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The Iconography of Sorrow: How Easter Transforms Our Response to Suffering


by: Luke Bretherton on April 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

From pictures of poor farmers in Depression era America to bloated children in Sudan, the contemporary aesthetics of poverty subtly reinscribe the ancient division between the children of the soil (chthonoi) and children of the gods (theion) familiar to us from the Greek and Babylonian myths.

Those who live some form of what is often deemed the ideal “Western” lifestyle look down from Olympus with sympathy on the sons and daughters of the soil and their visceral imprisonment to nature and necessity.

“We” who benefit from consumer lifestyles, technological advancement and decent sewers contemplate the photographs of stricken faces and think: “If only they can be more like us.”

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Professor Tyrone Howard Speaking on Racial Justice in U.S. Education


by: Silver Scharlach on April 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

Let’s all take a moment to reflect on Women’s History Month, thanking the men in our lives who do make the effort to support our struggles against patriarchal oppression. This is my thank you to one of my personal heroes for doing just that.

I had the fortune today of listening to Tyrone Howard speak at the Diablo Valley College campus. This UCLA Professor discussed racial justice in the U.S. educational system–who has it, who does not, and what we can do about it.

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Nature as Thou, Martin Buber


by: Dr. Leslie E. Sponsel on April 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

The following is a chapter from Dr. Leslie Sponsel’s recent book, Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution (Praeger, 2012).

“But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It…. Does the tree then have consciousness, similar to our own? I have no experience of that. But thinking that you have brought this off in your own case, must you again divide the indivisible? What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself.”

–Martin Buber

Giant sequoia trees in Humboldt County.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Jason Sturner 72.

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a Jewish philosopher and theologian born in Vienna, Austria. In 1930, he became an honorary professor at the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany, but resigned his professorship in protest when Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933. He left Germany in 1938 for Jerusalem in what was then the British Mandate for Palestine. He held a professorship in philosophy at the Hebrew University from 1938-1951. Buber is generally recognized as the most prominent Jewish philosopher of the 20th century.

While a prolific author, Buber is best known for his book I and Thou published in 1923. That book is a synthetic thesis about dialogical existence. He envisioned two modes of consciousness, being, and interaction, I-Thou and I-It. I-Thou is a subjective relationship and a dialog emphasizing the intrinsic value of the other as autonomous, equal, and an end in itself. In contrast, I-It is an objective relationship and a monologue emphasizing the extrinsic value of the other as a means to one’s own ends. An individual is involved in these in relation to other individuals, objects, and reality in general. However, ultimately, any relationship connects with God. For Buber, the Hasidic ideal involved living in the unconditional presence of God without any separation between daily and religious life.

As a contemporary example, in the old growth forests of the Pacific northwest the I-It and the I-Thou relationships are exemplified respectively by a logger and Julie “Butterfly” Hill. She displayed extraordinary dedication in trying to protect a forest area. She occupied a small platform in a giant redwood tree named Luna where she lived 200 feet above the ground for 738 days starting in 1997. She braved winter cold and storms among other hazards and even death. Hill and her team were successful in obtaining a three acre buffer zone around Luna in perpetuity from Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation. Thereafter Hill launched the Circle of Life Foundation and more recently the Exchange Network. While not Jewish, Hill clearly relates to nature as Thou.

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Can Religious Groups Help to Prevent Violent Conflict?


by: Laura Payne on March 31st, 2015 | No Comments »

Two men sitting under a tropical tree in the Solomon Islands.

When peace and violence are examined through a faith-based lens, a different set of factors come to the foreground. Above, young men at the Melanesian Brotherhood in the Solomon Islands, a religious order working for peace in the region. Credit: Laura Payne.

A glance at the daily news confirms that religion is regularly complicit in violence. In early January of 2015, Boko Haram killed up to two thousand people in Baga, Northern Nigeria. As this massacre unfolded, two men stormed into the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris and murdered 12 people. Hijacking a car, they told the driver “If the media ask you anything, tell them it’s al-Qaeda in Yemen.” Both before and after these events the so-called Islamic State (IS) drip-fed films showing the beheadings of civilians and hostages in territory it controls.

We are all too familiar with the idea of violence in the name of religion, and not just Islam. Other faiths have been complicit in violence throughout history, from the Crusades in the Middle Ages through to the recent brutalities of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa. In July 2014, Israel’s massacre in Gaza killed nearly 2,200 people, virtually all of them Palestinian Muslims.

