This week I have been personally challenged and stretched.
I started the week at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum where I heard Dr. Shirin Ebadi (Nobel Laureate 2003) talk about FREEDOM: "Americans have forgotten how to fight for freedom at home. Be careful. Do not let them take your freedom from you... Freedom is like a flower. You can't pour a bucket of water on it and then walk away. The flower will die. You need to continue to fight for your freedom or you will lose it. (When a direct threat comes we react but now Americans are lulled to sleep and have forgotten what they fought so hard to get.) Water it a little every day or you'll soon forget to water it at all. Over time your freedom will slowly fade like the flower until it dies."
Gila River Indian Community was given an ultimatum to choose: either blow up portions of their sacred mountain or to give up some of their reservation lands. He responded "I don't own the mountain; it has just always been a part of me. We will not choose between two bad choices in the name of progress or development. I must answer to the Creator."
He talked with great reverence about the plants he goes to collect for medicine on South Mountain. "These sacred plants only grow in this area. They are found on this mountain and that's part of why we are here. You can't take the plant home and keep it alive in a bucket in your home. It is the connection to the mountain, the dirt, the sacred water from this place that makes the plant what it is. The outside may look like the same plant if you take it away from this place, but the special part inside that makes it special is not longer alive. No, you must keep the sacred plant in the dirt where it belongs to keep it sacred. Our people are like that too."
Between these speakers I heard Dr. Eboo Patel, a Nobel nominee who is founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago-based institution building the global interfaith youth movement. He spoke about the need for interfaith dialogue and a current model that is working. I contend that this dialogue must include indigenous brothers and sisters in addition to the "maintstream religions."
I went to a lecture by Dr. Steinar Bryn, another nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. During our wonderful conversation in the commons several hours later, we talked about the possibilities of engaging the Norwegian peace studies Nansen Dialog Network, as a model to guide Minnesota into an inter-ethnic dialogue as we prepare for the 150th Anniversary of the US-Dakota Indian War.
What I have gleaned: Our spirituality and the freedom to exercise our faith is a gift from the Creator. This gift is protected on paper by the government but it is not always executed. These gifts are kept alive only if we continually tend to them, take care of them, take measures to protect them, and only if we keep connected to our Source. We have a responsibility to help ensure that others are afforded those same gifts. Through dialogue we will begin to learn ways that we can help each other keep our gifts alive, and that is the embodiment of mutual respect.