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Archive for the ‘Inter-Culturalism’ Category

Will Pope Francis Take Jewish-Catholic Relations to the Next Level?


by: on August 21st, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

As has been widely reported, Pope Francis began his papacy with an already strong relationship with the Jewish community. Yet only time will tell if this pope will put the final nail in the coffin of Christian anti-Judaism: namely, an official end to the absurd notion that Christian faith produces more compassion and mercy in the human heart than does the Jewish faith.

It is worth noting that in addition to his expressions of solidarity with Argentina’s Jewish community, Pope Francis, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, participated in a Jewish-Catholic Tzedaka service; a charity effort where Jewish and Catholic volunteers went out – together – distributing aid to the poor and downtrodden of Buenos Aires.

Arguably, inter-faith Tzedaka-like service programs could be a template for a healthy, and I would argue very necessary, reform of Catholic religious life: specifically, the kind of reform that would help to end the utter fiction that Christians are more loving and compassionate than Jews.


VIDEO: Solidarity Sunday for Trayvon Martin


by: Ian Hoffman on August 6th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Rabbi Lerner and other members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives attended services at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California on Sunday, July 21, a week after the Trayvon Martin verdict. Their intent was to show solidarity with the African American community and share in the deep grief over the unjust verdict.

In this three-part video, Rabbi Lerner decries the verdict as part of a blessing he gives to the church’s youth, while Senior Pastor J. Alfred Smith, Jr. speaks out about up-and-coming filmmaker Ryan Coogler (of Fruitvale Station fame). Pastor Emeritus J. Alfred Smith Sr., his father, outlines a seven-step program to combat racism, and the choir performs a beautiful, gut-wrenching rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

This footage is courtesy of Allen Temple Baptist Church. It is edited by Ian Hoffman.

PART 1 of 3:

PART 2 of 3:


Global Way to Coexist


by: on August 1st, 2013 | Comments Off

This May, I had the joy of taking part in the first International Conference on Faith and Reconciliation in Peja, Kosovo. Little did I realize that in this corner of the Balkans, social media would have such an impact.

Posting on Facebook about an upcoming dinner at the conference, I quickly received a reply from a friend in Washington, D.C. telling me that her father would be present. About an hour after that, her father came and sat down with me at a table full of diplomats from around the globe. It was a wonderful evening of dialogue. The prevalence of social media made personal connections possible that I never could have dreamt of making a decade ago.

An open question remains what this new sense of global connection means for coexistence.

The Coexist Foundation just launched a new initiative that capitalizes on technology and globalization to help people around the world coexist. Though sophisticated, it’s also quite simple. It’s all about people working together. It’s called the Coexist Campaign.

Think of it this way. You can buy Coexist Coffee from your iPad in Chicago, knowing that the coffee beans were grown sustainably in Uganda in a coop that brings together Jews, Muslims, and Christians. All of the profits from the coffee go right back to help that same community build schools so that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children can learn together. You drink coffee and a diverse community builds a better future.


You’re Racist But Not Evil


by: on July 26th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Once upon a time, white people were racist. And they did some very bad things to people who weren’t white, including black people. For a long time, the white people forced black people to be slaves. And then later, when the black people were free, the racist white people wouldn’t allow them to stay at the same hotels, go to the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, or eat at the same restaurants. Some of the white people were really, really racist. They actually hurt, and sometimes even killed, black people. But then a man named Martin Luther King had a dream. And he took a walk to Washington, D.C., and told the whole country about his dream. And white people’s hearts were softened. They realized that it was wrong to be racist, so they stopped. So now there are no more racist white people.

If many Americans were to tell a bedtime story about racism in our country, that’s what it would sound like. Racism existed for a long time among a lot of people and then suddenly it did not exist anymore. The Civil Rights Movement was profoundly successful in teaching average white Americans that racism is evil. That lesson, however, had less to do with the rhetorical genius of leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and more to do with mass media’s coverage of the movement.

The disturbing images coming out of the South in the late 1950s and early 1960s forever disrupted the notion that racism was a benign and socially justifiable institution. The term “racist” instead conjured up images of Alabama governor George Wallace physically blocking two African American students from registering at the University of Alabama; the faces of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the three young Freedom Summer workers who were executed in Philadelphia, Mississippi; and photos of peaceful protesters being attacked by police dogs and water hoses. And perhaps the most gut-wrenching photo of all, the image of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s unrecognizable face. To be considered racist became associated with being capable of committing such atrocities.


The Supreme Court in Action: A Painful Mixed Bag


by: on June 29th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Yesterday: hundreds of longtime couples marry at last. Credit: Creative Commons

Those of us who have grown up in the industrialized Western world have been fed a steady diet of faith in progress, dating back to the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. We were told that between the ongoing evolution and maturation of the human species, especially the freeing of our minds from the shackles of superstition and faith and replacing it with reason, and the astounding accomplishments and discoveries of science and technology, life will continue to improve. There may be setbacks, and still, on the whole, we are on a path towards a bright future.

