Jasper “Jaz” Martus is a 17 year-old Senior at Powers Catholic High School (PCHS) in Flint, Michigan. Jaz dedicated this past summer to an enlightening spiritual journey, in which he learned about other religions and faith practices by attending worship services, joining in religious celebrations, and uniting in prayer and meditation. There were 12 organizations in all. His purpose was to understand other cultures and religions in order to engage more knowledgeably in making the world a more peaceful place. This journey had a profound effect on Jaz. As a result, he was asked by the Euphrates Institute to start the first high school chapter of the international organization promoting peace and healing divisions.
“I have to understand other cultures and religions…it’s a passion!”
Empathy, respect, and compassion are spiritual qualities that guide Jaz’s daily experience. To live the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself, is his compass, but he admits it is the hardest thing to do – and sometimes seems almost unattainable. “But you have to hold your feet to the fire. I express the Golden Rule by seeking out and talking with people of other religious, political, and social views. They are often tough conversations, but my motive is to understand, not prove someone wrong. So I look for what we can agree on.”
Jaz is the first to acknowledge he is on a journey of understanding another’s perspective – he isn’t there yet!
What happens when you strive to understand? Welcome surprises.
Jaz constantly seeks out thought-leaders in history to learn not only about other cultures but how the thought-leaders themselves dealt with adversity and opposing views. A favorite quote is from Malcolm X: “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn someone because they don’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” He can attest to that after his summer’s journey of understanding.
“I knew there were a few similarities between faith traditions, like the Golden Rule and specifically between the Abrahamic religions, but there were so many connections,” said Jaz, still awed by his surprise discoveries. Rather than focus on differences, Jaz’s search led to the beauty of the similarities and the web that connects us all, as well as a sincere desire to understand what the differences might be.
“There are truths in all religions – religion is the language to communicate with and understand one’s relationship with the Divine and how to show love for one another. So of course there are going to be many paths to understand how an individual experiences God.”
Turning the Other into A Brother
PCHS is a pilot chapter for the Euphrates Institute engaging high school students to promote awareness, peace, empathy, and understanding, whether the dividing issue is racial, political or religious. The core message of Euphrates is to “Turn the other into your brother” by informing, inspiring, and transforming a community.
As the first president of the chapter, Jaz has already organized several events in the first months: a Posters for Peace contest, a school-wide moment of silence on the International Day of Peace for lives lost in global conflicts, and a talk to the student body and staff by a former Supreme Court Justice from Zimbabwe, Ahmed Ebrahim. Justice Ebrahim spoke about his work to unite people of all religions to seek peaceful solutions on issues facing the world.
“We have 30 student members, kids who are passionate about the Euphrates mission and spreading it,” enthused Jaz. “My summer was great for my personal development, but it led to something so much bigger, to help other people with the Euphrates mission.”
As a senior, Jaz realizes that he won’t be around to see the long-term impact on the Powers community. But he is grateful to have helped plant the seed. Referencing a favorite Greek Proverb, Jaz firmly believes “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
With All the Conflict in the World, What Keeps Jaz Focused?
“I truly have faith in humanity, that all people are valued and all people have a right to excel. My individual role is to help another in a way that benefits all people. This is what my faith directs me to do,” explained Jaz. “Sure people make mistakes, but we are able to commit great acts of peace and brotherhood. Let’s focus on that.”
With this perspective, Jaz expects to find a connection with anyone of a differing view and freely extends unconditional respect. It’s the Golden Rule in action. “This is the only way to build a foundation for a just and equal world. Seek to understand, listen, empathize, share, build.”
He readily admits to the daunting challenge. “I am surrounded by disagreement! But it forces me to stand up for what I believe in, even if I am alone. And also be willing to listen, consider, and change my position with new understanding. It’s important to me to not let differences stand in the way of being friends with people of opposing views.”
At the end of a given day, what makes Jaz feel like some good has been accomplished? “When I have learned something new that I didn’t know yesterday…when I have expanded my understanding of another’s views.”
“That’s a good day.”
The Work, Now and Future, Is About Striving for Justice and Equality.
“It seems to me that America’s story is one of striving for an ideal of equality. Obviously, the ideal hasn’t been met, and for millions it appears so far away. But the work of Abolitionists, Suffragettes, and Civil Rights activists have pushed onward toward this goal. My generation has been given tools to carry on the work, to combat the problems we face, and continue to strive for equality. I want to be a part of the work, to be a peacemaker for a just and equal society.”
“We have to strive for the ideal, to hold our feet to the fire…maybe in my lifetime we can give the story a happy ending.”
For Jaz, the personal goal is always wrapped in the larger one of promoting peace through understanding and working together…to heal divisions in the entire world.
Hear Jaz on the podcast “Live Yes And…”
Support peace and equality in the world with Euphrates Institute, go here.