religion and social transformation cached version 08/08/2018 20:39:25 en Why Boris is wrong about the burka <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is more offensive—concealing your face or misleading the public?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Colien's Winter Burka. Credit: Flickr/<a title="Go to Eduard Bezembinder&#039;s photostream" href="">Eduard Bezembinder</a>. <a href="">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Boris Johnson has become the latest in a long line of right-wing politicians to criticise Muslim women who wear the <em><a href="">niqab</a> </em>or<em> <a href="">burqa</a></em>. Writing in <a href="">his column for <em>The Telegraph</em></a>, Johnson mocked such women as looking&nbsp;“like letter boxes,” “bank robbers”&nbsp;and&nbsp;“absolutely ridiculous.” Despite calls for an apology from opponents and colleagues, at the time of writing Johnson remains unrepentant.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Body">Perhaps we’ve come to expect tabloid jibes from Johnson, and his attempt to re-insert himself into the public eye after his resignation as foreign secretary is predictably clumsy. But what is arguably more alarming is his attempt to position himself as the voice of reason and moderate good sense.</p> <p class="Body">Across Europe and beyond, governments have passed legislation that bans the wearing of the <em>burqa</em> in public, and Johnson’s column focuses on the introduction of a new measure passed in Denmark. While Johnson warms to the assured individualism he finds amongst the Danes, he opposes an outright <em>burqa</em> ban as a step too far into strident secularism. He is uncomfortable with the regulation of religious dress in public, and is mindful of how such measures play into the hands of radicals. He is even gracious enough to affirm the rights of a ‘free born’ woman, ‘minding her own business,’ to be left to get on with her life unimpeded by a heavy handed state. Enter Boris the liberal…</p> <p class="Body">In case we were under any illusions that the former foreign secretary had finally seen the light and migrated to the centre ground, he expands on his perspective with a series of caveats. It seems there are limits to Johnson’s newfound ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Specifically, businesses and government agencies should be able to ‘enforce a dress code’ that obliges women to reveal their faces. He already feels ‘fully entitled’ to expect Muslim women to do the same at his constituency surgeries, and he supports the same approach within schools and universities.</p> <p class="Body">So Johnson is gracious enough not to call for a ban, but nevertheless feels entitled to expect women to behave according to his own understanding of&nbsp;“full disclosure.” As he says,&nbsp;“it’s how we work,”&nbsp;the implication being that ‘we’—presumably the British public—have ‘our’ customs and conventions, and minorities need to observe them in order that society can function properly. &nbsp;It all makes good, plain sense doesn’t it? No prejudice here, just a sincere call for everyone to play by the same rules (i.e. Boris’s rules).</p> <p class="xxxbody">We might reflect on the irony of such a mercurial and opportunist politician calling for more transparent expression in public life. In the opaque and fractious politics of Brexit, we have learnt that those who speak loudest, simplest and with bare-faced confidence are not necessarily those we should trust.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson mirrors another pattern among right-wing commentators: he presumes to comment on women’s intentions on the basis of their clothing. We’re probably more familiar with the moral judgements that are often projected onto women in western garb, but what values are imputed to Muslim women wearing the <em>niqab</em>? No doubt they frustrate conventional expectations, and perhaps that’s why figures like Johnson find such women so problematic—they are too covered, too hidden, and therefore break the rules that inform the male sense of entitlement to see what lies beneath.</p> <p class="xxxbody">The many Muslim women who have been attacked on Britain’s streets know what this feels like, since a common act of violence is <a href="">to pull the veil or <em>hijab</em> from their faces</a>. This is why so much hate crime against Muslims is best understood as a form of misogyny. It is targeted against those women who most visibly transgress the prevailing assumptions about what the female form should look like, and who implicitly challenge the assumption that men should have an unimpeded view.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson also assumes that wearing the face veil indicates an experience of oppression, alluding to the&nbsp;“weird and bullying”&nbsp;expectations of men. There is no acknowledgement that women may freely choose to wear the <em>niqab</em>, and no effort to find out why. Any religious meaning it may convey is lost behind Johnson’s faux liberalism.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Unfortunately, uncompromising criticism of the <em>niqab</em> is also found among some liberal and <a href="">feminist commentators</a>, whose western lens on human agency struggles to see such covering as anything other than <a href="">forced concealment</a>. In this view, the liberated self is exposed and, it is assumed, is therefore more honest, more forthcoming, more trusting—and in our own context, more British.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Those on the right may want to excuse Johnson as a voice of so-called&nbsp;‘common sense.’ After all, he rejects the need for an outright ban, thereby distancing himself from those European nations who have imposed punitive measures on their Muslim minorities, and preserving intact his Brexiteer credentials while rehearsing the myth of the great British compromise.&nbsp;Neither loony left nor hard right nor confused continental, his position is presented as a sensible middle way—laudable for avoiding extremes, an argument from practical sense that needs no further justfication.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> But this is why his comments are so dangerous: it is the unexamined cultural conventions that are often the most insidious carriers of prejudice and ignorance. By categorizing them as uncomplicated truths we abdicate our responsibility as citizens to question the norms by which we live, and risk overlooking the injustices that persist in our midst.</p> <p class="xxxbody">When uttered by an embodiment of that most British of clichés, the upper class eccentric, comments like Johnson’s slip neatly into a cluster of associations that together reinforce our most deep-seated and intractable habits of thought, as if Eton and Oxbridge had bestowed a special gift of sight on those socially-awkward elites who we both love and loathe. We don’t have to think about our British customs and presumptions because Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg will do it for us. Except that they won’t—they’ll just keep us cosy in our habits by telling us that all is well; we’re British after all.</p> <p class="Body">This is unsettling not just because of the platform Johnson enjoys, but because it is a habit of thought that achieves new plausibility within our Brexit-obsessed context. The underlying message is not just that Muslim women who wear the <em>burqa </em>are veering wide of the true British way, but that the nativist narrative that excludes them is essentially benign and obvious. It is an expression of the age old Tory conceit that to be a Conservative has nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with good, pragmatic sense.</p> <p class="Body">With such confusion about the labyrinthine complexities of Brexit there’s an understandable attraction to plain speaking, and to the idea that cultural problems are easily solved with a little of the good sense we all possess. But behind this apparent democratisation of wisdom lies a more malign populism, one whose story is deceptively simple yet is quietly fierce in its defence of our narrowest boundaries.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xxxbody">The reactionary perspective affirmed by Johnson states that those who cover their faces aren’t just suspect; they aren’t playing the game. They are out of step culturally speaking, and so, in an important sense they don’t belong. They isolate themselves by concealing their faces from us, and this is a most unBritish practice.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Face-veiling elicits a curiously passionate counter-response, as though it indicates a strategy of deceit. Somehow, concealing one’s face is presented as more offensive than concealing one’s intentions, ambitions and moral shortcomings, more offensive even than misleading the public. Johnson needs to take a look in the mirror the next time he considers opining on the British tradition of honest speaking. He may find the problems of concealment lie much closer to home.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anisur-rahman/should-britain-consider-banning-burqa-and-niqab">Should Britain consider banning burqa and niqab?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/val%C3%A9rie-hartwich/dangers-of-burqa-ban">The dangers of a burqa ban</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mathew-guest/can-universities-still-provide-transformative-experience">Can universities still provide a transformative experience?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Mathew Guest Culture Intersectionality Love and Spirituality Wed, 08 Aug 2018 00:09:35 +0000 Mathew Guest 119176 at Women of faith and the Northern Ireland peace process: breaking the silence <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“This business of loving enemies mattered to me. That was a command I had to obey.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">War and Peace mural, Ballymacarrett, Belfast. Credit: ©&nbsp;<a title="View profile" href="">Albert Bridge</a>&nbsp;-&nbsp;<a href=""></a>. <a href="">CC-BY-SA/2.0</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The <a href="">Northern Ireland peace process</a> was once held up as a model to the world, but given the current impasse in the region’s politics and the cultural conflicts that replaced the violence this model has inevitably been tarnished.&nbsp;In reality, the popular, male-centric version of the model was never a true representation of a process that involved other groups, especially women. On the anniversary of the <a href="">Good Friday agreement</a> it’s time to acknowledge the contributions of these groups and consider the alternative visions and aspirations they put forward for a new and better society.</p> <p><a href="">Mairead Maguire</a>, <a href="">Betty Williams</a> and other members of the “Peace People’ are well-known, but the actions of other groups of Catholic and Protestant women are not. They represent an important example of what <a href="">Fidelma Ashe describes</a> as the suppression of alternative visions of peace and their “potential to create more meaningful, progressive and inclusive forms of peacebuilding in the region.”</p> <p>A <a href="">recent&nbsp;series of witness seminars</a> that I initiated in Belfast brought together Catholic sisters, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland women in conversation, and recorded their experiences of the ‘Troubles.’ Their collective remembering revealed that women of faith were ahead of their time in terms of developing approaches to repairing the harms that were caused by the conflict for individuals and their communities. Moreover, they were party to innovative examples of ecumenical activism and community living that defied and transcended sectarianism, including integrated education.</p> <p>Equally important, though previously unknown to the general public, such women were participants in the secret back-channel talks between politicians from Northern Ireland, mainland Britain, the Republic of Ireland, the US and different groupings of combatants that were critical in bringing about a cessation of the violence. At least in the initial stages of the dialogue, they appear to have been the only women involved. It’s important to recognise that women of faith secured a place in these talks not because men thought they should be there, but because <em>they </em>thought they should be there.</p> <p>That their participation has remained undisclosed and undocumented for so long has significant implications. It provides telling insights into the peace process, the narratives that undergird it, the ways in which it was implemented, and the extent to which&nbsp;the history of the Troubles in all its dimensions is still a male preserve.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">Margaret Ward</a> pointed to the “omission of women from consideration of the past” on <em>Open Democracy</em>&nbsp;in<em>&nbsp;</em>June 2013. Arguing that women’s contribution to the maintenance of communities during the conflict and to the development of a more peaceful society afterwards was largely ignored, she highlighted how peacebuilding was still seen as “an activity that primarily involves men.”</p> <p>Feminist scholars have worked hard to redress this neglect, but the activism of women of faith in Northern Ireland remained virtually unexplored prior to the witness seminar project. Moreover, a general lack of attention was encouraged by one-dimensional characterizations of such women in the media which disregarded their historical commitment to contemporary values like reconciliation, communal repair, the need for bridge-building across the sectarian divide, and the articulation of meaningful forms of peace.</p> <p>The erasure of women of faith from the historical record can partially be attributed to assumptions that they form another element of a backward-looking, conservative past that needs to be challenged in the present in order to build a progressive and forward-looking Northern Ireland. In fact, the evidence of their activism during the conflict suggests that they, along with other marginalised groups, could help to revitalise a process that is presently paralysed and visionless.</p> <p>Women of faith worked with and through myriad groups and organisations, linking their own activism to a range of ideas, concepts and ethical ideologies supportive of peacebuilding work. This combination had both practical application and emotional appeal in being able to move the human imagination beyond simply the cessation of violence.</p> <p>One example was “Cornerstone,” “a live-in Community, a praying Community of reconciliation involved in the local area and networking with other groups…Being a ‘Presence’ was the most important thing in a divided community—to show that Catholics and Protestants could actually live together and cook and do the shopping and just be a community” as one of the seminar participants put it.</p> <p>Another was <a href="">WAVE (“Widows Against Violence Empowered”)</a>, a group that came out of a Catholic Sister’s feelings of helplessness in the face of tragedy. It is still there today: “going from strength to strength, and now it has an organization for Trauma…it was one little space for women who had been deeply affected by the Troubles just to tell their stories…and get strength from each other.” </p> <p>The premium that women of faith placed on obedience to God meant, for some, challenging powerful groups within and outside of the Church in their endeavours—not simply a call to end the conflict but an attempt to lay the foundations for a more just and equal post-conflict society that worked toward overcoming sectarianism. As another of the seminar participants explained (reflecting a strongly held view among the group):</p> <blockquote><p>“This business of loving enemies mattered to me. That wasn’t something that I understood Jesus to just say as a kind of a throw-away—‘you might think about loving your enemies.’ That was a command that I had to obey.”</p></blockquote> <p>The tendency to ignore these stories disregards the rich and complex histories of women of faith that stretch back centuries. Those histories are replete with narratives of struggle against violence, injustice, poverty and oppression. They include resistance to male control and endeavours to fulfil gospel imperatives to help—indeed love—the most marginalized in society. Not all religious women lived lives of service and sacrifice, but enough did to make a difference, including in Northern Ireland.</p> <p>Nevertheless, in the public imagination such women are still identified with the preservation of normative gender roles and the conservative narratives that underpin them. But the witness seminars revealed that during the conflict, some women contested patriarchal restrictions and value systems through a variety of means, from the known—like grassroots community activism—to the unknown, including their participation in secret talks.</p> <p>Their activism was a factor in creating the climate on the ground and the depth of communications between the warring parties that facilitated the peace process. At times this required confronting powerful groups within and outside of the Church, transgressing normative gender roles, challenging traditional gender stereotypes, and demonstrating that feminism's reach extended to encompass religious women.</p> <p>With religious values as core to their activism, women of faith negotiated their roles within the church, and at times, they also negotiated their own ethno-religious identities. They were closely monitored within their own communities and by the security and paramilitary forces. Their experiences and recollections illustrate the effects of male hierarchies, violence, social deprivation and religious and community norms on different groups of women.</p> <p>The conversations recorded during the seminars capture an intricate web of women creating spaces through activism within and across communal, moral and religious boundaries, and often exposed the gendered conflicts provoked by these forms of activism. As one seminar participant explained, being “on the margins [and] always intended to be on the periphery” had advantages in facilitating “the mission of love, reconciliation, justice and the spread of the Kingdom of God.” Women of faith discovered that inhabiting the margins empowered them to “cross boundaries and sabotage establishments.”</p> <p>These women belonged to churches with long histories of silencing them. Their conditioned tendencies toward self-effacement, getting on with the job at hand, and doing what needed to be done with no thought of self-promotion or posterity further facilitated their erasure. This silencing was compounded by the long-entrenched male tradition in Northern Ireland of marginalising women. Above all, the context of the conflict demanded silence because of the suspicion and mistrust that permeated communities, a fear of the ‘other’ and also of your own side, and the danger that reaching out could designate you as part of the ‘enemy within.’ Yet reaching out was precisely what women of faith did best.</p> <p>The research to date indicates that their interventions were critical in breaking the deadlock when the peace talks descended into familiar patterns of each side blaming the other and the process going nowhere. Women were acutely conscious of how ‘going nowhere’ meant more suffering and more grief for people who were already worn down and beleaguered. They were unafraid of expressing what this meant in uncompromising, human terms that left no doubt about the irreparable damage done to communities, the lives destroyed, and the horror and hurt felt by everybody.</p> <p>The seminar conversations about the secret talks revealed that women of faith brought an element of raw emotion into the room that helped to facilitate a break-through, whereby the meetings shifted from attributing blame to sharing pain. This became a common feature that helped each side to understand the other, and to reinforce what all sides already knew—that for the sake of everyone the conflict had to stop.</p> <p>This is as true of the future as the past. For the sake of all, the voices of women of faith and other marginalised groups must be heard in any discussions about the future of Northern Ireland. It is time&nbsp;to&nbsp;break the silence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/margaret-ward/excluded-and-silenced-women-in-northern-ireland-after-peace-process">Excluded and silenced: Women in Northern Ireland after the peace process </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/fidelma-ashe/northern-ireland-progressive-lgbtq-inclusive-peace">Northern Ireland needs alternative visions of progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive peace</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Northern Ireland Dianne Kirby Love and Spirituality Tue, 10 Apr 2018 03:59:36 +0000 Dianne Kirby 116886 at Meet the Glasscos: lesbian foster parents in America’s Bible Belt <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Alabama, religiously-affiliated private adoption agencies can legally discriminate against same-sex couples, but the law may be having the opposite effect.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Chelsey and Bailey Glassco in front of their new home in Childersburg, Alabama, where they’re raising a foster son. Photo by the author.</p><p><em>This article was first published in <a href="">Scalawag</a>.</em></p> <p>Childersburg is a typical river town in Alabama: tackle shops, Waffle House, a Piggly Wiggly. Near the Glassco house, a Cajun restaurant called Bigman’s serves grilled gator and BBQ.</p> <p>But the Glasscos aren’t exactly the typical Childersburg family, because, as they’d say, of the whole lesbian thing.</p> <p>When I meet Chelsey and Bailey Glassco on a Wednesday afternoon in their new home in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley, they’re a few weeks into the semester at the private Christian Academy where they’re both teachers, and their foster son, Jay (that’s not his real name), is in first grade. Bailey teaches high school English. Chelsey teaches music and Spanish to the younger grades. They welcome me inside still buttoned-up from the day, preppy: slacks, loafers, dress shirts.</p> <p>The house is buzzing with new home-owner energy: Jay is bouncing between his two dogs and us, asking if I’d like to see his room, if I’d like to play, if I’d like to eat ice cream with him. Chelsey is apologizing for the move-in mess and shuffling the dogs back into the yard. Bailey, who grew up, as she says, “in the wilderness” near Sand Mountain, Alabama, is on the phone giving directions to a social worker from their adoption agency, Ashley Douthard, by offering local, posted road names instead of state-issued monikers on maps. I get the feeling Bailey can rebuild engines while quoting Eudora Welty. (On the way to their house, when I got lost, too, and called for help, she told me, “Turn back and hang a right at the little pew-jumping church.” When I laughed, she added, “That’s not a judgment. Just a description.”)</p> <p>They’re only the second owners of the property, a midcentury fixer-upper on 3.7 acres. Signs of the couple who built the house half a century ago are everywhere: a wheelchair ramp off the back deck, a glass collection carefully stacked in the butler pantry. Everything is a little worn-in from age but full of potential.</p> <p>When I ask to go to the bathroom, Chelsey takes me down the hall, following me to point out the ‘50s-era ceramic work. We’ve known one another two minutes, and we’re admiring tiling around a toilet together. A dentist’s daughter from Bonifay, Florida, who grew up singing in an Assembly of God church, Chelsey speaks like the talky tracks of Loretta Lynn records, sweetly Southern, bitingly witty. Back in the living room, Jay dashes outside and we stand amid empty boxes, watching their boy through a bank of west-facing windows.</p> <p>Jay trots up the grassy slope of his new backyard in boots and a yellow T-shirt, waving a stick toward the sky, two dogs trailing behind. The whole scene is downright Norman Rockwell-ish.</p> <p>The irony of being in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley hits me when Chelsey cuts the chitchat to tell me Jay has had a hard week, and I remember why I’m here.</p> <p>In May, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">HB24 into law</a>, protecting adoption agencies when they deem parents unfit on the basis of religious beliefs. I’m here because the law means religious-affiliated private adoption agencies can now legally discriminate against same-sex couples like the Glasscos.</p><p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Bailey Glassco and her dogs in the back plot of her 3.7-acre home. Glassco is trying to legally adopt her foster son with her wife, Chelsey. Photo by the author.</p><p>Jay has a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder.</p><p>When the Glasscos met Jay, his family had been in the system for two years, and he’d cycled through multiple placements. He was underweight. He was balding. His skin itched nonstop from stress-induced psoriasis and eczema. “He’s constantly telling us he’s afraid he’s not going to be fed,” Bailey says.</p><p>Common in children raised in orphanages or environments of neglect, Bailey describes RAD as a wiring malfunction that happens when a young child is forced to self-soothe in moments when they need to be cuddled or fed. The result can be a lifelong struggle with relationships.</p><p>The Glasscos work with Jay each day on understanding boundaries and establishing appropriate trust. He sees a therapist. He takes medicine. They receive weekly support from Douthard, the social worker. They’re waiting on a special, weighted vest to arrive in the mail, a garment that’s supposed to help comfort Jay when they physically can’t hold and calm him.</p><p>Today, Douthard is coming for an emergency visit. As a therapeutic social worker for the foster and adoption agency working with the Glasscos (they asked we not name the agency to protect Jay’s privacy), Douthard offers weekly check-in sessions to families fostering children like Jay who are undergoing medical treatment for psychological or behavioral disorders.</p><p>Going to school has been challenging for Jay, navigating the social landscape, and to cope, he’s been hitting himself and his classmates. Violence is common in RAD kids. As they begin to make attachments, something in their brain fires off a warning, and they lash out. Without treatment, this behavior can continue into adulthood with potentially horrific results. To give a point of reference for the difference between a child who does or doesn’t receive help, Chelsey names two famous examples of people with RAD, “You could be Helen Keller or Ted Bundy.”</p><p>The frustrating part to Chelsey is that RAD is 100 percent preventable, but once kids have the disorder, they have it for life. She says Jay’s biological family struggled to meet his basic needs. “It’s a really sad situation,” Chelsey says. “Everybody and their mama, no pun intended, had been abused in [Jay’s] family.” Because the Glasscos will be in court soon, they can’t offer details publicly of Jay’s history.</p><p>I spoke to other foster parents for this story who were also in the middle of court proceedings and didn’t want their names to be public. Many of those foster kids came from families where no one has a job or a car to get to a job, where multiple generations suffer from drug addiction, and where state intervention is common. Finding family members to offer these children safer homes can be difficult.</p><p>Jay has lived with the Glasscos for six months. It’s the longest he’s lived anywhere. “When we hit the three-month mark,” Bailey says, “he started to ask if he was staying with us. His internal clock knew it was time to be moved to another foster home.”</p><p>Outside, Jay is running, hollering down to us that he’s “supah fast.” His white athletic socks are poking out of the tops of his boots, and it’s the sight of those socks that kills me. My own son is 16 months old. I think about all the socks he’s tossed off in the car, the grocery store, wherever. Hundreds of times a day he needs me or my husband to hold him, to help him. I can’t even think about Jay when he was a baby.</p><p>When I ask if this is how the Glasscos envisioned parenthood, Chelsey says they think about having a baby—“Bailey has always wanted to be pregnant. I’d love to plan four hospital routes and be the one going ‘you can do this!’”—but every time they’ve seriously considered it, another kid has needed them. They met their first foster kid when she was in high school and living in a group home. “[She] was going to have to be housed back with her mother who was a drug dealer. And she didn’t have another option,” Chelsey says. “So we got certified.”</p><p>But the Glasscos say they were denied by a dozen adoption agencies before finding one willing to work with a same-sex couple—all prior to the passing of HB24. Chelsey drops into a snooty voice, joking, “We were like, ‘We don’t want to work with you guys anyways.’” Bailey says they didn’t worry about the other agencies, and never considered legal action, focusing instead on helping their foster teen transition to adulthood, figure out how to get job, a car, an apartment. She lived with them until she turned 18 and got her own apartment.</p><p>“We have a soft spot for that age, because we were so vulnerable during that time,” Chelsey says. When Chelsey and Bailey themselves were entering adulthood, they were homeless.</p><p>They met at a small all-women’s Baptist College, where Bailey was a star on the volleyball team and Chelsey sang in Sunday services. (Even though Chelsey came out at 15, she wanted a challenging academic environment where she could better explore religion. Her folks wanted her to be a Christian singer. “Like Amy Grant?” I ask, half-kidding. “Exactly. Actually, she was my first crush,” she says.)</p><p>When they made their relationship public, their families launched campaigns to pray them straight. The congregation of Chelsey’s church back in Bonifay began calling and sending letters. Bailey’s family contacted teachers and administrators at their school. Certain administrators at the university contacted ministers at churches where Chelsey sang, worried she might have spread propaganda like rainbow flags.</p><p>“We’re some potent gay,” Bailey jokes.</p><p>By the time they graduated, they didn’t have anywhere to go. They lost contact with nearly everyone, from youth group buddies to their own brothers.</p><p>“Our families were basically like goodbye and good luck,” Chelsey says. A handful of people they met—through churches—helped them get on their feet but things still weren’t easy. They lost teaching jobs when a board member at a school didn’t want lesbians on staff, so they moved to a new town and took jobs at Olive Garden and Firehouse Subs until finding the school where they now teach.</p><p>Jay pops in to ask for water. He pants like the dog at his hip to show us how hard he’s been playing.</p><p>I realize I haven’t asked how old they are (Bailey’s 28, Chesley’s 27) or how long they’ve been married (seven years). “That’s our numerical age,” Bailey says, “but we say it’s about the mileage.”</p><p>Now, Chelsey says they’re visiting an LGBT-affirming church in Birmingham, where they’ve found a preacher willing to be a male mentor for Jay, and where he can grow up in “a village” like they did. Even though her old congregation no longer serves as her support system, Chelsey says, growing up, there were “16 people I could have called if I needed something. Foster kids don’t have that. That’s the reason they’re in foster care.”</p><p>When Douthard arrives, I wander around a bit, tagging along for a tour of the house before heading to the backyard to pet the dogs and stay out of the way. Jay is telling the social worker about mowing the lawn, how his moms are going to let him do it someday but first he has to master picking up sticks, and I see Chelsey and Bailey reach for one another’s hand. I know that reach, that moment you need to connect with your partner to say, “Maybe we’re doing something right.”</p><p>I wonder how things would be different for the Glasscos if they’d been embraced instead of excommunicated from their families. Would they still have Jay? If not, where would he be?</p><p>Here’s the thing: Chelsey and Bailey didn’t choose Jay. They signed up to be foster parents to any child in need. When things get too difficult, as foster parents, the Glasscos have the option to ask for respite or terminate their time with him. It happens. Families don’t click. A child presents too great of challenges, or as with Jay, a foster child changes the family’s option to have other children.</p><p>But next week, the Glasscos will have their first meeting to begin the arduous legal process determining what is best for Jay’s future, either reunification with a family member or adoption into the Glassco home.</p><p>The cicadas start their nightly hum as the Glasscos tell the social worker about their renovation plans, where the vegetable garden will go next spring, how they’d met most of the neighbors already. I wonder how people could see this—the Glassco home—as dangerous.</p><p>It’s not like people are fighting over foster children. We have more children seeking homes in Alabama than families seeking children. The latest report from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Alabama Department of Human Resources</a>&nbsp;showed 6,028 children were in custody of the department at the end of June 2017. One lawyer I interviewed said 1,000 of those children are in need of new homes.</p><p>&nbsp;So, what’s our hope, or responsibility, for kids like Jay?</p><p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A portrait of the Glasscos by their son, Jay, gifted to the author. Photo by the author.</p><p>There’s a narrative we’re asked to believe in the discussion surrounding same-sex adoption: A great battle exists between Christians and queers. If you are of the opinion that exposure to an LGBT lifestyle might turn children queer and therefore land them in eternal damnation then I’m not sure harm on earth has much argumentative power. But everyone I spoke to for this story, most of whom identify as queer, made a point to tell me they identify as Christian, too. Beyond a battle over the role of religion as it pertains to government, in Alabama, a law like HB24 is a battle over interpretations of Christianity.</p><p>As Reverend Jennifer Sanders put it, “The role of the government is to prevent harm. Now, it’s all about how you define harm. I think that’s what we’re arguing over.”</p><p>Sanders is one of 70 faith leaders who opposed HB24. The week before I came to Childersburg, I met Sanders at a café next door to Beloved Community Church in Birmingham, where she said she leads a congregation as active in social justice efforts as they are in Sunday worship. Sanders is a Christian liberation theologian, a lesbian, and a mom. She says she’s less interested in the outcome of this particular law than she is the liberation of the world from mankind’s harm. To her, the LGBT adoption battle matters only if lost. If won, it’s just a step toward equality in an inherently unjust system.</p><p>When I asked her how she entered conversations with conservative Christian ministers and policymakers, she said conversation doesn’t go far. “There tends to be a fair amount of smug disregard because people will treat you politely but that’s because they know they have the power, and your own power is curtailed by the structure.”</p><p>I tell Sanders about a moment in<a href="" target="_blank">&nbsp;Alabama Bound</a>, a film that follows lesbians in the state as they advocate for marriage equality prior to&nbsp;Obergefell v. Hodges, when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the country. I’d seen the film’s premiere a few weekends before at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. There’s a scene where openly gay Representative Patricia Todd is preparing for a pro-LGBT vote on the Montgomery Capitol floor, and GOP Representative Barry Moore walks up to her, gives her an awkward back-patting, side-hug and says something like: “You know I love you, girl, got all the respect in the world for you, but this ain’t gonna happen.”</p><p>&nbsp;The scene sums up the dynamic when it comes to marginalized groups gaining rights: Love ya. Ain’t happening.</p><p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Rev. Jennifer Sanders believes the fight for LGBT adoption only matters if it’s lost. Photo by the author.</p><p>In Alabama, White, evangelical, Republican men hold the power.</p><p>Alabama lawmakers pushed hard for HB24, placing duplicates in the House and Senate, sponsored by Representative Rich Wingo and State Senator Bill Hightower, respectively. Neither agreed to an interview for this story. Even though both have told the press the law isn’t about denying LGBT couples the right to adopt,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Wingo told NPR</a>that other states have seen religious organizations close their doors instead of working with same-sex couples. The burden on the state, he said, would be overwhelming if Alabama’s private, religious agencies shuttered. But no Alabama agency has publicly announced it would shutter. I attempted to contact Wingo multiple times over several months for this story, and didn’t hear back from his office.</p><p>Even though Wingo is credited for the law’s success, the reality is this law is one of many in a recent batch of so-called “religious freedom” bills strategically&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">popping up</a> all over the country, backed by well-funded right wing groups. By passing HB24, Alabama joined Michigan, Virginia, and the Dakotas, where Republicans have approved related religious freedom bills. Even the name of the law—the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act—is strategic. (Still,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Conservative news outlets</a> celebrated the law as a victory in efforts to discriminate against LGBT couples.)</p><p>The law is particularly problematic, according to Eva Kendrick, the Human Rights Campaign Alabama State Director, when you consider LGBT minors are more likely to be in the foster system than their hetero or cisgendered peers, and LGBT couples are four times more likely to raise adopted kids and six times more likely to raise foster children than hetero couples, according to nonpartisan studies, like the 2014 report released by the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Williams Institute</a>.</p><p>Kendrick, who fosters a baby with her wife, says only two adoption agencies supported the bill while nearly 70 faith leaders signed a letter in opposition. Because you have to be legally married for one year before you can adopt in Alabama, and adoption only recently became legal for gay and lesbian couples in the state, she says the law is mostly just causing confusion over who will or won’t work with them.</p><p>I tried to contact religious adoption agencies all over the state to ask about their policies on same-sex adoption. No one has returned my calls or emails. But Kendrick works with agencies statewide, and she said the attention the law is receiving has actually been a boon for same-sex adoption training. HRC has seen a spike in collaborative requests, and Kendrick said she’s trained more than 250 social workers in LGBT adoption courses. So the law may be having the opposite effect of Wingo’s intentions.</p><p>But even though same-sex couples have agencies to choose from when adopting, problems with the law still arise during family reunification for foster kids, according to Kendrick. Here’s an example: I spoke to Tony Christon-Walker, the Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships at AIDS Alabama, who worried he’d be denied parental rights when his half-sister lost custody of her son, Maurice. His sister asked Christon-Walker to adopt the boy. Christon-Walker, 50, is gay and HIV positive. A judge in Birmingham granted him parental rights, but if Maurice had been under the care of a private religious organization in Alabama instead, then under this new law, Christon-Walker could have been denied and would have no legal action to keep Maurice in the family.</p><p> The reality is, right now, no one really knows how this law will or won’t play out in court. I read&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">the bill and its amendments</a>&nbsp;a dozen times until I began to feel the way you do when you repeat a word aloud until it loses meaning.</p><p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Tony Christon-Walker with his husband and their adopted son, Maurice. Under new Alabama law, same-sex couples like the Christon-Walkers might not be able to adopt children from their own families. Photo courtesy of the author.</p><p>As written, HB24 protects privately-funded adoption agencies in Alabama when they turn away parents based on “closely held religious beliefs.” That vernacular vagueness is confusing even to practitioners in the legal system; several lawyers told me they weren’t comfortable offering a definitive explication of the law’s application for this story. One lawyer, Shane T. Smith, cut to the core of what’s so confusing: “While I respect everyone’s closely held religious beliefs,” he said, “I know a lot of Christians who are fine with people who are divorced. I know some Christians who won’t associate with people who are divorced. It’s not just a lesbian or gay thing; it’s whatever they deem to be sinful or wrong in their doctrine.”</p><p>Hypotheticals run rampant: Could Catholics deny an adoptive parent who was previously divorced? Could Baptists deny the unbaptized? Could Wiccans deny worshippers of Sun Ra? If these religious groups meet the criteria for protection—owning and operating a privately-funded, state-licensed adoption agency in Alabama—then, in theory, they sure could.</p><p>But in all the confusion over what HB24 means for gay families, who can and cannot adopt and from which agencies, it can feel like the kids themselves get lost in the mix. And what are the consequences if kids like Jay spend more time, possibly their entire childhoods, in group homes or transitional housing?</p><p>For a lot of kids, that life leads to higher instances of traumatic childhood events, which psychological studies show can affect everything from earning power to emotional well-being. Christon-Walker and his son serve as an example here, too. He said Maurice was believed to have an IQ of 69 while in foster care. He’s thankful the judge in Birmingham “believes in family,” because today, Maurice is a well-adjusted kid thriving at a Birmingham private school. He likes to joke with other kids by asking them where their second daddies are.</p><p>When I asked Christon-Walker where Maurice would be if he hadn’t been able to adopt him, he started to cry. “I don’t even want to think about it.”</p><p>At the Glasscos, we’re all out back with Jay now, the sun setting over the hills.</p><p>The social worker has wrapped up her visit, and I finally ask them about the law.</p><p>“This law is a protection for the majority, for a group who doesn’t need protection,” Bailey says. I tell her about what I’d heard from people in Birmingham, about progressive change, open-minded judges, and welcoming adoption agencies. I tell them what Eva Kendrick of HRC (who introduced me to the Glasscos) said about the increase in training for LGBT adoption.</p><p>“It’s easy to say the law is not going to change anything for the worse. But how can you predict that?” Bailey wonders. “This month, they’re feeling gay friendly. Let’s say Mr. So and So, who usually puts foster care in the homes of gay couples, goes home and his wife just read an article about some pedophile and how he had boyfriends or whatever, and he says we’re not dealing with gay people anymore. Things won’t change immediately, but it just takes one person.”</p><p>They’re worried groups that have been quietly working with LGBT couples will suddenly have board members wondering what their same-sex policies are. Chelsey does an imitation of an evangelical adoption director: “Hey, y’all! Welcome! Thanks for coming to the back door!”</p><p>“Now they might close the back door,” Bailey says.</p><p>Chelsey says right now, they’re more interested in making inroads with their families than lawmakers. A few years back, they reconciled with Bailey’s brother’s family. Since Jay came into their lives, Chelsey says her parents are more receptive to a relationship with Chelsey and Bailey (before they were only comfortable seeing their daughter without her wife).</p><p>Jay is on the deck below, out of earshot, playing with the dog who licks him chin to forehead.</p><p>“Ugh. He’s so stinking cute,” Chelsey says. “It makes me want to shake his parents. We see all the potential.”</p><p>“Sometimes we think he’s a baby, then he’ll sweep the floor,” Bailey says. “I mean, where the heck did that come from? You can’t button your daggum britches, son.”</p><p>The Glasscos are hopeful they will be able to adopt Jay. “The guardian ad litem, social workers, psychiatrist are working tirelessly to assure he ends up in a safe and healthy home,” Chelsey says.</p><p>“There’s always a chance the parents wake up, have an epiphany, go out and get a job and start making good choices.” If that does happen, and his parents are able to offer Jay a healthy environment, the Glasscos say they’ll be heartbroken but also unburdened. Chelsey says they have to trust the doctors who tell them long-term care will bring Jay healing. “We keep thinking… about when he’s 18, and he’s an amazing young man going to be a teacher or a doctor or joining the military,” Chelsey says.</p><p>“Or going to be a plumber! Or an electrician or anything that contributes to society,” Bailey says. “Or a football player, a third string kicker who rides the bench and sets us up for life!” They laugh. Jay offers a not-so-subtle hint it’s time we wrap up our conversation and his moms get dinner going: “I smell pizza!”</p><p>As I’m leaving, Jay pulls a drawing from his pocket and offers it to me as a gift. I ask him to describe the scene, and he tells me it’s him and his moms cleaning up the yard while the dogs play.</p><p>One side of the house in bathed in light. The other in darkness. Jay says he’s afraid to go in the dark, but his moms are brave.</p><p>They aren’t afraid, he says, and someday, he won’t be either.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jasmine-aguilera/inside-texas-megachurch-where-90-percent-of-worshipers-are-lgbt">Inside the Texas megachurch where 90 percent of worshipers are LGBT</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/why-is-american-left-so-prejudiced-about-south">Why is the American left so prejudiced about the South? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Katherine Webb-Hehn Care Culture Love and Spirituality Thu, 08 Mar 2018 20:35:08 +0000 Katherine Webb-Hehn 115984 at Transforming the powers: the continuing relevance of Walter Wink <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Any attempt to transform a social system without addressing both its spirituality and its outer forms is doomed to failure.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: By Francois Polito (Own work) <a href="">GFDL</a> or <a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons.</p> <blockquote><p>“But the bank is only made of man. No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” <a href="">John Steinbeck, <em>The Grapes of Wrath</em></a>.</p></blockquote> <p>Most people want a world without militarism, poverty, sexual exploitation, white supremacy and the despoiling of nature. Yet we find it so difficult to achieve such a world. One reason is that our social, economic and political structures powerfully resist transformation, as Steinbeck made clear in his description of the banking system as a monster that cannot be controlled.</p> <p>The American theologian <a href="">Walter Wink</a> (who died in 2012) made it his life’s work to help us understand these monsters and how to loosen their hold through an interpretation of Christianity that makes the core insights of biblical faith available to social change agents, both religious and secular.