December 31, 2014

'I admire Fethullah Gulen’s vision of a world that’s different from the one we have'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 24 (Full text)

My name is Budd Friend Jones. I’m the senior minister at the 1st Congregational Church of Crystal Lake, which is a suburb of Chicago.

I’ve been there since 2006 and I’ve been an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ for 43 years.

I’ve been involved in interfaith work pretty much since 2001.

In 2001, at September 11, I was on sabbatical and I had just returned when the planes crashed into the towers. A number of us felt the need to get together in Atlanta for prayer; our hearts were broken by what was happening and we realized that we didn’t know any Muslims.

We were Jews, we were blacks, we were whites, we were Hispanics, but we didn’t know Muslims.

In 2006 I moved here to Chicago and started my work in Crystal Lake. When the Executive Director of the Niagara Foundation—and I had never heard of the Niagara Foundation—the Executive Director Kemal Bey called me on the phone said, would I like for him to be my neighbor. I didn’t understand this, but he said—it was January—and he said that they wanted to bring us pudding, Noah’s Pudding, and I didn’t know about this custom but I said, well.. sure, we’d be happy to do that. And he said, how many are you, and I said, well, there are probably going to be 400 people in our worship service on a January day so… He said, no problem, we’ll bring you 400 bowls of pudding. I was surprised, and on the coldest day of the year when the temperatures were well below zero and everybody was freezing, couple of cars drive up with hundreds of bowls of Noah’s pudding. And they explained to us what this was about; this whole idea of neighborliness and of sharing with each other and of being together. They came into our worship service and they noticed that in our hymnal we had the 99 names, the sacred names in one of the pages of our hymnal. It just happened to open to that page on that day; we wouldn’t necessarily do that every day. But, it was a very nice moment of connection and out of that grew the most wonderful partnership.

When I was in Atlanta, and active in interfaith and working with Istanbul center I had no idea who Fethullah Gulen is or what Hizmet is. This was something that I would come to know later, not something that.. they didn’t have signs everywhere saying ‘This is who we are.’

But the people of Istanbul Center and of Niagara and I’ve found also in other cities I’ve visited, in Salt Lake city for example, there’s a certain characteristic of people who have been influenced by Fethullah Gulen that is incredibly beautiful.

There’s a serenity and a peacefulness and a dedication, a generosity of spirit. It’s what we would hope Christians would be like at our best, if we practiced our faith as much as we teach it.

There’s always this great hospitality, the sense of welcome, the sense of wanting to be of service to others.

I learned more about it when I came to Chicago and when I went to Turkey with a group from the Niagara Foundation and got to visit people in their homes, professionals and non-professionals in their homes, who went out of their way to cook food for us and welcome us and just embrace us.

And we went to the Writer’s Foundation in Istanbul.

I remember we were led by a young man named Hakan Bey who was teaching us all along as we went along and we ran into something called Kimse Yok Mu, meaning something like ‘Is There Anybody There?’, and it was an outreach movement of the Gulen Movement, of Hizmet.

Hakan Bey gave us a little speech and he said, ‘If you give the first, I think it’s called, zakat 2.5 % of your income, of your net worth, per year, that’s not your money, he said, that God’s money and that belongs to God and so you give it to him. You don’t expect any credit for that or anything else. That’s God’s money and you return it. If you give over the 2.5% then you’re beginning to be generous. And I thought, ‘What a marvelous stewardship sermon that would be for me to give in my church.’

We do expect a certain percentage too, but we rarely get it. And then to say that generosity doesn’t begin at zero, it begins after you’ve given what God already expects, was a marvelous learning experience for me.

I am so impressed with the kind of work that’s done by Hizmet around the world, where there is pain.

In the Christian faith, Jesus said, ‘It’s by their fruit you will know them.’ And I look at the Gulen Movement and at the fruit it has produced and I think it’s really a remarkable organization worldwide.

