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

Apr1

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

Apr1

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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Can Religious Groups Help to Prevent Violent Conflict?

Mar31

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

Mar31

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

Mar31

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

Mar30

by: Susan Little on March 30th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

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

Mar30

by: John Viscount on March 30th, 2015 | 7 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

Mar28

by: Leah Zani on March 28th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

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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Netanyahu Removes the Mask: The Two-State Solution is Dead

Mar27

by: David Glick on March 27th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Protesters in London holding 'Free Palestine' signs.

Israel is the home of Jewish and non-Jewish followers of three great religions. Liberal Zionism is nothing but a fiction. Above, activists from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign march in London. Credit: CreativeCommons / James_London

Prime Minister Netanyahu has finally removed the mask. “If I am elected there will be no Palestinian state,” he said in the clearest possible terms. Netanyahu, of course, was merely publicly aligning his words with what have long been his actions. Throughout his entire political career he has done everything possible to thwart the emergence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s barely coded racist remarks about Palestinians “coming out in droves to the polls” demonstrates there is no place for Palestinians in the Israeli Zionist polity.

The two state solution is officially dead and it is time to give it its proper burial. The truth is that under both Likud and Labor governments, negotiations with the Palestinians have long been nothing but a theatrical production as Israel continued to seize more Palestinian land and build more settlements even as it proceeded with the negotiations. Netanyahu is simply acknowledging what has been true of all of Israel’s leaders, whether of the right, left, or center. For the past 22 years all have been misleading the world, pretending to seek peace with the Palestinians while pursuing policies to ensure there will never be peace and never be a Palestinian state. Had the Zionist Union prevailed, it would have simply tried to restart the same moribund negotiations that have served as a cover for Israel to talk peace while destroying its prospects by building more colonies.

It is time for American Jews to face the fact that liberal Zionism is nothing but a fiction. It is time to sit shiva to mourn its passing. It is time to confront the fact that a Jewish state that maintains a brutal and illegal 48 year occupation over millions of Palestinians and privileges the rights of its own Jewish citizens above those of its Palestinian citizens is incompatible with any reasonable understanding of liberalism. This latest election was essentially a referendum on the peace process and the two state solution and the outcome was clear. Israelis have rejected both. For American Jews the choice is clear: Israel can either continue to embrace its Zionist underpinning in which case it will remain a Jewish state but not democratic state or it can abandon its Zionist underpinning and become a democratic state but no longer a Jewish state.

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How a California Gurdwara From a Century Ago Can be a Model for Interfaith Harmony

Mar26

by: Murali Balaji on March 26th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

The popular narrative in media and textbooks on the South Asian American population is that they’ve only existed in the United States for a few decades.

But such a narrative misrepresents and obscures a much longer history, especially at the turn of the century, when several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration).

Even before the act was passed, migrants from India faced many obstacles, including systemic discrimination and outright violence. The 1907 “anti-Hindoo” riots in Bellingham, Washington, for example, targeted mostly Sikh laborers whom whites had accused of stealing lumber jobs. Bellingham is only about an hour north of Bothell, Washington, where a Hindu temple was recently vandalized.

Still, in their small conclaves, the immigrants of different faiths began to find ways to develop a community identity, in part because they were largely shunned by whites. At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California at the turn of the century were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society — a gurdwara — opened in Stockton in 1911.

Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.

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