</p> <p>Trained as a New Testament specialist, Wink is best known for his “Powers trilogy” beginning with <em><a href="">Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament</a> </em>in 1984, followed by <em><a href="">Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence</a></em> in 1986, and ending with the magisterial <em><a href="">Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination</a>, </em>published<em> </em>in 1992. He also wrote <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1516132710&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=transforming+the+powers+gingerich">several shorter works</a> that flesh out the trilogy’s core insights.</p> <p>Wink argues in <em>Naming the Powers </em>that the language of “Principalities and Powers” in the New Testament refers to human social dynamics—institutions, belief systems, traditions and the like. These dynamics, or what he calls “manifestations of power,” always have an inner and an outer aspect. “Every Power tends to have a visible pole, an outer form—be it a church, a nation, an economy—and an invisible pole, an inner spirit or driving force that animates, legitimates, and regulates its physical manifestation in the world. Neither pole is the cause of the other. Both come into existence together and cease to exist together.”</p> <p>In Wink’s view, we need such an integrated, inner-outer awareness in order to understand the world we live in and act effectively as agents for healing and transformation. “Any attempt to transform a social system without addressing both its spirituality and its outer forms is doomed to failure,” as he puts it in <em>Engaging the Powers.</em> What's more, in Wink's understanding all systems of power have the potential to be just or unjust, violent or nonviolent. “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p>“We cannot affirm governments or universities or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognize that they are fallen,” he continues “We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God’s good creation. And reflection on their creation and fall will appear only to legitimate these Powers and blast hope for change unless we assert at the same time that these Powers can and must be redeemed.”</p></blockquote> <p>This cycle of personal and institutional redemption provides a pathway to deep social change, but Wink refuses to pit the political against the personal. If either side is missing, he insists, genuine transformation won’t be possible. To illustrate what this means in concrete terms, take his analysis of contemporary North America, which focuses on the role of violence in US culture. Wink challenges what he calls the “<a href="">myth of redemptive violence</a>”—the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, and that might makes right. His work explores how to combat this myth and further a social order that is free from domination.</p> <p>A major problem in American culture has long been the devotion of an incredible amount of resources to the military-industrial complex. As a consequence, the US projects force as a solution to conflict in ways that only heighten global insecurities through a constant stream of ‘blowbacks.’ These social dynamics are fueled in part by the socialization of Americans into a mentality that insists on responding to perceived enemies with fear and violence. Wink’s analysis helps us to see how our refusal to confront the darkness within ourselves on both the personal and the societal levels blinds us to alternative approaches to enmity that can lead to a growth in self-knowledge and open up pathways to reconciliation.</p> <p>His thinking about “domination systems” helps us to understand the contemporary context of large-scale violence in America and beyond, a system that entraps us all in the amazingly self-destructive dynamic of violence responding to violence, and on and on and on in this same vein. And his analysis of the role that the Principalities and Powers play in human culture helps us to make sense of why our structures are so destructive of human wellbeing.</p> <p>As another example, take the crises of climate change and environmental degradation. Thus far we have not found a way to wrest control of our economic systems away from the ideologies and institutions that are driving us over the cliff of irreversible and catastrophic ecological change. Something in these systems resists change—but it is also true that our personal addictions to wasteful lifestyles and our deference to political and corporate leaders render us largely impotent.</p> <p>As these examples show, the inner or spiritual Powers are not separate heavenly or ethereal realities but rather the inner aspects of material or tangible manifestations of power in relation to nature—as well, we may note, in relation to prisons, the police, racial and sexual violence, debates over gun control, militarism and the ‘War on Terror.’ As Wink writes in <em>Naming the Powers</em>:</p> <blockquote><p>“The ‘principalities and powers’ are the inner or spiritual essence, or gestalt, of an institution or system. The ‘demons’ are the psychic or spiritual power emanated by organizations or individuals or subaspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others;…‘gods’ are the very real archetype or ideological structures that determine or govern reality and its mirror, the human brain; and…‘Satan’ is the actual power that congeals around collective idolatry, injustice, or inhumanity, a power that increases or decreases according to the degree of collective refusal to choose higher values.”</p></blockquote> <p>In Wink’s understanding, the biblical worldview allowed its writers to comprehend the spiritual nature of human structures. The language of demons, spirits, principalities and so on helped these writers to recognize that social life has both seen and unseen elements, and that both need to be taken into account to understand the dynamics that shape our lives.</p> <p>But that biblical worldview has fallen by the wayside with the development of modern consciousness and cannot simply be re-appropriated. It “is in many ways beyond being salvaged, limited as it was by the science, philosophy, and religion of its age” as Wink puts it in <em>Unmasking the Powers.</em>&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the materialistic, modern worldview has itself proven inadequate in understanding and addressing complex social realities, since it cannot recognize the possibility that the spiritual Powers are real. This is crucial because, when we fail to respect the reality of the Powers we become most vulnerable to their manipulations—as, for example, when we are blind to the ways in which the myth of redemptive violence pervades ways of thinking about how best to deal with conflict and insecurity.</p> <blockquote><p>“A reassessment of these Powers—angels, demons, gods, elements, the devil—allows us to reclaim, name, and comprehend types of experiences that materialism renders mute and inexpressible. We have the experiences but miss their meaning. Unable to name our experiences of these intermediate powers of existence, we are simply constrained by them compulsively. They are never more powerful than when they are unconscious. Their capacities to bless us are thwarted, their capacities to possess us augmented. Unmasking these Powers can mean for us initiation into a dimension of reality ‘not known, because not looked for,’ in T.S. Eliot’s words….The goal of such unmasking is to enable people to see how they have been determined, and to free them to choose, insofar as they have genuine choice, what they will be determined by in the future.”</p></blockquote> <p>Therefore, we must adjust our worldview to take in the inter-related realities of internal and external power structures and make this the basis of our actions. With some success, through his writings, sermons and workshops, Wink tried to help Christians to revive the biblical worldview in a postmodern context, though his insights remain relatively unknown outside of the progressive wing of the church, at least in North America.</p> <p>By challenging us to look beyond and beneath material power structures but never to ignore them, Wink's work helps us to understand how worldviews shape our perceptions of the issues that surround us, and how important it is that we revise our modern worldview if we want to move more effectively towards human wellbeing. Only an “integral worldview,” as he calls it, will enable us to remain modern people while also recognizing the interconnections of all things and the spirituality that infuses all of creation.</p> <p>Along with providing necessary insights into why we are so dominated by the forces of violence, Wink’s analysis also provides an essential sense of hope and empowerment. As we break free from the illusions of the Domination System, we can be freed to recognize that not only are the Powers corruptible (or “fallen” in his language), but that they are also redeemable. So Wink’s ideas, sobering as they are, are not a counsel of despair. The Powers can—and must—be successfully resisted and transformed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ted-grimsrud/violence-as-theological-problem">Violence as a theological problem</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/carol-howard-merritt/america-is-not-promised-land">America is not the Promised Land</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Ted Grimsrud Culture Love and Spirituality Tue, 23 Jan 2018 21:55:54 +0000 Ted Grimsrud 115724 at Embracing holy envy: 'Allahu Akbar' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We should not allow terrorists and bigots to hijack language in order to sow fear, ignorance and division.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="xgmail-p1"><img src="//" alt="" /></p><p class="image-caption">Interior of the&nbsp;<a title="Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque" href="">Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque</a>&nbsp;in&nbsp;<a title="Isfahan, Iran" href=",_Iran">Isfahan, Iran</a>. Credit: By <a href="">Phillip Maiwald (Nikopol) - Own work</a>, <a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>. </p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I say&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar’&nbsp;</em>dozens of times a day. I say it during prayer. I say it as an expression of reaffirmation and gratitude to God.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I said it when my daughter was born, and there will be someone to say it over me when I am buried.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I say it when I witness beauty.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p2">In 1985, Lutheran Bishop <a href="">Krister Stendahl</a>, in defending the building of a Mormon temple by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Stockholm, enunciated “<a href="">Three Rules of Religious Understanding</a>:”</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">“When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.”</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">“Don’t compare your best to their worst,” and:</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">“Leave room for holy envy.”</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Stendahl challenges us to be open to recognizing elements in other religions—even those that may appear foreign or threatening—and to consider how we might wish to support, embrace, emulate or further explore those elements that might help us to deepen our understanding of our own religious traditions and more deeply connect to others: to embrace ‘holy envy.’</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Abdullah, a Saudi friend of mine whose family tree traces back to the time of Prophet Mohammad in Mecca, travels to Cairo with his family every Christmas.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">He, with children and grandchildren—perhaps even now with great grandchildren—window shop, go to Christmas parties, sing Christmas carols and together celebrate the birth of Jesus, considered by Muslims to be the most revered prophet after Prophet Muhammad.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">On Christmas Eve they attend Midnight Mass at the Anglican Church in Zamalek.&nbsp;Abdullah doesn’t take the Eucharist but he loves Jesus—and Christmas pudding (Egyptian friends make him an alcohol-free version).</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Before New Year’s Day they return to Saudi Arabia, renewed by their encounter with Christian tradition and re-committed to an ecumenical understanding that the descendants of Abraham share much more through faith than they disagree about politically.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Like Stendahl, Abdullah and I believe that being open to holy envy helps us to connect to others, to ease tensions and build bridges.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I was recently reminded of Stendahl and Abdullah as I listened to the discussion that followed <a href="">the terrorist attack in New York on October 31 2017</a> when eight people were killed and 12 injured by a truck driven by Uzbek native <a href="">Sayfullo Saipov</a>. As the truck plowed into a bicycle path in lower Manhattan, it’s reported that Saipov cried out ‘<em>Allahu Akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We know, from <a href="">documents released by the FBI after 9/11</a>, that a letter written by the hijacker <a href="">Mohamed Atta</a> urged attackers to shout ‘<em>Allahu akbar’&nbsp;</em>because “this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">We know, from Fort Hood, from New York, London, Paris, Brussels, Mogadishu, Istanbul, Baghdad and Beirut, that terrorists continue to shout&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar</em>’ even when most of their victims are believers.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">To terrorists the non-believers are those who don’t hate as they do—Muslim and non-Muslim.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">On the other hand, at the <a href="">funeral service for Muhammad Ali</a> there were four recitations of ‘<em>Allahu akbar</em>’ along with prayers, readings and blessing in-between.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p2">I believe that&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar</em>’ will strike fear only if we allow, through ignorance and prejudice, terrorists to define how we approach God.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">To Muslims<em>&nbsp;‘Allahu akbar’&nbsp;</em>means ‘the greatest,’ although linguistically, it translates as ‘greater.’</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">To Muslims it means nothing is greater than God.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Allahu akbar’</em>&nbsp;isn’t in the Qur’an, but it’s part of daily prayer and worship, embedded in our consciousness. As a term of gratitude to God it’s even used by some Arabic-speaking Christians.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Today, Muslims who pray&nbsp;<em>‘Allahu akbar’</em>&nbsp;are caught between terrorists who try to inspire fear and Islamophobes who try to instill ignorance and fear of The Other.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">In the US, we are learning not to define all Christians by the practice of the <a href="">Westboro Baptist Church (“God hates fags”)</a>, or the far-right anti-Muslim <a href="">Judge Roy Moore</a>, or by those who want to ban Harry Potter, Halloween and dancing.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We’ve learned that Christianity is not monolithic.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">Today, we must also learn that Islam is not monolithic, and that all Muslims are not defined by Sayfullo Saipov and Mohamed Atta.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We must embrace more holy envy and less unholy ignorance.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">A friend of mine, an Episcopal priest who has traveled in the Middle East, has holy envy over the Muslim tradition of saying&nbsp;<em>‘insha’Allah.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">“I often wish we had something like that in our tradition” she once told me, “the constant reminder—‘<em>insha’</em> <em>Allah’—</em>that only God knows the future.”</p> <p class="xgmail-p1"><em>‘Insha’Allah’—</em>if<em> </em>God wills it—is to recognize God’s omnipotence, God’s Grace, presence and authority in our lives.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Can I borrow your snow-blower tomorrow?&nbsp;<em>‘Insha’Allah.’</em><em><br /> </em>Can we have dinner tonight?&nbsp;<em>‘Insha’Allah.’<br /> </em>Can you meet me tomorrow?&nbsp;<em>‘Insha’Allah.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">I love Thanksgiving. I like Christmas trees. I love menorahs and the story they tell. I love the call of the <em><a href="">shofar</a></em>, the peeling of church bells and the sound of <em><a href="">muezzins</a></em> calling the faithful to prayer. We need to witness, and we need our children to witness, each others’ religions, traditions, symbols and practices.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We need more holy envy—‘<em>insha'Allah.’</em></p> <p class="xgmail-p1">We need to see the world, not as something to be partitioned and feared but as a source of engagement and richness that nourishes all of humanity.</p> <p class="xgmail-p1">Our challenge today is to refuse to allow terrorists and bigots to hijack, weaponize and appropriate language in order to sow fear, ignorance and division. I believe that our public squares are richer and our nations healthier when we struggle to preserve and enhance the pluralistic experience that defines our societies at their best.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2">This isn’t just an Abrahamic calling: whether secular, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Quaker—whatever faith tradition we may or may not embrace—I believe that we are all called, by our Constitutions as well as our Prophets, to serve the forgotten and the dispossessed, and to honor conscience and each other’s dignity and humanity.</p> <p class="xgmail-p2"><em>‘Allahu Akbar.’</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/robert-azzi/i-m-muslim-ask-me-anything">I’m a Muslim—ask me anything</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/is-it-ok-to-criticise-islam">Is it ok to criticise Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation islam Robert Azzi Love and Spirituality Tue, 14 Nov 2017 22:47:21 +0000 Robert Azzi 114599 at Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Whatever the emerging world becomes, it will need a new consciousness to guide it, especially if we want that world to be a good one.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Pixabay/Stocksnap</a>. CC0 Creative Commons.</p> <p>“Were Christians to be in a position to exert enduring cultural influence, the results would likely be disastrous or perhaps mostly so.” This is the judgment of <a href="">University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter</a>, who coined the term “culture wars” in the 1980s, but it’s a sentiment that’s shared by many on the left.</p> <p>Given their flawed thinking about public life, says Hunter—“based on both specious social science and problematic theology”—there seems to be little future for the Christian faith as a motivating force in progressive politics in the USA and beyond. But is this judgment correct?</p> <p>To put this question in context, the American Century is over. The institutions that sustained the modern industrial world (including many of the mainstream Christian churches) are rusting out, their legitimacy crisis dragging on like a festering wound since the Sixties.</p> <p>Whether we like it or not, we are emerging into a different world. It feels strange to us. We can’t see it clearly at this point, or even know what to call it. But whatever the emerging world will become it will need a new consciousness to guide it, especially if we want that world to be a good one.</p> <p>Finding and articulating that new consciousness in order to re-imagine our societies is one of the central challenges of our times—supporting the growth of a wider, public sensibility and a progressive way of life in which peace, justice, love, hope and human flourishing can grow. To meet this challenge, I think we’ll need to draw on imaginative resources wherever we can find them.</p> <p>So it’s at least worth taking another look at Christianity’s faith and practice, history and global diversity, theological ideas and spiritual traditions in order to see whether any of these things might offer us these kinds of resources. Can Christianity be critical enough of itself and of society to be a productive source of change? By this I don’t mean that Christians should simply criticize. We’ve had enough cranky, reactionary rhetoric from the uniquely American religious right in recent years to last a lifetime.</p> <p>But keep in mind that as recently as the Sixties, Christian public identity in the US was claimed by the moderate-to-progressive Protestant ‘mainline’ denominations—the religious center-left. Progressive theologians including <a href="">Reinhold Niebuhr</a>, <a href="">Paul Tillich</a> and <a href="">Harvey Cox</a>, and activist clergy like <a href="">Martin Luther King Jr</a> and <a href="">William Sloane Coffin</a>, were all well-known, consequential public figures.</p> <p>Their intellectual and moral tradition was rooted long ago in the eighteenth-century in what historian Amy Kittelstrom calls the “American Reformation” in her recent book, <em><a href=";qid=1508464627&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+religion+of+democracy">The Religion of Democracy</a>. </em>Kittelstrom describes this period as one of fascinating intellectual ferment during which New England pastors and theologians started to mix Reformation Protestantism with the values of the Enlightenment.</p> <p>This experiment produced a new liberal faith; a new liberal intellectual culture fostering democratic values such as liberty of conscience, equality and social progress; and the first stirrings of protest against slavery and in favor of women’s rights. These church leaders, <a href=";qid=1508464627&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+religion+of+democracy">says Kittlestrom</a>, “were the first people in the world to call themselves liberals.” Their ideas were crucial to the development of social consciousness in the USA well into the twentieth century.</p> <p>Kittelstrom connects distinctly American traditions like <a href="">Transcendentalism</a>—white America’s first truly new spirituality; <a href="">Pragmatism</a>—its first unique philosophy; and <a href="">Progressivism</a>, fueled by the <a href="">Social Gospel</a>, to the spirit of the American Reformation and its fusion with democratic society. The American Reformation’s intellectual influence, <a href="">writes historian David Hollinger</a>, “was—and continues to be—a world-historical event, or at least one of the defining experiences of the North Atlantic West . . . from the eighteenth century to the present.”</p> <p>This diverse, open and inclusive mainstream version of Christian faith has faded out in the last 50 years, to be replaced by an inexperienced reactionary rump with neither the historical memory nor the cultural skills to articulate a coherent public faith, or even to grasp how society is changing. The now long-forgotten ‘death’ of the Protestant mainline churches, as Catholic sociologist <a href=";qid=1508465073&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=joseph+bottum">Joseph Bottum</a> reminds us, is more consequential than we might think. Bottum laments losing a venerable, crucial, moderating voice in civil society as “the central historical fact of our time”—and a significant source of our present political and cultural confusion.</p> <p>But can Christian faith <em>today</em> offer a critique<em> </em>of our current way of life, in the same way that, say, feminism or critical race theory can? Is it able to provide a progressive resource for creating a new public consciousness and form of life as societies sail into uncharted waters?</p> <p>Nearly everyone outside the white, Euro-American dominant society feels written out of history, but where do we turn for an alternative point of view to correct this situation? We turn to post-colonial writers certainly, including Christian theologians from Latin America, Africa and Asia. We look to the East for new varieties of religious consciousness, and to pre-colonial indigenous cultures for alternative modes of life. And we look to pre-Western pagan values that underpin eco-spiritualities and new religious movements.</p> <p>But all these resources only go so far in helping us with our own critical self-understanding. How can we in the West understand ourselves—on our own terms—from the perspective of our own history? One way to do this is by re-telling our own story from our own beginnings, without prejudice to the ancient and Medieval Christian roots that predated the modern period.</p> <p>This is already being done by some of the most influential philosophers of our generation. For example, <a href="">Charles Taylor</a>, an early leader in multicultural theory, has helpfully traced the rise of modern consciousness from theological as well as philosophical roots in his magisterial <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508465419&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sources+of+the+self"><em>Sources of the Self</em></a>.</p> <p>Italian political philosopher <a href="">Giorgio Agamben</a> (a radical leftist, and an atheist as far as I know) is another. He argues that to understand Western thinking we need to pick apart modern thought to uncover its theological underpinnings, and he publishes copious theological writing. “I think” <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508466723&amp;sr=1-10&amp;keywords=giorgio+agamben">he says</a>, “that it is only through metaphysical, religious, and theological paradigms that one can truly approach the contemporary—and political—situation.”</p> <p>Another voice in the mix is <a href="">Slavoj Žižek</a>, the Slovenian philosophical rock star of the Marxist left who publishes frequently with theologians, <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508467013&amp;sr=1-34&amp;keywords=slavoj+zizek">even claiming that</a> “to become a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian experience.”</p> <p>These are not endorsements of actually-existing Christianity by any means, but they represent a rich intellectual search for philosophical alternatives that are rooted in the ground of Christian theology and practice.</p> <p>In addition, the Western perception of Christianity is more than a little myopic. It’s easy to forget that <a href="">33 per cent of the world’s people</a>—2.4 billion individuals—identify as Christians. Jesus still has more followers than Facebook, and most of them live lives far different from those in the West. Pentecostal Christians alone now outnumber Buddhists worldwide. As Philip Jenkins pointed out some years ago in his seminal book <em><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508467572&amp;sr=1-4&amp;keywords=philip+jenkins">The Next Christendom</a>,</em> to overlook the rise of Christianity in the global South—which &nbsp;now constitutes 60 per cent of world Christianity—is to miss the most profound social revolution of the twentieth century.</p> <p>Why don’t we see this clearly? In part it’s because many of us live in an ‘already-been-Christian’ context. Christian tradition has been in our background for so long that it’s almost second nature to be critical of it, and many of us assume that it’s on its way out anyway.</p> <p>But that ignores the fact that in ‘never-before-been-Christian’ societies, Christianity might provide progressive resources, social as well as spiritual. Some choose Christian faith as a means of assimilating liberal Western values, some to connect with a global religious consciousness. Many others see in the faith solutions to personal problems as well as intellectual tools to understand their own cultural traditions. We do the same thing in the West when we borrow non-Western spiritual practices like meditation or yoga.</p> <p>For whatever reasons, individuals around the world who are concerned about their spirituality are asserting their free agency to choose these resources in order to address their own developing consciousness. They do this in large numbers even now in a post-colonial period of extensive criticism of the West and its religion.</p> <p>What can be made of this enormous, global community of different and often clashing Christian identities? It’s certainly a testing ground for just about every social problem and potential solution. To take an example from Africa: the Anglican Communion ranges from <a href="">homophobic bishops</a> to progressive civil rights heroes like South African <a href="">Archbishop Desmond Tutu</a> and former Ugandan <a href="">Bishop David Zac Niringiye</a>. How tensions between conservatives and progressives play out will have an enormous influence on African society—as well as demonstrate whether or not Christian faith can mobilize its resources to support human flourishing for everyone.</p> <p>Whatever you decide to make of it, the Christian movement will be with us for a very long time, warts and all. In spite of its many problems—and they are manifold—it is important to take another look to see how rich it might be in terms of the resources we need to guide the world into a new way of being, and a new form of consciousness, where peace, justice, love, and hope may prevail.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/death-and-afterlife-of-liberation-theology">The death and life of liberation theology</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/christina-easton/don-t-mention-jesus-why-excluding-beliefs-from-public-sphere-is-mist">Don’t mention Jesus! Why excluding beliefs from the public sphere is mistaken</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Gregory Leffel Love and Spirituality Sun, 12 Nov 2017 23:11:21 +0000 Gregory Leffel 114224 at The death and life of liberation theology <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A generation of radical theologians from Latin America is passing away. What does their legacy mean for the rest of the world? <strong><em><a href="">Español</a> <a href="">Português</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" /></p><p class="image-caption">Zapatista Church: a very small monument to liberation theology. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/David Sasaki</a>. <a href="">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p>This June saw the passing of two of our generation’s most fascinating and controversial Catholic priests: <a href="">François Houtart</a> and <a href="">Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann</a>. Houtart was a Jesuit priest and prolific scholar on the faculty of sociology at the University of Louvain in Belgium. His leadership in the dialogue between Marxism and Christianity, his research on religion in society from Sri Lanka to Nicaragua, and his desire to connect social movements in the global South through the <a href="">Tricontinental Centre</a> (CETRI) which he founded in 1976, matched his academic output of some 50 books. </p> <p>On the theological front, he assisted in drafting the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World<em> (<a href="">Gaudium et Spes</a> </em>or “Joy and Hope”), one of the most influential documents of the landmark <a href="">Second Vatican Council</a>. Houtart was a hero to many around the world but certainly no saint. In 2010, he terminated a global campaign to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize when <a href="">he admitted to sexually abusing an eight-year-old boy</a> in 1970.</p> <p>He is perhaps best remembered for his pioneering work on the analysis of, and resistance to, corporate economic globalization. Noting the pervasive influence of the <a href="">World Economic Forum</a>, he proposed the “Other Davos” in 1996, a counter movement against the mounting power of neoliberal economics.</p> <p>Five years later, others including <a href="">Chico Whitaker</a>, a lay Catholic activist and secretary of the Commission of Justice and Peace of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil,&nbsp; built on Houtart’s initiatives to launch the <a href="">World Social Forum</a> (WSF) in Porto Alegre, an annual &nbsp;meeting place for alter-globalists seeking solidarity under the banner of “Another World is Possible!” Houtart served on its International Council.</p> <p>Miguel D’Escoto served as a Maryknoll missionary priest in his native Nicaragua after his education and ordination in the USA. A liberation theologian, he joined Nicaragua’s <a href="">Sandinista movement (FSLN</a>) in the overthrow of the dictatorial Samoza regime and its resistance to the US-led “<a href="">contra” war</a>, serving in the Sandinista government—including as Foreign Minister between 1979 and 1990. In 2008 he was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly. Though never entirely repudiated by the Vatican for his political work, he was suppressed for decades before being fully restored to his pastoral duties by Pope Francis in 2014.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Houtart and D’Escoto were both men of their times. In their generation, liberation was in the air through national movements against colonialism, through revolutions, and through New Left activism across the globe. Following Vatican II’s “opening to the world” and the Church’s fresh engagement with modernity, Catholic priests, missionaries and lay leaders were free to pursue novel forms of ministry.</p> <p>Such novel religious activism wasn’t entirely new. Brazilian <a href="">Archbishop Hélder Câmara</a>, the “bishop of the slums,” had taken a radical approach to his ministry to the poor a decade before Vatican II; and the antecedents to what would be called liberation theology had been building in both Catholic and Protestant circles for years. But the 1968 meeting of Catholic bishops at the <a href="">Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM)</a> in Medellín, Colombia, marked a turning point for the realignment of the church away from traditional social elites. Liberation theology was thus liberated to pursue its “preferential option for the poor.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This movement spread powerfully through Latin America—and with assistance from Houtart and others, in Asia and Africa as well. But the epicenter was Latin America, where the movement aligned itself with other civil society groups in opposition to right-wing military dictatorships.</p> <p>Among this generation, Roman Catholic theologians <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508430318&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=gustavo+gutierrez">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a> (now aged 89), <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508303547&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=leonardo+boff">Leonardo Boff</a> (78) and <a href="">Jon Sobrino</a> (78), and the Methodist <a href="///C:/Users/edwarmi/Downloads/;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1508303660&amp;sr=1-5&amp;keywords=Jos%C3%A9+M%C3%ADguez+Bonino">José Míguez Bonino</a> (who died in 2012) are among the better known liberationists. Many of their ideas were developed in association with <a href="">Paulo Freire</a> (who died in 1997), the Brazilian Christian educational activist, proponent of popular education, and author of the acclaimed <em><a href=";qid=1508430793&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=pedagogy+of+the+oppressed+by+paulo+freire">Pedagogy of the Oppressed</a>.</em></p> <p>Also part of this group was the Paraguayan <a href="">Fernando Lugo</a> (still young at 66), who was ordained a missionary priest by the Society of the Divine Word and returned home to become bishop of San Pedro where he was known as the “friend of the poor.” In 2008 he was elected president of Paraguay, but impeached in 2012 in what neighboring countries called a “<a href=";action=click&amp;contentCollection=timestopics&amp;region=stream&amp;module=stream_unit&amp;version=late">constitutional coup d’état</a>.”</p> <p>Why did this generation rise to prominence in Latin America? There are numerous reasons. For one, in the post-World War II period, some like Houtart in Belgium were radicalized by the plight of the European working class and challenged by its irreligiosity to find new ways of articulating and identifying with the poor. This experience spread to Latin America almost accidentally, for the simple reason that Europe was oversupplied with priests and Latin America needed more of them; knowingly or not, Latin America imported radicalized priests in significant numbers. Latin American priests also studied in Europe, absorbing radical thinking. These influences played out in societies dominated by the Catholic faith.</p> <p>But the larger reasons were twofold: first, the abject poverty of the Latin American majority which even the Vatican could no longer overlook; and second, the rise of oppressive military regimes and bitter political revolutions in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The felt need for liberation among the poor, the marginalized and indigenous peoples was as palpable as it was necessary. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the struggle for liberation was very real.</p> <p>Those days are gone. Democracy has returned to much of Latin America, as well as a more pragmatic form of social democracy, and liberation theology has lost some of its revolutionary raison d’être. In <a href="">his open and honest postmortem</a> on the movement, the Belgian-Latin American <a href="">José Comblin</a> (who died in 2011) admits that in many ways the liberationists misinterpreted the life experience of the Latin American poor.</p> <p>While they focused on rural peasants they overlooked migration to the cities. They also missed the mood of the <em>campesinos’</em> popular religiosity, which trended strongly towards the Protestant and Pentecostal churches. And they ignored the desire of the poor to become consumers. “The Catholics opted for the poor,” as the saying goes, but “the poor opted for the markets.”</p> <p>Hence, liberation theology was but a moment. It was a particular theo-political response to a specific set of circumstances—a generation’s rebellion against grinding poverty in the killing fields of revolutionary Latin America. But the rich theology of the liberationists endures as a challenge to every church tradition. Their analysis of the causes of poverty and how it is structured into prevailing global systems—recently articulated by Houtart in his 2011 manifesto <em><a href="">From ‘Common Goods’ to the ‘Common Good of Humanity’</a></em>—challenges every church to open its eyes to the cold, hard analysis that’s required to grasp the changing world around them.</p> <p>Is there anything else the rest of the world can learn from the liberationists?</p> <p>In the West, the Protestant, Anglo-European North and the Catholic, Iberian South produced vastly different socio-political traditions, even though they share in common a white settler history of slave-holding, the suppression of indigenous peoples, and capitalist class exploitation. If the South trends social-democratic and struggles against powerful conservative elites, the North trends liberal, towards laissez faire capitalism and expressive individualism. As it was framed in Latin America, liberation theology could never succeed in the North.</p> <p>Nevertheless, it has many lessons to teach. The first lies in its consciousness—its willingness to flip the social script from catering to elites to privileging the poor. Liberation theology was never only about theo-politics and revolution. It was also about overcoming alienation: the alienation that separates human beings from each other, people from the Earth, Western from pre-Western forms of life, and alienated psyches from transcendence. It taught ordinary people to perceive the reality of their own circumstance—to <em>conscientize</em> themselves, as the liberationists put it—through their own self-reflection, so that they were free to construct a social reality that resisted the powers of the age.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Secondly, we can learn from its methodology, simple yet profound: “See–Judge–Act.” That is, live in the concrete world. Describe reality as it is, not simply as theory tells us. But also judge reality from the horizon of a reconciled humanity, and act accordingly to bring that reality about. The liberationists put a lot of time into analysis, and that let them tell, in great detail, the hard truth that the world we have made is grinding others into the dust, and that this must stop, as much for our own salvation as for the wellbeing of others.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, we might even learn from its mistakes. To overlook popular religiosity—because intellectual and religious elites aren’t interested in the daily lives of the faithful, or because wealthy city dwellers forget rural life and laugh off its traditions, or because the successful classes denigrate the struggling classes and blame them for their own suffering—is to leave large segments of society without the material, intellectual, and spiritual resources to find their way in the world.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Lastly, we might learn to take our own churches more seriously. The liberationists believed in spiritual community, life-giving fellowship, and historical church structures to hold them together more than any religious movement that I’ve come across. They believed in a “<a href=";qid=1508299179&amp;sr=8-7&amp;keywords=leonardo+boff">new way of being church</a>”—confident that the social power of faith can liberate societies as easily as it can oppress them.</p> <p>Since the end of Soviet-style socialism in 1989, ‘alter-globalization’ rather than ‘liberation’ has come to define the radical imagination, but the problems of poverty and oppression persist—as does the possibility that we might draw again on the theo-political resources provided by a remarkable community of radical priests to inspire a new generation of alter-globalist activists and theologians.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/best-kept-secret-of-catholic-church%E2%80%94its-social-teachings">The best kept secret of the Catholic Church—its social teachings</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/is-pope-francis-ecofeminist">Is Pope Francis an ecofeminist?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation liberation theology religion and social transformation Gregory Leffel Activism Love and Spirituality Sun, 22 Oct 2017 23:02:36 +0000 Gregory Leffel 114159 at Did the Great War leave God “hanging on the old barbed wire”? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The patriarchal deity died in the trenches of the Somme, but the churches will not let him go.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The Fire Window in the Regiment Chapel of Manchester Cathedral. Credit:&nbsp;© Copyright&nbsp;<a title="View profile" href="">David Dixon</a>&nbsp;and licensed for&nbsp;<a href="">reuse</a>&nbsp;under this&nbsp;<a title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Licence" href="">Creative Commons Licence</a>.</p> <p>In the north-east corner of <a href="">Manchester Cathedral</a> there is a large rectangular chapel. The focal point is a stained-glass window in the east wall, a vast arch of red, orange and yellow glass that suggests flames and destruction. On the altar frontal beneath it and completing the fire motif is a phoenix. In the Manchester Blitz of 1940 the cathedral was bombed and burned. The Fire Window commemorates both the long nights of destruction and the city’s resurrection out of the flames.</p> <p>The <a href="">Regiment Chapel</a> as it is known commemorates, remembers and celebrates the service of The Duke of Lancaster Regiment and its precursors, including the Manchester Regiment. From the walls hang flags and battle honours, heavy with the conflicts of the twentieth century including <a href="">Mons</a>, <a href="">Ypres</a>, <a href="">the Somme</a> and <a href="">Cambrai</a>. Along the north edge are sturdy wooden display cases full of weighty books of remembrance, packed with the names of the fallen. On alternate Wednesdays there is a simple service called ‘The Turning of the Leaves,’ when the pages of the books are turned over. These are pages thick with memory, ritualized into manageable remembrance.</p> <p>It is troubling to think about how the <a href="">Church of England</a> has been complicit in the ways in which war has been prosecuted. <a href="">Elie Halévy</a> notes how in the <a href="">Great War of 1914-18</a>, for example, state control of thought took two forms: the negative, aimed at suppressing opinions deemed contrary to the national interest; and the positive, appropriately termed “the organization of enthusiasm.” The Church of England was very much part of the latter. Indeed, until the formation of a government Department of Information in 1917, propaganda was very much the business of private initiative.</p> <p>As <a href="">Albert Marrin, who argues that the Great War was the last European holy war, has written</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>“Convinced of the righteousness of England’s cause, and believing that Christianity was concerned as much with the discharge of civic responsibilities as with the religious life, patriotic clergymen resolved to do their ‘bit’ for King and Country.”</p></blockquote> <p>The consistent refrain of diocesan conferences and parish meetings at the time was that the Church had a dual role as a servant of God and the servant of the state. As a servant of god, it provided huge amounts of practical humanitarian support to both needy soldiers at the front and their families at home, as well as supplying chaplains and distributing mind-bogglingly large number of Bibles and religious tracts.</p> <p>In terms of service to the state, <a href="">Arthur Winnington-Ingram</a>, the Bishop of London, remains the most notorious figure among the clergy who were active as recruiters for the war, yet there was no shortage of other clerics willing to preach for the patriotic cause. Rev. Richard Huggard, Vicar of St. John's Barnsley claimed to have personally enlisted two thousand men. The Rev. A.W. Gough, Vicar of Brompton and Prebendary of St. Paul's suggested that every Englishman worthy of the name should don the khaki uniform with pride, “the festal garment which God is offering us today, which he is insisting that we put on.”</p> <p>Winnington-Ingram—a man who loved to throw on a uniform and hang around recruiting rallies—boasted of having been thanked officially by the War Office for adding ten thousand men to the fighting forces of the crown. Soon after, a grateful king appointed him a <a href="">K.C.V.O</a>.</p> <p>For whom was the God proclaimed by the Church, and what account of suffering was it able to provide? The writer <a href="">Alan Wilkinson suggests that</a> “God speaks to the Church through the world, as well as to the world through the Church...In this period, that Word emerged more authentically from the prose and poetry of <a href="">Siegfried Sassoon</a> and <a href="">Wilfred Owen</a> than it did, say, from the sermons of Winnington-Ingram.”</p> <p>More than any other, Owen’s poetry determines how most British people see the Great War in particular and war in general. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Manchester’s and was gazetted for the <a href="">Military Cross</a>. Owen was not a religious poet; his subject, <a href="">as he famously put it</a>, was “War and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity.” Yet his poetry and letters play with and push against biblical images and theological concepts; he is profoundly aware of God and Christ, but his wrestling with God is imbued with rich irony and ambivalence. It is as if he is trying to make sense of an abridged or compromised God for times of abridged hope, a God who can make some kind of home in an ironic world.