Virunga — Nobility and heroism in the struggle for peace and justice

Film:Virunga Movie Poster

Virunga, 2014

Synopsis (from the official website):

VIRUNGA IS THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF A GROUP OF BRAVE PEOPLE RISKING THEIR LIVES TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE IN A PART OF AFRICA THE WORLD’S FORGOTTEN AND A GRIPPING EXPOSE OF THE REALITIES OF LIFE IN THE CONGO.

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth and home to the planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas. In this wild, but enchanted environment, a small and embattled team of park rangers – including an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a caretaker of orphan gorillas and a dedicated conservationist – protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources. When the newly formed M23 rebel group declares war, a new conflict threatens the lives and stability of everyone and everything they’ve worked so hard to protect, with the filmmakers and the film’s participants caught in the crossfire.

A powerful combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary, VIRUNGA is the incredible true story of a group of courageous people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world’s forgotten, and a gripping exposé of the realities of life in the Congo.

From director Orlando von Einsiedel and executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio.

My Thoughts:

My first thought is if you have not seen this film, please go watch it.  It is a beautiful documentary that combines investigative journalism with stunning imagery and deserves every award it has won.  I am very thankful to a friend for recommending it to me.

The thing that really struck me about this film was how it was able to show the nobility of the Virunga Park Rangers in both large and small moments.  These people face incredible adversity and over 100 have died in their struggle to protect this park, which is a beacon of hope in a violent and corrupt region with a complex history.  They face bribes, death threats, and ambushes on a daily basis from all sides, even from supposed allies, and yet continue to do their job to enforce the law and protect this World Heritage Site.  They put not just themselves but their families at risk in the effort to resist corruption and maintain order.

The entire time I was watching I kept thinking about the Hidden Words, and how the rangers/journalists and the rebels/business interests seemed to exemplify to two opposite poles of the nobility we should strive for and the abasement we bring upon ourselves:

O SON OF SPIRIT!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

O SON OF SPIRIT!

The bird seeketh its nest; the nightingale the charm of the rose; whilst those birds, the hearts of men, content with transient dust, have strayed far from their eternal nest, and with eyes turned towards the slough of heedlessness are bereft of the glory of the divine presence. Alas! How strange and pitiful; for a mere cupful, they have turned away from the billowing seas of the Most High, and remained far from the most effulgent horizon.

O SON OF SPIRIT!
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

There were moments that simply touched my heart while watching this film, moments that showed you just why the Rangers were doing what they were doing.  The 800 or so remaining gorillas have their own nobility.  They too have families and they too react with fear to the sound of shelling as the rebels set off bombs.  Some poachers strive to kill gorillas not even for profit but simply because they think that if all the gorillas are gone then there will be no reason to protect the park any more and they can plunder the resources there.  These animals showed traits that we share, such as kindness and grief at the loss of loved ones.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”—Malcolm S. Forbes.

But it isn’t just the gorillas who benefit from the park, but the people in the region.  The tourism generated from the park helps provide a positive source of income, which is unfortunately disrupted by the militants in the region.  Additionally there are people who live within the park who live off of sustainable subsistence fishing from the lake, which they have done since before colonization.  If the oil drilling in the lake commences, their whole way of life will be destroyed, and while SOCO has offered them money, they too aren’t in it for the money but instead want to continue living in harmony with the park around them in a way that allows both themselves and the endangered wildlife to thrive.  Unfortunately these advocates have been forced to evacuate due to the violence the rebels have brought.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”—Edmund Burke

So rather than doing nothing, what can we do to assist the triumph of justice over injustice in Virunga?  Watching the film is a great first step.  It is streaming on NetFlix right now.  Going to the website is a great second step.  There they outline several action steps, from getting the word out, to donating to the Park, to checking your investments to make sure your portfolio does not support companies like SOCO, which profit from the regional instability and are looking to plunder the park.

