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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Beyond a Religion: Vodou Connects Haitians to their African Roots

Dec19

by: Rachael Bongiorno on December 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Haitian Vodou ceremony

An altar at a Haitian Vodou ceremony in Passaic, New Jersey. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno

(From Feet in 2 Worlds)

On a Saturday night around thirty people gather in the basement of a suburban New Jersey home. Friends and family greet each other and the scent of grilled fish lingers in the musty air.

This is not your typical weekend barbeque. It’s Fèt Gede, a ceremony to honor the Haitian Vodou spiritual force or Lwa, named Gede. An altar in the center of the room is laden with gifts for the Lwa including libation bottles filled with the Lwa’s favorite drinks and covered in colorful sequins. There are baskets of sweets, musical instruments, perfume, candles, and raw goat meat.

Everyone is wearing black and purple, colors associated with the dead and with Gede.

“Much like how Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, on Fèt Gede, we connect with those ancestors who have passed,” explains Dòwòti Désir, a Manbo Asogwe, or female high priest in Haitian Vodou who has come to lead the ceremony.

At one end of the room a group of drummers begins warming up with intermittent rhythmic tapping of their congas, sometimes adding a playful, yet startling bang to wake up the crowd.

Drummers at Haitian Vodou ceremony

Drummers at a Vodou ceremony. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno

“Vodou integrates all the senses,” explains Désir. “The scents, rhythm and vibrations of the songs and drums all connect to help call down the spirits.”

Désir is a passionate advocate of Vodou and dedicates much of her time to fostering a greater understanding of Vodou’s religious and cultural practices. Her work aims to dispel the myths that plague the Vodou religion including the Hollywood-invented stereotypes of zombies and ‘pins in dolls’ that were popularized throughout the twentieth century.

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Tikkun Gift Package!

Dec18

by: Tikkun on December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

We’re coming up on the end of the year, which means we’re also in the final stretch of our fundraising drive. A huge thank you to all of those who have helped our cause along the way!

We’ve got one final offer for you, a gift we’d like to extend to anyone able to help us reach our goal before the new year. If you donate at least $100 you will receive the following gifts from Tikkun:

If we had twelve people commit the minimum donation to this week’s deal, we would automatically reach our goal!

WE NEED 1MORE PEOPLE. Will you please contribute?

With a week until Christmas what better way to treat yourself and help better the world than with a donation that gives back? One of our hardworking bloggers, Donna Schaper, writes why she agrees:

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Marriage Equality: Not The Cure-All

Dec17

by: Michael Hulshof-Schmidt on December 17th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

This has been a good year for marriage rights for the LGBT community in the United States. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act – an unfortunate legacy of the Clinton administration – a tide of legal decisions has washed away state bans on marriage equality. At this moment, thirty-five states offer full access to marriage for same-sex couples, covering nearly two-thirds of the country’s population. Five more states are poised on the brink, and the high court has refused to even take up appeals from the forces of bigotry.

Yet while marriage is an important right that carries many benefits, opening the nuptial doors hardly signals the eradication of homophobia or misogyny. In twenty-nine states, it is still legal to discriminate against the LGBT community in employment, housing, and education. In fact, fourteen of the states that offer marriage equality simultaneously refuse to provide these basic protections (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming). And all of the five that are likely to have marriage equality soon (Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas) allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a horrible disconnect. In practice it means that a couple who celebrate a happy, significant occasion are in fact opening themselves up to more discrimination, perhaps even the loss of their homes or livelihoods. Again, we have a labyrinthine system for LGBT individuals to navigate with a level of risk that can result in loss of income, housing, healthcare, and consequently further targets in their communities.

Employment discrimination sexual orientation in US

This map is current as of 2012. Credit: Creative Commons / Center for American Progress


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Why Protest? And What’s Next: Truth-Telling and Reconciliation for Ferguson and Beyond

Dec16

by: David Ragland with Arthur Romano on December 16th, 2014 | No Comments »

Ferguson protest

Credit: Creative Commons / Wikipedia

We stood there on South Florissant in Ferguson almost two weeks ago. As a friend and I walked through the crowds gathered there, all waiting for the grand jury outcome, the feeling was beyond tense. We heard voices, some declaring there would be no indictment and others hoping that the right thing would be done and there would be a trial. Then a path opened through the crowd and Michael Brown’s mother appeared a few feet away from me making her way past us, escorted by family members. They guided her to a podium set up in the street in front of what seemed like waves of people between her and the Ferguson police station. She briefly paused and glanced over to the police station as if to make sure they would hear her words and said, “…they don’t care…they think it’s a joke…” She stood there, hurt and visibly angry, tears streaming down her face.