</p> <p>Owen discovers a God both greater and lesser than he imagined. In <a href="">one of his letters</a>, he suggests that:</p> <blockquote><p>“Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear His voice: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life—for a friend. Is it only spoken in English and French? I do not believe so. Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism…Christians have deliberately cut some of the main teaching of their code.”</p></blockquote> <p>Owen found himself drawn close to Christ in his passion, though he expresses this closeness with irony:</p> <blockquote><p>“For 14 hours yesterday I was at work—teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirsts until after the last halt; I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet to see that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb and stands to attention before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.”</p></blockquote> <p>The contrast with the God/Christ of the Anglican churchmen <em>cum</em> recruiting sergeants is striking. Theirs typically reflects the muscularity and presumed masculinity of their class. As <a href="">Modris Eksteins strikingly puts it</a> in his book <em>Rites of Spring</em>, “Clergymen dressed Jesus in khaki and had him firing machine-guns.” Their God is one that echoes through the martial fair-play of the poetry of <a href="">Sir Henry Newbolt</a> in his most famous poem, <em><a href="">Vitai Lampada</a></em>, which imagines a soldier bringing the virtues of his school and sport (specifically cricket) onto the battlefield:</p> <blockquote><p>“The river of death has brimmed his banks,</p><p>And England's far, and Honour a name,</p><p>But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:</p><p>‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’”</p></blockquote> <p>Newbolt was a lifelong friend of <a href=",_1st_Earl_Haig">Douglas Haig</a>, the British army commander from 1916 until the end of the war. They had met at <a href="">Clifton College</a>, whose cricket field provides the location for the first stanza of <em>Vitai</em>. As <a href="">the writer Paul Fussell makes clear</a>, “Much later Newbolt wrote, ‘When I looked into Douglas Haig I saw what is really great—perfect acceptance, which means perfect faith.”’ The Establishment, of which the Church of England was a part, celebrated what <a href=";s=books&amp;qid=1225811381&amp;sr=1-1">Patrick Howarth has called&nbsp;<em>Homo Newboltiensis</em>:</a> the man who is stoic, honourable, brave, loyal and not a little unimaginative.</p> <p>The God of the Anglican recruiting sergeants is the patriarchal God, made in their own image and inherited from decades of English imperial confidence, shaped in public schools. The Episcopal and clerical recruiting sergeants of 1914 were part of a class and culture that comprehended the old truth that son inherited from father in the fullness of time if the son was faithful to his elder. For the elder was, ultimately, to be trusted. The evidence for this lay in one hundred years of relative peace in which England’s power had grown to its zenith.</p> <p>If the Church of England continued to articulate a patriarchal God throughout the war (and perhaps still does to this day), Owen offers glimpses of something else. In his lesser-known poem ‘<a href="">The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’</a> (a retelling of the Abraham and Isaac myth), Owen signifies the death of patriarchal society and the god to which it is beholden.</p> <p>Beginning on familiar territory (“So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,/And took the fire with him, and knife”), the poem unfolds into a nightmarish trench-based scene: “Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,/And builded parapets and trenches there,/And stretched forth the knife to slay his son”). As in the Biblical story, an Angel intervenes and invites Abram to “Lay not thy hand upon the lad” and sacrifice “the Ram of Pride instead.” The conclusion of the poem is devastating in its simple condemnation of the ‘Good Father’ principle: “But the old man would not so, but slew his son,/And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”</p> <p>Arguably, the patriarchal God died on <a href="">the Somme</a>, at <a href="">Ypres</a> and at <a href="">Passchendaele</a>. He—like so many—was left “hangin’ on the old barbed wire” as the <a href="">famous World War I song</a> put it. Unlike the poor lads on both sides who went over the top, perhaps he hangs there still. The Churches will not let him go. What is for sure is that in our time the traditional churches are in crisis.</p> <p>I do not know if this is because churches like my own, the Church of England, have yet to move on from this dead, male-centric God. I suspect it may be one reason among many. The reasons why the masses no longer go to church (if they ever did) are complex and multiform. What is clear is that the patriarchal God could not—in the light of years of slaughter—hold the weight of expectations. Ultimately, it proved to be an unreliable and hapless idol.</p> <p class="image-caption">Rachel Mann’s new book is <em><a href="">Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rachel-mann/im-woman-but-im-glad-i-used-to-be-man">I&#039;m a woman, but I&#039;m glad I used to be a man</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/david-edwards/face-to-faith">Face to faith</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Rachel Mann Love and Spirituality Sun, 16 Jul 2017 11:42:09 +0000 Rachel Mann 112289 at Face to faith <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It is better to be united in our ignorance than divided in our certainties.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><em>Credit: <a href="">Flickr/SteveRhodes</a>. Some rights reserved. </em></p> <p>From time to time stories appear in our newspapers of priests or ministers—maybe even a bishop—who have ‘lost their faith.’ Such headlines are misleading and far too simplistic. It is not faith which is lost, but beliefs: by contrast, faith is <em>transformed</em>.&nbsp; </p> <p>Beliefs can be naturally outgrown and discarded during our lives as we fulfill <a href="">St Paul’s eloquent prophecy</a>: “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”</p> <p>Although this process ought to continue throughout life, for a priest or minister it is most comfortably achieved after one is retired. Working clergy may regard it as their duty to defend the system, to loyally justify the church, to be sensitive to the feelings of its people, and to take care not to destroy another person’s faith. </p> <p>But all of these things can make us more cautious than we would like to be. That is important, because spiritual growth and development must be continuous, even if that means leaping—not lapsing—into agnosticism, recognizing that there is much of mystery in life and that we do not know all the answers.</p> <p>At the heart of this process we come to see Christianity—along with Judaism and Islam—more as historical religions than simply faith-based; man-made rather than divinely created. As such, they have to be judged by the evidence of history, and their scriptures scrutinized just like any other historical document.</p> <p>History may then indicate that all ancient religions—and maybe some modern creeds too—have arisen largely out of pre-scientific mythologies in which what is called the ‘supernatural’ lies at the center. An essential aspect of growing up demands that we reject the idea of the supernatural and recognize that the ‘natural’ is wonderful enough.</p> <p>Few people can deny that Christianity has often been a form of blessing to many people, and that the church has sometimes been beneficial to the improvement of human society. In the realm of the arts, in music, painting and literature, religious belief has inspired incomparable beauty and innovation; and in human behavior, incredible heroism and self-sacrifice.</p> <p>But there is a darker side which, in our growing, we increasingly come to see as outweighing the lighter on the scales of human judgment. Dogma has dominated reason. Superstitions have been encouraged as facts. Charity and love have been subordinated to inquisition and cruelty. Fear has governed where hope should have reigned. The wisdom and experience of half of humankind—women—has been ignored and belittled. &nbsp;</p> <p>A distorted picture has emerged and prevailed over the original teachings of the guru of Christianity: Jesus. Growing up entails re-evaluating the one who saw himself as the son of man, rather than the son of God.</p> <p>In no area of life can this process of transformation be seen more clearly than in the realm of morality. So it is not surprising that this subject has come to the fore, and that the issues involved have received more attention in the 20th and 21st centuries—especially in the aftermath of the Second World War during which human immorality was exposed in all its naked horror. It really did seem possible that after 1945 that humankind might ‘come of age.’</p> <p>In the years that followed, the issue of sexuality in particular came to dominate both thought and practice. Liberation became the buzzword in theology, in personal and social relationships, in race relations and in national aspirations. And—if at times this led in destructive or uncomfortable directions for some—so be it, for we have come to realize that it is better to be united in our ignorance than divided in our certainties. </p> <p>That, surely, is a sign of maturity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/mysticism-of-wide-open-eyes">The mysticism of wide open eyes</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation David A. Edwards Liberation Love and Spirituality Wed, 12 Jul 2017 00:11:51 +0000 David A. Edwards 111625 at Desmond Tutu was right <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the UK General Election campaign heats up, who says politics and religion don’t mix?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Vicar’s daughter Theresa May visits Al Madina Mosque, 2015.<strong> </strong>Credit: <a href="">Flickr/UK Home Office</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>At the height of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa,&nbsp;<a href="">Archbishop Desmond Tutu</a>&nbsp;confessed that he was confused about which Bible people were reading when they said that religion and politics do not mix. The Archbishop was right: religion and politics do mix, no matter what hardened secularists might assert about a public sphere free from religion. The more important questions to ask are, ‘what kind of religion and what kind of politics?’</p> <p>In recent years the relationship between religious faith and politics has assumed a growing importance for three reasons. First, <a href="">faith groups continue to possess significant levels of ‘social capital,</a>’ especially in socially excluded communities. The political theologian <a href="">Chris Baker</a> calls this ‘religious capital’, or resources in the form of buildings, congregations and community activities. In recent decades politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have recognised that faith groups can help them to deliver (sometimes controversial) social policy agendas. </p> <p>Second, in an <a href="">‘age of austerity,’</a> faith groups have become increasingly important and visible players in grass-roots campaigning on issues as wide-ranging as low pay, food poverty, racial justice and refugee rights. They have, to a degree, become welfare delivery agencies, filling the gaps previously occupied by the state. <a href="">Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward</a> refer to this as “the new visibility of religion.” </p> <p>Third, this new visibility places the spotlight on the values that drive faith-based action. This question is of vital importance because faith groups can use their religious capital to include or to exclude people, and to challenge injustice or to provide it with a spurious ideological justification. </p> <p>What role then should religious leaders and people of faith play in politics, and what kind of theological values do those politicians who proclaim themselves to be people of faith communicate and embody? Should they be satisfied with driving the ambulance to the bottom of the cliff, ready to meet those who fall through the cracks of a shrinking welfare state, or as the German theologian <a href="">Dietrich Bonhoeffer</a> once argued, should people of faith ram a spoke into the wheels of injustice?</p> <p>In the recent US Presidential Election&nbsp;<a href=";tid=ss_tw&amp;utm_term=.2b20fb96d96a">Donald Trump courted Evangelical Christians</a>&nbsp;with his promises on healthcare, abortion and the appointment of ‘pro-life’ Justices to the US Supreme Court. His tactics seemed to work, but the months since his election have seen the rise of a faith-based movement ready to challenge his drive to the right. </p> <p>The UK is currently in the midst of a similarly-polarised General Election campaign in which the role of faith has also become a source of debate.&nbsp;<a href="">Tim Farron</a>, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been quizzed on his attitude towards homosexuality and abortion. Whilst Christian attitudes towards sexuality are often more progressive than some people might imagine, Farron is shaped by a form of Evangelicalism that condemns homosexuality as ‘sinful.’ As a person of faith myself I want to challenge such notions of the Christian Gospel. That said, Farron’s voting record as a Member of Parliament has been characterised by clear support for equal rights. </p> <p>Interestingly, the Conservative leader, Theresa May, has referred to the fact that she is&nbsp;<a href="">the daughter of a Church of England vicar</a>,&nbsp;and that her Christian upbringing has shaped her political beliefs. But so far, the UK media has not quizzed May on her understanding of Christian values, nor on how her tenure as Conservative Home Secretary and Prime Minister reflect them.&nbsp;<em><a href="">The New Statesman</a></em>&nbsp;recently ran an article entitled, “Just What Kind of Christian is Theresa May?” That raises an important, though much broader, question.</p> <p>Faith communities have social action built into their DNA, but their approaches vary significantly. Broadly speaking we can speak of ‘caring’ and ‘campaigning.’ Shaped by a ‘love your neighbour’ ethic of social responsibility, the dominant approach to faith-based social action continues to be the ‘caring’ approach that’s exemplified by soup runs, befriending projects and foodbanks. Such an approach has an honourable history, but it tends not to challenge the political status quo. </p> <p>Shaped by a more radical religious tradition, the ‘campaigning’ approach asserts that social justice is a more fundamental theological value than consensual social responsibility. Such activism is generally far less widely welcomed by the political class because it asks fundamental questions about the way things are done, and because it underpins campaigns for far-reaching, systemic social change.</p> <p>Two distinct theological frameworks characterise these differing approaches to faith-based activism. ‘Caring’ social action arises from theologies of the common good, which argue that, as a result of our common humanity, all government policies should be judged on the extent to which they enhance the well-being of the most vulnerable members of society. Such an approach seeks to balance the needs of the included and the excluded, but it doesn’t assert the need for fundamental structural changes in society. </p> <p>By contrast, ‘campaigning’ social action, whilst committed to building a society that is characterised by a shared commitment to the common good, goes much further. Such activism is, if only implicitly, shaped by the core values of <a href="">liberation theology</a>, which emerged first in Latin America in the 1970s. Exemplified by the work of <a href="">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a>, liberation theology argues that in an unjust world, a God who has created all people in the divine image necessarily has a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and oppressed, and that as a consequence, Christian social action must be characterised by support for that option too. </p> <p>Such social action argues for deep-seated structural changes that enable the building of a more egalitarian society. So when campaigners knock on people’s doors asking for their vote, they need to ask, ‘Do your policies put the few or the many at the front of the queue? How will your policies transform toxic debates about immigration into a narrative that treasures our diversity as a strength, and not as a problem that needs to be solved?’</p> <p>There is no way of knowing how Theresa May’s upbringing as a vicar’s daughter shapes her internal wrestling with the kind of challenge that Jesus lays at the feet of his disciples in Matthew 24:31-46: ‘Have you fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, and clothed the naked?’ We cannot see into her heart. All we can do is reflect on the impact of her actions as Home Secretary and Prime Minister. However, it is reasonable to pose a number of sample questions in the light of the forthcoming General Election that get at the relationship between faith and politics. </p> <p>First, how might&nbsp;<a href="">refusing to allow child refugees from ‘the jungle’ camp in Calais to settle in the UK</a>,&nbsp;or the implicit&nbsp;<a href="">xenophobia unleashed by the 2016 Brexit referendum</a>,&nbsp;exemplify an ethic of ‘welcoming the stranger’?</p> <p>Second, how might the increasing<a href=""> resort to foodbanks by NHS nurses</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;the <a href="">withdrawing of free school lunches for Primary school children</a>&nbsp;embody a commitment to ‘feeding the hungry’?</p> <p>Third, how can we square the&nbsp;<a href="">doubling of homelessness since 2010</a>&nbsp;or the&nbsp;<a href="">massive rise in child poverty</a>&nbsp;with ‘clothing the naked’?</p> <p>Senior political leaders who consciously self-identify as people of faith would do well to reflect on these questions and others like them when they look in the mirror. Tutu was right: religion and politics do mix, but the more important question is this—does faith give rise to a commitment to building an inclusive and egalitarian society, or is it simply a cynical ploy to get elected?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/president-trump-and-christian-right">President Trump and the Christian right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/tanya-b-schwarz/can-prayer-also-be-action">Can prayer also be action?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Chris Shannahan Trans-partisan politics Activism Love and Spirituality Mon, 29 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Chris Shannahan 111128 at The mysticism of wide open eyes <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How does spirituality connect to social change?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: © Nevit Dilmen. CC BY-SA 3.0 via <a href="">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p>Three months before his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, the British playwright <a href="">Dennis Potter</a> was <a href="">interviewed for the BBC by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg</a>. In obvious pain and taking regular swigs from a bottle of liquid morphine, Potter explored a wide range of questions about his work, politics, family and feelings—given that he was already in the terminal stage of his illness.</p> <p>I was spellbound by the raw honesty and energy of his answers, but there was one section that catapulted me into a different state entirely. It came when Potter described the plum tree blossom outside his study window: </p> <blockquote><p>“Looking at it, instead of saying ‘Oh that's nice blossom’...I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn't seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know, there's no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance…the fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.”</p></blockquote> <p>I knew immediately what he meant. Potter had <a href=";pg=PA75&amp;lpg=PA75&amp;dq=dennis+potter%27s+views+on+religion+and+spirituality&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=qD8ZZ69asl&amp;sig=WvuGcTPmOCsPvZU5aCXGoBOj9ek&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwj518Ot4PnTAhVHMyYKHX8FD1gQ6AEIMDAB#v=onepage&amp;q=dennis%20p">a complicated relationship to religion</a>, and he didn’t use overtly spiritual language to describe his experience that day, but that’s how I felt it. He went on to say that this new state of consciousness had given him more clarity and serenity, along with the ability to stay fully focused in every moment. “Almost in a perverse sort of way”, <a href="">he told Bragg,</a> “I can celebrate life” so close to death. </p> <p>These feelings of joy, compassion, clarity and connection are <a href="">characteristic of mystical experience</a>, but Potter’s story raises an intriguing question: why wait so long to enjoy the fruits of a fully awakened life? Shouldn’t we be living this way for as long as is possible, despite the constraints imposed by mortgages and college fees and all the drudgery of convention that surrounds us? </p> <p>I’ve always thought so, and not just for personal reasons, though it’s certainly more fulfilling—and more fun—to live a life that is deep instead of shallow. I think it also matters <em>politically, </em>because spirituality, a whole life lived in the way Potter was describing, is of enormous importance in the struggle for social change. This may sound odd given the <a href="">common image of mystics</a> as people who are removed from the world, but I’m convinced that spiritual experience is one of the keys to the radical transformation of society. How so? </p> <p>First of all, unlike the received dogmas and hierarchies of religious and secular ideologies, spirituality can give us an actual experience of the unity of all things. This experience, when nurtured as a constant practice, roots equality-consciousness, non-discrimination, non-violence and reverence for all people and the earth deep into our core. Here is <a href="">the American writer and mystic Thomas Merton describing</a> how this happened to him:</p> <blockquote><p>“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness.”</p></blockquote> <p>Before this experience, Merton led a fairly conventional spiritual life in a <a href="">Trappist monastery in Kentucky</a>; afterwards he poured his energies into writing and speaking about poverty, racism, violence and war—and anything else that fractured that experience of unity, equality and reverence. But he continued his spiritual journey as a semi-hermit, moving to a separate cabin on the monastery grounds. This simultaneous turning in and turning out is characteristic of socially-engaged spirituality, repeated in figures like <a href="">Dorothy Day</a> and <a href="">Angela Davis</a>. The German feminist theologian <a href="">Dorothee Soelle</a> called it “the mysticism of wide open eyes.” </p> <p>Secondly, all spiritual paths involve the destruction or sublimation of the ego, and a surrendering to something greater than oneself—whether that’s defined in terms of the ‘divine,’ or unconditional love, or artistic ecstasy, where even the plum tree outside your study window shimmers with meaning, grace and beauty. When our decision making is dominated by fear, jealousy, greed and other limitations of the ego, the economic and political systems we create will feed from and reproduce those qualities. By contrast, the ultimate security and generosity that flow from spiritual experience can anchor systems based on sharing and equality like nothing else.</p> <p>Of course, kindness, joy, love and liberation don’t unlock the doors of structural oppression by themselves. They have to be connected to political analysis and concrete plans for action, but those plans can easily be pulled back into destructive, ego-led behavior that disguises self-interest as radical or altruistic. Spirituality won’t make you a Democrat or a Republican or reveal a detailed plan for health care reform, but it can place you in a qualitatively different state from which you can act in more expansive and clear-minded ways. I think that’s what Potter meant when he celebrated ‘life in the present tense:’ concentrate on ‘<a href="">right action</a>’ as Buddhists call it in the here and now and always. Don’t get locked into the patterns of the past or lose yourself in your ambitions for the future.&nbsp; </p> <p>Thirdly, although spiritual experiences are often spontaneous, sustaining their benefits requires practice, rigor and discipline, and those things are crucial in the struggle for social change. Classical practices include prayer, yoga and meditation, but music, art and dance can be powerful doorways too, along with loving interactions with other people—solidarity can be a spiritual experience in itself. Over the last ten years <a href="">it’s become fashionable</a> to use these practices as tools to promote personal health and wellbeing, financial success, <a href="">sexual conquest</a> and even <a href="">the corporate bottom line</a>: “mindfulness opens the doorway to loving kindness,” says <a href="">Google’s ‘head of mindfulness training</a>,’ “which is at the heart of business success.”</p> <p>Spirituality is no stranger to this kind of appropriation, which is why the rigor and self-sacrifice involved in authentic spiritual growth is so important—it helps to weed out distractions and keep you on the straight and narrow. Spirituality is not a self-help strategy designed to make you feel happy in the world as it is. There’s no such thing as ‘comfortable compassion,’ because a truly compassionate life—lived through the daily operations of economics, politics, activism, social relations and the family—is exceptionally demanding. It often involves <a href="">internal breakdown and reconstruction</a>, along with the constant practice of ‘do no harm.’ </p> <p>This is painful, long-term work, but it’s essential to keep on going, however ‘liberated’ you may feel. After all, slippage is characteristic of well-intentioned action: the rising stars of progressive politics who become co-opted along the way; the NGOs and foundations whose radical edges are eroded over time; the social movements that slowly take on the behavior of their oppressors; and the paragons of Corporate Social Responsibility that constantly fall from grace </p> <p>Does this kind of rigor and discipline have to be mystical or spiritual? If you recoil at such language and the baggage it sometimes carries then never fear, you’re in good company. Here’s the radical writer, activist and lifelong atheist <a href=";psc=1&amp;refRID=Q2RHY2F772HNSBR3A9CZ">Barbara Ehrenreich</a> trying to explain experiences that were “so anomalous, so disconnected from the normal life you share with other people that you can’t even figure out how to talk about it…without sounding crazy.” Just like Potter, Ehrenreich saw a new world in a tree:</p> <blockquote><p>“I was looking at a tree, and then it happened. Something peeled off the visible world, taking with it all meaning, inference, association, labels and words….Was it a place that was suddenly revealed to me? Or was it a substance—the indivisible, elemental material out of which the entire known and agreed upon world arises as a fantastic elaboration?”</p></blockquote> <p>Ehrenreich was 17 at the time, and she didn’t return to her quest for meaning as she calls it until she reached middle age. But then she was able to apply her experiences to her activism and writing. And that’s the point: it doesn’t matter what you call them; what matters is that you’re open to experiences like these so that you can utilize their gifts—preferably before your middle age and certainly before your death. </p> <p>One could argue that—however it’s described—no such experience is required to be effective as a vehicle for social transformation, but that seems unpersuasive to me: my ego is far too clever to dissolve itself or illuminate the way ahead free of the shadow of self-interest. By contrast, I’ve found that connecting spirituality to social action reveals a greatly expanded set of possibilities for personal-political change, so why wait to take advantage of them? </p> <p>‘We believe in life <em>before</em> death’ as an old <a href="">Christian Aid</a> slogan put it when I was growing up. It seems a shame to waste an opportunity as wonderfully fruitful as that.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">When meditation isn’t enough</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton: two journeys to wholeness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/darrin-drda/selective-awareness-of-wisdom-20">The selective awareness of Wisdom 2.0</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/erika-summerseffler-hyunjin-deborah-kwak/where-are-missing-mystics-of-revolution">Where are the missing mystics of the revolution?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation spirituality religion and social transformation meditation Michael Edwards Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Mon, 22 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Michael Edwards 111054 at When meditation isn’t enough <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For someone with a traumatized nervous system, sitting in silence isn’t always the right response.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Flickr/<a title="Go to Darragh O Connor&#039;s photostream" href="">Darragh O Connor</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>I like to say that India changed my life twice. The first time I was 24. An English major at the University of California, Berkeley, I’d turned down a job offer from McKinsey Consulting in my senior year—I want to change the world, I said, and make music. But a few years of doggy-paddling at nonprofits and singing in cafes on weekends left me confused and disillusioned. Academically I’d been an excessive over-achiever, sure that life was preparing me for big things. This couldn’t be it, could it—my days governed by the geopolitics of cubicles and office gossip, with a brief respite for actual living? I was depressed, and needed something drastic to test my mettle. So I decided to travel around India alone. I couldn’t say why, exactly. Only that the place drew me, and powerfully.&nbsp;</p> <p>I crammed what I needed into a backpack and spent five happy months traveling and freelance writing my way across the subcontinent. Two months in, I found myself in muted overwhelm, desperate for reprieve. In the ancient city of <a href="">Rishikesh</a>, famous to westerners as the place where the Beatles met their Maharishi, I saw a flyer for a <em><a href="">vipassana</a></em> (or insight) meditation retreat. I took a taxi straight to the ashram, located on the Ganges four miles outside of the city and approximately 700 from <a href="">Bodhgaya</a>—where the Buddha attained enlightenment.&nbsp;</p> <p>For ten days I sat in silence and stillness, ate vegetable mush for dinner, and focused on my breath. It wasn’t long before strange and beautiful things began to happen. Insights alighted like doves, one after the other. I saw, for example, that I had never loved myself unconditionally—only in reward for achievements. I saw that I was angry and scared, and that these things could, given loving attention, shift. I sat on the ashram roof and held debriefs with God. I found a quiet spot upriver and sang and danced. I was happy, and free.&nbsp;</p> <p>On leaving, I committed to meditating every day. When I returned from India, I had a sense of purpose. I spent the next seven years organizing, singing in, and <a href="">writing about the global justice movement</a>, with regular times-out to attend <em>vipassana</em> meditation retreats. I applied my intemperate drive to rigorously and exhaustingly striving to transform the world and myself.&nbsp; Meaning had returned to life.</p> <p>The second time I visited the subcontinent I was 33. I had just completed my Masters in Fine Arts in Fiction at the <a href="">Iowa Writers’ Workshop</a>, and I’d received a <a href="">Fulbright Scholarship</a> to work on a novel in Varanasi, where I’d spent a week nine years earlier. Varanasi is also a holy city on the Ganges. According to the scriptures, death here puts an end to the harrowing cycle of <em>samsara</em>, or reincarnation, and brings about total liberation. But modernity, in the form of rampant urban growth, has not been kind to the place: the streets are filled with barely-moving traffic, the sidewalks with crowds of people.</p> <p>After a couple of weeks, strange things again began to happen. This time, however, they were different. I found myself assailed by a rising tide of anxiety. There had been some strong prior hints, but in Varanasi I careened right off the cliff I’d unwittingly been skirting. My stomach—which had survived the on-the-cheap vagaries of five continents—fell apart, and two courses of antibiotics couldn’t put it back together again. I found a lump in my breast. I couldn’t find an apartment. The fear just kept growing. I stopped sleeping and fell into a hole the likes of which I’d never suspected existed inside me.<strong> </strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I don’t know what’s happening,” I said over the phone to the Fulbright director in Delhi. “This is so… weird. I meditate every day. And I’ve done, like, a whole month on silent retreat. I <em>know</em> my mind.” That month, spent at the Insight Meditation Society three years earlier, had not been easy.&nbsp; I’d say a full three weeks of it had been hell—but it was, in hindsight, the second circle kind of hell. This was the more like the ninth. He made soothing noises and suggested I see a therapist.</p> <p>Over the following weeks I began to see the deep fracture in my life: most of my days had been dominated by drive and adrenaline, while I tended to the spirit by slamming on the brakes for compensatory periods of silence and stillness. I have an Indian friend who views meditation retreats as a kind of penance. Here in the west, we rush about achieving and consuming, she says, and then we go meditate to expiate our sins. As an activist, I may have been offering a radical critique of consumer culture, but I certainly wasn’t immune to its hyperactivity.&nbsp;</p> <p>The inability to rest—the constant running, pushing and achieving—were a culturally-applauded sublimation of the fear and rage I wrestled with on retreat, and they took their physiological toll in the form of adrenal exhaustion. The fracture in my life was no more than a mirror of the fracture in my psyche, which had its roots, as I began to see, in events that had happened many years earlier.</p> <p>In the end, I cut my Fulbright short and returned from India to navigate my way through a breakdown. It wasn’t pretty. It felt as if everything good inside me had been tossed on one of Varanasi’s funeral pyres—my creativity, confidence, and capacity for happiness. Who was this petrified, tortured woman, this ghost of my former self? For months, I was so exhausted that getting dressed felt onerous. I had to scrape together all of my courage to go to the grocery store. I attended a few week-long retreats that were more or less extended encounters with unabated terror and self-loathing. And the five years since my return have resembled a drunken waltz: fall down and get back up, again and again, the falls growing gradually less paralyzing as I learned how to fall and how to relax both my body and my expectations.&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t blame meditation for any of this. Indeed, it was a huge support in numerous ways, not least of which was the ingrained mental refrain to focus on the oatmeal on the stove, the fluttering leaves, or the breath in my belly—on what was present and actual rather than the fireball in my chest. And meditating alongside the terror certainly gave me some significant, if unasked-for, experience of my own mettle. Nonetheless, ultimately it wasn’t enough to watch the madness, to greet it with awareness or even <em><a href="">metta</a></em> (loving kindness).&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been much <a href="">discussion in the media</a> lately about the limits, and even the dangers, of mindfulness. There are stories of meditation inducing confusion and panic attacks, and of retreat experiences <a href="">leading to depression and psychotic episodes</a>. While <a href="">these stories of psychological incapacitation are rare</a> they do raise important questions. Western culture has bought selectively into Eastern practice—there are currently 700 mindfulness apps available and counting. So what to make of this reputed dark side?&nbsp; Does meditation have ominous powers?</p> <p>Drawing from my own experience, I say no. Meditation does not wield dark esoteric powers, but rather draws away the veils covering existing darkness in our own psyches. These veils usually exist for good reason: they are the psyche’s brilliantly inventive answer to violation. Depending on one’s history, meditation may be an insufficient response. Or it may be the wrong medicine entirely.</p> <p>There’s an oft-repeated story of the Dalai Lama’s first visit to the <a href="">Insight Meditation Society</a> in Massachusetts in 1979.&nbsp; In a meeting with western Buddhist teachers, he was asked about the phenomenon of self-hatred.&nbsp; Despite his translator’s efforts, he was baffled by the term. Buddhism has adapted to numerous cultures over 2,600 years, but in the west it’s only in its second generation—barely pubescent. It is still molding itself to the western mind. Western teachers are currently negotiating how to teach an integrative practice, one that incorporates communication and diversity, social justice and relationships.</p> <p>And western Buddhists are just beginning to grapple with contemporary understandings of trauma—not only the shock of individual experiences of war and abuse, but also the injuries of collective oppressions such as racism and homophobia. Suffice it to say that for any individual with a traumatized nervous system, sitting in silence and focusing attention on the body is not always the right response. In eliminating or minimizing external inputs, unconscious material rises to the fore. This is precisely why meditation is such a powerfully healing practice—and also why it can trigger a traumatic reaction. If meditation is a response to trauma, then it requires a very skillful teacher.</p> <p>As for me, while I am grateful for meditation, it wasn’t enough. I feel fortunate to have found other tools to help pry aside the darkness and expose what lay even deeper than the fear and pain: an original sense of joy, a spontaneous creativity, an integrated presence. I didn’t want my dark night of the soul, and the truth is I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But on stumbling my vertiginous way out I discovered myself happier than I’d ever been. The breaking, I’ve come to see, was a crucial part of the healing—the psyche’s radical stab in the direction of wholeness; a death in service of rebirth.&nbsp;</p> <p>A friend recently suggested that I may have been better off never meditating or journeying to India. I disagree. Yes, I may have stayed stable—but I would still have been driven by what lay buried in my unconscious. Breakdown forced me to face it. I had no choice: I had to relinquish control. And perhaps that’s where the greatest transformation is born.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/through-dark-night">Through the dark night</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/claudia-horwitz/why-mindfulness-matters-now">Why mindfulness matters now</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/zen-and-art-of-social-movement-maintenance">Zen and the art of social movement maintenance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation mindfulness meditation Buddhism Marisa Handler Liberation Love and Spirituality Mon, 01 May 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Marisa Handler 110470 at How I faced misogyny in Hinduism—and found peace with my faith <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Religion can be a crutch for patriarchy—and a tool to dismantle it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Battle scene between Kripa and Shikhandi from the Mahabharata. Credit: <a href="///C:/Users/edwarmi/Documents/Documents/Battle%20Scene%20Between%20Kripa%20and%20Shikhandi%20from%20a%20Mahabharata">Wikimedia</a>. Public Domain.</p> <p>Unlike most of my peers, my favorite time of day as a child was bedtime. Well, at least it was when my maternal grandmother — who visited my family every other year from the time I was born to the time I left for college — was in town. From the minute she arrived at the airport, I would latch onto her like a tiny barnacle, pestering her with questions from sunup until she finally fell asleep at night, no doubt exhausted by a five-year-old girl with a seemingly unquenchable curiosity about everything.</p> <p>There was one question to which, however, she never said no. “Ajji?” I’d ask her, my voice high and ever so slightly petulant as she brushed my hair and got me in my pajamas, “Can you tell me a story?”</p> <p>And she always did. Her repository of stories was seemingly endless, and she had a natural talent for making these tales accessible to a kindergartener without glossing over any moral nuances or situational complexities addressed therein. She drew upon her knowledge of Hindu epics to feed me bite-sized excerpts; exciting tales of kings at battle or goddesses who harnessed their rage to destroy evil.</p> <p>This is how, before I even really knew what religion was, I was soaking up parts of the&nbsp;<em>Mahabharata</em>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<em>Ramayana</em>, getting my first primer to the&nbsp;<em>Bhagavad Gita</em>, and obtaining a solid foundation in the religion that would leave me conflicted for the next several years to come.</p> <p>As I got older, I realized that Hinduism, and my relationship with it, would be a bit more complicated than I had previously thought. Well into puberty, I held fast to my tomboy-like tendencies; I far preferred to run around with the neighborhood kids, playing soccer and catching bullfrogs, to princesses or dress-up. I was incredulous, then, when I was stuffed into sequined <em>lehengas</em>, made to wear bejeweled <em>bindis</em>, and put flowers in my hair when visiting the temple or family friends’ houses.</p> <p>When I protested, I was simply told that girls were akin to the goddess Lakshmi, and so it was expected that we dress like her to bring light into the home. It didn’t seem right that my discomfort — an alienation of my personal boundaries — was being justified via religion, but who was I to argue with a goddess? I kept my mouth shut, but even then, I knew something wasn’t sitting quite right with me.</p> <p>The older I got, the more serious my problems with the religion in which I was raised grew. My family got their first taste of my self-righteous indignation shortly after I started high school. A few times a week, my whole family would get together to sing <em>bhajans</em>. Before one of these gatherings, however, I was pulled aside and told politely that I was not to participate in the <em>bhajan</em> because I was menstruating and therefore unclean and not allowed to enter the prayer area.</p> <p>A rage heretofore unknown to me filled my soul — how was I being made pariah in my own home? Why was I being punished for performing a normal bodily function? Why did my religion, one that claimed to profess love and acceptance, make me feel nothing but shame and sadness?</p> <p>Even then, I knew that my anger at the women in my family was grossly misdirected. They were not subjecting me to anything that they had not experienced, or forcing me to grapple with issues that they had not grappled with as young women. They were merely perpetuating the only lifestyle they had ever known onto the next generation — one that had been thrust onto them, and every generation of women before them, as an unquestionable rule with hazy religious rationale. Religion had become the ultimate crutch for a patriarchal society — one where men made the rules and God enforced them.</p> <p>I carried my sense of disenfranchisement, and my ultimate disappointment with the religion of my family for many years. All through college I openly decried it, pointed out to anyone who would listen, it seemed, the misogyny I thought intrinsic to the practice of Hinduism.</p> <p>Somewhere during this period I visited my grandmother, and as we were chatting, she asked me if I had been keeping up with my prayers and visiting the temple regularly while away at college. Though it seemed easier to lie and tell her that I was still pious, something stopped me — this woman, whom I had idolized since I was a toddler, deserved better. She deserved the truth.</p> <p>I told her I had been struggling with my religion, with the idea of any sort of faith at all; in my view, it seemed to serve only as a way to oppress people, and enforce structures of power that turned people against each other. She thought about what I said for a minute, and then simply looked at me and said, “That’s okay. You love your family, your friends, and you want to help other people. That’s all God&nbsp;<em>really</em>&nbsp;wants you to do.”</p> <p>While I didn’t know it then, this simple sentiment made an indelible impression on me, and softened my view on Hinduism, and religion in general. I went back to the&nbsp;<em>Mahabarata</em>, re-read the&nbsp;<em>Gita</em>, tried to make sense of the anger of my past. While I found the seeds of what could be interpreted as misogyny in these texts, I also found guidelines on how to live a fulfilling life as an insignificant human living in a cruel and confusing world. These texts were not meant to oppress me, but to try and enlighten me. Religion was a tool that humans used to understand a world that hurt them for no reason; a lack of education and an imbalance of power made it an easy scapegoat for systematic societal oppression.</p> <p>While I cannot say that I am pious, devout, or even religious, I do have a renewed respect and appreciation for the faith I was raised in. And if, one day, I ever do have children of my own, I hope to tell them the same bedtime stories my grandmother told me as a child. In my mind, that is where the true beauty of my Hinduism resides.</p> <p><em><strong>This article was first published in <a href=";utm_medium=syndication">The Aerogram</a>.</strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/put-away-scriptures-and-follow-justice">Put away the scriptures and follow justice</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki">Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Rashmi Venkatesh Culture Love and Spirituality Fri, 14 Apr 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Rashmi Venkatesh 110107 at Minnesota churches face tough questions in offering sanctuary to immigrants <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Protecting immigrants is vital work, but what happens when the police arrive at your door?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Police monitoring the crowds at the Minnesota Women’s March. Credit:&nbsp;<a href="" target="_self">Fibonacci Blue / Flickr</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>In 1982, a man by the pseudonym René Hurtado found himself living in a suburban church in Minnesota. He had fled El Salvador, his home country, after participating in a U.S.-backed military unit during a civil war. After coming to the United States, he spoke out about the terrible things he had done—torturing prisoners with electrocution and needles, for example—as a member of the CIA-trained Salvadoran military. El Salvador wanted him back, and the U.S. government wanted him deported. Instead, Hurtado hunkered down at St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Hennepin County, Minnesota, while his case played out in the national media and in immigration courts.</p> <p>Hurtado still lives in Minnesota more than 30 years later. Today, his story has new relevance as Minnesota’s churches again embrace their role as sanctuary spaces, this time in response to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and aggressive deportation policies.