Monday, June 29, 2009

Words That Create Community

This is from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey and is titled "Words That Create Community."

The word is always a word for others. Words need to be heard. When we give words to what we are living, these words need to be received and responded to. A speaker needs a listener. A writer needs a reader.

When the flesh - the lived human experience - becomes word, community can develop. When we say, "Let me tell you what we saw. Come and listen to what we did. Sit down and let me explain to you what happened to us. Wait until you hear whom we met," we call people together and make our lives into lives for others. The word brings us together and calls us into community. When the flesh becomes word, our bodies become part of a body of people.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Marriage is like ....

Can als be found at

A phone call in the night
By Nathan Day Wilson

Today is my wedding anniversary. It’s also my wife’s.

I’m not going to tell you how many years we’ve been married. Don’t want to mess up the math. Let’s just say that, for me, it seems like our marriage began yesterday; for my wife, I think concepts of eternity come to mind. We’ve been married somewhere in between.

Perhaps due to the anniversary, or perhaps due to a recent writing conference, or perhaps due to the many weddings I am celebrating this year, or perhaps due to indigestion, I was wondering what a good metaphor for marriage is. You know, “Marriage is like ….” and then you fill in the blank to describe this abstract idea of marriage.

To help me develop a good metaphor, I started to ask my wife, but then remembered wisdom of one of my late heroes, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who said, “I haven’t talked to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.”

I took his advice and decided instead to check with others. Of course, lots of people have had lots to say about marriage.

From philosophers, even the esteemed Socrates: “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you will become happy; and if you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher.”From film directors, such as King Vidor: “Marriage is not a word; it is a sentence.”

Similarly, from authors, such as John Mortimer: “Marriage is like pleading guilty to an indefinite sentence. Without parole.” And Helen Rowland: “Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning handsprings or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.”

And of course, there are words aplenty from comedians, such as Evelyn Hendrickson: “Marriage is like a phone call in the night: first the ring, and then you wake up.” And I’m sure you’d be surprised that Dave Barry has said a word or two about marriage: “Contrary to what many women believe, it’s fairly easy to develop a long-term, stable, intimate and mutually fulfilling relationship with a guy. Of course this guy has to be a Labrador retriever. With human guys, it’s extremely difficult.”

Of course, no column that mentions marriage is complete without quoting Mae West: “They say love is blind ... and marriage is an institution. Well, I’m not ready for an institution for the blind just yet.”

That's enough already. Let’s move on to something worth remembering. For instance, the sentimental side of me — yes, there is one, I just hide it — likes this quote from Ivern Ball, “A good marriage is like a good trade: Each thinks he got the better deal.”

That’s something I would include in my metaphor for marriage. As well as something about how my wife inspires me with her concerns and commitments. Something about how she impresses me with her capacity to remember schedules and balance interests. Something about how she impacts my life, the lives of our children, of our family, of people on the other side of the world with her love.

With all those words from others and thoughts of my own, I decided it was time to develop my own metaphor for marriage. So I asked myself, “Self, what is marriage like?”

But before I answered, I was interrupted. Go figure.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not Being Distracted

Can You Hear Me?

The master of ceremony bragged on the elementary-aged award recipients: their concern for the environment, their vision of a recycling program, their stamina to make the vision a reality. He called their names. Wild applause, some standing, pictures flashing. But only one recipient appeared.

When the emcee repeated the second name, there was muffled laughter when someone said, “Em, he’s in the john!” Apparently the little boy just couldn’t hold it any longer. This was his big moment, his chance to shine, his opportunity. His name was called, his response was anticipated, but he was in the john!

I wonder how often I am “otherwise occupied” when God calls my name. Something God wants to teach me, something God wants to show me, something God wants to give me - even bigger than a community award – and I am, well, distracted. For what is God calling my name?

For example, lately God is teaching me how fragile life is, showing me how important relationships are, giving me the gift of faith in the midst of struggle and calling me to more focused ministry.

How about you? What is God teaching, showing, giving your right now? For what is God calling your name? I don’t pretend to know the answers for you, but I am always eager to discern the answers with you.

Please contact me for opportunities to talk.

It’s your big moment. God is bragging about you. God is calling your name. So, try not to spend it in the john!

See you soon at the place where God teaches, shows, gives and calls-


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Musicals as communication

I don’t know enough, but since you don’t know that I don’t, I’ll act like I do.