But to recognize that violence often involves religion is not the same as saying that religion is the driving force of violence. Conflicts normally have their causal factors firmly embedded in the material world. Politicians and armed groups use religion to divide neighbour from neighbour, call people to arms, and raise the stakes in their pursuit of power. Religious identity and ideology matter, but they tell us more about how conflicts are set in motion than about their causes.

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Music With A Social Justice Theme


by: Silver Scharlach on March 31st, 2015 | No Comments »

A bus stop poster for the One More Shot UK Music Festival.

One More Shot UK, a breast cancer benefit music festival, will be held over the weekend of April 24-26, bridging the overstated gap between country music and social justice. Headliners include Christian Kane, Steve Carlson, and The Life of Riley. Credit: OneMoreShotUK.com.

When people on the left side of the political spectrum think of country music, the phrase ‘social justice’ rarely comes to mind. Nonetheless, the second incarnation of the One More Shot music festival combines just these two seemingly disparate entities. One More Shot is to be held in Birmingham, UK, over the weekend of April 24-26. Headlining this event is Christian Kane, known for starring in television shows including Angel, Leverage, and Steven Spielberg’s award-winning miniseries Into the West. Kane, star of recent breakout hit The Librarians, joins singer/songwriter Steve Carlson, bands including The Final Wish, and others in this event held to raise money for breast cancer research.

Artists hold tremendous social and financial capital in this society. For artists to be willing to spend that capital in the service of others is an all-too-rare phenomenon. Christian Kane has made a habit of doing just that in his career, covering topics including domestic violence (“Mary Can You Come Outside”), poverty (“Something’s Gotta Give”), and disenchantment with capitalism (“Pretty as a Picture”). He has also directly challenged colonialism from the perspective of his own Cherokee heritage (“Spirit Boy”). I feel pleased and proud to see my faith in him renewed as his efforts give rise to such powerful positive results.

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Can the Prison System Be Transformed? Shaka Senghor and #Cut50


by: Molly Rowan Leach on March 31st, 2015 | No Comments »


A black man named Shaka leaning against a colorful graffiti wall.

Shaka Senghor, a former felon who faced plenty of discrimination upon his release from prison, is the face of of #Cut50, a new initiative that aims to transform the justice system by cutting the U.S. prison population in half by 2025. Credit: http://www.ecotrust.org.

Shaka Senghor spent seven out of his 19 years in prison in solitary confinement, known to other inmates as the hole’ or ‘administrative segregation’ in the official language of the U.S. prison system — a term eerily designed to reduce the impact of its reality.

Convicted of the murder of a fellow drug dealer, Senghor was incarcerated in a bare six-foot by eight-foot excuse for human habitation. A concrete slab juts out of the wall, threatening impalement instead of offering sleep. The hole in the wall that’s intended for bodily functions gapes back at him as if to say, I will swallow you. The lockdowns run 23 hours a day on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends.

Human contact, if it ever happens, is administered as if an animal is being handled, replete with leashes and five-point chains. The environment is steeped at a pitch of insanity — cell blocks rife with shouts and screams and the flinging of human feces. The walls seem to speak: ‘you cannot escape the incessant reminder that what you did is now who you are.’

Even after his release in 2010, Senghor, like most other former prison inmates, faced systematic discrimination as he attempted to step out of one bizarre reality into another that seemed intent on recycling his original punishment. A job and a supportive community are top priorities for those leaving prison if they are to avoid recidivism. But on employment applications, a box must be checked if the applicant has served time. In implicit and explicit ways, former prisoners are reminded of — and invisibly shackled by — their crime, long after their discharge.

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Easter Lilies


by: Susan Little on March 30th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A painting of two young girls holding lanterns in a garden of lilies.

Credit: CreativeCommons / John Singer Sargent.

When I was a young child nurtured in the Methodist Church in Earle, Arkansas, the word “dead” meant nothing to me. But “rose from the dead,” that was something captivating, a phrase I heard far, far more often than just the word. Every Sunday, in fact, I learned to proclaim as an article of faith that Jesus, on the third day, “rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven.” Resurrection.

A six-year-old makes what she will of words and concepts she doesn’t understand. And that is what I did. Because “resurrection” was accompanied by pictures of a risen Christ in white robes, moving toward a light-filled heaven, arms reaching out for me, I could tell that the word meant “life.” I reached in return for Jesus, and for the promise. From the beginning, for me, Jesus was life.