</p> <p>Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has “been a wake-up call for people of faith,” said Minister JaNaé Bates, communications director of the faith-based Minnesota organization ISAIAH.</p> <p>Bates said the idea of sacred places providing sanctuary is an ancient one. The Old Testament is the original source, she said, “when God declared&nbsp;certain spaces sanctioned for safety.”</p> <p>“Throughout history there have been unjust laws … used against vulnerable people,” Bates said. And throughout history, churches have provided safety for vulnerable people. Today, member churches of ISAIAH are continuing that historical tradition by offering sanctuary to Minnesota’s undocumented immigrants—an estimated 100,000, according to a 2014 study by Pew Research Center.</p> <p>ISAIAH is a faith-based coalition of more than 100 congregations that directs its members to take action on local and community issues. Their tagline is “faith in democracy.” For members of ISAIAH, “the spiritual and the political are inseparable,” said Bates.</p> <p>He said that 25 of ISAIAH’s member churches have declared themselves as either sanctuaries or sanctuary-supporting churches; supporting churches are those that do not have the means or facilities to house individuals but have committed to supporting other congregations with the financial, legal, and physical resources they need to offer sanctuary. So far, 15 member churches have committed to offer sanctuary directly to immigrants in need.&nbsp;</p> <p>Pastor Doug Pagitt of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis said his church was one of the first in the state to declare itself a sanctuary church through ISAIAH. Solomon’s Porch originally offered sanctuary to show it was “on the side of the people the government is trying to deport,” he said. It was a decision motivated more by moral and political arguments than by legal ones, he said: “The power we have is the power of public opinion.”</p> <p>Solomon’s Porch declared itself a sanctuary church in December, after Donald Trump won the election. At that time, Pagitt thought that by taking a public stance, the faith community might help influence the political dialogue around immigration. But since Trump took office, Pagitt said, his congregation’s motivations for offering sanctuary have shifted as the danger to individuals has become clearer. What began as a public stance to sway political opinion has since become a concrete reality, and his church is preparing to house people.</p> <p>Pastor Eliot Howard, of Linden Hills United Church of Christ, shared a similar perspective. In December, Howard declared his church a sanctuary space because he felt the issue carried a sense of urgency, though at the time, it felt like a hypothetical. Three months later? “It feels real now.”</p> <p>Some in his congregation expressed anxiety over his decision, he said, but in the end the church offered sanctuary because “it is our tradition. We don’t focus on the president or the politics but what Scripture says.”</p> <p>Pagitt and Howard both said that Minnesota churches have been too long asleep on this issue. President Obama’s administration deported more than 3 million undocumented people from the United States, which is more than any president before him.</p> <p>“A lot of us feel a bit shameful and hypocritical that we weren’t doing something about this over the last eight years,” Pagitt said. Howard shared a similar concern. “Maybe some confession needs to be given to the fact that we weren’t attentive at the time of the Obama administration’s deportations,” he said.</p> <p>Should an individual or family take up the offer made by one of ISAIAH’s sanctuary churches, it’s unclear exactly how much protection they could legally receive. John Gordon, the interim legal director of ACLU Minnesota, said that there have been very few cases in the past brought against sanctuary spaces harboring undocumented people. The law on sanctuary spaces is ill-defined, he said, making predictions about the effort difficult.</p> <p>There is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy memo that is cited as the legal basis for churches offering sanctuary. The memo<a href="">&nbsp;details&nbsp;</a>a policy “designed to ensure that [ICE] enforcement actions do not occur at nor are focused on sensitive locations such as schools and churches.”</p> <p>But such a memo is not law and could be changed simply by the Department of Homeland Security issuing another memo. “My understanding is that whether that [memo] remains in effect depends on what time of day it is and which member of the administration you’re listening to,” Gordon said.</p> <p>He also said the federal government will have no shortage of legal tactics ready should they want to enter a church harboring an individual they’re pursuing. Local ordinances, for example, are tools ICE will have at hand: Does the church have the correct number of bathrooms, legal fire escapes, or separate entrances for home and public use? Should a sanctuary church be in violation of a local zoning code or housing ordinance, ICE could use that to justify legal entry and “scoop those folks up,” Gordon said.</p> <p>Offering sanctuary might have started as a symbolic response to Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, but already it has shifted for these churches to a question not of if, but when. So what will happen to these Minnesota churches if ICE comes to their doors?</p> <p>Both Pagitt and Howard admit they’re uncertain how such an encounter might unfold.</p> <p>Howard said that LHUCC would “deny entry” to ICE. To do otherwise, he said, would be to nullify their declaration of sanctuary in the first place. Protecting the vulnerable, Howard said, requires acts of resistance.</p> <p>Solomon’s Porch would allow entry if immigration authorities had the legal authority to do so, Pagitt said, but would make a public scene of the event. “[We’d] broadcast it on the internet [and] call people to show up at the building. [We’d] make sure as many people as possible could see it.” To Pagitt, the sanctuary movement is not about harboring undocumented immigrants in secret—it’s about finding power in publicity and exposure.</p> <p>Those are the tactics that are on display in Denver, where Jeanette Vizguerra and her three children have taken sanctuary in the First Unitarian Society church. Vizguerra was set to meet with ICE after a request to “stay” her deportation order was ignored. In the past weeks, rallies have been held by supporters in an effort to shine light on the circumstances of Vizguerra and millions of others.</p> <p>“Making a scene is an entirely legitimate, constitutionally protected, and often very effective way to hold the government accountable,” Gordon said of the ACLU. “Shining a light on government practices is a big deal.”</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href=";utm_medium=Email&amp;utm_campaign=20170317">YES! Magazine</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/christopher-zumski-finke/how-somali-muslims-are-raising-10000-person-anti-hate-army">How Somali Muslims are raising a 10,000-person anti-hate army</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/how-politicians-and-media-made-us-hate-immigrants">How politicians and the media made us hate immigrants </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/laura-michele-diener/fierce-contemplation-meet-nature-loving-nuns-who-helped-to-stop-">Fierce contemplation: meet the nature-loving nuns who helped to stop a pipeline</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Christopher Zumski Finke Activism Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:30:00 +0000 Christopher Zumski Finke 109792 at Don’t mention Jesus! Why excluding beliefs from the public sphere is mistaken <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Should we hide our deepest values in the public sphere or shout them from the rooftops?</p> <p><em>Listen to a recorded audio version of this article courtesy of <a href=""></a>.</em></p><p> <iframe src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=true&amp;show_comments=false&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" frameborder="no" scrolling="no" height="166" width="100%"></iframe></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=""></a>. Creative Commons Zero - CC0.</span></p><p><span class="image-caption"></span>A bemused reception greeted British Member of Parliament Carol Monaghan when she arrived at work <a href="">earlier this month</a> in Westminster. Like many practising Christians, she had attended an Ash Wednesday service where her forehead was marked with ash in the shape of a cross. Most of her colleagues reacted with typically British awkwardness, and sometimes with <a href="">curiosity</a>. But the media reaction was more intense. The BBC asked whether her actions were <a href="">“appropriate.”</a> One political opponent implied that she was <a href="">“promoting sectarianism.”</a> The old debate about <a href="">religion’s presence</a> in political life was re-ignited, this time on <a href="">social media</a>.</p> <p>The fact that a Christian attended church on an important date in the religious calendar hardly sounds like news. Yet open displays of religion are practically unheard of these days in British politics. For <a href="">Damian Thompson</a>, the event was further evidence of the “steady secularisation of British political life.” Arguably, this process is near complete: the idea that politicians should keep their religious views to themselves has almost the status of dogma, at least since ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair was silenced by one of his advisors with the reminder that <a href="">“We don't do God.”</a></p> <p>But now it seems that this process of secularisation is also being mirrored in political lobbying by religious groups.&nbsp;The researcher <a href="">Steven Kettell</a>&nbsp;recently reported his finding that Britain’s ‘Christian right’ are drawing on secular norms and values to support their political activities. For example, in justifying opposition to gay marriage, <a href="">Dr. Dave Landrum</a> of the <a href="">Evangelical Alliance</a> refers to the negative “impact on children” that same-sex unions will have. </p> <p>What’s interesting about this development is that from a liberal perspective, this move should be applauded. By opting for secular rather than religious arguments, these conservative organisations are actually drawing closer to the liberal ideal of&nbsp;<em>neutral discussion</em>—the idea that when engaging in political debates we should keep sectarian beliefs out of the picture. So it’s not just politicians who shouldn’t mention Jesus (or Muhammad or Marx for that matter). <em>All of us</em> should keep controversial views to ourselves.</p> <p>The ideal of neutral discussion has long been popular amongst liberal political philosophers. For example, <a href="">Charles Larmore</a> famously argued that:</p> <blockquote><p>“when two people disagree … each should prescind from the beliefs that the other rejects … in order to construct an argument on the basis of his other beliefs that will convince the other of the truth of the disputed belief.”</p></blockquote> <p>Applying Larmore’s argument in practice, when we disagree over an issue like gay marriage we should shelve our most controversial values and convictions. Conservative Christians must shelve their belief that St. Paul condemned homosexuality, just as liberals who champion autonomy must shelve their belief that there must be total freedom in personal relationships. Instead, we should seek common ground and give a ‘neutral reason’ for supporting it—like appealing to the well-being of children, which is something all reasonable people care about.</p> <p>Why is it important to give such neutral reasons? One argument is that in doing so, we engage directly with what distinguishes our opponents as people—their rationality. If you care about treating your opponent with respect, you should recognise that it would be wrong to ask them to lend their support to a policy based on a reason they oppose.</p> <p>On a more common-sense level, you might say that presenting neutral reasons is necessary in order for opponents to engage with each other at any meaningful level. Perhaps this is one reason why discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses arriving on my doorstep never last very long: our arguments rely on such different assumptions that we inevitably talk at cross purposes.</p> <p>Or, someone defending neutral discussion might say that it’s just intuitive to accept that personal views should be left out when making group decisions. They might make a comparison with selecting candidates for a job. Here it would clearly be inappropriate to bring in the consideration that one candidate is a family member, and the same applies to religious beliefs.</p> <p>But is neutral discussion really useful, healthy or even rational when debating public policy? </p> <p>In the case of picking a candidate for a job, it is right to leave out personal views because these are only expressions of personal preference; they aren’t relevant in finding the best person for the role. In contrast, religious beliefs are not merely expressions of preference, they are beliefs about <em>the way things are</em> and <em>what is right</em>. Conservative Christians believe that their sectarian reason—the authority of the Bible—takes them towards&nbsp;<em>the right answer</em> to any policy question under discussion. If it’s true that God exists and condemns homosexuality as a sin, then this has serious implications for policy on same-sex marriage. In that case it seems strange to ask people to leave out considerations that they believe are most salient to the issue at hand.</p> <p>We might also worry that asking people to present neutral reasons rather than those that are most important to them is to encourage citizens to be&nbsp;<em>dishonest</em>. It asks that they wear a cloak over their deepest beliefs and motivations. It makes them pretend to be concerned with reasons that in fact don’t actually motivate them. This is problematic because we want to encourage citizens to be virtuous and honest, not two-faced and deceitful.</p> <p>But it’s also a problem because we want to reach <em>better answers</em> to policy questions. By shelving what people believe to be pertinent considerations, we blunt the tools at our disposal for reaching a resolution that might at least be workable. If the aim is consensus, this consensus will be more meaningful and longer-lasting if it’s based on what people <em>really</em> believe—the values in which they are invested—rather than on reasons that are made up in order to get the other side on board.</p> <p>Lastly, is it true that mutual respect requires neutral discussions? As the scholar <a href="">William Galston</a>&nbsp;has argued, we show respect for someone’s rational nature simply by engaging with them and attempting to reason with them. This suggests that the best way to conduct respectful public discussions is to be truthful about our different reasons and to try to get to the bottom of where, at root, we disagree.</p> <p>All this may be of little relevance to the Conservative Christians interviewed by Kettell. As the quotes from&nbsp;<a href="">his</a>&nbsp;interviews show, the move by this constituency to publically embrace non-religious reasons is motivated by a desire to persuade and gain support, rather than to show respect for the rationality of their opponents. But it is certainly of relevance more generally for thinking about whether we should argue for neutral discussion as a key principle in the public sphere. </p> <p>If the pursuit of neutral reasons encourages dishonest communication and comes at the expense of progress towards a meaningful consensus, then liberals should scrap this idea. It would be far more respectful, and far more helpful for resolving disputes about public policy, to be honest about the reasons behind our beliefs. </p> <p>None of this is to say that we shouldn’t look for things on which we might agree. Finding common ground and a <a href="">‘shared mission’</a> might be the only way to get hostile constituencies to engage with each other. Perhaps a search for mutual territory is the way to bridge the chasm that has emerged in the politics of many countries over the last twenty years. But once we’ve found a way of starting the conversation we need to be honest about the beliefs we hold dear. How our variously-sectarian arguments then fare in public discussion will be a good indicator of their strength.</p> <p><em>Listen to a recorded audio version of this article courtesy of <a href=""></a>.</em></p><p> <iframe src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=true&amp;show_comments=false&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" frameborder="no" scrolling="no" height="166" width="100%"></iframe></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/alice-thwaite/escaping-from-echo-chambers-of-politics">Escaping from the echo-chambers of politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/carol-howard-merritt/america-is-not-promised-land">America is not the Promised Land</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Listen Christina Easton Culture Love and Spirituality Wed, 29 Mar 2017 07:00:00 +0000 Christina Easton 109723 at The book of fragments <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As shown by Christianity itself, America is not united by any one faith.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The book of Habakkuk. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.</p> <p>The idea of Christianity as the 'one true religion' is back with a vengeance. In America the focus is on the Muslim travel ban as it bounces in and out of court. But we don't need to look outside America or Christianity to see that this return to evangelical fundamentalism is rotten to its core.</p> <p>A very big American story is that of the Christian non-conformists. This isn't new—it dates back hundreds of years. Certainly, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries dissenter Christian sects were many and the practice of exile was widespread. Quakers, Methodists and other groups sailed to be free to practice in the new world, a world ironically lit up by the French Revolution's 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite' and, in many cases, slave ownership.</p> <p>Like contemporary Muslims they were moving westward to escape intolerable circumstances. There is something sick about the idea of the west being 'invaded' coming from people whose ancestors moved west, and this sickness is widespread.</p> <p>I put this to friends and one pointed out that the Spanish settlers may object to being called non-conformists. This is true—many were of a Catholic orthodoxy. But all over America, the non-conformist story can be found. Because of this diasporic history, some Christian sects have very different cultural rituals to the mainstream—polygamy for example, the taking of multiple wives &nbsp;as practiced by some Mormon sects.</p> <p>These examples are very much the anomaly nowadays, but I haven't heard a raging polemic directed at Mormons lately. I have heard a lot of anger being directed at Muslims over their supposedly terrifying alien values. It is, in fact, much more difficult to identify a single orthodoxy within Christianity than it is to describe its differences. It is also possible to get to a point where the Muslim religion appears to have more in common with 'mainstream' Christian beliefs than with a Christian sect that practices polygamy.</p> <p>In the case of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints the repression and abuse of women and girls can be horrifying. Yet I have heard so many easy lines about the repression of women under Islam. It is undeniable that in places Islam has a domineering patriarchal hierarchy, but in the west many Muslims simply get on with their lives just as Christians and atheists do.</p> <p>But see how the colonial logic saturates my language? That there is a Christian 'centre' and outside there are different spectra of belief to be 'tolerated'. This isn't the case. </p> <p>A similar narrative to the non-conformist story can be found within Islam too. Islam, essentially, is undergoing a cultural crisis, and its crisis has much to do with its settling in the west. But this isn't the whole story. In Mosul, war is being waged street by street against Isis. Within this battle there are other, older conflicts, like Sunni versus Shia.</p> <p>I had the most bizarre conversation last week with someone who suggested that Islam's inner turmoil and violence was 'primitive,' and that is why Christianity must be held on to. He went further and suggested that unless Christianity was defended 'as the one true religion' we would receive a Caliphate by default.</p> <p>I reminded him that over in Ireland a blazing religious conflict dating back to Henry VIII had only recently been extinguished, and still showed signs of heat. He confirmed this by growing angry, an internalised rage that now had no outlet because I had blocked its path. This anger is dangerous—in him, on the right and on the left; in the atheist, the agnostic and the zealot alike. And I am angry too.</p> <p>What is being lost in post-truth, specifically, is the anthropology of religion. The oldest book of the bible, Amos, is <em>constructed </em>from fragments of notes taken from just a few days of 'prophecies' he delivered. Except when Amos delivered them he was a shepherd. He was only designated 'a prophet' later on, and worse, his prophecies were completely hopeless. At least one earthquake didn't happen when and where he said it would. But to laugh at Amos is to miss the social function of his 'prophecies'.</p> <p>When this shepherd stepped out of his wandering existence, the elites of the region, used to living off the fat of the land, were living off the lean of the land. The poor simply starved to death. Assyrian rule was breaking down and there were revolts due to the lack of goods and materials as supply chains faltered. There were domestic revolts as a result in Assyrian cities across 763-760 BC.</p> <p>So Amos went to the temples around him and blasted each of them with the only rhetoric available to him in the accepted form of delivery of the time—the prophecy. The content of Amos's speech is not very original. It has a formal structure very similar to most of the lay preaching of the time. Remember that ‘The Bible’ did not exist at this point, and the birth of Christ was the best part of a millennium away.</p> <p>Amos tells the priests that they are corrupt and blind to the abuses all around them and that 'for three transgressions as well as four' they will suffer, as Yaweh (God) will bring wrath upon them. This fourth transgression is widely interpreted as 'the last straw'. The social function of this story is little different to a schoolboy explaining to a bully that his big brother is going to get him, although here it has moved up several scales to a situation where the lowest of the castes is calling out the heads of what passed for the state during his time.</p> <p>But it is never Amos calling out the priests: Yaweh 'speaks through' Amos. But the formulaic nature of the speaking tells us that this is a social rite, not a vision. The form of the delivery is part of its social contract; shepherds can go up to the temple proclaiming that they have been told by Yaweh to go there, and they can tell the priesthood that Yaweh will break the fortresses, bring fire and make the bodies of the oppressors pile up in the rubbish dump and float, bloated, in the river.</p> <p>This is a very different thing to Amos simply marching up the temple steps and declaring a takeover. Death would surely follow. The underlying social contracts of the bible have been lost. The temple elders can't have angry shepherds murdered every few months either, there really would be a takeover.</p> <p>Mary, walking around clearly pregnant and out of wedlock—what do you do? You invent a story to cover this inconvenient bump in history. Or more likely, you retrospectively airbrush the history of the birth of the Son of God with a can of Miracle Gloss.</p> <p>We might now turn to the Grand Canyon visitor centre, where fear sometimes makes the dating of the canyon any further than a couple of thousand years ago rather awkward. Believers see the canyon as evidence of a global flood, and therefore proof of the existence of Noah, the only pure individual in a world of sinners who all must die. Creationism and post-truth are not bedfellows, they are Siamese Twins. We might turn to Creationism in schools. But when we turn, we might see that the shock now being expressed at post-truth politics as a new phenomenon covers a much longer incubation period.</p> <p>The bible that is referred to by fundamentalists is usually a version of the King James version of 1611. This is also a collage of fragments, and each fragment, as we can see from the story of Amos, is another collage. Fundamentalists might have a better time with the Qu'ran, because as far as we know it has a single author. I refuse to base my understanding of the universe, or how I live in it, on either book, although both clearly contain wisdom. Both books also contain things that disturb me. But then so does the writing of Karl Marx and Bobby Seale.</p> <p>The point to make is that Christianity is not some settled, stable or agreed-upon thing, and clearly nor is Islam, despite its story of sole authorship.</p> <p>I dislike Richard Dawkins just as much as the peddlers of miracles. The only intelligent response to existence in the vastness of the universe is agnosticism, just as the best philosophers understand their lack of knowledge first and foremost.</p> <p>But we need the spirit of Amos, and we need the ritual toleration of the accused. We need new language, calibrated to cut through the suffocating smog of post-truth, as well as the cut-throat words and deeds of fundamentalism.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/carol-howard-merritt/america-is-not-promised-land">America is not the Promised Land</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki">Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Steve Hanson Love and Spirituality Fri, 10 Mar 2017 01:00:00 +0000 Steve Hanson 109230 at Arab world’s first ordained female pastor is historic <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Rola Sleiman made history. She now carries the title of ‘Reverend’ of the Presbyterian Church, the first woman to be ordained in a Middle Eastern Church on February 26, 2017 in Tripoli, Lebanon. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rev. Rola Sleiman, used with permission.</span></span></span>Her ordination was “an act of love and justice”, those present at the ceremony heard in the sermon, and her comment to journalists after the ceremony was “Christ’s justice has been finally fulfilled”. </p><p>Rola had <a href="" target="_blank">shown</a> signs of cautious optimism in 2012 about her ordination: “It is not something that I dream of day and night. Whatever happens, I will not be discouraged.” But she tells me that she never imagined this day would come. She was very (pleasantly) surprised with the result of the Synod’s vote of 23-1 in favor of her ordination. </p> <p>The historic nature of the event was not evident at first sight. She says “it’s not a big deal. I was serving my Church and I will continue serving.” </p> <p>Indeed, she had already been serving as a licensed preacher and, since 2008, as <a href="" target="_blank">pastor of the Church</a> and was able to perform all the functions except for the two sacraments (baptism and communion). She was able to officiate marriages and funerals, but in practice, there was always an ordained male pastor present during these ceremonies. </p> <p>So what’s the big deal?</p> <p>The fact that Rola, as a woman, now has spiritual authority over her congregation comprised of men and women is extraordinary. Previously, a male ordained pastor had to be present with her during the sacraments, marriages, and funerals. The historic nature of her ordination lies precisely in this apparently minor fact that she is now able to perform these tasks in her own person. She no longer needs a male pastor by her side. </p> <p><span class="mag-quote-right">“It’s not a big deal. I was serving my Church and I will continue serving.”</span> </p><p>It may be difficult to comprehend the significance of this ‘spiritual’ detail at a time when debate around women’s empowerment and gender equality is centered on politics, the workplace, and the criminal justice system. Indeed, some may ask, what does the spiritual realm of priests and sacraments have to do with women’s rights?</p> <p>In short, it’s a question of authority, and her assuming ‘spiritual authority’ takes on a special meaning in a Lebanese (and Arab) context where women are, as Human Rights Watch <a href="" target="_blank">put it</a>, “unequal and unprotected”. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rev. Rola Sleiman, used with permission.</span></span></span></p><p>Rola herself is cognizant that she lives in a patriarchal society and understands that hers is an important mission to set an example for young girls and women to follow in her path. </p><p>Her ordination is doubly significant in a context where women are assumed to be of an inferior status to men when it comes to certain functions: theologically (priesthood reserved to men only), politically (vast underrepresentation of women in local and national politics), and legally (discrimination in law).</p> <p>In the life of the Church, women are considered to be important, from the exalted status of Mary and female saints in Catholicism and the Orthodox Church, to the fact that Jesus <a href="" target="_blank">chose</a> to reveal himself after his resurrection to a woman. </p> <p>Furthermore, Churches in Lebanon who do not ordain women will point to the status of the <em>Theotokos</em> (Mother of God) who in the Orthodox tradition is “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim”, and in Catholicism is considered “after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and men.”</p> <p>Still, when we get down to the day-to-day business of running the Church, it is only men who hold power and authority based on the Catholic and Orthodox Churches’ interpretation of Scriptures and their adherence to Holy Tradition.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">Arguments of tradition and cultural relativism are used to deny women and minorities human rights that should be universal</p><p>For the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has considered the matter of female ordination to be closed, referring to John Paul II’s 1992 <em>Apostolic Letter </em>where it was affirmed that priestly ordination “has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone.”</p> <p>While these Churches do not understand the notion of priesthood as a matter of “rights”, Rola’s ordination has a highly symbolic significance in Lebanon whereby it touches on the thorny issue of “tradition”, “rights”, and “cultural relativism”. </p> <p>Indeed, arguments of tradition and cultural relativism are used to deny women and minorities human rights that should be universal, Human Rights Watch had noted in its <a href="" target="_blank">2013 World Report</a> in relation to the Arab world. </p> <p>At the end of the day, Rola’s ordination may be marginal to the cynical eye. The Presbyterian Church is a minority in Lebanon and her ordination remains an exception rather than the norm and will never be replicated in the context of the larger Catholic, Orthodox, or Coptic Churches in the region.</p> <p>But none of this casts a shadow over the historic moment that took place on February 26. Her ordination is a welcome move that will hopefully have a positive impact on the hearts and minds of Churchgoers and Lebanese citizens who are not used to seeing a woman in power, be it spiritual or temporal.</p> <p>Ultimately for Rola, she kept insisting to me that it all boils down to God’s love saying, “Christ is love, and love does not distinguish between men and women.”</p> <p>When I asked her how she viewed her ordination in the context of a country rampant with discrimination and with an active civil society fighting for women’s rights, she responded with a question: “If the Church discriminates against women, what should we expect of the state?” </p> <p>And who would disagree that this message of equality and non-discrimination is exactly what Lebanon and the Arab world needs, regardless whether it comes in religious or non-religious language.</p><p><em><strong> </strong></em></p><p><em><strong>This article was first published by the <a href="">Huffington Post</a> on the 3rd of March, 2017. </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/rowan-el-shimi/intellectuals-don-t-have-answers-lebanese-documentary-wins-at-berlinal">‘The intellectuals don’t have the answers’: Lebanese documentary wins at Berlinale</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/halim-shebaya/marine-le-pen-in-lebanon-mission-accomplished">Marine Le Pen in Lebanon: mission accomplished?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/bina-fernandez/precarious-migrant-motherhood-in-lebanon">Precarious migrant motherhood in Lebanon </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Lebanon middle east Christianity religion and social transformation Middle East Halim Shebaya Sat, 04 Mar 2017 06:30:46 +0000 Halim Shebaya 109216 at Love in action: the life, work and death of Sister Maura Clarke <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Celebrating a stellar example of how to say no to the warmongers and yes to life itself.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published on <a href="">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>Eileen Markey’s stunningly beautiful book, “A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura,” comes not a moment too soon. Her rendering of the life and death of Sister Maura Clarke at the brutal hands of a U.S.-financed Salvadoran military, clarifies how we are to be in a world of ascending and entrenching authoritarian governments. In the world in which human beings and the earth play second fiddle to the whims and wants of the wealthy and their minions, Maura Clarke is a stellar example of how to say a resounding “No” to the wealth-hoarders and warmongers and an almighty “Yes” to life itself.</p> <p>“A Radical Faith” starts graveside — that is at the makeshift grave of Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan who had been brutally killed and, for at least two of the women, raped as well. As the bodies of at least 75,000 Salvadorans killed by their own military during a 12-year civil war, which ended in 1992, the bodies of these women are illuminative. They clearly show the extent to which the military regime of El Salvador, the oligarchic families it protected, and its foreign mainstay, the United States, would go to protect and preserve an environment friendly to business, militarism and oligarchic rule. Clarke’s radical faith was that she accepted, embodied and practiced this basic command of Jesus: “You must love one another as I have loved you.”</p> <p>In the opening chapter of the book, Markey asks “Who was this woman in the dirt? What forces in her life, in herself, led to this vicious death so far from home? What did that ring, slipped on the slender finger of a 22-year-old [novice in the Maryknoll religious congregation] have to do with farm laborers and death squads, clandestine meetings, and military orders?” These are compass-setting questions. </p> <p>Combined with Markey’s vivid opening account of the bodies found, the agonizing hours of a search for the women, and their religious comrades kneeling on the ground near the bodies, these questions and the rock-solid commitment of the religious women help to ground us in the political realities and struggles of the present moment. Where do we stand? To whom and what are we committed? In what are we grounded? Markey’s gift to the reader is not only her ability to write a compelling narrative but also that she astutely understands why we need to know Maura Clarke’s story.</p> <p>There is a good reason why women came together in consciousness-raising circles to tell their stories, analyze their circumstances, uplift the personal, and work for change. Our feminist foremothers in the 1960s and ’70s well understood that the political sphere was structured along patriarchal lines and as long as no one saw or challenged that, things would remain the same. Markey notes, at the close of the first chapter, that Clarke’s story was not only a political story but also a personal story. It is Markey’s attentiveness to the details of Clarke’s life that make reading this book a life-changing experience. </p> <p>There is the way, for example, that Markey so powerfully helps us to see Clarke vitally alive in her work. During the first days of her missionary work, “she was keenly open, trying to absorb everything. She stretched to bridge the language gap, smiling with interest, focusing on the faces of people near her, nodding, her lean frame tilted toward them, laughing when she fumbled a word.” By the book’s end, Clarke is so consistent in her practice of solidarity, which is well charted by Markey, that one begins, if at first only subconsciously, to embody the tilt of the attentiveness and the desire to get closer to hear what the other has to say.</p> <p>Markey’s inclusion and vivid depiction of Clarke’s nuclear and extended family are yet another instance of the personal dimension of the book. Native to Ireland, Clarke’s parents met during the Irish War of Independence when John Clarke, who had returned to Ireland after seven years in the United States, brought a wounded comrade to the door of nurse Mary McCloskey. John Clarke, whose dream of liberation for the Irish people was crushed by the war’s end, sailed back to the United States and was joined by Mary in 1929. </p> <p>Married in 1930, they were among those who “represented the tail end of a giant wave of Irish immigration that began with the Irish potato famine in 1845.” The reader meets and spends time with the family again and again throughout the book. Markey describes the remarkable ability of this family to cultivate intimacy and support while at the same time opening the doors of their home to so many of Maura’s colleagues, community members, friends and those she served. There was room for all at the Clarke family table.</p> <p>In the early spring of 1959, Maura Clarke made her final vows with the Maryknoll Sisters. That fall she would head to Nicaragua to begin her mission work. Upon her death, 21 years later (and that of Ita Ford, also a Maryknoll Sister) the Maryknoll Sisters and Fathers issued a joint statement, which recognized that these women put the Gospel at the center of their lives and that they were assassinated for their love for the poor and marginalized.</p> <p>Markey demarcates the world which nurtured Maura Clarke, her family and countless other Irish-Americans. The Clarke family’s Belle Harbor, Queens, New York parish of Saint Francis de Sales, just a few blocks away from the ocean, lauded both God and country. Later, when Markey describes the Maryknoll novitiate days of Clarke, one can also see what an “ordered” religious life looked like in part: “Do not loll about or lean against walls. Do not stand with hands or arms resting on chair backs.” </p> <p>The other and much larger part of her early life with Maryknoll, however, was the work of entering into and learning how to dwell within the root of an interior life. Again, Markey’s research and writing allows the reader to engage in the world of Clarke and the Catholic Church of the 1950s. Further, she is even-handed when writing about a church and, more specifically, Maryknoll, a religious congregation.The Maryknoll religious congregation acknowledged “that all of humanity was related, that all people were children of God, and that is was worthwhile to go far away from home to connect with some of those distant brothers and sisters.” At the same time, as Markey notes, the Maryknoll community of the 1950s would not have seen or critiqued its missionary work as imperialistic in nature.</p> <p>After its introductory chapters, the bulk of “A Radical Faith” consists of Markey’s robust rendering of Clarke’s mission work in Nicaragua and, briefly, in El Salvador and the United States. These chapters also include an expert analysis of the liberation theology and movement within the Catholic Church, a synthetic and well-researched account of the political and economic structural forces at play in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and the United States, and of Clarke’s personal and religious transformation. Markey makes the point that Clarke was steeped in love for other human beings and thought that everyone mattered.</p> <p>In the middle and final sections of the book, its reader sees how the ecstatic love of Clarke’s spiritual life matured and embodied itself in a consistent, courageous and radical love for those whom she served in Nicaragua, El Salvador, her Maryknoll community members, and her family. The structured life imposed upon her during her Maryknoll novitiate life served her well in Nicaragua and El Salvador as we see Clarke, along with so many other Maryknoll Sisters, pray, work, teach, visit and serve from the early morning hours to late at night. </p> <p>Their efforts were consistent, disciplined and seemingly tireless. Clarke and her community members did their best to blend into the communities they served rather than to isolate themselves behind convent walls where they could enjoy middle-class conveniences. They were mild in manner, clean of heart and, as the years of their mission work passed on, immersed more and more in the poverty of the people whom they lived with and loved.</p> <p>Mild in manner, however, did not mean simply standing by the side of the road while the military machines of Nicaragua, El Salvador and, indirectly, the United States rolled over the poor and all living things in their way. There was a rather dramatic scene in the book, for example, where we see Clarke confronting members of the Nicaraguan National Guard. Called in by rich landowners to shut down a camp that housed the poor survivors of an earthquake, they could not get past the infuriated Clarke and two other Sisters. “She shouted at the guardsmen,” Markey writes. “No one ever did that. Father [Fernando] Cardinal was there as well, and was stunned by the ferocity of the three women. It was the first time he saw the National Guard back down.”</p> <p>The righteous anger of these women is indeed riveting, and one wonders what had changed for Clarke and her comrades. Instead of hustling the poor folks off the scene, why had they chosen to confront these representatives of the political and economic elite? It is hard to know how the elements come together in the action of another, but one cannot help but wonder if her Irish family’s tradition of resisting oppression merged with a new Catholic consciousness about matters of faith and justice in Clarke. </p> <p>A good 12 years before the confrontation with the National Guard, the Catholic Church had “opened the windows” of its ancient institution and welcomed in the “fresh air” of the Second Vatican Council. For Clarke and her Maryknoll community, the intellectual and religious development sparked by this council meant that “the Jesus of Good Friday and Easter knew what it was to fear the National Guard. He wasn’t locked up in the sky or laid flat in the pages of a holy book. This Jesus belonged to the people, came alive again when the people were united.”</p> <p>Clarke was in the United States in the latter part of 1976 so that she could introduce the work of the Maryknoll missions to her fellow Americans and help them to see what life was like for folks whose lives are terribly compromised or brutally cut short by the ravages of poverty and violence. While Clarke knew and understood the political and economic dynamics that created the terrible conditions in which the people with whom she worked were forced to live, she did not subject her audience to a long and bullying talk on U.S. imperialism. </p> <p>Instead, Clarke offered a historical and political analysis while also speaking specifically and concretely about the humans beings with whom she moved, lived and breathed. She could talk about the dear Lesbia Taleno, a teenager whose mother was close to Maura, who was arrested for hanging political posters and then raped and impregnated by members of the National Guard. When someone who came to a talk she gave asked if the U.S. government knew what those foreign governments to whom the United States gave hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid knew what was going on, Clarke gave a slight nod of her head.</p> <p>It would be Maura’s devotion, love and gentleness that would help her American Catholic compatriots see the wealth of fundamental teachings on justice that constituted Catholic Social Thought. A few months later, Clarke would again act on such teachings and engage in the act of nonviolent civil disobedience in the offices of the Nicaraguan consulate to the United Nations. Once again, Clarke’s fierce resistance to injustice issued forth. The police, as Markey notes, “looked dumbfounded. Were they really being lectured about supporting revolution by a nun?”</p> <p>President Jimmy Carter, who had ignored Archbishop Oscar Romero’s pleas for him to stop sending military aid to El Salvador six months before Clarke was killed, resumed funding — including an emergency five million dollars — to the military dictatorship of El Salvador two weeks after Maura, Ita, Jean and Dorothy were kidnapped, raped, and killed. By 1982, and during the Reagan presidency, U.S. military aid to the Salvadoran government would reach $64 million that year. Such expenditures were often justified by Cold War politics and by the fear of the communist threat that countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador could be to Central America, the latter of which was within what the United States considered to be its sphere of influence. </p> <p>Reading through U.S. military reports on the civil war in El Salvador, one also finds reference to the desire of the United States to help foster democracy within a country struggling to develop. One can only imagine that Clarke, had she been given a chance to speak to these masters of Cold War politics would ask them to see what was actually happening to actual human beings. How can we ever plan for, pay for, and justify the mass slaughter, torture, rape, and impoverishment of even one person, much less the many thousands who were killed in El Salvador alone?</p> <p>From my own experience of working in the same Salvadoran communities in the Department of Chalatenango that Maura worked, I heard these questions asked by Salvadoran people there, many of whom were psychologically scarred, physically injured, or impoverished by the war, to their American visitors. They wanted to know why the Americans did not resist what their government was doing, or at least stop paying taxes which funded a military death machine. </p> <p>Perhaps it was because, for many Americans, they did not know or fully understand what was done in their names in Central America. Political, economic and military elites often make good use of the fog of ideology, which is all but impenetrable and does a good job of obfuscating reality. Clarke’s gift of speaking about the specific lives of human beings went a long way to break through this fog and enter into the hearts of her listeners. It is a practice we may wish to retrieve and rehabilitate in these days of authoritarian darkness.</p> <p>Though Sister Maura Clarke worked with a Gospel and an institution thousands of years in the making, she was able, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to love vitally, welcome other human beings and, as such, write a counter-narrative to the equally ancient story of death-dealing empire. That we can now know the power and beauty of her life is due to a book that reads like an act of love by its author, Eileen Markey. </p> <p>The radiance of Clarke’s life is also that of the good people with whom she lived and worked, her family along with its rootedness in the tradition of Irish resistance, and the Maryknoll religious congregation’s embrace of their faith, its social teachings and its liberation theology. Markey’s scholarship and her devotion to this story affords its reader the opportunity to ask the ever-renewing question: “where do we go from here?” Clarke shows us the fundamentals: love, community, nonviolence, resistance, courage and faith. Nourished by her life and this book, let our communities of resurrection get to work.