas — each of which expemplifies the notion that someone, in the first case Arjuna, in the second, Abraham — has divine authorization to kill:

SPEC DQ Summa and Gita

It is noteworthy that Arjuna does in fact kill those he has been ordered to kill, and that in contrast Abraham is reprieved from the necessity of killing his son by the same divine authority which had first demanded that extraordinary sacrifice — but God (the Father) in the Christian narrative goes on to kill his own Son in what is both the perfection and completion of sacrifice..

And from the perspective of military chaplains blessing members of the armed forces on their way into battle in a just war, the same divine approval presumably holds.

But are wars ever just?

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Further Readings:

  • Foreign Policy, What Happens When You Replace a Just War With a Just Peace?
  • National Catholic Repoorter, Pope considering global peace as topic of next Synod of Bishops
  • Rome Conference, An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence
  • United States Institute of Peace, Abrahamic Alternatives to War
  • It is worth noting that a sometime commenter on this blog, William Benzon of New Savanna, has a new, small & handy book out:

  • Bill Benzon, We Need a Department of Peace: Everybody’s Business, Nobody’s Job
  • Will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

    Sunday, July 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — protest and arrest in Baton Rouge ]
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    will you won
    Reuters – Jonathan Bachman

    It is the stunning balletic quality of this image that catches my attention here, and gives this post a title drawn from Lewis Carroll‘s Lobster Quadrille in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

    War & Peace, wounds and healing?

    Sunday, July 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — hatred and hope? ]
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    and then again:

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    and:

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    My title — War & Peace, wounds and healing? — ends with a question mark. Are we, perhaps, beginning to see a shift here away from divisiveness, at least in the matter of the lives of both blue and black mattering? I don’t have the pulse of America, but am noting what may be early signs of a sea change, or just anecdotal outliers that don’t add up to anything.


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