I’ve listened to musicals throughout my life, but feeling their power and assessing their quality are new to me. While affinity is finally decided by the temperamental viewer, there are some standards.

Quality musicals begin with powerful voices. If the voices are weak, it’s likely the musical is weak. Consistently misuse a voice and it may develop nodules, which can ruin a voice and a musical.

Quality musicals tell interesting stories without taking too long. Take too long and the audience may fall asleep. The more interesting the story, the longer can be the musical – if necessary.

Quality musicals are packed with striking costumes and stunning sets. The details of both energize the audience, enhance the production and enliven the story.

Quality musicals finish strong, unlike this essay.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good writing

This week I’m at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research to participate in a writer’s conference. It’s my first time to the Institute, though I have long been a fan of its publications and other work.

I awoke this morning at 6:00 and walked down a road and across a bridge to the other side of Lake Stumpf. The problem was that my phone, which of course serves as my clock since that makes sense, did not automatically reset to local time, as I expected. I discovered this upon entering the fitness center, which I was pleased to find open, and a few ROTC members said the center was open only for the ROTC until 6:30. It was 5:40.

I like the architecture and layout that I saw on Saint John’s University campus. The Sexton Commons in particular, which I was also pleased to find open (no shops or stores within the building were yet ready for the day’s business, but the building itself was open with a few food service employees milling about), is a very attractive space.

Here’s a quote from Michael Dennis Browne, a librettist, from a publication of the Collegeville Institute: “A good piece of writing is an opportunity for the reader to imagine. You, the reader, are given the ingredients, the makings; the cooking is up to you. It does require a certain temperature if the water is to boil.”

This week I hope to learn more about providing ingredients.

Friday, June 12, 2009


What kind of adult?
By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, June 12, 2009 7:13 AM US/eastern
A woman who attends First Christian Church recently scheduled counseling with me. She wanted to discuss her teenager and seek suggestions.

You’ve probably seen the scenario she described: Her teenager can text with phone in pocket, keep up with friends on Facebook and create an excellent video PowerPoint — all while listening to an iPod and balancing on one foot. (OK, I added that “balancing on one foot” part for effect.)

Much to the mother’s chagrin, however, that same teenager can barely make a bed or give directions from our church on West Washington Street to his house. Said teenager won’t look adults in the eye or audibly greet them. Perhaps most disconcerting to mom, her teenager seems to have no appreciation for community projects, needs or issues.

Mom to me: “What kind of adult will (her teenager) become?”

I reassured her that erratic behavior for teens has been around as long as teens have been around. It’s common as children become teens and teens become young adults.

As we talked further, though, something else occurred to me. While our bodies are biologically maturing earlier due to nutritional and genetic influences, I wonder if some aspects of our social maturity are being delayed due, at least in part, to technological advancements and time spent with technology.

So I looked into this and found others more learned than I to be in agreement. For instance, two psychologists, Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, wrote a book about it titled “Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies.”

Their thesis can be summarized by this line: “The coincidence of reproductive and social maturation which existed for most of our history has been lost.”

Reading that made me ask myself: “Self, what does it mean to be socially mature?” Gluckman and Hanson say it is having “the skills necessary to be a successful adult.” Even I can remember that definition, so it works well enough for me.

Being the astute reader that you are, you probably could predict what I wondered next: If being socially mature means having the skills to be a successful adult, then what are those skills?

At this point in your reading pleasure, you are invited to ponder for two moments and name what skills you think are needed in order for one to be a successful adult.

OK, that’s enough pondering. Don’t want you to hurt yourself. Let me quickly say that I do not agree that time spent online is necessarily wasted time.

In fact, I think some social skills are learned while using technological tools and toys. Like what, you ask?

Well, like the fact that social worlds negotiated online are permanent, public and involve managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances. Or, like the fact that online socializing is always on and always immediate.

But there are other skills not well developed online, such as the skill of learning what it feels like to contribute to the care of one’s home. I know it can be a drag, but having a home that is somewhat organized and clean is mind-clearing and uplifting.

Here’s another skill that many teens I know greatly appreciate: Volunteering. I know many teens at First Christian and outside it who love to volunteer, not least because of the “helper’s high” they get from doing so.

Now, here’s where you come in. What skills would you say are needed for one to be a successful adult? I’d really like to know. Please send them to me at, or by using the comment function if you read this online.

Adolescents are demonstrating their abilities to master technology; maybe we all together can develop abilities to live meaningful lives.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Today's Students Are More Globally Aware, Less Materialistic, Leading Pollster Says

This is from The Chroncile of Higher Education. What do you think?

Washington — The generation of young people who are filling college classrooms and becoming junior faculty members today are more globally aware and less concerned about material wealth than were their predecessors, a leading public-opinion pollster told more than 150 college and university presidents and other top administrators who attended The Chronicle’s Leadership Forum here today.

John Zogby, who is president and chief executive officer of the marketing and research firm Zogby International and has been conducting polls for more than 20 years, said college administrators should keep in mind the priorities of “America’s first global citizens” — those now 18 to 30 years old. Fifty-six percent of people in that age group, he said, have passports and have traveled abroad: “They are as likely to say they are citizens of the planet Earth as they are to say they are citizens of the United States.”

Mr. Zogby has taught history for 25 years and is a senior adviser at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also the author of The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.

Today’s college students are “the most diverse, multicultural generation yet produced,” he said, and are more tolerant of differences. “College students don’t believe that American culture is inherently superior to the cultures of Africa” and other parts of the world, he said.

Even though a growing proportion of Americans — possibly 30 percent now — are earning less than they did in their previous jobs, a surprising number still say they believe in the American dream, he said. The definition has changed, however.

“We’re not only looking at a transformation of the American dream, but in many ways at a transformation of the American character,” he said. Instead of focusing on material wealth and professional status, people in their 20s and early 30s are more likely to seek a rewarding and spiritually-fulfilling life, he said.

Some of these “secular spiritualists” have already taken pay cuts and see little immediate hope of regaining their former earnings. Their attitude, he said, is, “God threw me lemons, so I may as well make lemonade.”

—Katherine Mangan

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Now baccalaureate 2009

Asking, ‘What now?’

By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, June 5, 2009 12:43 AM US/eastern

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being this year’s baccalaureate preacher at Shelbyville High School. I was honored to be asked and enjoyed the time very much.

The title of my talk was “What Now?” In it, I suggested four life stances to take when faced with a “what now” decision, such as what now after the end of high school. Conveniently, the four suggestions form the acrostic BEAR so that a group of Shelbyville Golden Bears could easily remember them.

So, the B: Be bold!

By bold I don’t mean try to jump a building in a single bound or outrun speeding bullets — though if a bullet is heading your way, you might try something. What I mean is boldly stand for principles and values that improve this world for us all.

For instance, when someone is cast out by the majority — maybe because of race or religion, appearance or accent, sexual orientation or spiritual depth — what I hope is that our new graduates and all of us will boldly stand with and for that person. When we do, we answer the question “what now” by saying that now is the time for no more prejudice, no more bias, no more discrimination. Now is the time for dignity, for community, for love.

Another way to be bold is by not making life decisions based on where the money is good; instead, focus on where the work is good. That is, focus where the good comes from the difference the work makes in your life and the lives of others. When that happens, we answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to make a difference in my life and in the lives of others.

Of course, being bold means we will make mistakes. Making honest mistakes when living life boldly is a whole lot better than living some namby-pamby, half-baked cautious life. If we avoid the possibility of making mistakes by not being bold, then we also avoid the risk of success, achievement and even joy.

Second, the E: Enjoy life!

Enjoying life doesn’t only mean be happy. Happiness is good, but happiness can be temporary and fleeting.

Enjoying life means looking for joy. Joy can be lasting partly because joy comes from pursuing one’s interests and passions. My advice to those going on to college — which is not always well-received by their parents — is study what you love. Studying what is marketable might work for a while, but usually it only works a while. Studying what you love is much more likely to last!

Is there anything sadder than parents who pressure their children to live the parents’ dreams? Of course, we parents should give our kids advice — especially when we have their best interests at heart.

But we shouldn’t pressure our kids to live our dreams. They have or might develop dreams of their own.

Enjoy life also means enjoying family and friends. Nothing, not fame or fortune, not diplomas or distinctions, can replace the joy of family or true friends. When you are wrong, say so and ask for forgiveness. When someone wrongs you, offer forgiveness and hopefully reconcile. Enjoy life.

We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to enjoy life by pursuing my passions and interests, and by enjoying my family.

Third, the A: Ask questions!

Ask questions. Ask why things are the way they appear to be. More importantly, ask why things are not the way they ought to be.

I like to illustrate this point by saying it is absolutely great to help clean trash out of a creek. And it’s important to go up stream and ask who is putting the trash in to start with.

It’s absolutely great to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. And it’s important to ask why so many people are homeless.

An especially important question for us all to ask ourselves is, “Who tells you who you are?”

Some people need money to tell them who they are. Money is important and can be put to great use, but money shouldn’t define who we are.

Some people need power to tell them who they are. Some need academic institutions. Oddly, some need enemies, and without enemies to stand against, they don’t know what they stand for.

If it’s God telling us who we are, then we don’t have to prove ourselves. If God tells us who we are, then we are precious, unprecedented, unrepeatable, irreplaceable. Rather than proving ourselves, we simply need to express ourselves as the ones God made and meant for us to be.

We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to ask questions.

Finally, the R: Reimagine reality!

First of all, we reimagine the reality of our lives. Yes, we make mistakes, but we don’t need to cling to those mistakes as though they are the holiest things in our lives! They are not, so quit letting them weigh you down.

Yes, we sin. However — and this is one of my favorite things to say — there is more forgiveness in God than sin in you! Accept that forgiveness and face today’s challenges with today’s strength. You should never let yesterday dictate tomorrow.

The second part of reimagining reality is to reimagine our community and world with hope. I love the definition of hope that says “Hope is belief despite the evidence and then making the evidence change.”

We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to reimagine reality for ourselves and others.

“What now?” is not a question intended to cause panic and concern. Instead, my use of “What now?” is to recognize that our future is open, that we may do more than others expect of us, that at every point in our development we are striving to grow.

At the end of the day, my hope for the class of 2009 is a hope for us all: rather than focus so much on how to make a living, we focus on how to make lives worth living.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Giving Youth Roots and Branches

The congregation I serve, First Christian Church, just celebrated a great weekend! On Saturday, we graduated 30 proud preschoolers, watched by their prouder families, from our Discovery Preschool. It was well organized, enjoyable and fun to see the soon-to-be kindergarteners celebrate what they have learned academically, socially and spiritually.

On Sunday, we celebrated the graduations of fifteen from our congregation: 10 from high school, 3 from college and 2 from graduate schools. By anyone’s standards (and mine are pretty high), they are a remarkable lot. Genuinely concerned for others and God’s world, musical, athletic, smart, informed, involved and interesting, this group is enough to restore some hope in our present and future.

Both celebrations were wonderful. Amid the smiles and joy, fond memories and hopeful dreams, and a few tears, both celebrations reminded me of the terrifying yet terrific work of parenting.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely find parenting to be easy. Yes, it is (often) enjoyable, but rarely easy – even during the stable, business-as-usual times.

When a major life transition hits, such as a graduation, knowing what to say or do can be downright tough! This is no business-as-usual. Now your child is passing from one season of life to a new one. And with that change in life are new challenges and chances, heartaches and hopes.

As a caring parent, what do you say? What do you do? On what should you focus during these times? Well, here’s one idea: focus during these times on roots and branches.

No, I’m not saying go plant a tree together – although that’s not a bad idea. I mean focus your conversations on roots and branches.

First, the roots. Help your children know who they are. Help them know whose they are. Help them know their values. Help them find their voice. Nourish those roots well so that they will grow deep and strong.

What are some good roots to strengthen? Here’s one: Don’t ridicule those different than you. Or, see what you can learn from every person you encounter. Or, finish what you start.

Help others. And, celebrate the successes of others with the same gusto you hope they celebrate yours. The phrase “thank you” is one of the most powerful in all of language, so use it.

Those are some roots. I’m sure you can think of more.

Second, don’t forget that the point of strong roots is to put forth healthy branches. The point of knowing who you and whose you are is to be able to reach out and grow more. If roots are needed to realize values and voice, so branches help us realize our vision; better yet, by branching out, we realize God’s vision for us.

What are some branches to give our kids? Here’s one of my favorites: Your history should not dictate your future.

Rarely is failure final. Try something new. Stand for what is right, even when it is costly. The world can change for the better, and you can help it. It is always a good time to change your mind when to do so will widen your heart.

Now I know that reminding kids of their roots is more comfortable than giving them branches on which to move forward. I also know that both are important and needed.

So I’ll conclude with perhaps my all-time favorite truth as we move forward: There is more forgiveness in God than sin in you.

These are days of graduations, days of transitions; these are days to celebrate!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

We have the power to make the world we seek

The text of President Obama's speech today in Cairo:

"I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you."