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/nan-levinson/how-everyday-use-of-militaristic-jargon-makes-us-more-combative">How the everyday use of militaristic jargon makes us more combative</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/claudia-horwitz/true-miracle-of-%C3%B3scar-romero">The true miracle of Óscar Romero</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/to-remain-in-prison-for-rest-of-my-life-is-greatest-honor-you-could-g">To remain in prison for the rest of my life is the greatest honor you could give me: the story of Sister Megan Rice</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Anna Brown Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Fri, 03 Mar 2017 01:00:00 +0000 Anna Brown 109063 at America is not the Promised Land <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Wrapping Jesus in the Stars and Stripes so that we can wage wars, claim exceptionalism, and justify the expansion of US business interests is not Christianity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=""></a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>I constantly battle a myth within me. It formed me—as ancient stories do—and its logic crops up unbidden as I go about my life. I notice it as I walk along the shore of the Tennessee River in <a href=",_Tennessee">Chattanooga</a> and the land vibrates with history. Making my way over the bridge to the business district, the streets swarm with students and tourists visiting an aquarium, a museum, a theater, and restaurants. In the midst of business, I remember that my city is known for being a Bible-based city. It is one of the most Christian towns in the nation.</p> <p>When I descend the steps to the river’s edge, another story emerges. Native symbols line the stairs, and murals mark our essential elements of wind, fire, earth, and sun. The walls call to the four corners of the earth, lending me a compass that grounds me as I honor the <a href="">Cherokee Nation</a> that once thrived on this land, before their forced removal created a <a href="">Trail of Tears</a> along which thousands of people died from disease, starvation, and exposure.</p> <p>As I stand at the water, I remember how I’ve prayed along these shores with their members and elders. Our chants matched the rhythm of beating drums as they scattered ash into the flowing river, lifting up those who died along the terrible path. When I walk along the river, my internal mythic battle ensues.</p> <p>As a white woman who grew up as a conservative Christian, the European colonizers’ story mixed with my theology in awkward ways. I internalized those triumphant ideas of Manifest Destiny—that the American people hold special virtues, that we are exceptional, and that it is our divine right and destiny to remake others in our own image. In our history, as settlers moved west to take more land, Manifest Destiny reverberated through pulpits, proclaiming that we were a Christian nation, a ‘<a href="">shining city on a hill</a>.’&nbsp;</p> <p>Growing up, the Religious Right echoed this message and I often heard it. We co-opted the stories of the Jewish people. In our Sunday school classrooms, we learned under the glowing visage of <a href="">Warner Sallman’s Jesus</a>. The curriculum recounted narratives with flannel-graph figures in the shape of a blonde Moses leading his pale-skinned followers through the wilderness to the Promised Land. As our teacher tried to make the lessons of an ancient nomadic people applicable to our 10-year-old 1980s lives, we understood that the U.S. was <em>our </em>Promised Land, given to us by God, so that we could have religious freedom.</p> <p>As we moved from our classrooms into the sanctuary to hear the pastor expound, our national narratives became more confused with the stories of the Bible. We learned that God blesses certain nations, and God was blessing America. It was our duty to defend our country, fight for its Christian identity, and inspire its people to uphold the highest moral purity.</p> <p>The clear evidence of God’s favor was our wealth as a country. We were to be a light to all nations. In my pew, the words of Jesus began to sound a lot like Ronald Reagan’s addresses. When we belted out, “Onward Christian Soldier” and “God bless America,” our hearts soared and our eyes watered, because we believed that we were exceptional. We had reached the Promised Land, and we intended to defend it against any physical, religious, or moral threat.</p> <p>Now, thirty years later, I have broken with my Religious Right heritage and <a href="">have written about healing from the damage it has caused</a>. I became a social justice Christian and a pastor in the <a href="">Presbyterian Church (USA)</a>. As I walk along the shores of the Tennessee River, I realize how mixing God and white nationalism together has had devastating effects on my country, particularly when it comes to inciting wars, suppressing religious freedom, and encouraging the spread of unbridled capitalism.</p> <p>First, in the military actions of the United States, we have heard the echoes of crusader language coming from those who want to use religion to frame armed missions abroad. Conjuring God to ignite warfare has been an effective mobilizing tool since the days of the <a href="">Emperor Constantine</a>, but peace between nations is impossible when suspicious politicians drag&nbsp; faith onto their battlefields. President Trump’s <a href="">ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries</a> shows how the war on terror has been set up as a religious war, and how politicians have used ‘God and country’ rhetoric to incite public support for it.</p> <p>In order to stop this flagrant use of Christianity to foment violence, we must realize that American soil is not the Promised Land. Instead of allowing faith to be dragged into war, we have to unravel our deepest beliefs from the possession of property and economic gain. Only then we can look to the ancient wisdom of different religions to inspire peace, forgiveness, and dignity between faiths.</p> <p>Second, the concept of religious freedom—the right of people to practice their faith and not persecute people of any other faith or none—has long been upheld by the religious Right. Yet instead of understanding this right as celebrating all faiths in a diverse country, they perceive themselves as persecuted. Conservative Evangelical Christians often understand the idea of religious freedom to mean that they have the right to uphold certain beliefs, even if that belief causes discriminatory action or physical harm to another citizen.</p> <p>For example, they might explain that a baker should not be forced to bake a cake for a couple’s religious ceremony if the baker does not agree with same-sex marriage. Or they might maintain that a business owner should not have to provide insurance coverage for a woman’s reproductive health. &nbsp;But when the rights of Muslims are severely curtailed, many of these Christians don’t seem to feel the same passion to defend religious freedom.</p> <p>When we understand that American Christians are not God’s chosen people we can begin to uphold the right of all people to practice religion, or not to practice it. If we begin to uphold the religious convictions of all people, then we must recognize the dignity of those who celebrate a religious ceremony, women who need access to reproductive health, and refugees who travel across borders for sanctuary, because above all, we are people who have been called to lives of love.</p> <p>Third, the idea of a God that blesses people with wealth has seeped into our national dialogue so deeply that many Christians do not begrudge an economic system that encourages the increasing disparity between rich and poor. In fact, they have baptized it as holy, because they imagine people with wealth and health are blessed by God. On the other hand, those who struggle to pay their debts or cannot access medical care are seen as morally flawed. But the American system of high student loans, limited access to healthcare, and low wages makes solvency untenable for most of the population. As U.S. influence expands to other countries, the economic interests of the USA have taken on a missionary fervor.</p> <p>Yet Christians must know that their faith has been co-opted. When they go back to their texts, they see that Jesus claimed that the poor were blessed, and he compels us always to be looking after the “least of these.” Jesus said that when we feed a hungry person, clothe a naked person, or welcome a stranger, we welcome God.</p> <p>As I look over the Tennessee River and stand with the ghosts of the past, I’m reminded that Christianity does not condone wrapping Jesus in the American flag so that we can wage wars, claim exceptionalism, and justify the expansion of U.S. business interests. America is not the Promised Land. Instead, Jesus calls out over troubled waters in a nation which still has to recognize its great atrocities, and he encourages love for our neighbors as for ourselves.</p> <p>When faith is used by its most pernicious elements to incite violence, oppress religious diversity, and create economic disparity, we need to reclaim the truth of our moral core: we need to relearn love.</p> <p class="image-caption">Carol Merritt’s new book is <em><a href="">Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church</a>.</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki">Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Carol Howard Merritt Love and Spirituality Mon, 13 Feb 2017 01:00:00 +0000 Carol Howard Merritt 108742 at What’s so feminist about yoga? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Despite the influence of capitalism on its practice, yoga can strengthen resistance and movement-building.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A young person doing the Cobra pose on a yoga mat outdoors. Credit: Everyday Feminism. All rights reserved.</p> <p><strong>Originally published on <a href="">Everyday Feminism</a>. </strong></p> <p>Yoga is not feminist.</p> <p>Or that’s what you might think if you only know yoga through the lens of our capitalist, body-shaming, fitness-obsessed American culture.</p> <p>Seeing magazine covers of thin, wealthy, White, cis women talking about “how to get yoga abs” certainly isn’t appealing for those of us working to eradicate inequality and oppression – nor does it make us want to give the practice a try.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Cultural appropriation</a>&nbsp;is another serious problem in&nbsp;<a href="">American yoga</a>&nbsp;today. </p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">historical</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">contemporary</a>&nbsp;colonization process of Western yoga serves to whitewash and erase yoga’s South Asian roots, while&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">privileging the voices and bodies of White</a>&nbsp;(heterosexual, cisgender, and wealthy) Americans as the owners, purveyors, and&nbsp;<a href="">consumers of yoga</a>.</p> <p>This is certainly not feminist. Heterosexism, cultural appropriation, racism, inaccessibility, profit-driving, gender policing, and body shaming are not feminist values; in fact, recognizing and fighting against them are a necessary part of an&nbsp;<a href="">intersectional feminist movement</a>. And yet, these are all very present elements of yoga in America today.</p> <p>They’re also completely counter to the values of the practice.</p> <p>Feminism and yoga are in no way contradictory. In fact, despite all of this, I would argue that yoga and feminism are authentically bound. Despite the destruction that Western patriarchal capitalism has had on yoga practice and culture, yoga holds subversive, feminist elements that can strengthen our movement.</p> <p>So what role can yoga play in the feminist movement? How does yoga challenge capitalism and systemic oppression, or strengthen our ability to be agents of social change?</p> <p>What is so feminist about yoga?</p> <p>Here are four things to consider.</p> <p><strong>1. Yoga changes our relationships to our bodies.</strong></p> <blockquote><p><em>“By being physical without a focus on weight-loss or competition, yoga can help you become a witness to negative self-talk that comes from years of misguided influence of the media and other cultural forces. Despite what Instagram might look like, yoga can help you reject attachment to cultural beauty standards so that you can feel comfortable in your own skin.”&nbsp;—</em><a href="" target="_blank">Veronica Rottman</a>, feminist yoga instructor and doula</p></blockquote> <p>Although yoga has only in the last several decades begun to occupy a visible place in the American mainstream, yoga has been practiced globally for over 5,000 years. The word&nbsp;<em>yoga</em>&nbsp;comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to yoke,” or “to come together,” “to unite.”</p> <p>The union of the mind and body is at the core of yoga and is certainly no small goal. We tend to view the mind and body as separate things in our culture, and we promote division by prioritizing one over the other.</p> <p>Certainly, living under an endless amount of body-shaming, victim-blaming, and social pressures around sex and body image creates a context for toxic relationships with our bodies.</p> <p>Feminism takes up this cause by examining, deconstructing, and challenging these norms. Yoga takes up the cause through the practice of embodiment. This process means connecting and reconnecting and coming into our bodies just by noticing what we’re feeling without judgment or any attempt to control or change those physical and emotional experiences.</p> <p>Our bodies hold our life stories. They hold our grief and trauma, our anxiety, our sadness, our joy, our histories. And while we live in an incredibly cognitive world, we can’t always verbally explain what’s happened and is happening in our bodies. In fact, most of the time, we don’t even notice or care. The division of our “self” from our bodies allows the space for constant negative self-talk, criticism, and punishment of our bodies for just being what they are.</p> <p>In a world that teaches us to constantly try to “take control” over ourselves – our bodies, our weight, our health, our emotions – it can be a radically feminist experience to learn to simply&nbsp;<a href="">hold the space for our bodies</a>&nbsp;to feel whatever sensations arise, to allow ourselves to carry what our bodies want to hold onto, to let go of what they no longer need, to breathe in their history and each passing moment.</p> <p>This is what yoga teaches – to be in our bodies, fully, and to love the movement and sensations and emotions, with all their complexity.</p> <p><strong>2. Yoga can help us heal from trauma.</strong></p> <blockquote><p><em>“Feminism&nbsp;offered the ideological tools to examine my tortured relationship with my body systematically and deconstruct mediated images. Yoga provided the practice that rooted the things feminism had taught me. It is one thing to intellectualize self-love and acceptance, it’s another to embody it.” —</em><a href="">Melanie Klein</a>, academic, feminist, yoga instructor</p></blockquote> <p>To live in this world as a person of marginalized identities is to experience trauma.</p> <p>As I’ve&nbsp;<a href="">discussed in past posts</a>, oppression is immensely bad for your mental health. Healing from the systemic and interpersonal violence that one endures in this world, then, must hold a central role in our movement.</p> <p>We cannot build a movement of strength without acknowledging the daily trauma (<a href="" target="_blank">big T and little t</a>) that has been carried out in the name of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and other systems of oppression.</p> <p>When it comes to healing from trauma, both yoga and feminism play important and overlapping roles. While feminism gives us the framework for letting go of internalized shame, yoga grounds that healing in our bodies.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Increasing research shows</a>&nbsp;that because we hold trauma in our bodies, yoga often gives us the tools we need to release it, to let go of the weight and conditioning and to find a new strength for moving through the world.</p> <p>This process of healing and building strength and power is such a central part of our work. To be a part of this movement is to acknowledge the trauma inherent in living under and alongside&nbsp;<a href="">rape culture</a>,&nbsp;<a href="">police violence in Black communities,</a>&nbsp;violence against abortion providers, the prison industrial complex, gender and sexuality-based hate crimes, and the list goes on and on.</p> <p>We are witnesses to this trauma, and we are survivors of it. The practice of being present to it, to being awake, and to healing are central to yoga, and central to our social justice work.</p> <p>The practice of yoga is not only healing – its philosophy also speaks to our social justice goals: The ultimate goal of yoga is liberation.</p> <p>Yogic philosophy also holds values such as&nbsp;<em>ahimsa</em>, or nonviolence, and&nbsp;<em>kharma</em>, or selfless action, at its core. Yoga, like feminism, seeks to dismantle and deconstruct cultural notions and belief systems through critical thinking, or kind questioning.</p> <p>It values&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">non-duality and fluidity</a>&nbsp;of the self and in&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">our expression of gender</a>. The idea of “<a href="" target="_blank">wiping the fog from the mirror</a>” is a common one in yoga – that we can wipe away that which clouds our clarity, that we can be increasingly conscious and awake to what is happening around us.</p> <p>Yoga, then, can teach us not only to let go of harmful and rigid constructions of self as we heal from trauma, but fills that space with a framework grounded in liberation and taking action.</p> <p><strong>3. Yoga helps us cultivate being here now.</strong></p> <blockquote><p><em>“The practice of yoga only requires us to act and to be attentive to our actions.”&nbsp;</em>—T.K.V Desikachar</p></blockquote> <p>Yoga isn’t just about moving your body. Sure, we make cool shapes in a yoga class, but the practice is about so much more than that. In fact,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">yoga has eight limbs</a>, only one of which includes the physical poses (<em>asana)</em>. Other limbs focus on ethical standards, self-discipline, the steps of meditation, as well as connecting to our breath and to the present moment.</p> <p>Yoga teaches us to sit in the present moment, to notice every sound, sensation, action – and to notice these things without judgment. This is also called mindfulness, and it is an incredibly challenging thing to practice.</p> <p>It means being here now, in this moment, and facing whatever we may be trying to avoid by distracting ourselves with work, substances, or television. It also means truly seeing the people and other living beings around us. Seeing them not as separate from us, but as deeply connected.</p> <p>While capitalism and oppression teach us to strive to “get ahead,” to compete and compare and criticize ourselves and others, yoga teaches us to accept ourselves and those around us. While capitalism values productivity and efficiency, yoga values slowing down and inaction. While capitalism teaches us we don’t own our own bodies or our labor or our time, to always be thinking of the future as a way to get through the long days of work, yoga teaches us that no one can “own” our time or bodies, and that the only way to truly live is to be fully awake to each and every moment.</p> <p>While capitalism and systemic oppression serve to isolate us from one other and to separate us from our time, our labor, ourselves, and everything around us, yoga teaches us to connect with the present moment, and to the beings around us.</p> <p>When we take action as a collective, as beings who are deeply connected to one another, we are better able to position the values of empowerment, equality, and empathy at the center of our work – and become a stronger feminist movement because of it.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>4. Yoga teaches both acceptance and change.</strong></p> <blockquote><p><em>“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” —B.K.S. Iyengar</em></p></blockquote> <p>When I first started studying yoga, I remember having a really hard time with that word –&nbsp;<em>acceptance.</em>&nbsp;Why would I work toward a place of acceptance when there is so much in this world that needs changing? Isn’t acceptance of each moment counter-revolutionary?</p> <p>While it can be difficult to hold both ideas at once, it’s possible (and even radical!) both to accept each moment as it is, while rejecting the oppressive violence around us and taking action to enact change.</p> <p>We can hold that each moment is true and real and authentic while wanting events of those moments to be different. We can hold that we are who we are and where we are, while wanting both of those things to be better.</p> <p>But we have to start where we are.</p> <p>I think one of the hardest parts of being an activist is that change is so. frustratingly. slow.</p> <p>And in a world where waking up to the truth of the terror happening around you can easily set you up for a lifetime of endless anger and frustration, it’s absolutely necessary that we make space for connection and joy.</p> <p>It’s a long road to change, and&nbsp;<a href="">burn-out is all too common in our movement</a>. Yoga teaches us how to do just that – to be both patient and demanding for the necessary revolution; to accept and be grateful for each small change as we remain rooted in our larger vision and thirst for deeper shifts; to be awake to the beauty and power offered in each breath and moment, while challenging the emptiness, alienation, self-blame, and disconnection upon which oppression and marginalization thrives.</p> <p>We need and deserve to see the beauty around us amidst the violence. By doing this, we remind ourselves what kind of world we’re fighting for, and keep that fire for justice burning.</p> <p>Yoga also teaches us how to hold humility and an openness to learning, especially when it comes to learning from the wisdom of both yoga and feminism’s long history.</p> <p>In our work, it’s essential to be open to learning from our history – from both the narrow, destructive past of White feminism’s exclusionary vision to the infinite wisdom of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">radical, intersectional feminists</a>.</p> <p>While Western yoga culture may position itself as ahistorical, taking credit for its own profit-driven existence, a feminist yoga practice teaches us that we are intimately connected to its long, vibrant history, as well as to its&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">destructive colonization and appropriation from its spiritual roots and culture</a>.</p> <p>This awareness, gratitude, and openness grounds us in the wisdom of the past while teaching us to create an intention for the present and future.</p> <p>While I firmly believe that yoga can hold a major role in our movement, this is by no means a call to embrace yoga culture as it exists in America.</p> <p>There are real problems with the way yoga in this country is practiced and with whom it excludes. But I don’t think this means rejecting yoga completely. Instead, I would argue that the qualities of yoga that reaffirm marginalization and exclusion are definitively un-yoga. They’re counter to yogic philosophy.</p> <p>There’s a difference between yoga culture and yoga practice – the larger yoga culture in America may be way too body-shaming and appropriative, but your practice doesn’t need to be. Take it from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Sparkle Thornton</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Dianne Bondy</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Nick Krieger</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Jessamyn Stanley</a>. Take it from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">BlackWomenYoga</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Queer and Trans Yoga</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Prison Yoga Project</a>.</p> <p>As we work to make our studios and practices more accessible, inclusive, and critical of the racist, heterosexist, cissexist, and cultural appropriative elements of yoga, we can also work to integrate the elements of yoga we find most beneficial into our movement.</p> <p>I believe that yoga can only make us stronger activists – radicals with more energy, gratitude, presence, and deeper connections to one another and our planet.</p> <p>While feminism continues to be our ideological framework for understanding and critiquing oppression, yoga can be the tool to ground us in that framework, to practice the awareness, compassion, and self-love that will create the space for us to be agents of change.</p> <p>Just start where you are.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/how-to-decolonize-your-yoga-practice">How to decolonize your yoga practice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/zen-and-art-of-social-movement-maintenance">Zen and the art of social movement maintenance</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/darrin-drda/selective-awareness-of-wisdom-20">The selective awareness of Wisdom 2.0</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Yoga religion and social transformation Laura Kacere Liberation Activism Intersectionality Love and Spirituality Fri, 27 Jan 2017 01:00:00 +0000 Laura Kacere 108317 at Can prayer also be action? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Prayer can break down or reinforce power structures in surprising ways.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Pixabay/Zefe</a>. CC0 Public Domain.</p> <p>We often think of prayer as separate from action. There is praying and there is doing; faith and works. But is this perspective warranted? Perhaps not.</p> <p>My research with faith-based organizations (FBOs) working on humanitarian, development, and peace-building projects suggests that the role of prayer in these areas is not so clearly separated from the other activities of these groups. Bifurcating the spiritual from the material is both inaccurate and unhelpful, yet most funders, activists and academics continue to insist on their explicit separation.</p> <p>The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, <a href="">requires</a> that FBOs separate their “explicitly religious activities” from those that are funded by USAID. These include practices like prayer. There are important reasons for doing this of course—principally respect for the separation of church and state or religion and public life. But the distinction between “religious” and “non-religious” activities is often difficult to sustain in practice. As researcher <a href="">Andrea Paras</a> and others have noted, some religious organizations view even something as basic as digging a well to be a religious act.</p> <p>More generally, prayer and other religious activities <a href="">are portrayed</a> as fundamentally separate from the ‘real’ work of providing bed nets to prevent malaria, building schools, protesting, engaging in interreligious dialogue, and advocating for the victims of human rights violations. However, my research challenges this dichotomy and suggests that we ought to pay more attention to the role of prayer in public life and social action.</p> <p>For the past four years, I’ve been observing and conducting interviews with three transnational FBOs: Religions for Peace, International Justice Mission, and the Taizé Community. Each of these organizations works on various forms of social action combined with prayer, though the details and contexts vary widely. <a href="">Religions for Peace</a> is a multi-religious peace-building group that sometimes begins its meetings with prayer or a moment of silence. The organization’s leaders are cautious about when and how to include prayer, because they want to avoid the possibility of offending anyone, and to maintain an ethics of respect for religious and secular identities.</p> <p><a href="">International Justice Mission</a> is a Christian organization that works against human trafficking and slavery, and also employs prayer in its internal operations. Employees engage in solitary and group prayer on a daily basis. The organization also holds a <a href="">“Global Prayer Gathering”</a> annually to pray for those involved in specific human rights cases.</p> <p>Finally the <a href="">Taizé Community</a> is an ecumenical (Protestant and Catholic) monastic community that strives for reconciliation, peace and solidarity, and which engages in prayer several times a day. The Community is known for its unique kind of communal singing prayer chants, which are accompanied by music. Taizé also holds prayer events all over the world, often with tens of thousands of attendees, including the annual <a href="">European Meeting</a> which draws large numbers of young adults.</p> <p>I asked representatives from all three organizations why they engaged in prayer and how they thought it might influence their organizational strategies, goals and impact. From these conversations it became apparent that conceptualizing prayer as fundamentally distinct from other organizational acts doesn’t always make sense. That’s partly because all the other activities in which these groups are involved are also imbued with religiosity in the form of particular values and principles; and partly because the prayer-action distinction isn’t always recognized as valid.</p> <p>Some of my interviewees saw prayer <em>as </em>action and understood prayer to be <em>doing </em>something real and consequential. Others saw the distinction but didn’t treat one as more important than the other, asserting that prayer was just as essential for achieving their goals as the organizations’ other activities. Everyone in the study saw prayer as foundational to everything they did.</p> <p>What can we learn from these insights? It’s unhelpful, I think, to allow the conversation to devolve into arguments about whether prayer does something that can be quantified. Conducting tests to determine whether prayer has direct effects through, for example, some form of ‘divine intervention’ is obviously fraught with problems—though some medical studies <a href="">have attempted to address</a> the effects of prayer on healing. But this doesn’t mean that we should ignore prayer and its role in public and political spaces, because for many people prayer and other spiritual practices are important in shaping their responses to issues of peace and social justice.</p> <p>It’s true, of course, that prayer can reinforce existing power structures. In some communities, male religious leaders are tasked with leading groups in prayer. Under these circumstances, whether intentional or not, prayer can reinforce patriarchal structures. In interfaith contexts, prayer can buttress the dominance of certain religious groups by privileging the traditions and teachings of majority religions. But in other contexts, prayer can disrupt power structures. One respondent told me that in her interfaith women’s organization in Kenya, for example, prayer enables women to assert themselves. By leading the organization in prayer, these women are taking on the leadership roles that are often reserved for male religious leaders in their community.</p> <p>Prayer can also bridge divides in ways we might not expect. For example, <a href="">one study</a> concluded that prayer can strengthen unity among interfaith groups, which is surprising given that religious differences are often highlighted as divisive. My interviews with Religions for Peace and the Taizé Community confirmed the sometimes-central role of prayer in building bridges across the lines of religious, cultural, and political difference. In fact, representatives of the Taizé Community asserted that communal prayer can actually be more effective than dialogue in enabling people to engage with those who are different from themselves or who represent the opposing side of a conflict.</p> <p>For example, after the end of the wars in the former-Yugoslavia, the Taizé brothers invited people from various sides of the conflict to attend one of their events. The brothers told me that when they first arrived, these attendees didn’t want anything to do with one another. Moreover, the brothers felt that trying to create a dialogue among the groups would actually make things worse, because each side had their own version of events. However, engaging in communal prayer allowed the participants to open up their minds and bodies to new possibilities of engagement and trust, thus eventually creating the space for dialogue and bridge-building.</p> <p>The performance of prayer can also influence perceptions about specific projects and activities. For example, <a href="">commentaries</a> on the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota highlighted the use of prayer and other Indigenous practices and implicitly portrayed the protestors as peaceful and spiritual. Prayer is often <a href="">depicted</a> in this way—as as an inherently peaceful act. So when protestors pray, they are portrayed as organizing peacefully, and that can both build support and disarm opposition.</p> <p>Common assumptions about the irrationality or inconsequence of prayer have led many of us to ignore its potential, or to see it as peripheral to ‘real’ action. However, if we want to understand how prayer helps to shape our public and political worlds in both beneficial and problematic ways it’s time to move past these assumptions. Instead, we need to pay more attention to what prayer actually means to those who in engage in it, and to understand the expansive and varied roles that prayer plays in spaces of social action. To ignore prayer means to neglect a practice that millions of individuals employ in their quest to create a more just, peaceful, and harmonious global community.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/filipe-maia/spirituality-and-insurrection-of-seeds">Spirituality and the insurrection of seeds </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/god-is-justice-social-spirituality-of-dorothee-soelle">God is justice: the social spirituality of Dorothee Soelle</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/president-trump-and-christian-right">President Trump and the Christian right</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Tanya B. Schwarz Culture Love and Spirituality Tue, 20 Dec 2016 13:00:00 +0000 Tanya B. Schwarz 107792 at President Trump and the Christian right <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Does Trump’s election represent a victory for reactionary religion or a prelude to faith-based opposition?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Gage Skidmore</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>Do religion and politics mix or should faith be a purely private matter confined to home, church, synagogue or mosque? Arguments about this seemingly black-or-white question raged in Europe and North America for most of the twentieth century. Life, however, is seldom so clear-cut, as the fictional US President Josiah Bartlett noted in <em>The West Wing</em>. Talking with the Republican Arnie Vinick,&nbsp;<a href="">Bartlett suggested that whilst the US Constitution ruled that Church and State should be separate it didn’t insist that religion and State could be separated</a>. </p> <p>As the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first the debate about whether faith groups should keep out of politics has faded, save for a few determined secularists. &nbsp;Faith has not withered on the vine but has assumed an <a href="">increasingly significant role</a> in grass-roots politics in Europe, as well as in the less secularised United States. So the relevant question isn’t whether faith and politics mix but what kind of faith can support the development of a progressive politics of the common good.</p> <p>The recent election of Donald Trump as US President highlights the intimate and rocky relationship between religion and politics, and cautions us against simplistic sound-bites or selective stereotypes that conveniently prove that we were right all along. In the days following Trump’s election in November 2016 it was suggested that&nbsp;<a href=";tid=ss_tw">White evangelical Christians “won Trump the White House</a>.” It’s true that&nbsp;<a href="">81 per cent of White evangelicals voted for Trump and just 16 per cent for Clinton</a>,&nbsp;and that&nbsp;<a href="">some prominent evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr</a>&nbsp;have welcomed his election. </p> <p>Many evangelicals voted Republican because of Trump’s opposition to abortion and&nbsp;<a href="">Planned Parenthood, and his promise to put ‘pro-life’ judges onto the Supreme Court</a>. However to reduce evangelical Christianity to the ‘Christian right’ misrepresents evangelicalism, misreads contemporary America and misunderstands the potentially-progressive role that faith can play.</p> <p>The vast majority of White Evangelicals may have voted Trump but&nbsp;<a href="">an even larger majority (89 per cent) of Black Evangelical Christians supported Hillary Clinton</a>.&nbsp;<a href="">The notion that there is an evangelical ‘block vote’ is a myth</a>. Just before the election a&nbsp;<a href="">network of Black, White, Hispanic and Native American evangelicals launched an online petition</a> arguing that Trump’s divisive campaign gave a green light to White Supremacists. Ten days after his election the National African American Clergy Network published an&nbsp;<a href="">open letter urging him to reconsider his appointment of Stephen Bannon</a>, the White Supremacist editor of the&nbsp;<a href="">‘alt-right’</a>&nbsp;web-site <a href="">Breitbart News</a>, as senior counselor to the President.</p> <p>Rather than reflecting something inherently conservative about evangelicalism, Trump’s election has revealed an insecure nation divided along the fault-lines of gender, class and race and an uncertain society shaped by&nbsp;<a href="">contradictory visions of what it means to be both an ‘American’</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">an evangelical Christian</a>. <a href="">Evangelicalism is not another way of talking about the Republican Party at prayer</a>&nbsp;but a broad theological tradition. It can be religious ‘alt-right’ but it can also be a force for social transformation, which insists that Christianity revolves around a fundamental commitment to solidarity with those who are oppressed, as seen, for example, in the work of the&nbsp;<a href="">Sojourners</a>&nbsp;network.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";_r=2">Writing in The New York Times, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne</a>&nbsp;highlight the difficult relationship between power elites and religious faith in their reflections on the future for American evangelicalism. They remind us of the diversity of evangelical Christianity, noting that a large majority of “African-American, Latino, Asian, young and female evangelicals…opposed the racism, sexism and xenophobia of Mr Trump’s campaign.” </p> <p>Then they suggest that evangelicalism has become so tainted in the public imagination that “a new movement is needed” that better reflects a progressive evangelical commitment to diversity and social justice. Finally, they remind us that the evangelical Christianity of “old white men” is dying and being replaced by a movement shaped by younger Latina/o and African-American leaders. Campolo and Claiborne call for a new Reformation in which evangelicalism “returns to the teaching of Jesus” and learns again to challenge all forms of bigotry and injustice.</p> <p>Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr once suggested that 11 am on a&nbsp;<a href="">Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in American life</a>. Whilst the&nbsp;<a href="">Pew Research Center notes that such segregation is in decline</a>,&nbsp;the connection between race and religion in America persists. Just before Trump’s election a&nbsp;<a href="">Black-majority Baptist Church in Mississippi was fire-bombed and the words ‘Vote Trump’</a>&nbsp;were painted on its charred remains, while the notice-board of an&nbsp;<span>Episcopalian Church in Maryland was daubed with the words ‘Trump Nation – Whites Only</span>.’ </p> <p>The historic link between some forms of Christianity, segregation and White supremacy still lingers and Trumps election has given it new voice. In her&nbsp;<a href="">reflections on the election the novelist Toni Morrison</a>&nbsp;argued that it represented a desperate attempt to hang onto White privilege by “embracing the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump”, what&nbsp;<span>Van Jones on CNN called “a Whitelash</span>.” </p> <p>It’s true that the term ‘Christian’ is still used by some as a cover for White identity politics and a nostalgic longing for a&nbsp;<a href="">more segregated &nbsp;age</a>,&nbsp;but attempts to re-boot society back to Jim Crow America are doomed to fail because the United States is changing.&nbsp;According to&nbsp;<a href=";_r=1">The New York Times</a>,&nbsp;the America that greeted Barack Obama as the first African-American President in 2008 was a “majority white Christian nation.” By the time 2016 came round America had become a “minority white Christian nation” with Whites compromising only 43 per cent of the population.</p> <p>In the face of the fear and violence unleashed by the election are there any reasons to be optimistic? <a href="">Stephen Haynes invites us to reflect on comparisons that have been made between Trump’s victory and the rise of the Nazis in 1933</a>. Whilst wisely cautioning us against simplistic and false comparisons, Haynes suggests that the United States may have reached its ‘<a href="">Bonhoeffer</a> moment’—referring to the martyred theologian’s book <a href="">Ethics</a> in which he argues that the primary moral responsibility of Christians is to stand with “the weakest and most defenceless.”</p> <p>In a splintered society where faith remains a potent force in the lives of individuals and communities, its role as a builder of civil society that’s characterised by its support for those who are weak and defenceless is of paramount importance. Following his victory Trump continued to insist that he will create a&nbsp;<a href="">register of Muslims&nbsp;</a>in the United States, and in the aftermath of the election&nbsp;<a href=";tid=ss_tw&amp;utm_term=.c6ded3300a47">mosques from Florida to California have received hate-mail promising a forthcoming genocide of Muslim Americans</a>. </p> <p>Such lists and letters have in the past been a prelude to fascism, yet resistance to Trump’s proposal is growing.&nbsp;Jonathan Greenblatt has suggested that&nbsp;<a href="">Jewish Americans should register themselves as Muslims</a>&nbsp;as a sign of solidarity, and hundreds of&nbsp;<a href="">Michigan University students ringed fellow Muslim students as they prayed in a protective circle</a>&nbsp;after a female Muslim student was assaulted by a man on campus because she was wearing a&nbsp;<em>hijab</em>.&nbsp;<a href="">Jewish scholars of the holocaust</a>&nbsp;have called on all Americans to “mobilise in solidarity against Trump.”</p> <p>Arguing that Trump “ran on racial bigotry and misogyny,”&nbsp;the founder of Sojourners <a href="">Jim Wallis called on evangelicals</a>&nbsp;to “reach out in solidarity and protection to those who are most vulnerable,” and to repent of all forms of White supremacy. His&nbsp;“<span>“10 Commitments to Resistance in Trump’s America”</span>&nbsp;begin to outline an evangelical basis for challenging the new President. Might this charter hint at an alternative progressive future for evangelicalism? Only time will tell, but the fact that the Maryland church daubed with the words ‘Trump Nation – Whites Only’ covered the graffiti with a banner proclaiming&nbsp;<a href="">‘Silver Spring loves and welcomes immigrants’</a> might give some cause for optimism.</p> <p>Does religious faith have a valid and valuable role to play in public life, or should it be marked ‘Sundays only’? I think that’s the wrong question to pose. Instead we should ask what kind of faith can foster a common good that’s characterised by inclusion, the affirmation of diversity, and solidarity with those who are left out or left behind. The case of President Trump and the Christian Right is specific to the United States. However it raises questions and challenges that are relevant on both sides of the Atlantic. Wrestling faith and politics away from the right and the forces of reaction is a universal struggle for our age. It will be a long struggle, but it’s one that can be won.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/filipe-maia/spirituality-and-insurrection-of-seeds">Spirituality and the insurrection of seeds </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/god-is-justice-social-spirituality-of-dorothee-soelle">God is justice: the social spirituality of Dorothee Soelle</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Chris Shannahan Love and Spirituality Wed, 14 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Chris Shannahan 107631 at God is justice: the social spirituality of Dorothee Soelle <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A unique synthesis of mysticism, activism and feminism which still resonates in a world that’s filled with both beauty and injustice.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Dorothee Soelle (left). Credit: <a href="">By van Smirren/Anefo (Nationaal Archief).</a> CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons.</p> <p>When <a href="">Dietrich Bonhoeffer</a> was murdered by the Gestapo on April 9 1945 because of his opposition to Nazi ideology, a voice was stilled that would surely have made a profound contribution to post-World War II theology in a world that was literally dripping with blood. Like Bonhoeffer, <a href="">Dorothee Soelle</a> (or Sölle) was a German Protestant Christian who dedicated her life to the integration of politics with theology. She was born in Cologne in 1929 and died at a congress in&nbsp;<a title="Göppingen" href="">Göppingen</a> 74 years later.</p> <p>Soelle was fifteen when Bonhoeffer was hanged, but she was deeply influenced by his example. Paying tribute to his work later in her life, <a href="">she spoke of him</a> as “the one German theologian who will leads us into the third millennium”—and in effect that’s what she helped to do herself. As a woman Soelle brought a particular perspective to both her theology and to her work for justice. She was a mystic who was also an activist, and a theologian who fitted no conventional categories. But her unique gifts made her one of the most important spiritual-political figures of the twentieth century.</p> <p>As a child and a teenager, Soelle was aware that her parents were anti-Nazi at home, but she was warned to keep quiet lest they all be sent to a concentration camp. A few months after the War ended <a href="">she learned</a> that her father was one-quarter Jewish. It was the shadow of the camps and the questions they raised about God and suffering that shaped all of her work. ‘Is theology possible after Auschwitz?’ was a central and recurring theme.</p> <p>She studied literature and theology, and her ideas began to develop around a critique of another German theologian <a href="">Rudolf Bultmann</a>, whose focus on the individual’s experience (or ‘existential hermeneutics’) attracted her. But she parted ways with him precisely because his understanding of sin and grace were so individualistic. For Soelle, sin was also social and political, so theology must always have a critical stance towards the ideologies of the era in which a person lives. The power of personal experience in confronting these ideologies, however, was something that never left her.