That moment when we learned of the non-indictment, the reasons why we protest became solidified in my mind and heart in a way they had not before. The protests reflect a community disenchanted with the status quo of (in)justice in the U.S. with what seems like the frequent inability to see black and brown people as worthy of the dignity of which all humans are equally deserving.

The protest chants, many created by young people from Ferguson and beyond make visible deep knowledge that is often hidden to many who do not face the daily indignities that young African Americans endure. We often chant “Black Lives Matter” and “the Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell.” We affirm what we know when we chant: that the dignity of our lives that grounds and sustains us is too often undermined and assaulted by a deep system of inequality. Yet, the fact that the words “Black Lives Matter” have to be said reflects a social, cultural, and political system that is either largely blind or in deep denial, yet complicit in a multi-generational process of structural racism that is violent toward People of Color.

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Modern Maccabee

Dec16

by: Mitchel Davidovitz on December 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

hanukkah menorah

Credit: Creative Commons / Robert Couse-Baker

Despite having nearly no religious significance, not appearing in the Tanakh, and only warranting a few passing references in the Mishna, Hanukkah seems to stand out as an important cultural event for American Jewry and is largely viewed as the quintessential Jewish holiday to non-Jews in America. This is largely due to its calendar proximity to Christmas and inclusion on television programs which provides illusions of multicultural inclusion. Jewish symbols featured in advertisements are used to latch the Jewish population into participating in “holiday season” consumerism. This is a part of television’s much broader role in assimilating Jews and other minority/immigrant groups into America’s capitalist culture. It is a great irony because the premise of Hanukkah stems from a revolt against those attempting to acculturate the Jewish people. 

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Osmosis: A Jew Searches for Silence During Christmas

Dec15

by: Y. A. Shir on December 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Christmas decorations

Credit: Creative Commons / Ian Wilson

I spent last Christmas at a Jewish meditation retreat. Stepping into the lobby of the Jewish summer camp where it was held was crossing over from one world into another. There were no poinsettias, no mistletoe, none of the amped-up holiday cheer. This was Jewish space: mezuzahs on every doorpost, Hebrew letters on the bulletin board, kosher everything, faces of people I’d never met but somehow already knew—their gait, the furrows on their brows, the occasional clothing item we Israelis recognize immediately as coming from over there.

Much of the retreat was spent in silence. One of the things that silence can do is wake us up to the noise inside our own mind. On this particular retreat, the silence made me realize that it took two days for the Christmas carols to stop playing in my head.

During Shabbat and as part of the morning blessings, we broke the silence and sang other songs, songs that for fleeting intervals made me understand what people mean when they talk about raising the roof.

Ozi vezimrat ya, vayehi li lishua.

God is my strength and my song, and will be my salvation.

It was as if the room—like my body after a good session of yoga—had discovered more space between its vertebrae.

For the remainder of the retreat it was these melodies that reverberated through me. On my drive back, instead of turning on the radio or plugging in my iPod, I stayed in silence and I sang. When I arrived at my house I parked, dropped off my bags, and walked to the river, where I sang some more. Then I went home.

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Join George Lakoff, Marianne Williamson​, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Matthew Fox and more to Reclaim America

Dec13

by: Tikkun on December 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

After the 2014 elections and facing a Congress determined to dismantle environmental protections and health and social benefits for middle income Americans and the poor in 2015-2016, and after the spate of well-publicized police murders of African American men and grand juries refusing to indict the police, it’s critical that ethically sensitive people develop a strategy to: RECLAIM AMERICA

YOU ARE INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN:

WHAT: A Strategy Discussion

WHEN: Sunday December 14th from1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: At the University of San Francisco McLaren Hall(Golden Gate Ave near Roselyn Terrace)

 

If you can’t make it, create a similar gathering in your community, church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, university, political movement, social change organization, etc. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives may be able to help you do so. So whether or not you can come to this, please read the full note below!

WHO: Among the presenters at our strategy conference:

Rev. Amos Brown pastor, Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, George Lakoff Prof. of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the UC Berkeley, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant and Moral Politics, Rabbi Michael Lerner Editor of Tikkun, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue, author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right and Spirit Matters, Mathew Fox Liberation Theologian, author of Original Blessing and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Marianne Williamson author of Healing the Soul of America: A Return to Love and Imagine What America Could Be in the 21st Century, Rhonda Magee Professor of Law at USF teaches Race Law and Policy,Cat Zavis Attorney, Executive Director, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, mediator, and teacher of Empathic Communication, Reginald W. Lyles from Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland and former advisor to Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, Jorge Aquino Liberation Theologianof the Theology and Religious Studies Dept. of USF, Rebecca Kaplan Oakland City Council President, Iftekhar Hai President of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance

(Our speakers will start the discussion, but the most important person to be there is YOU). Whether or not you can come, please send this out to everyone on your lists, paste it on your website and your Facebook or other social media, and send it to people all around the U.S. because if they can’t come themselves, they might be inspired to create a similar gathering where they live, and we will be happy to work with them to assist them in doing so. And they probably have friends in northern California who might love to come if they knew about this!

