NAINConnect 2012 Full Report Online

NAINConnect 2012 Collage

A full report of NAINConnect 2012 in Atlanta, with beautiful photos mainly by Nassar Madyun and Jonathan Oskins, is now online at  It is also linked in the Connect section of our new

If you attended the Connect and have additional notes and/or comments, please post them here as comments or email me at  I will try to update the report with additional information periodically.  In the meantime, enjoy memories of a fantastic Connect.  And make plans to attend Connect 2013 August 11 – 14, in Toronto.

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This isn’t just a Sikh tragedy. It is an American tragedy

Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) Connect in Atlanta.  The annual connect brings together NAIN members and organizations to discuss interfaith issues and acts as a conference and forum for interfaith and religious leaders across the continent. The theme this year, “Establishing Interfaith Friendly Cities” was very exciting and was highlighted by showcasing the incredible interfaith infrastructure Atlanta has to offer. But some of the most striking things I witnessed in Atlanta weren’t buildings or stately parks. It was the rich heritage of its citizens seeking peace in the midst of hatred. This moved me.

In attendance one evening was Ambassador Andrew Young. He spoke about how you treat others who hate. “Hatred is a sickness. And you don’t get mad at sick people, you heal them, and the way you do that is spiritual healing. Nonviolence and compassion are the cures.” Another notable moment was when Reverend C.T. Vivian, a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of a time when he was marching in Selma, Alabama, with police dogs being released into the nonviolent crowd, and standing toe-to-toe with the chief of police and known clansmen. He said that the one thing that kept him and the crowd marching in the face of unspeakable hatred was that “it takes radical love to defeat radical evil.”

These are lessons that have been learned firsthand by the Sikh community in America. In the wake of such incredible heartache and tragedy, Sikhs have unquestionably handled the situation with dignity and resolve. In a time where anger and outrage spill across TV screens, editorial columns, airways and phone lines, it would have been no surprise to hear that the Sikh community was violently outraged about what happened. But they weren’t. They chose love, and community, over vengeance and harm. It seems that because of their unique American experience and commitment to their values of universal love and compassion, Sikhs in America are teaching the rest of us what grace looks like and how to create what MLK Jr. called the “Beloved Community”.

I’ve heard some of my Sikh friends express sadness over this incident and offer prayers for the victims and those involved. But they all, without fail, extend their prayers to the family of the gunman, saying “because it really must be difficult for them as well, and they are also victims here, too.” This isn’t just a Sikh tragedy. It is really an American tragedy.

Not just because of the loss of life, but because of the loss of willingness to have an open conversation about the deeper problem. We as Americans need to be talking not just about what occurred, but also about the deeper questions of racism, religious illiteracy and our skewed understanding of what terrorism is. Since 9/11, there have been over three-hundred home-grown terrorist attacks against Americans, many of which target peaceful religious groups like Sikh Americans. As Steve Coll of the New Yorker recently said, “A pattern of terrorism that is repetitive, rising in ambition, and neglected by the public can signal a coming strategic surprise—this was true of Al Qaeda during the late nineteen-nineties, and it looks to be true of domestic racist terrorism today.”

Why aren’t we talking about this, and why aren’t our leaders taking notice? While both presidential candidates offered their condolences to the victims and victims’s families, neither halted their campaigns like they did last month during the shooting at the theatre in Colorado, nor did they speak out about any of these issues regarding gun control, mental health, racism, domestic terrorism, or even the systematic polarization of American society along lines of class, religion and race. If we are going to make terrorism, religious intolerance and racism things of the past, then we as Americans need to be willing to come to the table and have difficult conversations. The beauty of this approach is that it is exactly that has made our country better in the past. It will continue to work if we are willing to pull up a seat.