</p> <p>Beginning in 1968 in Cologne, she and her friends launched a series of what became known as ‘Political Evensongs’ which demonstrated how Soelle always sought to make connections between theology and life. Working in an ecumenical context, they created Sunday evening services which—through prayer, reflection and considerations of protest—addressed&nbsp; issues such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the war in Vietnam, authoritarian structures in the church, faith and politics, and many more. These Evensongs met much resistance from established church leaders.</p> <p>Soelle’s leadership in this movement was one reason why she was always considered ineligible for membership by the German theological academy. Another was that her work didn’t fit into any neat theological categories, so she was never offered a professorship. This may have been something of a disappointment, but it worked to her advantage as a freelance thinker and writer on the cutting edge of liberation theology. As a visiting professor at <a href="">Union Theological Seminary</a> in New York between 1975 and 1987 she was exposed to new currents in radical theology and feminism and became a respected teacher and colleague, influencing an important rising generation of young theologians that included <a href="">Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz</a> who later developed <em><a href="">mujerista theology</a></em>.</p> <p>In her memoir <a href=""><em>Against the Wind</em></a> she set forth her own Credo, asserting that “I believe in God who created the world not ready made…but who desires the counter-arguments of the living and the alteration of every condition through our work, through our politics.” To Soelle, twentieth-century German Protestantism seemed unable to connect faith and politics in this way. As a liberation theologian she asserted that “God is justice,” and that peace cannot develop in any other context. With friends she protested against the installation of nuclear weapons in Germany and all other forms of injustice—where there was protest there was Soelle. Yet she also expressed her theology and spirituality in her poetry, and it was to poetry and mysticism that she turned when injustice and oppression seemed overwhelming.</p> <p>As a Lutheran, the Christian mystical tradition appeared closed to her, other than Luther’s powerful experience of conversion. However, it was in mysticism that Soelle found the integration of inner and outer experience that she was looking for. In her book <a href=""><em>The Silent Cry</em></a><em> </em>(which focuses on mysticism and resistance) she spoke of this as a “mysticism of wide open eyes”—eyes that are open to the world in God. She studied the female mystics of the medieval period including <a href="">Marguerite Porete</a> who was burned at the stake in Paris in 1310<strong><em> </em></strong>for her teachings. Like Porete, Soelle asserted that women have direct, unmediated access to God independent of ecclesial structures, and that the suffering of all persons must be reflected in a strong stand against every form of discrimination.</p> <p>“Wherever theology undergoes changes, mysticism plays a part in it” she wrote in <em>The Silent Cry, </em>identifying five ‘places’ of mystical experience: nature, eroticism, suffering, community and joy. Soelle was a liberation theologian and a Christian socialist, so the links between mysticism and human suffering were always her primary concern. She found in <a href="">Latin American liberation theology</a> and its “<a href="">option for the poor</a>” a social mysticism, a dimension of religious experience outside of most academic language and categories.</p> <p>The suffering these theologians spoke of resonated with Soelle’s own interpretations and experience. In her work on <a href=""><em>Suffering</em></a>, her concern is with people’s actual experience and not disembodied pain and injustice. Her extensive travels in Latin America and her friendships with liberation theologians such as <a href="">Gustavo Gutierrez</a> helped her ideas to become ever more rooted in the lived realities of the poor.</p> <p>Throughout her work Soelle grappled with the never-ending questions that are raised by suffering: why does injustice exist? Can pain have any meaning? Why do some forms of suffering overpower us while others enrich and strengthen us? She insisted that Christians take sides with those who suffer and that they work collectively to abolish the conditions which produce it like hunger, war, oppression, violence and torture. While Auschwitz was the consistent background to her reflections, the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s—which she named as a ‘contemporary crucifixion’—also shaped her questioning.</p> <p>Married first to the artist Dietrich Soelle and later to a former Catholic priest Fulbert Steffansky, she was the mother of three daughters and a son. As a mother she knew the pain of childbirth and used that image powerfully when she explored the links between suffering and mysticism. For Soelle, mystics were people who attempted to transmute suffering into the birth of something new.&nbsp; Just as a woman can endure labour pains for the hope of the life of her child, mystics such as <a href="">Meister Eckhart</a> taught that suffering has meaning through the process of dying to oneself and thereby becoming more receptive to God. Suffering thus has a profound spiritual significance that can only be learned from inside the experience, not as a bystander. In <em>Suffering </em>she asserted that “God has no other hands than ours.”</p> <p>It was not until Soelle began to teach at Union Theological Seminary that she realised that her theology had always been implicitly feminist. When she first met <a href="">Rosemary Radford Ruether &nbsp;</a>(a leading feminist scholar) in the mid 1980s, Soelle was surprised to find that Ruether shared her concern that gender should not be separated from race and class in social and theological analysis. She had earlier been biased against American feminism because it appeared to ignore class struggle and workers’ rights.</p> <p><a href="">Christine Gudorf</a>, who was Soelle’s graduate assistant at the Seminary in the 1970s, remembers that Soelle was at first baffled by American feminism since she saw it as a position of privileged, white middle-class women who seemed unconcerned about other issues of injustice. &nbsp;She insisted that in Germany she never felt discrimination as a woman, but other Germans (men and women) saw her exclusion from the Germany academy as clear evidence that she had suffered in this way.</p> <p>Soelle was a complex and fascinating person. Her wide-ranging theological interests spoke to academics from outside the academy but she also spoke powerfully to activists. A constant voice for justice, she found in the experience of mysticism—in the real experience of God—the foundation of strength to stand with the poor and oppressed, whether in Germany, Latin America or the United States. Her theology is a unique synthesis of spirituality and social justice that has the power to resonate in a 21st century world that is filled with suffering and the questions it continues to raise.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton: two journeys to wholeness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/erika-summerseffler-hyunjin-deborah-kwak/where-are-missing-mystics-of-revolution">Where are the missing mystics of the revolution?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/is-pope-francis-ecofeminist">Is Pope Francis an ecofeminist?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Susan Rakoczy Liberation Love and Spirituality Tue, 13 Dec 2016 01:00:00 +0000 Susan Rakoczy 107586 at Spirituality and the insurrection of seeds <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>All monopolies—religious, social, political and economic—spring from the desire for power and domination.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Keith Weller, USDA via Wikimedia</a>, Public Domain.</p> <p>Don Halcomb is a 63-year-old farmer who grows corn, soybeans, wheat and barley on his 7,000-acre family farm in Adairville, Kentucky. According to <a href="">a report in the New York Times</a> he’s expecting his profits to vanish this year because crop prices are falling and seeds and fertilizer are increasingly expensive, their costs driven up by <a href="">Monsanto</a>, <a href="">Dupont</a> and other agribusiness giants.</p> <p>“We’re producing our crops at a loss now,” he told the Times, “You can’t cut your costs fast enough…It’s just like any other industry that consolidates. They tell the regulators they’re cost-cutting, and then they tell their customers they have to increase pricing after the deal’s done.”</p> <p>The ‘deal’ cited by Halcomb concerns <a href="///C:/Users/Downloads/Like%20Rabbi%20Heschel,%20I%20fear%20that%20some%20have%20been%20so%20fixed%20in%20defending%20their%20heavy,%20deeply%20rooted%20traditions%20and%20creeds%20and%20books%20of%20discipline,%20that%20they%20neglect%20that%20our%20roots%20are%20alive%E2%80%94and%20sometimes%20they%20can%20and%20must%20be%20uprooted%20and%20transplanted%20to%20other">Monsanto’s recent announcement</a> that it plans to merge with <a href="">Bayer</a>, one the world’s largest producers of agricultural chemicals and biotechnology products, spiking fears that the new conglomerate will raise the cost of inputs even further. Less competition equals more room for large corporations to dictate their prices and raise their profit margins, producing a virtual monopoly on seeds which will prevent farmers from diversifying and encourage the trend towards highly-vulnerable agricultural monocultures.</p> <p>It’s a fearful image that’s been exercising my imagination in recent weeks, evoking some powerful theological memories in the process. Yes, I did say ‘theological’, though perhaps ‘spiritual’ is a better word, so what’s the connection between spirituality and seeds?</p> <p>I work as a professor of theology in a seminary, a place where the imagery around seeds is abundant. Etymologically, a <em>seminary</em> is a place of planting and harvesting, of discerning <em>which </em>seeds are good for each type of soil, and testing how different varieties can be mingled together to form new types of vegetables and plants. Seminaries are also places of dissemination—where we launch the seeds of ideas and interpretations and cultivate both faith and doubt in our students.</p> <p>It’s in this context that a monopoly over seed production and dissemination—just like a monopoly over theology and religious teachings—strikes me as especially dangerous.</p> <p>Rabbi <a href="">Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote that</a> “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religion philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid.” As religion loses its ability to connect to the struggles and the suffering of the world, spirituality becomes vacuous and alienating.</p> <p>“When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, and love by habit,” <a href="">Heschel continued</a>, “when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes a heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.”</p> <p>His warning reminds me that when I was preparing to join a seminary for my own theological education, I was told that they were places where people go only to lose their faith. I didn’t lose mine, but I certainly questioned and deepened it, very much in the tradition of religious scholar <a href="">Wilfred Cantwell Smith</a>. In his essay on “<a href="">The English Word ‘Believe</a>’,” Smith takes us back to the roots of that word which signify to ‘hold something dear,’ not simply to assent to something like a belief in God or a set of predetermined teachings.</p> <p>“Virtually to love” something, Smith says, is “To believe:” to align oneself to something, to pledge love and loyalty. So it is worth asking: what alliances, what relationships, and what loves do we profess with our beliefs—whether they are religious, social, political, or economic?</p> <p>The Christian gospels say that faith is like a mustard seed—very small but also very wild. The website of the <a href="">Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Ontario describes</a> wild mustard as “a serious weed of cultivated land. It is responsible for reductions in crop yields, dockage losses, and for costly chemical and cultural controls.” Mustard seeds are not fond of mono-cultures, just as faith often leads people to ally their hearts beyond the assertions of religious orthodoxy. Both real and spiritual seeds are constantly crossing boundaries and disturbing large plantations, growing in-between other plants, creating spaces that did not previously exist, and finding new life there to nurture.</p> <p>When we have this kind of faith we align ourselves to that which is more-than-one, to the polar opposite of a monoculture enforced from above. We align our hearts to a multitude of seeds because we recognize that their convergence—the meeting and cross-pollinating and living together of different cultures and traditions—is the wild and wonderful result of a wind that continues to blow. But then I think of all the heavy and almost unmovable articles of faith that are carried on by my own Christian tradition: of God the Father, God Almighty and God the Spirit; of The Church, the Trinity and Sin.</p> <p>These are heavy words, burdened with a long history of abuse, patriarchy, militarism, and colonialism. Their traditions grow deep, and so uprooting them is very difficult. Like Heschel, I fear that some of my colleagues have been so fixed in defending their heavy and deeply-rooted creeds and books of discipline that they have neglected to notice that our spiritual roots are barely alive. According to the gospels, faith cultivates in people a capacity to move mountains and trees to other places as part of a healthy and diverse ecosystem of social, economic and spiritual growth and development. The problem is that faith and spirituality can become just another way of maintaining these heavy and deeply-rooted things untouched in their terrain.</p> <p>In the same way, I am deeply troubled by an economic system in which a single for-profit corporation is responsible for the production and dissemination of most of the world’s seeds, especially when we still have <a href="">48 million people in the United States who suffer from food insecurity</a> in the wealthiest nation on earth. Here is the most important parallel between the monopolies of Monsanto and other agribusiness giants and the monopolies of formal religion: both spring from the desire for power and domination. Both presuppose that seeds can be controlled and constrained and limited. But monopolies can never impede the dissemination of new seeds, since buried under the earth those seeds are always sprouting into the wildest of things.</p> <p>It will take both faith and courage to uproot these heavy and oppressive systems. This faith will not be about great affirmations; instead it will be a way of aligning our hearts to the seeds of change that are growing right under our feet. As we are fond of doing in seminaries, let us pray that we may witness a true insurrection of seeds.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton: two journeys to wholeness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki">Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Filipe Maia Economics Love and Spirituality Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:00:00 +0000 Filipe Maia 107409 at Teaching values of collective prosperity <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How the Zuni Tribe are strengthening communities through culture and sacred spaces.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A Zuni eagle dancer performs in the plaza of the Zuni Visitor Center at the annual Main Street Festival. Credit: YES! Magazine/Sullivan Peraino. All rights reserved.</p> <p>“Do you know the secret of the kachinas?”</p> <p>It was a whispered question, between two young girls—one Zuni, one white—as they watched Zuni night dances in 1979.</p> <p>Bronwyn Fox, then 9 years old, had moved to the town of Zuni in far western New Mexico for her mother’s teaching job. Fox found that, because of her age, she was treated like any of the other children and allowed to attend and participate in festivals and ceremonies, like the series of six night dances held each spring, that might otherwise be closed to a non-Zuni-member.</p> <p>Fox remembers trying to deduce what her friend meant, but couldn’t muster a guess. “There’s a person inside the mask,” her friend replied, revealing the secret. Even as a young girl, this moment had a profound effect on Fox. “That really gave me perspective on how deep their religious beliefs were. It was powerful,” she says.</p> <p>More than 30 years later, the Zuni tribe’s spring night dances still exude that strong sense of mystery and power that made such a lasting impression. In the dark of night, kachina dancers—men wearing intricate masks of feather, fur, shells, antlers, juniper bows, and leather—bounce to the steady rhythm of chanting and drum beats, moving in slow, oblong loops filling each room until nearly three in the morning. Some of the clown dancers, whose role is to inject humor into the long ceremonies, wear football jerseys, t-shirts, and camouflage. But for most, nothing about their regalia suggests the influence of modernity.</p> <p>While the Zuni tribe, one of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos, has sustained many of the aesthetic aspects of its culture—including detailed artistry and intricate ceremonies—the deeper meaning and necessity that originally inspired and gave weight to those elements has been diluted by the influence of market capitalism and mainstream culture. Zuni people’s focus on beauty, which has long been a point of pride, has also become a source of income, and, as a result, some of the more serious, religious facets of their culture have faded. </p> <p>The pueblo’s six kivas—ceremonial rooms with an entrance hole in the ceiling that symbolize pueblos’ subterranean prehistory—are the foundation of the Zuni people’s spiritual world. Yet, since 1981, three of those kivas have suffered from neglect and have not been fully operational. The 10-day initiation ceremony, which involves the use of all six kivas and is instrumental in teaching Zuni youth the pueblo’s core values of community and devotion to collective prosperity, has not been practiced since then.</p> <p>The Zuni tribe suffers from many of the same problems plaguing much of Indian Country: high unemployment, poverty, and insufficient education, among others. And although the dereliction and deterioration of the kivas isn’t the source of those issues, their repair could potentially be a solution. For the first time in more than 30 years, this prospect is a reality.</p> <p>Two years ago, Dan Simplicio attended his son’s initiation ceremony—an abbreviated version of the ceremony he experienced himself nearly 50 years earlier.</p> <p>A former Zuni tribal councilor who works as a cultural specialist at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colo., Dan Simplicio’s experience that day was much different from what he remembered from his own initiation ceremony. Many of the initiates did not speak the Zuni language. Their gazes wandered about the kiva, and, among the increasing number of children who were not full-blooded Zuni, Dan Simplicio wondered how much they understood the meaning and weight of the ceremony.</p> <p>A few months later, two of the new initiates were caught drawing blasphemous images of kachinas. (Depicting kachinas is generally prohibited.) For Dan Simplicio, the incident was unnerving, but he viewed it more as a symptom of a larger problem. “We’re not teaching the fundamental reasons of why we do this,” he says.</p> <p>So Dan Simplicio has leveraged his position at Crow Canyon to work with the tribal administration to restore all three kivas—plus a fourth, which needs a new roof—as a way of reigniting among the Zuni people a more holistic and comprehensive attention to their culture. Having six operating kivas won’t solve every problem for the Zuni people, but Dan Simplicio believes it will spur broader change. Restoring the kivas, he says, can help rebalance Zunis who have lost their way within the intersection of the Western world and their own.</p> <p>“For us, time is culture,” says Dan Simplicio. Or at least, that is how it used to be until the 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) came to Zuni Pueblo, forcing people into single-family homes.</p> <p>Before then, the tribe’s matriarchal society dictated that they live with extended families. As Noreen Simplicio, Dan Simplicio's cousin and an award-winning potter, puts it, “We all ate, literally, from the same dish.”</p> <p>But with the construction of single-family homes that are unable to accommodate traditional extended family living, this no longer takes place, and younger generations don’t have the benefit of nearby grandparents to pass down long-standing traditions and impart to them ancestral knowledge acquired over countless generations.</p> <p>Before the HUD-spurred changes, home construction was a public event that reinforced close communal ties. But over the next decade, the federal government built more than 1,000 homes, which Zunis then had to purchase. This occurred across Indian Country, from the southern plains to Alaska, but it hit Zuni people and culture especially hard.</p> <p>Because of the pueblo’s isolation, the Zuni had been somewhat withdrawn from the market economy, but with a sudden need for cash, they were thrust into America’s capitalist system. Jewelry, pottery, and fetishes—carvings of animals that are said to possess the spiritual qualities of the represented species—had always been central to their culture, and, with a growing demand for these items, many artists started selling their crafts in Gallup and other local markets. But like many poor communities, little infrastructure existed to help people manage their money. Few Zunis knew the value of the dollar, and, as a result, consumerism ran rampant and material possessions quickly became cheap status symbols.</p> <p>From there, unintended consequences have spiraled. Individualism has replaced communalism, and privatization has divided people by introducing new conceptions of land ownership. Fences are now a common feature surrounding the town of Zuni. Alcoholism plagues many pueblo members,&nbsp;<a href="">suicide rates are higher than they ever were</a>,<a href="">grisly murders have become far too routine</a>, and, as Dan Simplicio sees it, the common thread that runs through them all ties back to the changes HUD brought to the pueblo.</p> <p>While the Zuni people have retained many elements of their culture, especially those aesthetic aspects, the meaning behind some of these practices has been lost. For centuries, their arid location meant many of their ceremonies focused on bringing rain. Now, with flush toilets, running water, and ground water pumping, those ceremonies no longer mean what they once did.</p> <p>Even Zuni artistry has been impacted. In the past, elder craftspeople frequently and enthusiastically taught and mentored young artists, but today, because an artist’s craft is directly tied to his or her livelihood, far fewer people are willing to tutor future artists and accusations of stealing or plagiarizing a particular style or technique have become regrettably commonplace. To counter this, Noreen Simplicio has taught at the high school and at summer camps. She now teaches at a substance abuse program, where she employs art as a medium to help former addicts regain their identity and learn a valuable trade. “It’s important that we not let it die out,” she says.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Fox maintains a close connection to the Zuni people. She returned to Santa Fe in the early 1980s so her mother could manage Keshi, the Zuni Connection, a co-op formed by Zuni artists a few years earlier. At the pueblo’s insistence, her mother bought the store a few years after that but has since passed it on to her daughter. The store specializes in Zuni fetishes, jewelry, pottery, and other crafts, and Fox’s business model ensures that artists receive a fair price for their work. She is careful not to sell items considered to be ceremonial; wooden kachinas have become increasingly accepted, but the store won’t carry kachinas adorned with feathers, leather, or other clothing, as these are considered to be alive.</p> <p>The sale and increasing popularity of fetishes also risks diluting the original meaning they have for Zuni members. Most Zunis who carry fetishes do so in small pouches and rarely, if ever, look at them, even ones they’ve owned for decades. “Fetishes in their ceremonial role in Zuni, you don’t see or hear much about,” says Fox. “It’s very personal.”</p> <p>Although fetishes were originally designed as religious ornaments, their widespread popularity has transformed them into being predominantly artistic objects, and this has been a source of worry for some.</p> <p>Jim Enote is a tribal member and the executive director of Ashiwi Awan Museum and Heritage Center, which bridges the gap between the pueblo’s past and future. Through the museum, he aims to enable Zuni people to understand how their past can inform their future. “It’s a contact zone for mediating knowledges,” he says, and for him this mode of learning could have important implications for Zunis to grasp how the influence of mainstream American culture has shaped their thinking on issues like agriculture, education, history, and language.</p> <p>Enote sees more of a blurred line when it comes to what figures should and should not be sold. “There isn’t a cultural police,” he says. Enote is careful not to pass judgment on artists who rely on their work to make a living, but at the same time adds, “Some people think more critically about these issues than others. They can see the social impact of misrepresentation of Zuni images and figures.”</p> <p>If for the Zuni people time equates to culture, then for the rest of America time is money. And to Dan Simplicio, Zunis are in limbo, unable to devote the necessary time needed to fully understand and practice their culture—the central problem to which all others are connected. “We can’t go back, but we’ve got to create balance,” he says.</p> <p>To resurrect the full initiation ceremony, the kivas will be just one piece of the puzzle. Because 35 years have passed since the full ceremony was last performed, the first step will be conducting a detailed inventory of the living knowledge of it. That will help ensure the ceremony can be performed accurately. Once the inventory is complete, the kiva societies—the individual groups that oversee each of the six kivas and the ceremonies performed in each one—will supervise and complete the construction of their respective kivas.</p> <p>This is not the first time that the pueblo has considered restoring the kivas, yet the necessary funding has never materialized. Enote would prefer that the kiva societies raise the money themselves, but so far those funds haven’t materialized.</p> <p>And that’s where Crow Canyon, which uses archaeological research to educate and expand knowledge of Puebloan cultures, can play a role. By working with the tribal council and even HUD, which has recently allowed funds to be used for the construction of public buildings, Dan Simplicio looks forward to establishing a strong precedent. “We are creating a positive example that can help other pueblos with what we are doing here,” he says. “It’s the right direction.”</p> <p>The director of the Zuni Heritage and Historic Preservation Office, Kurt Dongoske, agrees. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” he says. Not only have they avoided controversy, but as Dongoske, who is also a Zuni member, adds, “It’s a good example of collaboration between an outside group and the Zuni.”</p> <p>It will also be the first major community construction event at Zuni Pueblo since HUD upended that practice more than 40 years ago.</p> <p>Despite all of his work to reconnect his brethren with their traditional ceremonies and customs, Dan Simplicio doesn’t want the Zuni’s culture to be seen as stagnant. “We’re not here to be preserved,” he says.</p> <p>Adds Noreen Simplicio, “We can never go back to our old ways, but we can remember.”</p> <p>Instead, Dan Simplicio talks about&nbsp;<em>continuance</em>. If Zunis’ understanding of themselves is strongly rooted in a quest for aesthetic beauty, those roots extend much deeper. Prehistoric petroglyphs at the pueblo’s origin place in the Grand Canyon depict two people holding hands coming out of the emergence hole. “It’s not just a symbol of a helping hand,” Simplicio says. “It’s a symbol of never letting go.”</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in YES! Magazine.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/manini-sheker/can-religion-be-positive-force-for-social-change">Can religion be a positive force for social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/laura-michele-diener/fierce-contemplation-meet-nature-loving-nuns-who-helped-to-stop-">Fierce contemplation: meet the nature-loving nuns who helped to stop a pipeline</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Michael J. Dax Activism Culture Love and Spirituality Fri, 19 Aug 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Michael J. Dax 104168 at Six books Muslim (and non-Muslim) women should add to their reading list <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>These books on faith and feminism will force you to reevaluate your stereotypes of Muslims.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=";utm_content=buffer1f6fc&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;;utm_campaign=buffer">Brown Girl magazine</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Just like that, Ramadan is gone. You probably feel like you’re already&nbsp;losing the spiritual clarity you had reached during the final 10 days. It happens to the best of us. Which is why I have tried my best to put together a very short reading list of books, specifically for Muslim women. These books will help you to continue to reconnect with your faith and challenge your spiritual intelligence so you can keep growing.</p> <p>The best part? All of these books are either self-published or by smaller Muslim publishing houses which means&nbsp; your money will go directly to the people who help make these a reality.</p> <p>1. “<a href="" target="_blank">A Temporary Gift: Reflections on Love, Loss, and Healing</a>” by Asmaa Hussein</p> <p>I’ve followed&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Asmaa Hussein on Facebook</a>&nbsp;for a long time. Her posts about how she processed her husband’s murder by an army sniper as he was returning home from a peaceful protest in Alexandria, Egypt are always deep and insightful. They had been married less than two years. Her husband left behind a young daughter as well.</p> <p>So when I found out that Hussein had put out a book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. It is a compilation of some of her Facebook posts, but way more. Her words are so raw they make you feel her pain. I have cried while reading this book. I have recounted my own blessings while reading it. I felt, at least to some degree, the pain and inner strength that Hussein lives with every day. This book is powerful.</p> <p>I had the opportunity to ask Hussein a few questions, below is an excerpt of our conversation which truly displays her natural skill for writing and her humbleness in life:</p> <p>“I’ve been a writer for quite some time – but not professionally. I blogged and journaled for many years of my life, so I had the time to explore my writing without the pressure of actually producing a book. Writing has always been my way of blowing off steam and processing emotions. I found that writing my story had a therapeutic effect and left me feeling as though my burden was lightened.</p> <p>Publishing a personal book is always difficult because a whole host of worries and questions tend to creep in – am I doing this for the right reasons, or just to boost my ego? Will people actually want to buy this book or am I overestimating the value of my writing? At one point I just needed to get past those insecurities and move forward with the book.”</p> <p>2. “<a href="" target="_blank">Reclaim Your Heart</a>” by Yasmin Mogahed</p> <p>Spiritual intelligence. Few of us ever take the time out to really dissect our spirituality. Why are we inclined to certain things in our life? How do we relate to God and the people around us because of our spiritual inclinations? These are some of the questions that Mogahed forces you to think about.</p> <p>This book is really emotionally heavy. I’ve had it for some time and I still haven’t been able to finish it because Mogahed’s words constantly make&nbsp;me stop and have to think, really absorb, what I’ve read. It’s a book I keep going back to and finding a new revelation within myself every time. It is a must have for your reading list.</p> <p>3. “<a href="" target="_blank">Faithfully Feminist:&nbsp;Jewish, Christian, &amp; Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay</a>” by Jennifer Zobair and Gina Messina-Dysert</p> <p>For transparency sake, I’m actually one of the 45 contributors in this book (tweet me @atiyahasan05 if you find my picture!). The book is composed of female contributors from the three Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.</p> <p>Each author writes about how they reconcile their faith with feminism in the present day. The Abrahamic religions are considered to be deeply patriarchal, but women today are peeling back the layers to find their source of empowerment from within these faiths, like myself.&nbsp;It is truly enlightening to see how much we have in common, something that is especially important considering the current political and social climate.</p> <p>4. “<a href="" target="_blank">Women in the Quran: An Emancipatory Reading</a>” by Asma Lamrabet</p> <p>I received this book as a gift from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Kube Publishing</a>&nbsp;and it pretty much blew my mind. As Muslim women, we’ve all heard the story of Khadija, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. She was the older widow who needed help running her business and he was the young, handsome, trustworthy man who readily agreed. This narrative always bothered me. If you really read about Khadija, she was brilliantly successful on her own. When the caravans set out for trading, her caravan alone was bigger than her entire tribes’. She could have married any man of her choosing. But she chose the man who did not have social status nor money to his name. She chose the man because of his upstanding character. Khadija, to me, has always been the first Muslim example of an empowered woman.</p> <p>But it’s difficult to find unbiased views of the early Muslim women. So this book was a literal godsend. It has two parts, how the Quran speaks OF women and how it speaks TO women. &nbsp;I’m still making my way through this book, but just buy it okay? And then we can discuss it in detail!</p> <p>5. &amp;&nbsp;6. “<a href="" target="_blank">Love, InshAllah</a>” and “<a href=";psc=1&amp;refRID=XG25VQ69RGP33CQM919N" target="_blank">Salaam, Love</a>” by Ayesha Mattu and Husna Maznavi</p> <p>The reason these two books are mentioned together is because they are part of a series. “Love, Inshallah” talks about love (obviously) with a collection of stories from Muslim women who would place themselves all over the “religious” spectrum. “Salaam, Love” is a collection of stories from men. What’s the point of reading one without the other?</p> <p>They are an easy and fun read. The reason they belong on your reading list is mainly because they will also force you to reevaluate your own stereotypes of Muslims. You would think that as Muslims ourselves, we wouldn’t stereotype other Muslims. But we do, and these books will remind you how important it is to always make 70 excuses for your brother/sister when you see them do something that you want to call out as&nbsp;<em>haraam</em>. (Also, just stop calling out people as&nbsp;<em>haraam</em>).</p> <p class="image-caption">This article is republished with permission from <a href=";utm_content=buffer1f6fc&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;;utm_campaign=buffer">Brown Girl Magazine</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/manini-sheker/can-religion-be-positive-force-for-social-change">Can religion be a positive force for social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/is-it-ok-to-criticise-islam">Is it ok to criticise Islam?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation feminism islam religion and social transformation Atiya Hasan Culture Intersectionality Love and Spirituality Fri, 05 Aug 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Atiya Hasan 104551 at Buddhism and economic transformation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="EndNoteBibliography">Economies have no essential nature. Once this is recognized, many more opportunities for change present themselves.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Wikimedia/Eric Pouhier</a>, CC BY-SA 2.5.</p> <p><span>Many of us, informed about world events and motivated by love and compassion, feel the need for profound economic transformation. We started long ago to question injustice, consumerism, and military-industrial ties. The growing specter of climate-change related disruptions has convinced even more people that ‘business as usual’ is not a viable option.</span></p> <p><span>But what form should this transformation take, and how can we make it happen? I believe that insights from the careful study of both economics and Zen Buddhism can help us along this path—no matter what faith tradition we come from (if any).</span></p> <p><span>I began studying social science, and eventually earned a PhD in Economics, because I thought these studies might help me to contribute to solving the problems of global poverty and hunger. I began studying Zen because—as is a common story—my life was a mess and I needed to find a better way to be in the world.&nbsp; But what drew me further into both endeavors was the way in which Zen </span><em>and</em><span> social science (though not, unfortunately, the discipline of economics) encouraged me to entertain doubt, and try to look afresh at the world with a ‘don’t know mind.’</span></p> <p><span>My economics classes taught me that self-interest and competition rule economic life; that the purpose of firms is to serve their shareholders; and that capitalist economies must grow without limits. These are treated as fundamental principles or even ‘laws.’ I have found these tenets reiterated by many progressive activists, Buddhist scholars among them. David Loy, for example, repeats these beliefs on </span><a href="">Transformation</a><span> in writing about the </span><a href="">Three Poisons</a><span> of greed, anger and ignorance as being institutionalized in our economic system.</span></p> <p><span>In thinking about economies and well-being from this perspective, the route to transformation looks obvious: if the present system institutionalizes the wrong values, then clearly we need to dismantle it and create a replacement economy. This new economy should be founded on the diametrically opposite values of compassion, cooperation, community, and sufficiency. Many activists seem to feel very certain about this conclusion.</span></p> <p><span>But, using my ‘don’t know’ mind, I became curious about how</span><em> </em><span>economists discovered these principles and ‘laws,’ and I found that they weren’t discovered through research at all. Instead, </span><a href="">economists<em> made them up</em></a><em>.&nbsp; </em><span>Wanting to emulate the ‘hard’ sciences, they took the complex, emergent, social interaction we call the ‘economy’ and stripped off all its human dimensions. Then they analyzed this desiccated, distorted model using physics-like concepts of ‘laws’ and ‘forces.’ So the image of the market economy as a machine that functions according to universal laws was created by economists who were seeking professional prestige.</span></p> <p><span>I also compared these beliefs about fundamental principles to basic Buddhist tenets, and found that they came up very short. People have now become so used to thinking of the current economy as </span><em>essentially</em><span> characterized by profit-making, self-interest, and competition that they no longer notice that this is a manufactured image. Yet one of the central teachings of Buddhist philosophy is </span><a href=""><em>anatta</em></a><em>,</em><span> or ‘no-self,’ which means that all phenomena lack any essential nature. Another is </span><a href=""><em>anicca</em></a><span>, or the impermanence of all things.</span></p> <p><span>In Zen meditation practice, one learns to question the idea that there is a personal, on-going, separate-from-others ‘me’ that has unchanging characteristics. But if</span><em> all</em><span> things lack an essential nature and are constantly changing, this must also be true of economies. Like everything else, economies arise from a flux of contingent, historical, and interdependent phenomena.</span></p> <p><span>So both the study of the history of economics and the study of Buddhism leads us to be skeptical about the supposed laws and principles that underlie the current economic system. Taking a fresh look at real world evidence should further weaken their hold on our imaginations.</span></p> <p><span>Consider, for example, the common belief that the essence of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders. This idea is </span><a href="">not based in law</a><span> (despite a widespread belief that this is so), nor was it derived from the </span><a href=";context=law_journal_law_policy">observation</a><span> of actual businesses. Business leaders actually have quite a lot of leeway in what they do—for good or ill.</span></p> <p><span>In any business journal you can read about corporations that are more oriented towards innovation (like </span><a href="">Google</a><span>), or expansion like (</span><a href="">Amazon</a><span>), or maximizing </span><a href="">CEO compensation</a><span> than they are towards shareholder value. Others actively try to </span><a href="">contribute to a sustainable world</a><span> or make their business a </span><a href="">force for good</a><span>.&nbsp; Most have several goals, among which profit is only one. Still others are a mess and don’t seem to pursue any goal effectively at all.</span></p> <p><span>Relentless profit maximization wasn’t the only myth invented by economists. The ‘free market,’ ‘imperatives to grow,’ ‘perfect competition,’ and the idea that economies can function without widespread norms of cooperation and trust were also invented. Authors such as </span><a href="">Yves Smith</a><span> and </span><a href="">Lynn Stout</a><span> show clearly how selfish opportunism—far from being </span><em>necessary</em><span> for economic functioning—actually </span><em>destroys</em><span> economic systems and corporations. My own work on </span><a href="">Economics for Humans</a><span> delves deeper into the actual necessity of joining economics with care.</span></p> <p><span>Likewise, Buddhist teachings should help us to relax our tight grip on the image of the ideal ‘replacement economy.’ If we imagine that the new economy will have a good essential nature, we deny </span><em>anatta.</em><span> If we envision the replacement economy as an end point or culmination of the search for social justice, we deny </span><em>anicca</em><span>—the inescapability of impermanence and change. If we place our hopes in an idealized end to suffering (or </span><a href=""><em>dukkha</em></a><span>), we deny the teaching that tells us that suffering is a basic feature of existence.</span></p> <p><span>Relaxing our belief in essences also leads to a different interpretation of </span><a href="">The Three Poisons</a><span>: greed, anger, and ignorance. The Sanskrit word for ignorance, </span><em>moha</em><span>, is sometimes translated as ‘certainty.’ The more certain we are about something—like the ‘essential’ nature of the current economic system—and the more we resist looking at it with a ‘don’t know’ mind, the more deluded we can become.</span></p> <p><span>Anger is also a clear temptation if we buy into the replacement economy model. It’s very easy to see ExxonMobil, for example, as motivated by greed, and </span><a href="">our own anger as righteous</a><span>. Yet Buddhist teaching reminds us that anger is a poison and that ‘us versus them’ thinking arises from a deep delusion of separation. If we see people ‘inside the system’—especially ‘corporate elites’—as no more than weak, deluded, role-playing robots, we deny them their</span><em> </em><span>humanity.</span></p> <p><span>And if we think that </span><em>we</em><span> aren’t motivated by greed, we deny </span><em>our</em><span> own membership of the human race. Greed for money is only the least subtle variety of this vice. I want climate change to stop along with child abuse, unemployment, sexism, racism, war, the arms trade, and nuclear weapons. Yet with a little introspection, I’ve realized that I don’t just simply aspire to relieve suffering—I have additional desires (demands really) that I pile on top of that aspiration: ‘I want to feel good about myself’ ‘and ‘I want to be free of guilt.’</span></p> <p><span>While feeling myself to be part of a righteous vanguard could feed these ego needs, they are precisely the sort of deluded self-making that Buddhism warns about. Suffering arises when we feel that the world is unsatisfactory and should conform to our wishes. Wanting the world to be this way so that I can always feel righteous and effective is a very subtle form of greed, but it is greed nonetheless.</span></p> <p><span>To address the suffering arising from economic problems we need changes in our hearts, and then we need to take these changes out into the world. Just because we don’t need a wholesale replacement economy doesn’t mean that we don’t need structural and systemic changes. Within any nation, community or organization there are forces that shape the flows of information, values, decisions, and patterns of activity that underpin economic institutions, so that’s where there are huge opportunities for action.</span></p> <p><span>Economies, markets, and corporations, like human individuals or any other institutions, arise </span><a href="">contingently, historically, and in deep interdependence</a><span> with one another. Recognizing this fact opens up many possibilities for wise, compassionate, pragmatic, and deeply engaged action, not in some imagined alternative universe but in </span><em>this</em><span> messy and painful world. Letting go of the image of economic transformation as a gigantic battle between two opposing sets of principles frees us to work on cultivating good wherever it can spring up, and disarm evil in whatever forms it emerges in the here-and-now.</span></p> <p class="image-caption">This article is based on a talk (<a href="">video</a>, <a href="">text</a>) given at the Harvard Divinity School and sponsored by the Religions and the Practice of Peace Initiative on February 18, 2016.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-loy/listening-to-buddha-how-greed-illwill-and-delusion-are-poisoning-our-instit">Listening to the Buddha: how greed, ill-will and delusion are poisoning our institutions </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/learning-to-love-us-versus-them-thinking">Learning to love us-versus-them thinking</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/julie-nelson/husbandry-feminist-reclamation-of-men-s-responsibility-to-care">Husbandry: a feminist reclamation of men’s responsibility to care</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Buddhism Julie A. Nelson Economics Love and Spirituality Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Julie A. Nelson 104215 at Fierce contemplation: meet the nature-loving nuns who helped to stop a pipeline <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As fewer women enter convents, what will become of their rich tradition of social and environmental engagement?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Sisters Kathy DiVaio (left), Jan Barthel (center) and Diantha Daniels (right). Credit: Laura Diener/YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>“The easiest way for me to find God is in nature,” Sister Ceciliana Skees explains. Born Ruth Skees, she grew up in Hardin County, Kentucky, during the 1930s. It’s a rural place of soft green hills, where her father farmed his entire life.