I am thankful for those who strive to practice their inherent nobility and rise to make the right and ethical choice in the face of both economic incentive and violent threats to do otherwise.  I am also thankful that I have never been put in a position to have to make such choices myself so directly, but hope that if ever I were, I would also honor the nobility within me and not abase myself.  My thoughts and prayers go to the Rangers who have lost their lives protecting justice and their families.

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The Humble Earth

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory….
(Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Wilmette, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988, p. 44)

Blog Action Day — Water!!! Blue Gold

Film:

Blue Gold: World Water Wars, 2008

Synopsis (from the film’s homepage):

In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.

Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.

We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?

My Thoughts:

In the whole world there is nothing softer and weaker than water.

And yet nothing measures up to it

In the way it works upon that which is hard.

Nothing can change it.

Everyone on earth knows

That the weak conquers the strong

And the soft conquers the hard —

But no one is capable of acting accordingly.

~Tao Te Ching, II:68

Watch this film now.  It is available on Netflix Instant, through iTunes, or Amazon On Demand.   Humans need fresh water.  Without it we will die.  Yet water is increasingly being treated as a commodity, privatized, and being controlled by water cartels.  Why are we giving away water only to have it sold back to us?  We are using our groundwater faster than we can replace it.  It takes 24 gallons to make one microchip.  117 gallons to make a banana.  This is a global problem.  It’s effecting agriculture, development, global warming. There are corporations that make money cleaning up pollution and therefore don’t want to prevent it.

This is an ethical, moral, and social problem.  Until we recognize that we are a united world, that water unites us but as it becomes scarce if we don’t work together we will end up fighting.  Already water scarcity has effected the West Bank issue.  It’s effected the relationship between Egypt and Sudan. And in Bolivia and in Tamil Nadu… yet often these resource wars are presented as religious or ethnic wars. (To see a map of water conflicts click here)

Everyone needs water and water is central to life, regardless of race or faith.  The hydrological cycle connects us all.  There are reasons that throughout the Holy Writings of every religion that water is used as a spiritual metaphor due to its power in this world.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.   ~ John 3:5

When in the Gospels, Christ speaks of ‘water’, He means that which causes life, for without water no worldly creature can live—mineral, vegetable, animal and man, one and all, depend upon water for their very being.  ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

O servants! Ye are even as saplings in a garden, which are near to perishing for want of water. Wherefore, revive your souls with the heavenly water that is raining down from the clouds of divine bounty. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world ~ The Buddha

We need to come together to solve this water problem by recognizing each others humanity.  In order to become ‘unsoiled’ we must work together, live more sustainably, and overcome the greed that leads to abuse of water use.  Please meditate on what you can do and the choices you can make to help us deal with the growing problem of water.

500 Mountains — Greed vs. Responsibility

My friend Bryan created this music video to promote environmental responsibility and raise knowledge of a problem.  I would like to share it with you here.

Here is an email he sent to give it some context.  I hope you take a moment to watch the video and read about Mountaintop Removal.  Thank you!

Hi everyone.


Today, I am happy to share with you a music video I’ve wanted to make for over a year.  Last Spring, after learning about a destructive form of coal mining called “Mountaintop Removal (MTR),” I composed a song called “500 Mountains” to draw attention to the 500+ mountains that have been destroyed in West Virginia and surrounding States.  This process has resulted in thousands of miles of streams being buried, the pollution of the drinking water of millions, floods of coal slurry (water + coal waste) poisoning communities and the flattening of some of our nation’s most biologically diverse land, a size the equivalent of Delaware.

I first heard about mountaintop removal through my cousin, who lived in West Virginia for many months and witnessed first hand what MTR is doing to our country.  It went from being an issue I’ve never heard of to an issue at the forefront of my mind.  That’s why I am so grateful to be able to share this with you today.  Through word of mouth, social networking and email, this issue can receive the urgent awareness and attention it desperately needs.

To view this short 2 minute film / music video, please go to www.youtube.com/bryanwebermusic or click here.  This will give you a powerful visual introduction to mountaintop removal.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue and find out how you can break your State’s connection to mountaintop removal coal, please visit:  www.ilovemountains.org

Thank you for taking the time to watch my video and learn more about this important cause.

