Living together, faithfully

Interfaith residential community at Stony Point to focus on nonviolence

October 27, 2009

STONY POINT, N.Y.

Dozens of old friends and former directors of the Stony Point Center gathered here Oct. 17-18 for a 60th anniversary and homecoming celebration of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related conference facility.

But the weekend gathering wasn’t all about looking back.

Co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase — who arrived at the financially troubled center in August 2008 — outlined plans for the “fifth generation” of Stony Point, designed to revitalize the storied center just north of New York City.

A centerpiece of the new Stony Point is the Community of Living Traditions — an interfaith intentional community dedicated to nonviolence and peacemaking. For at least five years, Christians, Muslims and Jews will live together at Stony Point, working, worshipping and learning together side by side.

Residents will move into the three houses that will comprise the community in January, said Kitty Ufford-Chase.

“We’ve asked them to do a very different thing,” Rick Ufford-Chase said. “You may not have noticed, but Stony Point is a very Presbyterian place,” he joked.

But Stony Point has also long been a place willing to push boundaries, he said, adding that there is both anxiety and excitement about the changes.

The Community of Living Traditions will offer workshops, camps and internships focusing on interfaith traditions and nonviolence.

Leaders of the Jewish and Muslim leaders of the new community spoke to those who attended the homecoming and anniversary celebration.  

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Gottlieb is a founder of the Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence, a group committed to nonviolence based on Jewish principles of religious engagement. The organization also provides educational and liturgical resources and conducts workshops and retreats. 

Stony Point is a shelter for peace in the world, Gottlieb said, adding that she hopes the community will bring acculturation “in which people can live with all the tensions which come from being different.”

The “radical hospitality” that is a key part of Stony Point is known in the Jewish tradition as the welcoming of guests, Gottlieb said. To be truly welcoming in the context of nonviolence, people must be aware of the systems of power in the world, she said, and where they stand or the role they play in such systems.

For Gottlieb, being Jewish brings acute awareness. “As a Jewish person, we grow up knowing we’re a minority,” she said. “We grow up in a Christian world.” 

Wherever she goes, she knows she will have Jewish brothers and sisters, just as people of other faiths have their own “world communities,” Gottlieb explained.

Jews carry the wounds of the Holocaust and other world events with them today, Gottlieb said. Sometimes wounds can make people afraid and leave them wondering how to heal. But such healing is necessary, she said.

“If we don’t heal our wounds — all of us — we’re in danger of perpetuating them,” she said.

In 1966, Gottlieb traveled to Israel, where she met survivors of the Holocaust. While there, she also met German youths who were trying to heal the wounds in their own hearts. They were the children of a society that murdered millions, she said, and were trying to figure out to make it better by building relationships with Israelis.

During the same trip, the teenage Gottlieb met and talked with Palestinians. She realized that in looking for a home, her people had pushed Palestinians out of theirs.

Her interactions with these three wounded groups brought Gottlieb to a realization that “I wanted to figure out how to make peace in the world,” she said, adding that it’s easier said than done. “Once you step on this journey, it’s a lifelong journey.”

To heal a wound, one must first understand it, Gottlieb said. People must live with their differences and go to the hardest places, the deepest wounds. The community at Stony Point will provide a space for that and will also allow people to raise questions.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to create a healing resource that will have reverberations that we can’t even imagine,” she said. “It’s going to be a long and beautiful and surprising road, and I’m excited to be walking on it with you.”

Rabia Harris

Harris is the founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, the first Muslim organization specifically devoted to the theory and practice of Islamic nonviolence. On its Web site, the group is described as “part membership group, part think tank, and part movement builder.”

Nonviolence is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language and one of the most misunderstood ideas in the world, Harris said. This is not surprising, as there are two meanings to nonviolence.

The first is the life decision to live in harmony with creation, to live without domination. In Arabic, the word for this is Islam.

The second is the method of pursing necessary social change by relying on the real, long-term power of justice, she said. The Arabic word for this is jihad.

The goal of all religions is to make a world worth living in for everyone, Harris said, no matter how impossible it might seem.

The Muslim Peace Fellowship holds that nonviolence is the message of all religious traditions, a message that has been carried by all the messengers of God, Harris said, each in the flavor of the messenger.

Mohammad was a master of nonviolence, Harris said. His message had three characteristics: absolute servanthood, all-encompassing perfection and the preference for God’s preference.

What is called fighting for Islam is too often merely fighting for power and vengeance, Harris said. But true Jihad is about human dignity, not factions and groups. Jihad means fighting, she said, but Islam believes violent means are abominable even if the intent is noble.

The Muslim Peace Fellowship views all modern weapons as weapons of mass destruction, and therefore as religiously unlawful, Harris said. Only one form of fighting is religiously lawful — unarmed struggle.

“If we long for the end of injustice so that peace may come, we will be waiting for a long time,” Harris said. “If we find peace, we will be able to make peace.”

Harris is excited about the community at Stony Point. Living together “is more than worth trying,” she said.

“Although the world cannot be perfect, there is nothing to prevent it from being better than it is,” she said. “Whoever serves peace serves God.”

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