</p> <p>Now just a few months shy of her eighty-fifth birthday, she remembers feeling the first stirrings of a religious calling at the age of 10. Her peasant blouse and smooth, chin-length haircut don’t fit the popular image of a nun, but she has been a Sister of Loretto—a member of a religious order more than 200 years old—since she took vows at the age of 18.</p> <p>Skees’ commitment to social activism goes back almost as far as her commitment to the church. She has marched for civil rights, founded a school for early childhood education, and taught generations of children.</p> <p>Then, a few years ago, she heard about the Bluegrass Pipeline, a joint venture between two energy companies: Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. The project would have transported natural gas liquids from fracking fields in Pennsylvania and Ohio southwest across Kentucky to connect with an existing pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. Loretto’s land was directly in its path.</p> <p>On August 8, 2013, Skees and other sisters from Loretto and several other convents attended an informational meeting held by representatives of the two companies. Frustrated with what they saw as a lack of helpful information, several of the sisters, including Skees, gathered in the center of the room and broke into song. A video of the sisters singing “Amazing Grace” was picked up by media outlets such as <em>Mother Jones</em>&nbsp;and reached hundreds of thousands of people.</p> <p>Woodford county resident Corlia Logsdon remembers how a company representative asked the police to arrest the sisters for disrupting the meeting that day. But the officers, who were graduates of local Catholic schools, refused to arrest their former teachers.</p> <p>Logsdon joined the campaign against the pipeline when she realized the proposed route would cut directly through her front yard. She says she found the sisters to be stalwart partners, who regularly accompanied her to negotiate with state lawmakers. “It was the first time I had ever done anything like that. And they came with me, persistently presenting a positive and yet quietly forceful presence in the legislature.”</p> <p>Sellus Wilder, a documentary filmmaker, says he joined the campaign to stop the Bluegrass Pipeline after seeing the video of the nuns singing. His experiences led him to produce&nbsp;<em>The End of the Line</em>, a documentary film about the pipeline and opposition to it. He called the sisters the glue that held the diverse group of protesters together and kept them focused.</p> <p>“They all have really strong, glowing spirits,” Wilder says. “They brought their inherent qualities—energy, compassion, and education, as well as a certain ethereal element—to the whole campaign.”</p> <p>Whatever the nuns brought, it worked. In March 2014, a circuit judge ruled against the pipeline, saying the companies had no right to use eminent domain against owners unwilling to sell their land. A few months later, the companies agreed to redraw their route to avoid Loretto’s grounds, but the sisters kept protesting to support their neighbors. The case eventually went to the state supreme court, which upheld the lower court’s decision. The pipeline was defeated—and the same coalition&nbsp;<a href="">is now fighting another one&nbsp;</a>.</p> <p>In a way, Skees and the other nuns’ participation in the Bluegrass Pipeline fight was not that unusual. About 80 percent of American nuns are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is committed to environmental activism. Sister Ann Scholz, the LCWR’s associate director for social mission, says this position is a direct outcome of the way sisters interpret the gospel.</p> <p>“No Christian can live the gospel fully unless they attend the needs of their brothers and sisters, including Mother Earth,” Scholz explains. “Our work for social justice grows out of the Catholic social teaching and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”</p> <p>But because the Sisters of Loretto are in rural Kentucky, their engagement with these issues takes on a regional flavor. Kentucky is a key battleground state in the debates over fracking and coal mining, and its eastern region is home to some of the poorest counties in Appalachia. The nuns are also rural, and help unify far-flung residents with diverse interests.</p> <p>For example, the Sisters of Loretto joined with local advocates for coal miners’ rights in 1979 to sue the Blue Diamond Coal Company in order to expose what they saw as a record of poor safety, mining disasters, and environmental negligence in Kentucky.</p> <p>Skees herself spent much of the 1960s and ’70s teaching in Louisville, where she marched against racial discrimination in housing and for the integration of schools. “At Loretto we tend to go with the flow,” she muses. “But we do not flow with injustice.”</p> <p>Kentucky sisters have also been involved in protests across the United States. They have traveled to Alabama, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., to march for civil rights, for universal health care, and against the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They hold annual protests at the controversial School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, a training program for Latin American military whose graduates have been accused of human-rights violations (the school is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).</p> <p>These nuns and others like them have long formed part of the core of the nation’s activist population. But their numbers are decreasing, and those who remain are getting older. The same thing&nbsp;<a href="">is happening all over the United States</a>—there were only about 49,000 sisters in 2015, compared to nearly 180,000 in 1965.</p> <p>Skees’ own life helps explain the decline. “Women had very few choices when I went to the convent,” she says. “We could be nurses, secretaries, teachers—or we could get married.”</p> <p>Until the 1960s, convent life offered professional opportunities for women that other fields lacked—nuns could become high school principals, college deans, or administrators. But women today don’t need a habit to move into positions of leadership.</p> <p>What will this decline mean for socially engaged nuns like the ones who helped defeat the Bluegrass Pipeline? Will it end their tradition? Or will their work simply evolve?</p> <p>To find out, I spent several days at each of three convents in Kentucky. First, I headed east into the foothills of the Appalachian mountains to visit the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Tabor, an intimate community that has opened up its home to its neighbors as a space of contemplation. Next, I went to central Kentucky to visit the Sisters of Charity, a global order with convents in Africa, Asia, and Central America. Finally, I dropped by the motherhouse of the Sisters of Loretto, founded by pioneer women dedicated to teaching the children of Kentucky.</p> <p>I came away thinking how deeply each convent was embedded in its community, and how precious was their wonder at the natural world. The sisters are too busy looking ahead to worry about dwindling numbers.</p> <h3>Fierce contemplation</h3> <p>The motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity in Nazareth, Kentucky, serves as a retirement home for sisters who have spent their lives in ministry—although you might not know that from the energy of the women here.</p> <p>“You keep going as long as you can,” Sister Joan Wilson explained cheerfully. Tall and slender, with close-cropped white hair and a&nbsp; gentle manner, she radiated kindness and concern.</p> <p>I got to know Joan—along with Sisters Theresa Knabel, Frances Krumpelman, and Julie Driscoll—and all four expressed utter joy in their natural surroundings. “There’s such a beauty in nature that it’s such a spiritual experience,” Driscoll said. “Every time I see a deer, I think, ‘Oh, what a blessing! Thank you, God!’”</p> <p>“Rainbows just turn the place upside down!” Krumpelman added.</p> <p>Their pleasure in rainbows and sunsets at first struck me as childlike—odd to find among women in their 70s and 80s. But I soon realized it was deeply rooted in contemplation and prayer.</p> <p>Their love of nature derived in part from the texts they have studied and prayed over, they said, especially the Psalms, the ancient Hebrew poems that utilize images of mountains, birds, and stars to express the glory of divine creation. “The Psalms rave about nature, so I probably imbibed the beauty of it when I prayed,” Knabel said.</p> <p>They feel a similar delight in the work of Pope Francis, especially with his encyclical letter,&nbsp;<em>Laudato Si</em>, which calls for a universal awareness of climate change and its effects on the poor.</p> <p>The community avidly read and discussed it, and couldn’t seem to order enough copies.</p> <p>The beauty of their grounds is overwhelming, and as I explored them alongside Sister Joan, I found myself caught up in her wonder. The autumn leaves mirrored in the lakes, the shadowy corners with statues of long-ago saints, the bright paths dappled with sun, all brought forth a sense of peace. Judging by the number of other visitors strolling around, I wasn’t the only one drawn to the harmonious abundance of Nazareth. The sisters believe part of their mission is to share the beauty of their home with their neighbors, so they keep it open to the public and maintain walking trails and fishing lakes for the community. They also keep up a garden that anyone from Nelson County is welcome to use. The sisters prepare the soil, fence the land, and provide the water.</p> <p>To improve their ability to care for this land, the sisters of Charity and Loretto have been working with the foresters at Bernheim Forest, an arboretum and research center in nearby Bullitt County. Forester Andrew Berry has walked though hundreds of acres at both campuses to find ways to make their lands more sustainable and friendly to wildlife. At Charity, for example, he helped pull out invasive species to help restore the native oak forestlands.</p> <p>Berry says the sisters’ enthusiasm for “good eco-stewardship” has impressed him. “Together we manage the forests for both biodiversity and spiritual value.”</p> <p>He has also been helping both convents create conservation easements— legal agreements that permanently limit the uses of a piece of land—for their land to ensure it will remain protected in perpetuity, should the sisters no longer be there.</p> <p>This is a reality age and time has forced them to confront, as nearby convents have begun to shut down. In fall of 2015, with only one able-bodied sister left, the sisters of a Carmelite order in Louisville decided to close their convent. They went to the Sisters of Loretto for help.</p> <p>“The Carmelite Sisters had so much stuff that they couldn’t take with them—all these habits and prayer books and statues that were too old to be of use to anyone, but to them were holy,” Susan Classen told me. Classen is not a sister but a Mennonite co-member who has lived at Loretto’s motherhouse for 23 years. Rather than simply throw away the sacred items, the Sisters of Loretto offered to bury them on their grounds and, in November 2015, held a ceremony at the edge of their forestlands. When I visited Loretto in December, the grave was still fresh, spilling over with golden dirt.</p> <p>“One of the Carmelite Sisters spoke about how their life together wasn’t going to continue, and thus God must have something else for them, and that it was time to let go. And then we buried everything.” Susan’s voice broke, and it was obvious she was thinking not only of the Carmelites but her own order. It was impossible not to.</p> <p>At 58, Classen is outdoorsy and active, but she is one of the youngest members of Loretto. Even though many of the women are incredibly active, the average age overall at the convent is 81. There are 169 vowed sisters, with only 23 under the age of 70, and only two under 50. The numbers are similar for the Sisters of Charity: There are 304 members in the United States and Belize, but only 22 are under the age of 65. Charity’s members are younger in its south Asian monasteries, where only 60 percent of the sisters are over 65, and women still join as young as 18.</p> <p>Despite health concerns and the trials of old age, many sisters here remain committed activists.</p> <p>“We see what we are doing with the pipeline as another way to be teachers,” says Sister Antoinette Doyle, referring to the classroom teaching all sisters of Loretto were required to do until 1968. Well into her eighties, Doyle is tiny and delicate, with white hair fluffed around her face. “We’re not classroom teachers as much now, but we teach in the broader way.”</p> <h3>New mountain traditions</h3> <p>Unlike the Sisters of Loretto, the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Tabor don’t have vast grounds or scores of members. The community is small and intimate, with only eight nuns and one resident oblate—a person who recommits themselves to the Benedictine order every year, rather than taking permanent vows. There was a chore chart on the fridge. Although they work all over the county during the day, the sisters have communal dinners every night after their evening prayers.</p> <p>Their story begins with&nbsp;<a href="">a pastoral letter from three archbishops</a>, entitled “This Land Is Home to Me.” The letter, published in 1975, encouraged religious people to move to Appalachia and build places of renewal for people of all faiths.</p> <p>“Dear sisters and brothers,” the letter reads, “we urge all of you not to stop living, to be a part of the rebirth of utopias, to recover and defend the struggling dream of Appalachia itself.”</p> <p>Sisters Eileen Schepers and Judy Yunker first read the call while teaching special education classes in a Catholic school in southern Indiana, and both felt inspired by its message. Together they moved to Kentucky in 1979 and founded Mt. Tabor. Originally it was a subsidiary of a larger monastery in Indiana, but it became independent in 2000.</p> <p>While theirs wasn’t the only convent in the area, Schepers and Yunker found themselves among mainly non-Catholics in a close-knit mountain culture. To break down some of the barriers, they cast off their billowy black habits and took up jeans and flannel shirts. Over the years, the local people and the sisters have built up a mutual respect and maintain many close relationships.</p> <p>When Sister Eileen Schepers considers the meaning of sustainability, she talks about the sisters taking their place in a cosmic balance between the community, the planet, and the supernatural.</p> <p>I saw what that meant in practice one evening in October. In the quiet hour before evening prayer, Sister Eileen chopped onions and peeled potatoes for soup in the sun-swept kitchen. She scraped the veggie peelings into a Kay’s Ice Cream bucket by the sink, and sprinkled the potatoes from twin salt and pepper shakers in the shape of smiling nuns.</p> <p>Around quarter to five, the other sisters started drifting in from jobs, throwing down their briefcases and grocery bags in the doorway before pouring themselves coffee from a thermos. Everyone leaned against the counter, chatting while Sister Eileen spooned biscuit dough onto a baking tray. Just before she put the biscuits in the oven, they all made their way into the chapel for evening prayer.</p> <p>In the entryway to the chapel, each woman donned long white robes. The garments brought them into a ritual similarity, and it became harder to tell them apart.</p> <p>Sister Judy officiated at vespers while the sunset over the mountains behind her shone through the glass walls of the chapel. A few men and women sat in the pews, visitors and friends who had wandered in to share the daily tradition. As the prayers ended, we all stood in a circle and Yunker anointed each of our foreheads. Her touch was warm, firm, and personal. We don’t touch each other enough anymore, I thought. I began to see how one touch full of loving intention could sustain someone throughout each day, and how that intention could spread outward to their neighbors and the world beyond.</p> <h3>Ending or evolution?</h3> <p>As more and more of the sisters age, who will continue the orders’ missions and care for their grounds? Who will stand up for local people, advocate for sustainability, and offer a place of quiet in which to contemplate nature?</p> <p>Corlia Logsdon believes that local farmers, many of them Catholic, have embraced the nuns’ teachings. “I don’t think that is going to go away,” she said. “But I don’t think we could ever replace what they do because they do it with such passion.”</p> <p>Then again, the Kentucky orders may continue to serve their communities for a long time to come. Rather than relying on an influx of young girls graduating from Catholic schools, some of the convents are recruiting nontraditional members. Co-members at Loretto can be male or female, married or single, and Catholic or not, so long as they are committed to peace and justice. Like Susan Classen, co-members can be deeply integrated in the life of Loretto, living at the motherhouse, serving on committees, and fully participating in campaigns for social change.</p> <p>“Our philosophy of peace and justice will be carried on by the co-members,” said Skees, who worked side by side with Classen to fight the Bluegrass Pipeline.</p> <p>At Mt. Tabor, the community decided in 2005 to become ecumenical, meaning they accept women from all Christian denominations. They currently have six Roman Catholics, two Episcopalians, and one non-affiliated Christian woman. “It’s deepening our understanding of Jesus’ call to live in unity with one another,” Schepers said.</p> <p>Even as they reach out for new members, most of the women I spoke with looked forward to the future, whatever trials it may bring. They spoke of acceptance and transformation, bolstered by faith.</p> <p>“If God is still calling us to be here, then he will direct us as to how that will happen,” Schepers explained. Another sister added that the Benedictine Rule teaches them not to think in terms of permanence, referring to a guide for monastic living that Benedictine monks and nuns have followed for about 1,500 years.</p> <p>Susan Classen probably expressed Loretto’s attitude toward an uncertain future most succinctly. “We have a lot of letting go to do, and I don’t want to diminish that. But there’s also a sense that we’re part of something new.”</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published by <a href=";utm_medium=Email&amp;utm_campaign=20160408">YES! Magazine</a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/manini-sheker/can-religion-be-positive-force-for-social-change">Can religion be a positive force for social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kristin-aune/is-secularism-bad-for-women">Is secularism bad for women?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Laura Michele Diener Activism Love and Spirituality Thu, 07 Jul 2016 07:00:00 +0000 Laura Michele Diener 103557 at Can religion be a positive force for social change? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Faith is neither a poison pill nor a silver bullet, but understanding its significance is crucial.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href=""></a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>In February 2014 the <a href="">Guardian</a> joined forces with <a href="">MamaCash</a> and the <a href="">Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)</a> to focus on exploring the issues that are most important to women, girls and transgendered people across the world. While the resulting series brought into focus important work to advance women’s rights and gender equality, it failed to consider one fundamental aspect of women’s lives—religion. In fact the lack of coverage of religion as a positive force for social change is pervasive among most news outlets.</p> <p>Perhaps this negligence is pardonable: after all, religion plays an important role in driving conflict, and various forms of religious oppression can and do have a corrosive impact on women's rights and freedoms. But this neglect also hampers our understanding of the ways in which religion and spirituality can be a powerful force for personal and political transformation. From the <a href="">mass mobilization of Christian women</a> to end fourteen years of civil war in Liberia to the <a href="">founding of Islam-inspired grassroots organizations</a> to advance women’s empowerment and civic dialogue in Bosnia-Herzegovina, faith-inspired movements are playing a critical role in safeguarding women’s rights. </p> <p>Furthermore,&nbsp;<a href="">for the majority of people in the world</a> religion remains an important source of meaning, identity and aspiration. According to <a href="">a global study</a> by the Pew Research Center, 83 per cent of women identify with a faith group. In 2000, when the World Bank spoke to women and men from 60 countries about what really mattered to them, <a href="">religion formed an important part of their answers</a>. For some of the respondents, a meaningful life constituted one of the most basic human needs of all, and something that for them would be impossible <em>without</em> religion. One widow in Bangladesh, for example, believed that time for prayer was as essential to her wellbeing as a full stomach and a mat to sleep on. <a href="">Faith-based organizations</a> were also trusted more than state-based groups in delivering social services. </p> <p>Yet all too often, religion is seen as an irredeemable impediment to social and economic progress, and the stories that captivate us are the ones where women <em>defy</em> traditions sanctioned by religion in order to recast their roles in society. Hence, we read about <a href="">the egregious policing of women’s bodies and lives by religious authorities</a>, for example, and the <a href="">Muslim women who stand up for their sexual liberty</a> or <a href="">fight against repressive marriage laws</a>. While such stories cast an important spotlight on forms of oppression that continue to marginalize many women they are partial, and are often rooted in one particular conception of freedom that derives from Western liberalism with its emphasis on individual choice and autonomy—a philosophy that doesn’t speak for all women everywhere.</p> <p>In her research on <a href="">Islamic schools in Pakistan</a>, for example, Masooda Bano from Oxford University shows that some educated Muslim women freely choose conservative roles that definitely limit their freedom. They cover their hair and bodies, become mothers, and restrict their sexual liberties. They also cultivate virtues that are seen to be pious such as shyness, humility and submissiveness. Some do so because they have a different understanding of freedom. Others make a rational calculation that their economic interests are better served within a stable family: with economic freedom comes the burden to earn, and sexual liberty may lead to constant dissatisfaction. </p> <p>Such women believe that Islam encourages men and women to play different roles in society, but this doesn’t mean that it condones gender inequality. Yet liberals tend to view all behavior that might restrict individual freedom with suspicion. Free choice is also harder to distinguish in instances where choices accord with custom and the transcendent will of a Godly authority. From a Western, liberal, and secular perspective, it can be difficult to accept that individuals might freely choose to subordinate their freedom to culturally embedded customs or practices derived from scripture. </p> <p>However, the growth of <a href="">conservative female Islamic movements</a> and <a href="">Muslim civil society organizations</a> that advocate simultaneously for women’s rights and the preservation of valued aspects of religious tradition attest to the equal importance that many women place on political reform and individual piety. In fact, in some communities the transformative potential of socio-economic initiatives may depend fundamentally on whether they accord with the core religious values that are held by community members.</p> <p>In the Lindi region of southern Tanzania, for example—where I worked as a research analyst for the Aga Khan Foundation last year—a group of Muslim women have gathered every week for the past six years to perform the simple act of saving together, taking loans from each other with interest and sharing in the profits. The money they received helped them to buy food during the lean season before the harvest, set up small businesses, renovate their houses, and send their children to school. They also have a social fund to which each member contributes so that they can get an interest-free grant to cover emergency medical and funeral expenses.&nbsp;</p> <p>The women call their savings group “Tuyagantane,” which is <a href="">Makonde</a> for “helping each other.” “Islam above all teaches compassion to all humans,” one of the group members told me. “To treat each human being like she is like yourself. If your neighbor is hungry, you have an obligation to support her.” The women say that the group encourages them to solve common problems together.</p> <p>Yet many were reluctant to join at first. Islam forbids&nbsp;<a href=""><em>riba&nbsp;</em></a>or interest, and some Muslims are troubled by conventional transactions that place an unfair burden of risk on the borrower rather than the lender. It is&nbsp;<em>haram</em>&nbsp;(forbidden) to profit from another person’s misfortune. A transaction is only considered ethical in Islam if the risks are shared. The injunction against&nbsp;<em>riba&nbsp;</em>is intended to prevent economic transactions from unleashing forces in people that could lead to injustice and exploitation. </p> <p>The debates that take place within groups such as these suggest that the unreflective pursuit of economic gain can disrupt human relations in significant ways. Heeding the ethical limits set forth in religious teachings might therefore be important to the success of economic activities that avoid accentuating inequality and boosting over-consumption.</p> <p>It is clear that any effort to understand the issues that are important to women requires a meaningful engagement with the complex ways in which religion can both impede and catalyze personal and political transformation. <a href="">If there is no “faith silver bullet” then there is no “faith poison pill”</a> either, as Georgetown University’s Katherine Marshall puts it. </p> <p>Religiously-inspired movements from Liberia and Pakistan to Tanzania offer valuable lessons in showing us how actions that are anchored in religious teachings can lead to significant social change. They remind us that freedom from all restraints may not be an absolute good for all women or all men. And they warn us that the unrestrained pursuit of economic gain without regard for ethics may impede real progress towards equality and rights.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kristin-aune/is-secularism-bad-for-women">Is secularism bad for women?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/zaheer-kazmi/is-liberal-islam-answer">Is liberal Islam the answer?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Manini Sheker Love and Spirituality Tue, 05 Jul 2016 07:00:00 +0000 Manini Sheker 103555 at #BlackLivesMatter makes some people angry. Isn’t that good? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new wave of activism is rooted in a different spiritual tradition to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Desiree Griffiths, 31, holds up a sign at a protest in Miami on December 5 2014. Credit: Press Association/Lynne Sladky. All rights reserved.</p> <p><a href="">Black Lives Matter</a> (BLM) began in 2014 as a hashtag after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the&nbsp;Trayvon Martin case and evolved into a social movement. Since its inception, it has grown to 28 chapters in over 17 states in the USA, and one international chapter in Toronto. There’s no denying that the movement wants to disrupt the status quo, and that makes some people angry. They have&nbsp;<a href="">shut&nbsp;airports</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">stopped Black Friday sales</a> with their protests against police brutality. </p> <p>BLM have also interrupted several events on the current US Presidential campaign trail, including&nbsp;<a href="">Hillary Clinton</a>&nbsp;in February of 2016 and <a href="">Bernie Sanders last year</a>. And everyone has seen the violence that has&nbsp;<a href="">erupted at Donald Trump events</a>&nbsp;where Black Lives Matters protestors clashed with his supporters. BLM are&nbsp;<a href="">described&nbsp;by some political candidates</a>&nbsp;as a “mob,” or as “trouble,” or as “disgraceful.”</p> <p><a href="">Even President Obama has spoken out about the group’s tactics</a>.&nbsp;In a speech&nbsp;during his recent visit to London, the&nbsp;<em>New York Times</em>&nbsp;reported that Obama said this in reference to BLM:&nbsp;“Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a&nbsp;position&nbsp;to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.” </p> <p>I find this statement alarmingly uninformed in relation to the dynamics of social change, and I have to ask: is the discord around this current social movement any different from what protestors in the American South experienced during the Civil Rights era?</p> <p>What’s interesting is that much of the language&nbsp;that’s used&nbsp;today to describe the Black Lives Matter movement is the same&nbsp;that’s used&nbsp;to describe people who participated in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Overall public sentiment about the movement is also eerily similar. When polled, many Americans in the 1960s felt that the protests did not reflect positively on the Civil Rights movement.&nbsp;<a href="">Surveys compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University</a> give us a glimpse of the nation’s mood throughout that decade. </p> <p>These surveys show that 61 percent of Americans disapproved of what the&nbsp;<a href="">Freedom Riders</a>&nbsp;were doing. Fifty-seven percent of respondents thought that sit-ins at lunch counters, “freedom buses,” and other demonstrations would hurt&nbsp;African Americans’ chances of true integration. One of the most famous marches in history, the <a href="">March on Washington</a>,&nbsp;found disfavor with 60 percent of people who were surveyed.</p> <p>When broken down by race, there was an even wider divide. According to the&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em>, in 1965—two years after the March—<a href="">94 percent of&nbsp;African Americans</a> rated Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts “in the fight for Negro rights” as positive. But when the same polling company asked white adults whether King was helping or hurting the cause one year later, only 36 percent said he was helping. </p> <p>The divide was larger&nbsp;still when whites&nbsp;were asked about demonstrations overall: in a 1966 Harris survey, 85 per cent said that protest actions by blacks would hurt&nbsp;the advancement of&nbsp;civil rights. For blacks however, 70 percent said that activities such as sit-ins, store picketing and demonstrations had helped the effort to win equal rights <a href="">in a survey conducted by&nbsp;<em>Newsweek</em> in 1969.</a></p> <p>These poll results may seem surprising from the vantage point of the present day, when Dr. King has a nationally recognized public holiday and children are taught about the Civil Rights movement in schools, its leaders held high as heroes who sacrificed their freedom and safety for the cause. But activists experienced something very different at the time of the movement. Kathleen Weldon of the Roper Center says that people in the 1960s were “very uncomfortable with protest, and especially&nbsp;regarding&nbsp;the potential for violence. They weren’t particularly convinced that it was helpful.” </p> <p>Indeed<em>, </em>many Civil Rights leaders&nbsp;are surprised&nbsp;to be&nbsp;held in such high esteem today. Joyce&nbsp;Ladner, who was deeply involved with the <a href="">Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s</a> (SNCC) organizing in Mississippi, told the&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em> that: “When I’m told by people, ‘Thank you for what you did,’ I almost want to look around and see who they’re talking to.”</p> <p>Fifty years later, opinions about Black Lives Matter are similarly divided along racial lines. <a href="">A poll conducted by PBS/Marist&nbsp;from September 2015</a> found that only 25 percent of whites felt the Black Lives Matter movement focused on real issues of racial discrimination, while 65 percent of blacks believed that it did. So why do feelings about civil rights activists change from negative to positive? Time is a vital factor, says Weldon:</p> <p>“It’s a very clear picture—and not necessarily the picture we like to lay back on time that we see from today; it’s not necessarily the story we tell ourselves. Time passes and people can start to intentionally or not rewrite history, particularly around something that seems as amorphous as public opinion—what everyone believed, what everyone thought.”</p> <p>“The very nature of protest is fighting against the norm,” <a href="">said Charles Cobb in an interview with the <em>Washington Post</em></a> (Cobb was a field secretary for the SNCC in the 1960s). “Whether it’s segregated lunch counters or voting rights or whether it’s police violence—that’s what protest does, and it challenges with varying degrees of intensity the&nbsp;status quo.” He went on to say that recognizing the deep opposition that existed towards the Civil Rights movement’s tactics in its day—“the things we think of normal today and not controversial”—may cause people to “think through what their opinions are about things today, and why they have those opinions.”</p> <p>But while Cobb appreciates the similarities, many Civil Rights leaders don’t like BLM’s tactics. As Barbara Reynolds, who was involved&nbsp;in the movement in the 1960s, wrote in an&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">article in the&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em></a>:</p> <p>“The baby boomers who drove the success of the civil rights&nbsp;movement want&nbsp;to get behind Black Lives Matter, but the group’s confrontational and divisive tactics make it difficult. In the 1960s, activists&nbsp;confronted white mobs and police with dignity and decorum, sometimes dressing in church clothes and kneeling in prayer during protests to make a clear distinction between who was evil and who was good.”</p> <p>BLM is not based in the same spirituality. It wasn’t started in church basements and preached from church pulpits. Instead, the movement is reflective of today’s cultural climate and society’s evolution from the 1960s overall. <a href="">Pamela&nbsp;Lightsey</a>, a noted theologian and lecturer on queer theology at Boston University’s Theological Seminary who chronicled <a href="">the Ferguson protests</a>, <a href="">told the&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em></a> that: “BLM rejects the usual hierarchical style of leadership, with the straight black male at the top giving orders. BLM also gives special attention to the needs of black&nbsp;queers, the black transgendered, the black undocumented, black incarcerated and others who are hardly a speck on today’s political agenda.”</p> <p>Regardless of these differing opinions, Black Lives Matter has had success in inflecting change, just as the Civil Rights movement did. In Toronto they were able to&nbsp;<a href="">pressure the coroner</a>&nbsp;to conduct an inquest into <a href="">Andrew Loku’s death from shooting by a police officer</a>. They also persuaded <a href="">Toronto mayor John Tory</a> to take a meeting with them to discuss anti-black racism in policing. BLM has held court with many American politicians including&nbsp;<a href="">the President</a>. Many feel that the&nbsp;<a href="">group’s activism</a>&nbsp;has prompted the increased use of body cameras by police, the swift indictments of some officers involved in police shootings, and a shift in public attitudes towards racism in general.</p> <p>But can Black Lives Matter influence society to the same degree that the Civil Rights movement did? <a href="">President Obama believes they can</a>—if they&nbsp;create&nbsp;a strong enough platform:</p> <p>“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then to start trying to figure out how is this problem going&nbsp;to be&nbsp;solved.&nbsp;You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable, that can institutionalize the changes you seek, and to engage the other side, and occasionally to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s going to be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment.”</p> <p>Only time will tell if BLM will be as influential and esteemed to the public in history as the Civil Rights movement is today.</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published by <a href=";utm_campaign=58454557c3-Daily_Digest_23005_3_2016&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_94063a1d17-">NonProfit Quarterly</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/scot-nakagawa/blacklivesmatter-and-white-progressive-colorblindness">#Blacklivesmatter and white progressive colorblindness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ashoka-jegroo/new-collective-injects-performance-art-into-black-lives-matter-in-new-y">A new collective injects performance art into Black Lives Matter in New York</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/learning-to-love-us-versus-them-thinking">Learning to love us-versus-them thinking</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Alexis Buchanan Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Tue, 07 Jun 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Alexis Buchanan 102751 at The life and death of Daniel Berrigan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Celebrating the remarkable life of a renowned peace activist and writer who died on April 30 2016.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published by&nbsp;<a href="">Waging Nonviolence</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Daniel Berrigan participating in a prayer service in support of Occupy Wall Street in 2012. Credit: Flickr/Al-Nite Images. Some rights reserved.</p> <p><span>Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the renowned anti-war activist, award-winning poet, author and Jesuit priest who inspired religious opposition to the Vietnam War and later the U.S. nuclear weapons industry, died at age 94, just a week shy of his 95th birthday. He died of natural causes at the Jesuit infirmary at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx. I had visited him just last week. He has long been in declining health.</span></p> <p>Berrigan published over 50 books of poetry, essays, journals and scripture commentaries, as well as an award winning play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” in his remarkable life, but he was most known for&nbsp;<a href="">burning draft files with homemade napalm</a>&nbsp;along with his brother Philip and seven others on May 17, 1968, in Catonsville, Maryland, igniting widespread national protest against the Vietnam war, including increased opposition from religious communities. He was the first U.S. priest ever arrested in protest of war, at the national mobilization against the Vietnam war at the Pentagon in October 1967. He was arrested hundreds of times since then in protests against war and nuclear weapons, spent two years of his life in prison, and was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.</p> <p><span>Daniel Berrigan was born on May 9, 1921 in Virginia, Minnesota, the fifth of six boys to Thomas and Frieda Berrigan. His family subsequently moved to Syracuse, New York, where the boys grew up attending Catholic grade schools. After high school, Berrigan applied to the Society of Jesus, the Catholic religious order known as “The Jesuits.” He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson, near Poughkeepsie, New York in August 1939.</span></p> <p>With his classmates, he made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a 30-day silent retreat; spent two years studying philosophy; went on to teach at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey (from 1946-1949); and eventually, to study at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts (from 1949-1953).</p> <p>Berrigan was ordained a priest on June 21, 1952 in Boston. In 1953, he traveled to France for the traditional Jesuit sabbatical year known as “tertianship.” There, his worldview expanded as he met the French “worker priests.” He returned to teach at Brooklyn Prep until 1957, when he moved on to LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he taught New Testament until 1962. There he founded “International House,” an intentional community of activist students who seek to live solidarity with the third world poor, a project that continues today.</p> <p>In 1957, Berrigan published his first book of poetry, “Time Without Number.” The book won the Lamont Poetry Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. His poem “Credentials,” had first caught the attention of poet Marianne Moore who recommended his poetry to publishers and became a friend.</p> <p>After that first book, Berrigan began publishing one or two books of poetry and prose each year for the rest of his life. His early books include “The Bride: Essays in the Church”; “Encounters; The Bow in the Clouds”; “The World for Wedding Ring”; “No One Walks Waters”; “They Call us Dead Men”; “Love, Love at the End”; and “False Gods, Real Men.”</p> <p>Denied permission to accompany his younger brother Philip, a Josephite priest, on a Freedom Ride through the South, Berrigan went to Paris on sabbatical in 1963, and then on to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and South Africa. On his return, he began to speak out against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and co-founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship. In 1964, along with his brother Philip, A.J. Muste, Jim Forest and other peacemakers, he attended a retreat hosted by Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani. That retreat marked a turning point for Merton and the Berrigans as they committed themselves to write and speak out against war and nuclear weapons, and advocate Christian peacemaking.</p> <p>Merton recorded his meeting with Berrigan in the early 1960s in “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” calling Berrigan “an altogether winning and warm intelligence and a man who, I think, has more than anyone I have ever met the true wide-ranging and simple heart of the Jesuit: zeal, compassion, understanding and uninhibited religious freedom. Just seeing him restores one’s hope in the church.”</p> <p>In 1965, he marched in Selma, became assistant editor of “Jesuit Missions,” and co-founded Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam with Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He began a grueling weekly speaking schedule across the country that continued until about 10 years ago.</p> <p>In November 1965, a young Catholic Worker named Roger LaPorte immolated himself in front of the United Nations. After speaking at a private liturgy for LaPorte, Berrigan was ordered to leave the country immediately by his Jesuit superiors. Berrigan began a six-month journey throughout Latin America. His expulsion cause a national stir throughout the media, and Berrigan returned to New York and in 1967, became the first Catholic chaplain at Cornell University. His book, “Consequences: Truth and…” chronicled his journeys to Selma, South Africa and Latin America.</p> <p>On October 22, 1967, Berrigan was arrested for the first time with hundreds of students protesting the war at the Pentagon. “For the first time,” he wrote in his journal in the D.C. Jail, “I put on the prison blue jeans and denim shirt; a clerical attire I highly recommend for a new church.” In February 1968, he traveled to North Vietnam with Howard Zinn to receive three U.S. Air Force personnel who were being released. While they awaited their meeting with the Viet Cong, they took cover in a Hanoi shelter as U.S. bombs fell around him. His diary of his trip to North Vietnam, “Night Flight to Hanoi,” was published later that year.</p> <p>On May 17th, 1968, along with his brother Philip and seven others, Berrigan burned 378 A-1 draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, in a protest against the Vietnam War. “Our apologies, good friends,” Dan wrote in the Catonsville Nine statement, “for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.” Their action attracted massive national and international press, and led to hundreds of similar demonstrations. After an explosive three-day trial in October, he was found guilty of destruction of property.</p> <p>In his autobiography, “To Dwell in Peace,” Berrigan reflected on the effect of the Catonsville protest: “The act was pitiful, a tiny flare amid the consuming fires of war. But Catonsville was like a firebreak, a small fire lit, to contain and conquer a greater. The time, the place, were weirdly right. They spoke for passion, symbol, reprisal. Catonsville seemed to light up the dark places of the heart, where courage and risk and hope were awaiting a signal, a dawn,” he wrote. “For the remainder of our lives, the fires would burn and burn, in hearts and minds, in draft boards, in prisons and courts. A new fire, new as a Pentecost, flared up in eyes deadened and hopeless, the noble powers of soul given over to the ‘powers of the upper air.’ ‘Nothing can be done!’ How often we had heard that gasp: the last of the human, of soul, of freedom. Indeed, something could be done, and was. And would be.”</p> <p>The Catonsville Nine protest was followed extensively around the world, in large part because of the shock of two Catholic priests facing prison for a peace protest. In his 1969 bestseller, “No Bars to Manhood,” Berrigan wrote:&nbsp;“We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total — but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial… There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war — at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”</p> <p>Back at Cornell, Berrigan wrote the best-selling play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” which later opened in New York and Los Angeles, and became a film under the direction of actor Gregory Peck. The play has been performed hundreds of times around the world, and continues to be performed as a statement against war.</p> <p>When Berrigan and his co-defendants were to report to prison to begin their sentences in April 1970, both Berrigans went “underground” instead of turning themselves in. For four months, Daniel Berrigan traveled through the Northeast, speaking to the media, writing articles against the war, and occasionally appearing in public, much to the anger and frustration of J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I., which eventually tracked him down and arrested him on August 11, 1970, at the home of theologian William Stringfellow on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. He was brought to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, where he spent 18 months. On June 9, 1971, while having his teeth examined, he suffered a massive allergic reaction to a misfired novocaine injection and nearly died. On February 24, 1972, he was released.</p> <p>In “The Dark Night of Resistance,” a bestseller written during his months underground, Berrigan used St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” as a guide for antiwar resisters. Harvard professor Robert Coles recorded a series of conversations with Berrigan during his months in hiding in Boston, later published as “The Geography of Faith.” “America is Hard to Find” was his collected letters and articles from underground and prison, and was published along with “Trial Poems” and “Prison Poems.” His prison diary, “Lights on in the House of the Dead,” another bestseller, recorded his Danbury experience.