I don’t have a solution to the violence that seems to be crippling our society, but I do know that coming together in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding is a start. Perhaps we can take a cue from our Sikh brothers and sisters and be more compassionate and willing to have difficult conversations surrounding faith in the public square. We as Americans need to recognize that there is more to be done in our communities. We need to meet our neighbors. We need to grow to understand and appreciate those who are marginalized in our area. And we need to seek positive compassionate solutions to the problems that plague our communities. This approach has served Americans well in the past, whether they were Sikhs attacked in Wisconsin or marching arm-in-arm in Selma trying to heal with a radical love. And we don’t need to go to Atlanta to see this happen.

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Tragic Events Remind Us of Need for Interfaith Understanding

Though we dream of a day when we will all accept one another across faith lines, celebrate our diversity, and join together in respect to make the world a better place for our children – all of our children, I doubt that any of us dedicated to the interfaith movement imagine that we will become unnecessary anytime soon.

Neither do we imagine that, however dedicated we are, we can stop all extremism and violence.

But the past twenty-four hours have been a sobering reminder of how much we still need to do to realize our vision of harmony.

The shocking violence of the shootings at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI, is the latest in acts of hatred directed to this most peaceful and service-directed community of faith.  The first murder after 9/11 was of a Sikh man mistakenly taken for a Muslim because of his turban.  That violence be directed to all Muslims as a reaction to the violence of extremists on 9/11 is sad enough.  But to persecute Sikhs, mistaking them for Muslims, is a blatant example of religious ignorance.

I noted a small example of this religious illiteracy when a CNN reporter [I won’t name him] mispronounced the word Sikh several times as sheek until he was perhaps corrected by his compere during a commercial break.

Later in the same broadcast, Don Lemon spoke with Rajwant Singh about the shootings and encouraged him to share some facts about the Sikh religion.  In our local paper, there was an AP press chart of factoids about the Sikh faith.  The Huffington Post has two videos about Sikhs – Sikhs in America: What You Need To Know About The World’s Fifth-Largest Religion and Sikhism: 5 Things To Know About The Sikh Religion.  I am sure these are just a few of the many examples.  It is perhaps one small blessing to follow tragedy, if we can educate ourselves as we struggle to respond to the horror of this event.

Almost as disturbing as the shootings themselves, Fred Phelps, leader of the infamous Westboro ‘Baptist’ ‘Church’, tweeted almost immediately “Beautiful work of an angry God who told Wisconsin to keep their filthy hands off his people (WBC)!”  I cannot even find words to respond.

Unfortunately within the same twenty-four hour period, a mosque in southwest Missouri burned to the ground. It is the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month.  This time the mosque was totally destroyed.

It would be easy to be discouraged by the enormity of these tragic events.  Fortunately, there has been an outpouring of support for the victims from many faith groups and individuals.  I hope that this support speaks comfort to the hearts of those who are mourning.

I hope that all of us in the NAIN community of interfaith friends will wrap the victims in prayer, meditation, and compassion.

It is also a call to action – we must all be reminded to continue steadfastly in our work towards peace and understanding.

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NAIN Response to the tragic shootings in Wisconsin

The North American Interfaith Network expresses its compassionate concern to all injured and to those suffering loss as a result of this unconscionable event.

Rob Hankinson, Chair
North American Interfaith Network

David Dalley posted a question on Facebook in response to my post asking that we wrap the Sikh community in prayer: “Is anyone out there planning any interfaith events around this? Peace prayers? Some way of standing in solidarity with our Sikh brothers and sisters? We are exploring doing something in Surrey, BC where we have a very large Sikh community. I’m curious to hear what others are doing.”

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NAINConnect 2013 – Call for Proposals!

The NAINConnect 2013 Toronto planning team has already sent out a Call for Proposals.  So if you have important ideas to share, please access the call here.

NAINConnect 2013 Planning Team at Connect 2012

NAINConnect 2013 Planning Team at Connect 2012

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This broadcast contains interviews from NAINConnect 2012

You may want to listen to these interviews from NAINConnect 2012 in Atlanta.

Open Minds Open Hearts – Radio with a Purpose. 07/23 by Scott Lindquist | Blog Talk Radio.

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Save the Date – Toronto Connect 2013!

NAINConnect 2013 in Toronto

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