Please forward on to family and friends and share anyway you can.

Regards,

Bryan
Montclair, NJ


What is mountaintop removal? According to EarthJustice.org, Mountaintop removal coal mining, is an extremely destructive form of mining that is devastating Appalachia. Coal companies first raze an entire mountainside, ripping trees from the ground and clearing brush with huge tractors. This debris is then set ablaze as deep holes are dug for explosives. An explosive is poured into these holes and mountaintops are literally blown apart. In the past few decades, over 2,000 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried and destroyed. An area the size of Delaware has been flattened. Local coal field communities routinely face devastating floods and adverse health effects. Natural habitats in some our country’s oldest forests are laid to waste.”

Repost: Avatar – Some Bahai Thoughts

I read this post on a friend’s blog and thought it was so good you all might enjoy it!  So here is my first repost.  From now on if I see posts from other blogs that talk about films and spiritual themes I will try to bring them to your attention.  Without further ado:

Avatar: Some Baha’i Thoughts


At long last, the film “Avatar” has arrived. From the critical acclaim this movie is generating it would seem that the cinematic equivalent of the Second Coming has taken place. I personally have long had an immunity to hype, so am looking forward to what will at best be a good movie and at worst a chance to sit in the dark and eat Sour Patch Kids and popcorn. Part of what makes me excited about “Avatar” is the possibility it might offer a glimpse of what a really good “John Carter of Mars” movie could look like (that’s the movie I’m waiting for!).

In addition to the discussion of its special effects wonders, “Avatar” has prompted some interesting cultural commentary. Two of the more interesting I’ve read are by Ross Douthat of the New York Times and Reihan Salam of Forbes.com. Douthat comments on the theological dimensions of the film:

“Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi.

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.” (Read the whole thing here)

Salam critiques “Avatar” for it’s take on capitalism and modernization:

“After thousands of years of ignorance and stagnation, a kind of miracle happened that radically transformed humanity’s relationship to the wider world. This explosion of wealth has been periodically interrupted by war and famine, yet it has never been fully undone. And though it has involved serious downsides, the prospect of returning to a primeval state strikes most of us as insane. Modern life can be exhausting and even demeaning. It is, however, preferable to spending most of one’s waking moments foraging and hunting in a desperate struggle for survival.

Or is it? That is the question James Cameron asks in his brilliant science-fiction epic Avatar. The villains of Avatar are, well, you and me. Rapacious humans from an environmentally devastated Earth have arrived on an alien moon called Pandora in search of a precious resource called “unobtainium.” The only hiccup is that the richest source of unobtainium lies beneath the habitat of the Na’vi, a race of long-limbed humanoids who live in blissful harmony with their environment. So naturally the humans, being ruthless and acquisitive by nature, decide that corporate profits matter more than the lives of the Na’vi, and they launch a brutal military assault that, as you can no doubt guess, ends in tragedy. Throughout the film, the Na’vi are portrayed as superior to the humans. The irony of Avatar is that Cameron has made a dazzling, gorgeous indictment of the kind of society that produces James Camerons.(Read the whole thing here)

Reading these columns got me thinking about a few things. First, my impression of the Baha’i Faith is that it does not support the notion that material progress, whether scientific, technological or economic is antithetical to spirituality. Materialism is not the inevitable outcome of modernization and a return to some kind of pre-industrial, back-to-nature, edenic utopia (if this were even possible) is not the answer to humanity’s current problems. It is in finding the balance between the spiritual and material, the practical and the metaphysical that we can save our souls and our planet.

“Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised from the heights of the happiness of mankind, awakening the slumbering, granting sight to the blind, causing the heedless to become mindful, bestowing hearing upon the deaf, unloosing the tongue of the mute and resuscitating the dead.

The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.

The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.

This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like unto a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its penetrative power is the Word of God.

However, until material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained. For although, on the one hand, material achievements and the development of the physical world produce prosperity, which exquisitely manifests its intended aims, on the other hand dangers, severe calamities and violent afflictions are imminent.