</p> <p>During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Berrigan attracted widespread media attention, was on the cover of&nbsp;<em>Time</em>&nbsp;magazine, and became the focus of intense national debate not only about the war, but how people of faith should oppose the war. He became one the most well-known priests in the world, and consistently called for the Church to abolish its just war theory and return to the nonviolence of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel.</p> <p><span>While he was underground, Berrigan wrote a widely-circulated open letter, first published in the&nbsp;</span><em>Village Voice</em><span>, to the Weathermen, the underground group of violent revolutionaries who blew up buildings in opposition to U.S. wars. “The death of a single human is too heavy a price to pay for the vindication of any principle, however sacred,” Berrigan wrote. Some credited his statement as a major reason for the break-up of the Weather Underground.</span></p> <p><span>In 1972, the U.S. filed indictments against the Berrigans and other activists charging them with threatening to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, aimed mainly at Philip Berrigan, was the longest trial in U.S. history, up to that time, and resulted in a mistrial and equivalent acquittal. Afterwards, Berrigan spent six months in Paris living and studying with Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, collaborating on a book of conversations about peace, called “The Raft is not the Shore.”</span></p> <p>In 1973, after teaching at Union Theological Seminary and Fordham University, Berrigan joined the New York West Side Jesuit Community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he lived with some 30 other Jesuits for the rest of his life. After the indictments and mistrial in Harrisburg, the Berrigans turned their attention to the U.S. nuclear weapons industry and embarked on resistance as a way of life. </p> <p><span>On September 9, 1980, with Philip and six friends, Berrigan walked into the General Electric headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and hammered on unarmed nuclear weapon nosecones. They were arrested, tried, convicted and faced up to 10 years in prison for the felony charge of destruction of government property. Their “Plowshares” action opened a new chapter in the history of nonviolent resistance and the anti-nuclear movement. Berrigan drew inspiration from the biblical prophet Isaiah who wrote that one day, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”</span></p> <p>During their 1981 trial in Philadelphia, which was later dramatized in the film, “In the King of Prussia,” starring Martin Sheen, Berrigan said: “The only message I have to the world is: We are not allowed to kill innocent people. We are not allowed to be complicit in murder. We are not allowed to be silent while preparations for mass murder proceed in our name, with our money, secretly … It’s terrible for me to live in a time where I have nothing to say to human beings except, ‘Stop killing.’ There are other beautiful things that I would love to be saying to people. There are other projects I could be very helpful at. And I can’t do them. I cannot. Because everything is endangered. Everything is up for grabs. Ours is a kind of primitive situation, even though we would call ourselves sophisticated. Our plight is very primitive from a Christian point of view. We are back where we started. Thou shalt not kill; we are not allowed to kill. Everything today comes down to that — everything.”</p> <p>Over 100 plowshares anti-nuclear demonstrations have occurred since 1980, including in England, Ireland, Germany and Australia. As he continued to speak each week around the country and publish books of poetry and essays, Berrigan also served as a hospital chaplain in Manhattan at St. Rose’s Home for the poor, and then at St. Vincent’s Hospital, with cancer patients and later with AIDS patients, which he chronicled in his books, “We Die Before We Live,” and “Sorrow Built a Bridge.” In 1984, he traveled to El Salvador and Nicaragua to learn first-hand from church leaders about the effects of the U.S. wars there, and wrote about the journey in “Steadfastness of the Saints.”</p> <p>In 1985, filmmaker Roland Joffe invited Berrigan to Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia to serve as advisor to the film, “The Mission.” He also had a small part, alongside Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson. Berrigan published an account about the making of the film, the Jesuit missions in Latin America of 1770s, and their relevance to contemporary efforts against war today, in his book, “The Mission.” In 1988, he published his autobiography, “To Dwell In Peace.” In the mid-1980s, Berrigan began to publish a series of 20 scripture commentaries on the books of the Hebrew Bible. “<em>And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan,</em>1957-1997,” which I edited, was published in 1996.</p> <p>Dan was my greatest friend and teacher for over 35 years. We traveled the nation and the world together; went to jail together; and I edited five books of his writings. But all along I consider him one of the most important religious figures of the last century, right alongside Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and his brother Philip. Dan and Phil inspired millions of people around the world to speak out against war and work for peace, and helped turn the Catholic church back to its Gospel roots of peace and nonviolence. I consider him not just a legendary peace activist, but one of the greatest saints and prophets of modern times. I will write more about him, but for now, I celebrate his extraordinary life, and invite everyone to ponder his great witness.</p> <p>Thank you, Dan. May we all take heart from your astonishing peacemaking life, and carry on the work to abolish war, poverty and nuclear weapons.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-n-nagler/rediscovering-nonviolence-in-vatican">Rediscovering nonviolence in the Vatican</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton-two-journeys-to-wholeness">Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton: two journeys to wholeness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/frida-berrigan/social-change-in-shoprite-aisle-5">Social change in Shoprite, aisle 5</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation peace John Dear Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Wed, 18 May 2016 10:00:00 +0000 John Dear 102153 at Rediscovering nonviolence in the Vatican <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Normalindent">Is the Catholic Church ready to abandon ‘just war’ theory and recommit to pacifism?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Clouds over St Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Gregorio Borgia/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span><em></em></p> <p><span>Last month, Bernie Sanders gave </span><a href="">a brief but rousing talk at the Vatican</a><span> on financial inequality and the erosion of democracy. There was some coverage of his remarks in the mainstream media because—well, mainly because he’s Bernie.</span></p> <p><span>What most people don’t realize is that </span><a href="">another Vatican conference</a><span> took place almost simultaneously with Sanders’ speech. It was vastly more important, though ignored almost completely except for a few mentions in the specialized press. The subject? Nothing less than a long-overdue reconsideration of ‘</span><a href="">just war theory’</a><span> that’s been a part of Catholic social teaching for some 1,700 years.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>The idea that war can be ‘just’ has been used to legitimize a long line of brutal conflicts since it was first articulated by </span><a href="">Hugo Grotius</a><span> and other jurists in the seventeenth century.&nbsp; But the essential outlines of this theory had been drawn up long before by Christian thinkers like </span><a href="">St. Ambrose</a><span>, and particularly by </span><a href="">St. Augustine</a><span>, who regarded war of any kind as regrettable—the lesser of two evils that would hopefully be outgrown over time. Unfortunately, it has still to be put behind us.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>That’s why the Vatican conference called&nbsp;by the </span><a href="">Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace</a><span> and </span><a href="">Pax Christi&nbsp;International</a><span>—a worldwide Catholic peace organization—is potentially so important, especially because it had the enthusiastic backing of </span><a href="">Pope Francis</a><span>. The conference gathered together some 80 participants from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Americas, representing a broad spectrum of experiences in peace-building and active nonviolence.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>At the end of the three-day conference, the group called on the Pope to write an encyclical on nonviolence in order to move the Catholic Church away from the doctrine of ‘just war’ and to embrace a commitment to ‘just peace’—rooting future Vatican policy firmly in nonviolent action, or as </span><a href="">the document</a><span> says, “return the Church to the nonviolence of Jesus.”</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>To appreciate the significance of this call, some historical context is required. In his overview of </span><em><a href="">Christian Pacifism in History</a>,</em><span> </span><a href="">Geoffrey Nuttall</a><span> describes successive waves of war rejection that began in the earliest centuries of the Church. Originally, war-fighting was forbidden to Christians (and this was one of the main reasons for their martyrdom), a situation that was reversed in 313 CE when the </span><a href="">Emperor Constantine</a><span> merged the still-new religion with the state. Soon afterwards, </span><em>only</em><span> Christians could join the Roman legions.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>At repeated intervals throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, however, new waves of groups sprang up who were dedicated to ‘gospel literalism’—taking seriously the core teachings of Jesus as the ‘Prince of Peace.’ While their reasoning varied, the underlying motive of these groups was always a repugnance of war as something no Christian should undertake.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>Nuttall’s fifth and last wave came in the form of </span><a href="">George Fox and the Society of Friends</a><span>, more popularly known as the Quakers. As Fox famously said in his </span><a href="">epistle of 1658</a><span>, “Ye are called to peace, therefore follow it…All that pretend to fight for Christ are deceived; for his kingdom is not of this world, therefore his servants do not fight.”</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>While each of these successive rediscoveries left some kind of residue on human consciousness (along with an enduring institution in the form of the Quaker movement which has some 200,000 followers today), none of them succeeded in returning the mainstream of Christian belief or practice to the power of nonviolence. In fact most of them were violently suppressed by the church itself, as in the crusade against the </span><a href="">Albigensians</a><span> in Southern France in the early thirteenth century.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>Meanwhile, the practice of war did not stand still. Imagine how far wars have advanced in the last 1,700 years, if ‘advanced’ is the word to describe a tremendous increase in brutality and dehumanization. I’m thinking of the incredible weaponry that has been invented to kill more people, more ‘efficiently;’ the metamorphosis of war-fighting from formal battlefields to closely-packed villages and cities so that civilian casualties have increased to </span><a href="">80 per cent or more</a><span>; and the deliberate suppression of humane sensibilities among the military. US forces began to do this at the time of the Korean War when they realized that only around </span><a href="">15 per cent</a><span> of soldiers actually fire their weapons in combat.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>What the British navy accomplished by giving rum to their recruits before sending them into battle, the modern military has achieved far more effectively by </span><a href="">giving video games</a><span> to the rank and file. As a result, the great majority of soldiers </span><em>do</em><span> now fire their weapons in combat, which takes a devastating toll on the human spirit and leads to a rapid rise in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and soaring rates of </span><a href="">suicide among veterans</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>While violence has ‘advanced’ in all these ways, the just war theory has remained intact in official Vatican thinking, despite periodic advocacy from the laity and the inclusion of peace as a key element in </span><a href="">at least two papal encyclicals</a><span>. There has also been pressure from some Catholic bishops—for example in “</span><a href="">The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response</a><span>,” a pastoral letter written in the context of the nuclear arms race in 1983.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>But now things are changing. This is partly because so many recent wars—perhaps most &nbsp;notoriously </span><a href="">the war in Iraq which began in 1993</a><span>—have been undertaken for reasons that are plainly false, their real rationale hidden behind a screen of lies. This is a position that is expressly forbidden by just war doctrine. But underneath the realization that ‘just wars’ are anything but, something much deeper is going on: a slow growth in awareness that the deepest aspirations of humankind are oriented towards community not conquest.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>Against this background the recent Vatican conference takes on considerable significance. For almost the first time in history, senior figures in and around the Catholic Church are talking openly, not only about the absence of war but about </span><em>the presence of an alternative, </em><span>a position reflected in the appeal that was issued by participants for the Vatican to “re-commit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.”&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>Both Pope Francis and the conference organizers referred to the “tools of nonviolence” as a way out of war—not simply as a pious phrase but as a fully-worked alternative approach—demonstrated by the work of conference participants like </span><a href="">Mel Duncan</a><span>. Duncan is a founding director of </span><a href="">Nonviolent Peaceforce</a><span>, which is a leading member of the global network of organizations that carry out ‘</span><a href="">unarmed civilian peacekeeping</a><span>.’</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>The Peaceforce now supports around 200 well-trained field team members who provide peacekeeping services using strictly nonviolent means—things like heading off local conflicts, rescuing child soldiers, protecting communities, and brokering peace agreements like the one that was recently signed in </span><a href="">Mindañao</a><span> in the Philippines. In 2016 this work was cited in </span><a href="">high level reports</a><span> from the United Nations and in the </span><a href="">recommendations</a><span> of the annual report of C-34, the committee of countries who supply troops for UN peacekeeping operations. At least one national government (</span><a href="">the Dutch</a><span>) has given the Peaceforce a substantial multi-year grant for protecting women and children in South Sudan.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>There’s a saying in India that a palm frond is so strong that ten men could not pull it off the tree, but when a new frond appears the old one drops off by itself. Nonviolence is that new frond. As it becomes better known and its capacities more broadly recognized, the institution of war—which is seemingly so well-entrenched—is bound to loosen its hold.</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>So in one sense, the Vatican conference is another </span><em>crie de coeur</em><span> of humanity, very much in the spirit of Nuttall’s five waves of Christian pacifism. </span><a href="">José Henríquez</a><span>, a member of the planning committee and a recent Secretary General of Pax Christi International, reflected this connection in the organizers’ </span><a href="">pre-conference press release</a><span> when he said, “We need to go back to the sources of our faith and rediscover the nonviolence which is at the heart of the Gospel.”&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Normalindent"><span>But in another sense things just might be different. Last month’s conference is one signifier among many that a sixth wave is being launched. Let’s make this one the last.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/best-kept-secret-of-catholic-church%E2%80%94its-social-teachings">The best kept secret of the Catholic Church—its social teachings</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-n-nagler/love-at-barrel-of-gun">Love at the barrel of a gun</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-nagler-karen-ridd/humor-but-not-humiliation-finding-sweet-spot-in-nonviolent-">Humor but not humiliation: finding the sweet spot in nonviolent conflict resolution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Pope Francis religion and social transformation Michael N. Nagler Transformative nonviolence Love and Spirituality Mon, 02 May 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Michael N. Nagler 101770 at The sex scandal following the Whole Foods’ guru <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A cautionary tale where New Age spirituality meets American capitalism amid accusations of abuse.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><span>&nbsp;</span><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="p1"><span class="image-caption">Marc Gafni. Credit: GafniMarc/<a href="">Flickr</a>. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via <a href="">Wikimedia Commons</a>. </span>&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">The following article is reprinted with permission from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Religion Dispatches</a>&nbsp;(RD). Follow RD on&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Twitter</a>&nbsp;for daily updates.</p><p class="p1">Over the holidays, the&nbsp;<em>New York Times</em>&nbsp;ran a punishing&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">profile</a>&nbsp;of Marc Gafni, an ex-rabbi who reinvented himself as a New Age spiritual leader.</p><p class="p1">A&nbsp;founder of the&nbsp;<a href="">Center for Integral Wisdom</a>&nbsp;and organizer of&nbsp;the Success 3.0 Summit, Gafni has built a New Age brand around two trademark concepts—Unique Self and Outrageous Love—which, like much of “<a href="" target="_blank">Integral Theory</a>,” seems to draw from psychotherapy, Eastern and Western religious traditions, and philosophy.&nbsp;Or as his&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">website’s biography</a>&nbsp;puts&nbsp;it,&nbsp;“[Gafni]&nbsp;teaches on the cutting edge of philosophy in the West, helping to evolve a new ‘dharma,’ or meta-theory of Integral meaning that is helping to re-shape key pivoting points in consciousness and culture.”</p><p class="p1">There’s also reason to believe&nbsp;that Gafni is a sexual predator. At the&nbsp;<em>Times</em>, religion journalist Mark Oppenheimer (a friend and mentor of mine) lays out the allegations in detail, which&nbsp;include assault, statutory rape, emotional abuse, and exploitation of the counselor-student power dynamic. “My personal opinion is that Marc Gafni has a pathology,” Rabbi David Ingber, a former associate of Gafni’s, told me.</p><p class="p1">Because Gafni writes books&nbsp;<a href="">about crying</a>&nbsp;and makes statements about “love intelligence and love beauty,” it’s easy to read his story as a straightforward tale of hypocrisy: a spiritual leader pledges universal love, even as he assaults girls and manipulates his followers. Cue the disgust.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">That’s not an inaccurate read, but what’s so striking here&nbsp;is that none of the allegations are new. Scandal has followed Gafni for years. The most serious allegation—repeated, nonconsensual&nbsp;sexual contact with a middle school-aged girl, when Gafni was 19 and 20—happened years&nbsp;before he became a New Age leader (Gafni has said that the encounters were consensual, and that the girl was “14 going on 35”).</p><p class="p1">Oppenheimer’s piece isn’t so much an exposé of a predator as it is a challenge to the communities at the intersection of the business world and practitioners of Integral Theory that continue to enable him. And Gafni has a nose for influence’s nodes: he has connections to Arianna Huffington and to Phillips Exeter Academy, the elite prep school where he’s lectured and led a faculty retreat, and he’s&nbsp;forged a close partnership with Ken Wilber, the&nbsp;prominent spiritual leader who first developed Integral Theory.</p><p class="p1">His most noteworthy partnership, though, is with John Mackey, the founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. Mackey chairs the executive board of Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom, and he’s involved with the Summit 3.0 conference. Until last week, Whole Foods had a series of videos posted on its website, each featuring a dialogue between Mackey and Gafni, and an interview with Gafni features prominently in&nbsp;<em>Conscious Capitalism</em>, the 2013 book that Mackey co-authored with marketing professor Raj Sisodia.</p><p class="p1">While Whole Foods isn’t&nbsp;culpable for any of Gafni’s alleged crimes, it’s worth recognizing that the very same values that animate this melange of American capitalism and New Age spirituality appear to&nbsp;enable someone like Gafni to remain a spiritual leader.</p><p class="p1"><strong>“One of the great cathedrals of the spirit”</strong></p><p class="p1">I strongly recommend that you read the following paragraph aloud, preferably with a friend who does not serve on the board of a Fortune 500 company:</p><blockquote><p>“The world of business is becoming one of the great cathedrals of the spirit. Businesses are becoming places in which meaning can be created, in which mutuality begins to happen. Business is the force in the world that is fulfilling every major value of the great spiritual traditions: intimacy, trust, a shared vision, cooperation, collaboration, friendship, and ultimately love.”</p></blockquote><p class="p1">That’s Gafni in 2012, in an interview with Mackey and Sisodia for&nbsp;<em>Conscious Capitalism.</em><em>&nbsp;</em>Conscious businesses, according to Mackey and Sisodia, are “suffused with higher purpose” and “leavened with authentic caring.” Examples include Whole Foods Market, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and, somewhat mysteriously,, which is known for using&nbsp;<a href="">underpaid&nbsp;temp-style labor</a>&nbsp;in its warehouses and allegedly&nbsp;<a href="">mistreating employees at its home offices</a>. </p><p class="p1">You don’t have to be a Marxist to question whether these institutions are “fulfilling every major value of the great spiritual traditions.” At the very least, that sentiment might seem alien to wage laborers, or to anyone who enjoys work but doesn’t think of it in quite such lofty terms,&nbsp;<em>thank-you-very-much.</em></p><p class="p1">While&nbsp;Gafni may just be flattering a patron, his style of philosophizing does dovetail with a certain libertarian streak in American capitalism.</p><p class="p1">Although they’re often associated with the political left, spiritual leaders like Gafni have more in common with Ayn Rand than Noam Chomsky. Like Rand, there’s an&nbsp;emphasis on the individual as the source and conduit of authority. Thinkers like Gafni place enormous weight on the imperative of creative energies acting through an individual (in Gafni’s pseudobiology, the “evolutionary force”), and they frame self-expression as an ultimate good. In this style of thought, social change originates by liberating individual consciousnesses, not reforming social structures.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">New Age thinking is very diverse, but it’s easy to see why this particular strain would appeal to the arch-capitalist set. For one thing, it jibes with an entrepreneurs-as-social-heroes mentality—only instead of being “winners” or “job creators” they’re creative minds unlocking a better world, their ideas transforming the texture of reality. For another, it affirms, rather than polices, the expression of desire (<a href="">sound familiar?</a>), and it does so within a pleasingly vague moral framework that doesn’t offer much by way of fixed&nbsp;ethical demands.</p><p class="p1">In&nbsp;the case of Marc Gafni, it’s easy to see how these same values—the emphasis on individual authority and creative energies on the one hand,&nbsp;and&nbsp;the reflexive affirmation of desire on the other—can be used to justify troubling patterns of behavior.</p><p class="p1">Really, it’s all about that&nbsp;<em>energy.</em><em>&nbsp;</em>In a&nbsp;<a href="">follow-up</a>&nbsp;to his&nbsp;<em>Times</em><em>&nbsp;</em>piece, Oppenheimer observes that many of his interviewees drew on “a New Age belief that Gafni is sometimes overwhelmed by his own sexual energy” in order to justify their continued support. Ken Wilber&nbsp;himself&nbsp;told Oppenheimer that “Marc has a lot of Shakti”—or energy—adding “I don’t think he understood the impact it had on people.” Another Gafni collaborator, the HarperCollins editor Adam Bellow, explained that “Marc is a powerful receiver and transmitter” of erotic energy.</p><p class="p1">Any kind of community can tolerate behaviors it should not, though a number of New Age leaders, including Deepak Chopra, have moved to distance themselves from Gafni since the&nbsp;<em>Times</em><em>&nbsp;</em>article came out. Still, that ethic of personal authority and cosmic consciousness remains a significant teaching for many New Age leaders, a teaching that&nbsp;seems especially ill-equipped to address transgression.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">David Ingber, the rabbi who knew Gafni back when he was a leader in the Jewish Renewal movement, has started&nbsp;<a href="">a petition</a>&nbsp;to put pressure on Gafni’s institutional partners. Ingber told me that Gafni has found “safe haven” in the New Age world, though&nbsp;the problem, he said, would apply to any “highly evolved” community. “In black-and-white communities where morality is conventional and right and wrong is clear, he would have no place,” said Ingber. A&nbsp;certain kind of open-mindedness, on the other hand, can tip over into moral blindness.</p><p class="p1"><strong>“Strictly a personal relationship”</strong></p><p class="p1">That moral blindness certainly seems to have extended to John Mackey, and arguably to Whole Foods as well.</p><p class="p1">Mackey has built his career on values-oriented capitalism. Whole Foods justifies its high prices by appealing to customers’ moral sensibilities, instead of openly selling itself as a place where affluent people can shop alongside other affluent people.&nbsp;<em>Conscious Capitalism,</em>&nbsp;the&nbsp;manifesto&nbsp;for this philosophy,&nbsp;chronicles many of Mackey’s admirable efforts to provide good working conditions for his employees (or, in Mackey’s and Sisodia’s preferred phrasing<em>, team members</em>).</p><p class="p1">Yet&nbsp;while&nbsp;<em>Conscious Capitalism</em>&nbsp;concentrates on&nbsp;unfolding universal consciousness, purpose, and values, it rarely&nbsp;talks about ethics. Mackey and Sisodia want businesses to be more conscious—to serve the progress and energy of the universe, and to find their higher purposes—but they talk quite a bit less about wanting business to do what’s&nbsp;<em>right</em>, and they don’t really tangle with the difficulties that emerge when some people try to exercise undue power over their fellow human beings.</p><p class="p1">Since the&nbsp;<em>Times</em><em>&nbsp;</em>story broke, Whole Foods has worked to emphasize that the relationship between Gafni and Mackey is separate from Mackey’s role at Whole Foods. “John Mackey’s involvement with Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom is his personal business,” Whole Foods’ spokesperson Michael Silverman wrote in an email to The Cubit.</p><p class="p1">That&nbsp;message echoes what Mackey posted on the Whole Foods website, in place of seven blog posts featuring videos of him in conversation with Gafni:</p><blockquote><p>“My involvement with Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom is conducted strictly in my personal life and does not represent an endorsement or support for either Mr. Gafni or the Center for Integral Wisdom by Whole Foods Market. With that said, I have decided to remove the video interviews I participated in with Mr. Gafni, and am doing so to be consistent with the position that this is indeed strictly a personal relationship. All of them can still be found on the&nbsp;<a href="">Center for Integral Wisdom site</a>.”</p></blockquote><p>It’s difficult to take this&nbsp;statement seriously. When the CEO of a company includes a link to videos of himself in dialogue with a spiritual leader&nbsp;on his company’s&nbsp;website, it’s not exactly a ringing un-endorsement. Mackey’s glowing words about Gafni—accompanied by a brief description of Mackey’s position at Whole Foods—remain&nbsp;on Gafni’s personal website as well. In addition, Whole Foods—the company, not simply the CEO—has been&nbsp;<a href="">the main sponsor of Gafni’s Success 3.0 Summit,</a>&nbsp;and Mackey remains the chairman of&nbsp;the executive board of the Center for Integrated Wisdom.</p><p class="p1">It’s also worth noting that&nbsp;Mackey has again and again emphasized the relationship between the success of a conscious corporation and the psychological and spiritual life of the company’s leadership. From&nbsp;<em>Conscious Capitalism</em>:</p><blockquote><p>“A business cannot truly evolve, learn, and grow if its leaders—particularly the CEO—are not learning and growing as well. Companies can become blocked from essential organizational evolution if their founder is psychologically and spiritually stuck.”</p></blockquote><p class="p1">One can sympathize with Mackey’s dilemma: the very language of this statement, with its emphasis on spiritual evolution, seems drawn directly from the&nbsp;writings of Gafni and his fellow travelers in the New Age movement.</p><p class="p1"><span>It’s harder to sympathize with Mackey’s reaction, which so far has mostly been silence, combined with an uncharacteristic and self-serving separation of his individual conduct from that of his company. In this case, the capitalist corporation seems awfully selective about the extent of its consciousness.</span></p><p class="image-caption">This article is the copyright of Michael Schulson and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Religion Dispatches</a>. Please contact&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Religion Dispatches</a>&nbsp;for requests to reprint or reproduce in any form.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/darrin-drda/selective-awareness-of-wisdom-20">The selective awareness of Wisdom 2.0</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/james-k-rowe/zen-and-art-of-social-movement-maintenance">Zen and the art of social movement maintenance</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/no-you-can%E2%80%99t-%E2%80%98be-change%E2%80%99-alone">No, you can’t ‘be the change’ alone</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Copyright </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation spirituality religion and social transformation New Age business Michael Schulson Love and Spirituality Wed, 03 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Michael Schulson 99529 at Daesh and other psychopathic cultures <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Cleansing <em>every</em> system of pathological tendencies is the only route to peace.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=""></a><a href="">Phichai</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><span>In a House of Commons debate held before the vote to join a coalition to fight </span><a href="">Daesh</a><span> in Iraq in September 2014, there was some grumbling from the government benches when Labour MP David Winnick </span><a href="">used the word</a><span> ‘psychopaths’ to describe members of the ISIS network. Interestingly, there was no such grumbling moments later when Prime Minister David Cameron also used the term.</span></p> <p><span>Following a point by Cameron about the dangers of inaction and a reminder of atrocities carried out by Daesh, Winnick had said this: “ISIS, indeed, is made up of murderous psychopaths—that is not the issue. We know that. The question is ‘will what the Prime Minister and the Government are proposing be effective in destroying ISIS?’ Look at what the House of Commons agreed to: Iraq; Afghanistan; and, under this Government, Libya. None are success stories.”</span></p> <p><span>Here is Cameron’s reply: “I will come on to why this is different to the decision the House made in 2003 about Iraq, but the fact is that this is about psychopathic terrorists who are trying to kill us and we have to realise that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us.” Later in the debate he used the ‘P’ word again, stating: “This is not a bunch of people acting on behalf of a religion, but a bunch of psychopaths who have perverted a religion.”</span></p> <p><span>Having taken a long-standing professional interest in </span><a href=";qid=1447799068&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=psychopathic+cultures+and+toxic+empires">psychopaths</a><span> and </span><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1453861456&amp;sr=1-3">apocalyptic movements</a><span>, I found these interactions both interesting and troubling. Characterising those who attach themselves to Daesh as psychopaths can be a useful route into debates about the nature of the network and how best to confront it—by illuminating the deeper, emotional and psychological issues in play.</span></p> <p><span>But it is clearly simplistic: while it is likely that some psychopaths are drawn to the power, violence and apparent excitement of Daesh, it is important to recognise that, as an apocalyptic movement, it also attracts vulnerable and fanatical ‘</span><a href="">true believers</a><span>.’ Others will have been pushed into Daesh groups by fear for themselves or their loved ones, so categorising everyone involved in Daesh as psychopaths could actually hinder efforts to divert people from the network.</span></p> <p><span>More useful, in my view, is to analyse Daesh as a </span><a href=";qid=1447799068&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=psychopathic+cultures+and+toxic+empires">psychopathic culture.</a><span> Though such cultures reflect and are driven by psychopathic attributes, they are often composed of people who are conformist, fearful and trapped, but who are not psychopaths themselves. Broadening the analysis in this way therefore helps to clarify what’s really going on.</span></p> <p><span>Both&nbsp;</span><a href="" target="_blank">psychopath</a><span>y and&nbsp;</span><a href="" target="_blank">sociopathy</a><span>&nbsp;are&nbsp;‘antisocial personality disorders,’&nbsp;but whereas sociopaths develop their condition through life experience psychopaths&nbsp;are generally&nbsp;thought&nbsp;to be&nbsp;born with their condition. Psychopathy is not a true mental illness but a brain abnormality that shapes the individual’s character.&nbsp;</span><span>Diagnostic imaging</span><a href=""> has shown</a><span> that psychopaths have less grey matter in those parts of the brain that are associated with empathy and remorse.</span></p> <p>Indicators of psychopathy include the following: deriving one’s self-esteem from personal gain, power and pleasure; a lack of concern for the feelings, needs and suffering of others; and a tendency to exploit, deceive and coerce. As a consequence of these characteristics, psychopaths are drawn to positions where their power and rewards are maximised. They are not hindered by compassion.</p> <p>Building from these individual characteristics, psychopathic cultures are found in many different contexts including families, abuse networks, politics, corporations, gangs, security services and certain religious organisations. In all of these cases, the majority of people within a given psychopathic culture are not psychopaths but individuals caught up in a system that is pathological i.e. harmful to them as well as to those outside the culture. </p> <p>If we take examples of abuse in care homes or illegal practices in the banking sector we can see that some people were actively involved while others within the system were too afraid to speak out. However, in both cases whistle-blowers ultimately did speak out at great risk to themselves, and they exposed the rot at the heart of these institutions. </p> <p>From the perspective of the public, the systems themselves looked corrupt and criminal, but not everybody working within them could be classified in this way. These examples illustrate that it only takes a small number of toxic individuals to have a devastating impact on systems that we are meant to be able to trust. </p> <p>This model fits Daesh very well, in that the power-hungry callousness, sadism and drive for exploitation that characterise the movement have a toxic impact on all the human systems that surround it. However, given that some who are drawn to Daesh are exploited ‘true believers,’ we have to acknowledge that the same psychopathic culture is also harmful to those who become ensnared in it and are manipulated by its warped ideologies. </p> <p>It seems likely that genuine psychopaths who wield power within the network use religiosity as a cloak to justify the expression of their disorder—as has been the case with <a href="">abusive Catholic priests</a> and other religious leaders who are more concerned with the pursuit of power than with their spiritual trajectory. But true believers who are ensnared by a psychopathic culture have more in common with those who blindly follow charismatic cults than with their leaders. </p> <p>Nevertheless, the bombs that fall on Syria and elsewhere cannot distinguish between psychopathic manipulators and deluded followers. Good intelligence may help to target the ringleaders of Daesh, but if the network is to be eroded it is the psychopathic culture itself that has to be weakened—along with the forces that nurture and sustain it. </p> <p>Daesh does not exist in isolation, and it didn’t appear out of nowhere. It <a href="">appears to have had backing</a> from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. The ideologies it uses stem from the puritanical 18th Century <a href="">Wahhabi movement</a>, and it is a reaction against historical and contemporary realities including the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US, UK and others. Ignoring its own oppression of Muslim people, it uses narratives about the oppression of Muslims and the corruption of the secular world as tools to attract and manipulate followers.&nbsp; </p> <p>Daesh, therefore, is one pathological culture operating within a broader system of such cultures. Some overtly support one another, but even those that exist in apparent opposition may ultimately provide support by nurturing the overall habitat of conflict. Islamophobic narratives of far-right groups such as <a href="">Britain First</a>, for example, assist and echo the divisive Daesh narrative of ‘us versus them.’ </p> <p>Just as those caught up in Daesh can have their judgement clouded by religious ideologies, it is also easy for westerners fearful of Daesh to confuse a very particular form of cultish activity with Islam more generally. By doing so, key political and economic realities can be obscured. For Daesh to be weakened there has to be a sharper focus on who supports and benefits from this particular psychopathic culture. </p> <p>The global media is always keen to focus on executions, but this is exactly what Daesh wants because it amplifies terror and perpetuates an ‘us and them’ narrative. Historically, the media has been less keen to focus on the context in which Daesh emerged. However, only by doing so can we recognise Daesh as one psychopathic culture that is fed and watered by larger and more powerful systems that could be described as equally pathological. </p> <p>While David Cameron and other western politicians are happy to characterise Daesh fighters as psychopathic, they seem &nbsp;less willing to characterise their backers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in similar terms, much less acknowledge the insincerity and deviousness of politicians—like themselves—who shake the hands of Sheiks while shaking their fists at the killers they have nurtured. </p> <p>The reach of psychopathic cultures stretches far beyond the killing fields of Syria and Iraq. It infects everyone involved in conflict in the Middle East. Cleansing ourselves and <em>all </em>our systems of these pathological tendencies is the only route to peace.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alireza-doostdar/how-not-to-understand-isis">How not to understand ISIS</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/shannon-thomas/collective-memory-collective-trauma-collective-hatred">Collective memory, collective trauma, collective hatred</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/is-it-ok-to-criticise-islam">Is it ok to criticise Islam?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation ISIS psychopaths religion and social transformation Will Black Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:00:00 +0000 Will Black 99466 at Inside the Texas megachurch where 90 percent of worshipers are LGBT <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There are hundreds of LGBT-friendly churches in the USA—and many are in conservative cities where you'd least expect them.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Cathedral of Hope, Dallas, Texas. Credit: YES! Magazine/<a href="" target="_self">PTMurphus.</a> All rights reserved.</p> <p><span>Cathedral of Hope isn’t a typical church in conservative North Texas. One large stained-glass window features the Spanish word “esperanza,” or “hope,” and below it, two conjoined Mars gender symbols and two conjoined Venus symbols. Rainbow flags fly high on the front lawn, and hundreds of gay marriages have been performed since the Supreme Court ruling in June.</span></p> <p>The Dallas church, which is a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC), loudly and proudly supports the LGBT community. It is one of hundreds of LGBT-affirming churches throughout the country, churches that were born out of oppression and marginalization, a history similar to black churches, says the Rev. Jeff Hood, minister of social justice at the cathedral’s <a href="">Center of Hope for Peace and Justice</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The LGBT liberation experience is unique in some ways,” says Hood. “LGBT churches, in my opinion, exist to help people understand that sexuality exists on a spectrum, gender exists on a spectrum, and I think that by doing that they help us to go even further … I think these LGBT inclusive spaces help us to come together in a very particular way.”</p> <p>Cathedral of Hope claims to be the largest LGBT-affirming church in the United States. According to Hood, of the more than 2,000 church members, some 90 percent identify as gay or transgender.</p> <p>For staff at LGBT-affirming churches, the message is simple: God loves all equally.&nbsp;<span>One of those in agreement is Alberto Magaña, who leads the church’s Spanish-speaking service.</span></p> <p>In order to pursue his dream of becoming a pastor, Magaña often had to hide that he was gay. He is originally from Mexico, where he said he was continuously harassed while attending seminary because of his sexual orientation. That struggle brought him to a seminary in Oregon and eventually to a church in San Francisco, where his bishop told him he would have to hide his sexuality in order to be a priest at the church, leading to depression, self-hatred, and a year of therapy.</p> <p>“Everything makes sense. I had to suffer all of those struggles and feel the abandonment and the rejection and judgment because now it’s easier for me to have more compassion for others who are going through the same,” says Magaña.&nbsp;</p> <p>Magaña’s time in therapy helped him decide to become public about his sexual orientation. He refused to stay closeted, which led him to Dallas eight years ago, where he found Cathedral of Hope. Magaña has been a pastor for three years at the church and leads the Sunday Spanish services.</p> <p>Hood thinks it makes perfect sense that Magaña would be forced to leave a liberal city like San Francisco, and be welcomed by a conservative city in Texas.</p> <p>“I always tell them that other cities aren’t religious enough,” he says. “Dallas is the perfect mix of secularity and religiosity. Dallas is a hybrid that can create a space like CoH.”</p> <p>Hood credits the Metropolitan Community Church for the growth of LGBT-affirming churches throughout the United States. MCC opened its doors in 1968 as an LGBT sanctuary and has since grown to about 300 churches in 22 countries. MCC is the first church group to develop a ministry with the primary goal of LGBT inclusivity.</p> <p>“MCC was often the only safe place people could turn to,” said the Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, the global moderator at MCC. “We learned that our struggle for equality is similar to other struggles, and we grew quickly because of that.”</p> <p>MCC churches are located throughout the entire world, in large cities and in small towns and have grown out of the need to provide a haven for people who may have limited access to resources, says Wilson.</p> <p>Cathedral of Hope opened in 1970 as an LGBT-affirming church with MCC, but later became a member of the UCC. Hood believes that many religious groups are starting to welcome the LGBT community more than ever before as awareness continues to grow.</p> <p>Desert Heritage Church, a United Church of Christ affiliate in Mesa, Arizona, transitioned to LGBT-affirming in 2008. Its pastor, Paul Whitlock, says about a dozen of the church’s 80 members are gay or transgender.</p> <p>Whitlock helped oversee the transition, which he says was worrisome but necessary considering the church is located in what the <a href="">Pew Research Center</a> considers the most conservative large city in America.</p> <p>“Mesa is very conservative, both theologically and politically,” says Whitlock. “We lost some church members when we became an all- inclusive church, but we did welcome many more.”</p> <p>“A church of all places needs to be a safe place where people can be who God created them to be,” he says.</p> <p>Although the church does receive some hate mail occasionally from people around the country who found them on a gay church website, Whitlock says the rest of Mesa pretty much leaves the DHC alone.</p> <p>At Cathedral of Hope, things are different. Church members often see protesters outside who disagree with the church’s inclusive philosophy.</p> <p>Juan Lara, a Cathedral of Hope member who is gay, says the protesters don’t concern him.</p> <p>“I don’t think it’s their fault,” says Lara in Spanish. “I just hope that one day they stop and question whether what they believe right now is truly what they believe in their hearts, or if it’s just what they’ve been told to believe from the generations that came before them.”</p> <p>Magaña found his home at Cathedral of Hope. His voice gets louder and excited when he talks about discovering the church.</p> <p>“In this church, you can be who you are and you can celebrate who you are because you are a gift, you are a blessing,” he says. “We don’t have to lie to anyone. This is who we are.”</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href=";utm_medium=Email&amp;utm_campaign=20151002">YES! 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