Pre-registration at: spiritualprogressives.org/reclaimAmerica

“Open Dialogue” on Israel/Palestine Is Not Enough

Dec12

by: Henry Rosen on December 12th, 2014 | 17 Comments »

open hillel

Vassar College professor Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker recently that “There should be nothing controversial about everyday kindness; civility as a kind of individual moral compass should remain a virtue. But civility as a type of discourse – as a high road that nobody ever actually walks – is the opposite. It is bullshit.”

Open dialogue, very much like civility, exists as both a venerable ideal and a carrot-on-a-stick style tool of discipline. When it comes to critiquing Israel, particularly from a non-Zionist or anti-Zionist approach, open dialogue becomes a mechanism that avoids the acknowledgement of underlying power imbalances and the foundational inequality of our respective ideologies.

The idea of “open dialogue” sets up a framework that requires balancing ideologies of Zionism with anti-Zionism. However, anti-Zionist and Zionist ideologies are not on an even playing field. To be clear, anti-Zionism carries with it no semblance of the same amount of institutional power as Zionism. Particularly as articulated by Palestinians, whose voices ought to be considered with primacy, anti-Zionism has historically been (and remains) the target of political repression and disenfranchisement. Trying to gain a balanced view from both an anti-Zionist and a Zionist perspective would imply those two ways of seeing the world having the same kind of organizational backing; this is simply not the case.

Moreover, conversations between anti-Zionists and Zionists, even liberal Zionists, never play out on equal ground. The fact that Hillel International, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, states it “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that have explicitly non-Zionist politics provides one very important instance in which an institution represses challenges to Zionism. Unsurprisingly, Hillel invokes Hsu’s concept of civility in prohibiting those that “foster an atmosphere of incivility” in campus Hillels. With such exclusive rules in place, an anti-Zionist student pursuing an open dialogue is only ever entering a Hillel house on the prescriptive terms of the institutional power. How open is that dialogue, then? Not at all. As soon as any one part of a conversation refuses to acknowledge the power differentials that exist between itself and the other parts, open dialogue becomes chimerical.

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Happy to Live in Richmond This Week

Dec11

by: on December 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Because this was the headline in the local newspaper (later addition: Richmond, CA, I forgot to say!):

Richmond police chief a prominent participant in protest against police violence

…a different kind of protest popped up in Richmond on Tuesday, and at the vanguard of the gathering calling for a reduction in police violence in communities of color was an unlikely participant: Richmond’s police chief.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in Richmond, not anywhere,” said longtime resident Mary Square, who stood on the north side of Macdonald Avenue watching the protesters on the south side of the street. “All these police, and the police chief, holding signs calling for an end to police violence. … I’m going to tell my kids.”

Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus stands with demonstrators to protest the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

So what’s different about this white police chief? Here’s one thing:

Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung (Ellen Seskin)

Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung, the chief of staff in Supervisor John Gioia’s office, were married in a ceremony that took place among blooming flowers in the terraced amphitheater at the Berkeley Rose Garden over the weekend. After the small ceremony, the newlyweds held a reception for about 250 people at the Richmond waterfront restaurant Salute’s.

Magnus and Cheung form something of a political power couple as was evidenced by some of the guests at the reception….

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On the ‘American Hijab’

Dec11

by: Metis on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

hijab

Credit: Creative Commons/ Haifeez

Some years ago my hijab wearing friend was approached by an older woman in Melbourne and told to “go back home”; there was no place for her in Australia. My friend is Caucasian Australian. She was at home!

Earlier this year I was making small talk with an acquaintance, a hijab wearing Indian Muslim woman, as I waited for my pizza order. She asked me what I was doing these days. I told her that I was comparing two major tafasir (exegesis or explanation of Quranic verses) on women’s issues and collecting various interpretations for verse 4:34 of the Quran. Without a moment’s thought she said, “Oh, wow Mashallah! I didn’t know you’d be interested in something like that, I mean I’d understand if a woman with hijab did that!”

So when I read this article, American Hijab: Why My Scarf is a Sociopolitical Statement, Not a Symbol of My Religiosity, it perplexed me.

I am very happy that the author wrote this article because I’m old enough to see the shift in clothing symbols for Muslims pre and post 9/11. I was born Muslim in the West, in a world when Muslim majority countries were more secular than religious and grew up in the pre 9/11 time when Islam was being revived so I see post 9/11 world through the eyes of an older adult who has experience of what it was like before it.

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