Consequently, when thou lookest at the orderly pattern of kingdoms, cities and villages, with the attractiveness of their adornments, the freshness of their natural resources, the refinement of their appliances, the ease of their means of travel, the extent of knowledge available about the world of nature, the great inventions, the colossal enterprises, the noble discoveries and scientific researches, thou wouldst conclude that civilization conduceth to the happiness and the progress of the human world. Yet shouldst thou turn thine eye to the discovery of destructive and infernal machines, to the development of forces of demolition and the invention of fiery implements, which uproot the tree of life, it would become evident and manifest unto thee that civilization is conjoined with barbarism. Progress and barbarism go hand in hand, unless material civilization be confirmed by Divine Guidance, by the revelations of the All-Merciful and by godly virtues, and be reinforced by spiritual conduct, by the ideals of the Kingdom and by the outpourings of the Realm of Might.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 282)

A second thought is that abandoning the God of monotheism and embracing nature as an object of worship is also not the answer to the excesses of materialism, or environmental devastation. It is not belief in God that is the problem, but failure to recognize the divine reflected in Nature and act accordingly.

“Look at the world and ponder a while upon it. It unveileth the book of its own self before thine eyes and revealeth that which the Pen of thy Lord, the Fashioner, the All-Informed, hath inscribed therein. It will acquaint thee with that which is within it and upon it and will give thee such clear explanations as to make thee independent of every eloquent expounder.

Say: Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion. It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp. Indeed a man of insight can perceive naught therein save the effulgent splendour of Our Name, the Creator. Say: This is an existence which knoweth no decay, and Nature itself is lost in bewilderment before its revelations, its compelling evidences and its effulgent glory which have encompassed the universe.”
(Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 141)

I am well aware, O my Lord, that I have been so carried away by the clear tokens of Thy loving-kindness, and so completely inebriated with the wine of Thine utterance, that whatever I behold I readily discover that it maketh Thee known unto me, and it remindeth me of Thy signs, and of Thy tokens, and of Thy testimonies. By Thy glory! Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 271)

I’m hoping to offer a review of “Avatar” and additional comments once I’ve seen it but would love to hear from readers who already have. What did you think of the movie? What do you think its underlying theological and social messages were? Did you agree or disagree with them?

You can also read a review of the film from a friend of mine here.

Blog Action Day — Climate Change!!!

In honor of blog action day I would like to point out some films on the topic of climate change and the environment for you to check out.  Taking care of the earth is a matter of environmental justice and social responsibility.  For other posts on the topic check out WALL-E,  the Future We Will Create, and the Man in the White Suit.

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

An Inconvenient Truth poster

An Inconvenient Truth — The Award winning documentary by former Vice President Al Gore which lead to his Nobel Prize.  Edited together from a series of talks Al Gore gave around the country with evidence to show the veracity of human-cause Climate Change and to rally people together to try to act more responsibly.

Earth poster

Earth — A film based on the BBC amazing series Planet Earth which explores the beauty of the earth and how climate change is affecting wildlife around the globe.

The Day After Tomorrow Movie PosterThe Day After Tomorrow — A science fiction film based on a novel about a climate change doomsday scenario focused on a group of intrepid American’s trying to survive the disaster.  Not scientific but deals with themes of social responsibility and environmental consequences to human actions.

Antarctica Challenge Movie Poster


The Antarctica Challenge — An up-to-date look at the climate change research currently being done by the scientists stationed in Antarctica.


The 11th Hour Poster

The 11th Hour — Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary on the environmental crisis and some pretty exciting and radical solutions.

Climate Change may seem daunting but if we unite as a world we can work to solve the problem and create a better, more just and environmentally sound world.  Scientists, political leaders, common people are joining hands.  It is so exciting to see the changes society has already made and how much more we can do if we put our hearts and minds toward the actions necessary to prevent crisis.

Look ye not upon the present, fix your gaze upon the times to come. In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree. Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms, and its leaves and its fruits. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá