January 8, 2015

'The members of Hizmet work God into their lives; they put love and kindness and decency heroically.'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 26 (Full text)

My name is Ken Hunter. I go by the name of “Buzz” for most of my friends. I've been fortunate enough to have been friends with people from the Hizmet Movement for 11 years.

I met them in September of 2003, and it's the beginning of a relationship I am proud to be a part of.

I met members of Hizmet when I was beginning my tenure as principal of a Chicago public high school, a school on the near northwest side of Chicago, Prosser Career Academy.

I was checking through my emails, and I had received one, and all the principals in Chicago had received an email, inviting us to attend a performance of the Whirling Dervishes.

And my background's in theology, and I went, “this is really kind of cool, I'd love to go see the Dervishes,” so I replied. As it turned out, I was the only principal who did reply.

And when I arrived at the Chicago Theatre, there was a gentleman named Kamaal who handed me tickets, and one of my social studies teachers came with, and another associate.

We went in, the Dervishes performed for forty-five minutes. I saw Kamaal on the way out, I thanked him, it was terrific, and went back the next morning, that was a Wednesday night, went back the next morning, shared with members of my faculty, in particular my social studies and English departments, what I'd seen and how great it was, and Saturday, which was my habit, we would open the school and I would be in there doing work, and working with students.

Two gentlemen came to my office. One I had met on Wednesday night, Kamaal, and then another gentleman, Saleem, came into my office, and we talked for about an hour.

We talked, and then I called home, after they left.. And I said, “I'm not really sure, exactly, what these two gentlemen were about, but,” I said, “I just met two men who were holy.”

And I believed that then, and in the eleven years I've gotten to know Hizmet through my relationship with Niagara Foundation, I continue to believe that those two gentlemen, and everything involved with Niagara, is holy. And it impresses me.

I have a young fellow teacher, friend of mine, we're in a really good friendship, and he said to me, “I love the way God works in my life.” And I said, “John,” I said, “what you need to know is, I love the way you work God into your life.” And he said, “what do you mean?” I said, “you put God into play, and I am just in awe of that.”

What I have found over the eleven years of my friendship with Niagara and Hizmet is they work God into the world.

God is obviously doing what God does. But what I've found with Niagara and the folks who are imbued with the spirit of Hizmet, they go out of their way to bring that Godness into the world, and I'm continuously, and continually, impressed by the way in which they do that, and manifest love in the world.

When I met Niagara, what was so impressive to me, and the folks from Hizmet, is they reached out.

They reached out not only to me, they reached out to all the principals in Chicago public schools, and I thought that was really courageous, and I thought it was really smart, and what I've seen over the years, Niagara and Hizmet are continuously interested in having dialog, and dealing with interfaith, interculture.

And I find that, again, to be a very brave position. They want to know. They're not happy with being isolated.

John Dewey said nothing exists in isolation. Niagara and Hizmet are living proof that they are something, for they do not want to be isolated. They want to connect, they want to make things happen, and I find that to be just absolutely wonderful. What I found with Niagara is they reached out to me and asked for nothing. They asked for nothing.

And what's happened is we've gotten to be friends, and when you deal from that point of view. I would go out and talk to teachers, I would go out, or prospective teachers, and one of the things we would talk about, and one of the things I would present was, it's very, very hard to get what they call “teacher burnout” if you understand what the ministry is of teaching, and teaching is all about loving other people.

You're looking to them to do for them, be for them. What I found with Niagara and everything they do with interfaith, it's all about what they wish to do for and with you.

They ask for nothing in return. C. S. Lewis calls that “agape,” and I find that to be the real love that matters.

So when you look at interfaith and you look at dialog, dialog enhances not only the person who reaches out, but it also enhances the person who is reached out to.

They become one. There's like a new creation that occurs. John Dewey, in Experience and Nature, talks about communication being wondrous, because what it does is it creates two things at the same time.

I find that dialog does the same thing. It creates on one side the person who reaches, and it creates on the other side the person who is reached. Because in the end, they're both reaching for each other.

And I can't think of anything more important that we need to do with human beings. I can't think of anything more miraculous for human beings to do than to reach out to each other, fearlessly, courageously, bravely, and to get to know one another.

To move through this unknowing, to move through this interpersonal abyss, into harmony with one another.

People might want to criticize that from the point of view, that kind of activity, you need to take care of your own values, you need to stay strong and stay isolated, and, well, I understand that, but that kind of protection, really does not serve me well, and I don't really think it serves the world well.

I think that this stepping out of our comfort zone, to be with each other, is really the most important thing, because we benefit. And we don't lose ourselves. We become ourselves. We become better selves. And we become richer selves.

One of the pillars of the education that's part of the Hizmet Movement is a commitment to service, and what I've seen, it's not just service for students and schools, it's service to the world.

“Education” comes from the root word “educare,” which means “to lead out.” And it's about freedom, and one of the things that education is supposed to do in America is to free us from poverty.

When I was a student in high school, Lyndon Johnson was President, we had a war on poverty. There was a commission that was headed by one of the governors of Illinois, that said poverty is a social disease, and it has symptoms that impact the lives of the people who are affected by poverty.

I believed that to be true then, I believe it to be true now. I believe the eradication of poverty is most important. I look at what happens with test scores, I look at what happens with achievement, I look at happens with levels of aspiration for young people who are impacted by poverty, and it certainly sets a very low ceiling for them.

It certainly routes them in particular ways, and it certainly does things to their development, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, physically, it does all that.

So the eradication of poverty, which is something I've come to know in the Hizmet Movement, and Kimse Yok Mu, where, Kimse Yok Mu is a movement that says “is there anybody out there?” I believe that's the translation of it in Turkish, it's about coming out and moving people into situations where they can help to eradicate poverty.

And it's not just putting money there, although that's important. You know, people want to say, “you can't throw money at a problem,” well, you should, from time to time. You just shouldn't throw it, but you should direct the money.

It was a professor of mine, a fellow named Larry Hutchins, he said, “if you direct money at things, and you do it purposefully, you can make a whole lot of difference in the world.”

What I found from my encounters with the members of Hizmet, they certainly put their money where their mouths are, but most importantly, they put themselves where the money's going.

They go off to Somalia, they, they're in Iraq, they're going places that, not in the Michelin Guide.

They go to places that are very, very dangerous places, and put themselves, just like I was telling my friend John, they put God into the world. They work God into their lives. They put God into play.

And they put love and kindness and decency, and they do it heroically.

**Profile: Kenneth Hunter is the Principal of the Prosser Career Academy High School. He studied theology at Chicago Loyola University and taught world religions in high schools. He served as the chairperson of Illinois State Board of Education Language Arts Assessment Advisory Council (2002-2012). He is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago.

*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 26), © Spectra Media, 08 May 2014, Thursday