Now, a lot of us look at it and say, how did this happen? This is a worldwide organization…

This is an organization.. or it’s not an organization.. I mean that’s the… it doesn’t have an organizational structure; there’s no corporate chart, so it’s a little bit hard to understand how all of these “organizations” around the world are connected. We don’t understand that, we look at it.. but it’s very impressive. Publishers, for example; some of the most beautiful art books in the world are published by Gulen publishers. Education. Schools. How many schools? Hundreds and hundreds of schools in America, in Europe, in Japan, in Africa, schools… And not just schools but the best schools.. and really reaching for excellence in education and accomplishment.

And I understand, also schools for girls in tribal areas where that is not always welcomed or expected, taking that extra step to make sure that young women receive the tools that they will need for their empowerment and for their living full lives. That’s impressive and risky, I think, to see that happen.

So, the Hizmet Movement seems to me to be about creating or envisioning a new world where people will be together in fellowship.

Certainly interfaith dialogue is at the heart of this movement.

We’ve seen that in every setting.

When I was in Salt Lake City, who do you think succeeded in getting the Mormons to open their most holy temple to the interfaith community? But I think it was certainly with help from the Gulen people who helped that to happen.

They have ways of, through their kindness, through their love, through their intrinsic goodness of opening hearts… and when hearts open, doors open and things begin to happen. I think that, generally speaking, what I see worldwide and in this country, is very benign and good and worth supporting.

For all my interaction with Niagara Foundation and Istanbul Center and other Gulen organizations, I have never met, had an opportunity to meet Fethullah Gulen in person, and I may never have that opportunity. I have read some of his work and I very much appreciate his writing.

I appreciate that he’s an Islamic thinker who spoke out after the attacks on September 11, immediately.

And, in our country, for years after September 11 people kept saying, ‘why aren’t the Muslims speaking up’, and he did speak up but he wasn’t broadcast. He didn’t have the microphone in his mouth, so to speak.

And I always regretted that because he was one who did.

I admire his vision of a world that’s different from the one we have, and I know that when the century was changing and we were moving into a new millennium he had the most beautiful speech about, in the new millennium we would be, inevitably, moving toward cooperation and dialogue, and that the world was moving beyond the kind of conflict between religions that we had had before.

At the same time, I was working on the decade to overcome violence for the World Council of Churches and that was our dream too.

Little did we realize that 14 years later the world would have descended into such violence as we see today, and he too. It must break his heart to see what’s happening around the world.

It would be my hope to see Fethullah Gulen while he is still vital and active and influencing the world, to have an opportunity to hook up with the new Roman Catholic Pope, Pope Francis, because, I think, in some ways, their world views are very similar. I would like to see them joined by the Dalai Lama, who himself is getting older and is not as vital as he used to be but still very much committed to a world of compassion and dialogue.

I think these three people and maybe some of the other wisdom traditions from Africa, from the indigenous Americans, from indigenous peoples in Australia, other peoples, could come together and maybe form a... give us the Council or the Wisdom of the Elders at this point, for the world… tell the world, speak to us and invite us to change our ways because we’re headed down a path of mutual destruction and we don’t need to be, and that seems to be where he is.

**Profile: Gilbert Friend Jones is the Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church of Chrystal Lake, IL. He serves as a board member of North American Interfaith Network. He finished Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary and his Doctorate of Ministry in Religion at Howard University School of Divinity, Washington.

*Produced by Spectra Media exclusively for Irmak TV, Atlas of Thoughts (Fikir Atlasi) connects the scholars, politicians, jurists, religious figures, journalists, and academics reflecting on Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement with the audience. Each episode features a person from a different segment of the society with diverse experiences regarding the Hizmet activities and its volunteers. If you are interested to hear about the Hizmet and Mr. Gulen from these people’s perspectives, do not miss this show!
Source: Fikir Atlasi (Episode 24), © Spectra Media, 06 May 2014, Tuesday

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