My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. Even now, I can hear my father saying it, again and again. At the same time, the church taught me that God loved me and would help me grow up into a good person, a loving individual, doing meaningful things, someone to be proud of. God was love. I believed in God. I believed in Jesus. Love and Life.

Much has changed since those days in Earle. Schools and degrees; jobs at home and overseas; marriages – two of those; children and grandchildren. Many joys; many hardships. Through it all, I have grown familiar with the word “dead.” Death, disappointment, disease – I know about them now. And, of course, I know more about life and love as well. Unlike the little girl in Earle, who had never met an atheist or a Jew or a Greek Orthodox or a Catholic or even an Episcopalian or a Lutheran, I have fallen in love with at least one of each of them in my adult life. I observed how their faiths – practicing or not – had molded their hearts in compassion. I could see the light of God shining through them, even as they might not have named it so. The circle of my understanding grew wide and my spirit began to throw off the bonds of exclusivity.

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Admissions: A Peace-Oriented Film About Israel/Palestine


by: John Viscount on March 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

A poster for the movie "Admissions."

After the devastating events of 9/11, it became tragically clear that war was once again on the horizon. As a personal response, I wrote the script for Admissions, a film about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. My intention was to put forth a more forgiving interpretation of life’s events so people could find a pathway to peace no matter how crazy things got.

In 2011, the script was given to Academy Award nominee and peace activist, James Cromwell, and he graciously agreed to play the lead role. When the film was finished, Admissions began its festival run where it has won 26 international awards, been translated into Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, and Spanish, and broadcast to 80 million people worldwide.

As a result of the positive response to Admissions, a number of peace organizations coalesced around the film’s message and several efforts were synergized. The result was a new mission to create Ministries and Departments of Peace in governments worldwide.

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Clearing the Land of a Million Bombs


by: Leah Zani on March 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

The wall of a building pockmarked with bullet holes in Sepon, Laos

In the Land of a Million Bombs, citizens of Laos are reclaiming sacred sites such as this temple in Old Sepon. Credit: Author.

In the Land of a Million Bombs, a friend told me a strange war story: Two American helicopter pilots were flying low over the jungles of Laos, scouting for villages during the Vietnam War. Skimming the treetops, one pilot saw, in the midst of war and desolation, an idyllic village: whole houses, green gardens, healthy people carrying baskets full of fruit. The pilot signaled a landing but the village disappeared before his eyes as they descended into the clearing.

My Lao friend explained: The pilot had glimpsed a Buddhist paradise, a kind of parallel world untouched by war. “There are worlds around us that we can’t see, full of people who are right and honest. They never kill anything.” The war had made the boundaries between these parallel worlds fragile; and so, paradoxically, one American soldier had glimpsed a Lao paradise free of violence or death.

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“Let the Palestinian people go”: What younger Jews will be asking of Israel at Passover Seder this year


by: on March 27th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

What makes this year’s Passover Seders unlike any others is that a majority of American Jews have been forced to face the fact that Palestinians today are asking Jews what Moses asked Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” The Israeli elections, and subsequent support for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open racism and obstinate refusal to help create a Palestinian state, is not playing well with many younger Jews, and they will be challenging their elders to rethink their blind support for Israeli policies.

Increasingly, young Jews are on the Moses side, and see Netanyahu as the contemporary Pharaoh. So at the Seder more and more Jews will be asking Israel to “let the Palestinian people go.”

The easiest way ​for Israel ​to ​allow Palestinians their freedomis to create a politically and economically viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel and based on the 1967 borders of Israel with slight border changes to allow Israel to incorporate the settlements in Gush Etzion and Jewish parts of Jerusalem that were built on conquered Arab land in 1967. The terms for that agreement were well worked out by “The Geneva Accord” developed by former Yitzhak Rabin aide (and Ehud Barak’s Minister of Justice) Yossi Beilin, and would include Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states, massive reparations to the Palestinian people to help fund such a state (paid in part by the international community), and joint police and military cooperation, supplemented by international help, to deal with the inevitable acts of terror from both Israeli and Palestinian terrorists who would want to block any such agreement.

Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has now sought to back away from his unequivocal election commitment in mid-March that he would never allow Palestinians to have a separate state, it is clear to most American Jews that he was telling the truth to his own community when he made that commitment. Only a fully unambiguous embrace of a detailed plan for ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, and major unilateral acts on Israel’s part to begin to implement the creation of a Palestinian state, would be believed by any Palestinians at this point. And who can blame them?

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