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A prophet of peace in a time of war

Gandhi urges speeding up the process of trying to end world strife
by: Cliff Newell, 
Arun Gandhi and the Rev. Victoria Etchemendy display bookbags now being sold by farmers in India. Due to globalization policies that have destroyed the value of their land, farmers are committing suicide at a rate of 15 to 20 a day. Gandhi’s organization is teaching them to spin and weave to help them survive.

Arun Gandhi wants people to look at what unites them, not what divides them.

Gandhi, the founder of the Institute for Nonviolence, gave that simple, heartfelt message at his appearance at Marylhurst University on Sunday as keynote speaker for 'A Day For Peace,' sponsored by Unity World Healing Center.

Speaking to a capacity audience in St. Anne's Chapel, Gandhi said, 'It is time to speed up and become more inclusive. We need an open, friendly study and take what good that is in other religions and absorb it into our own. This doesn't mean you have to give up your own religion.'

Gandhi urged the audience to not just tolerate but respect persons of different religions, citing the saying of his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi.

'My grandfather said the mind is a room with many windows,' Gandhi said. 'Let us have open minds and seek to understand each other.

'We are not independent, we are interdependent and interconnected. That is why we are here on earth. We're here not just to exist but to have an impact. We must continue to strive to improve ourselves and the world.'

Such belief is subject to criticism that it is merely idealistic futility. Yet Gandhi provided a vivid example how peace really can work if it is given a chance.

Gandhi was living in Memphis, Tenn., in 1992, a time when it was roiling from two traumatic events: the Rodney King-related riots in Los Angeles and an ugly incident right in Memphis in which a police officer shot a baby being held by a criminal suspect. This so angered the city's African-American community that Memphis appeared to be on the verge of exploding into a Los Angeles-like situation.

'I asked myself what grandfather would have done,' Gandhi said. 'He would have held a prayer meeting to reveal the answer.'

With Gandhi leading the way, a meeting was held on a college soccer field in which more than 700 people representing 37 religious faiths gathered together. Everyone got to pray for five minutes.

'Strangers told me that was what kept Memphis from exploding,' Gandhi said.

Such an active solution to achieving peace was the subject of an interfaith panel discussion following Gandhi's presentation.

As beneficial as such events are, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield of Portland said, 'They're like preaching to the choir. I've seen many of the faces here before. I've heard all of these stories before. How do we take action? How do we bring our truths together?'

To Kyogen Carlson, abbot of Dharma Rain Zen Center, boldness and plain hard work are the answers.

'You need to be in situations where your palms sweat,' he said. 'You have to have kind of a fierceness about it. You will find it very, very rewarding to find the courage and go into it.

'Peacemaking should hurt a little bit. It should not be easy.'

'A Day For Peace' was the first event of its kind for Unity World Healing Center, and the day marked a milestone for the church. The Rev. Victoria Etchemendy announced the church would be purchasing property just down the road from Marylhurst University, which will be the beginning of an ambitious new phase of ministry.

Of Gandhi, Etchemendy said, 'I've made a connection at the heart with this wonderful man. He brings an energy of peacekeeping that none of us has ever experienced.'