I’ve always been suspicious of this tale, and only more so over time. It’s not so much that I don’t see aspects of life that I trust have improved since hundreds or even dozens of years ago. It’s that I also see aspects of life that have gotten worse, some alarmingly so, within that same time period. This is true both on the material plane and even more so on the social plane. Compared to our pre-industrial ancestors, we have much more convenience, and less time, overall, to enjoy it. We have far fewer deaths from infectious diseases, and far more from degenerative ones. We have more choice, and less community.

I was shocked, for example, when I first learned that there was a higher percentage of women faculty in universities in the 1910s and 1920s than in the 1970s! Even more so, when I learned that shortly after the end of the Civil War, for a short period of time, Black people were even elected to Congress – and then the Jim Crow system was installed which took decades to challenge and at least partially dismantle.

It is within this context that I see the Supreme Court decisions of last week.


Talking About Race


by: on June 13th, 2013 | Comments Off

At a training for trainers I recently co-led, an African-American woman, the only one in the entire group (another African-American was there for only three days), initiated and volunteered to lead an evening program about racial identity. With the support of another person, and within the space of less than an hour, she facilitated a discussion that surfaced a number of issues and questions for several people in the room.

In my experience, which is neither vast nor tiny, any time the question of how we relate to our own and other people’s race is raised, complexity and pain come to the room – before, during, or after the event. I myself have been in a major quandary about how to find useful ways of supporting these conversations, and am doing less than I used to in this area, because I have rarely seen the pain that arises, both for people of color and for white people, be engaged with in ways that supported significant transformation. I am grateful to a few colleagues of mine that are continuing to engage in the inquiry year after year, in the NVC and Diversity retreat, where I believe they are breaking ground in creating a space where radical honesty, complete care and respect for everyone in the room, and deep learning for all happen regularly. Slowly, I have some hope that their lessons will support others, as well as me, in conducting race dialogues that are truly fruitful.

Until then, I applaud any of us who tries, who engages, who says what we truly believe, who shares and invites others to share what we are afraid to say of our experience. However little I know, I am confident that not talking about race is not going to get us anywhere new.

After the end of the retreat, one person approached me in writing and asked a couple of pointed questions. These questions, and the topic as a whole, are so significant to me, that I chose, with that person’s permission, to answer them publicly. This is what today’s blog is about. I will call the person who initiated the evening Cassandra, and the person who asked the questions Julie.


Inertness, U.S.A.


by: on May 10th, 2013 | Comments Off

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the "children's crusade" in Birmingham, Alabama.

Part of what fascinates me about the civil rights struggles of the 1960s is that, through these upheavals, America changed. Compare that to today’s inertness: we can barely budge on gun control and the minimum wage (for examples), despite overwhelming support among Americans for change on those fronts.

Yes, there are real questions about how much progress towards racial justice we’ve made. What’s clear is that a little over a year after the May 1963 “children’s crusade” in Birmingham, Alabama, we had the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And five months after the Selma to Montgomery march came the Voting Rights Act of ’65. Which particular piece of landmark legislation has followed the Occupy Wall Street protests?

More to the point: How did change happen, half a century ago?

That question often comes up – and is answered all too readily. Many are quick to credit the vision, courage and sacrifice personified by the civil rights heroes. Others just as quickly recite with Bob Dylan that the times they were a-changin’.


U.S. Senate Taking Steps to Codify Discrimination Against Arab & Muslim Americans by Israel


by: on April 14th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) have introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to codify – in unprecedented fashion – another country’s ability to discriminate against American citizens of Arab and Muslim descent.

The bill, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, contains a provision that would allow Israel to enter America’s “visa waiver” program. This is a program whereby citizens of another country are allowed to enter the United States without a visa, making it easier for them to visit America.

The U.S. currently has this agreement with 37 other countries, and as Glenn Greenwald reports, all of these countries fully reciprocate, making it easier for American citizens to similarly visit without a visa.

However, the current bill would, for the first time ever, allow another country (Israel) to enter the “visa waiver” program without having to fully reciprocate. See, Israel regularly refuses entry to Arab- and Muslim-Americans, as well as those who are publicly critical of Israel’s geo-political policies. Since this is not something Israel is willing to relinquish – modulating entry of American citizens based upon their ethnicity or religious affiliation for perceived security reasons – something had to be done.

And so, for the first time, the U.S. is poised to allow Israel entry into the “visa waiver” program while still allowing it to discriminate against American citizens. Meaning: no full reciprocity. Meaning: the codification of discrimination against Arab- and Muslim-Americans by an ally nation.


What Pope Francis Might Mean for Christian-Muslim Relations


by: on April 3rd, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Pope Francis with Foreign Diplomats, Credit REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The news out of the Vatican seems to be getting more and more fascinating every day. An avid researcher of all religions – and especially interested in all things Catholic because of my educational ties with convents – I have been following the abdication of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis, and all that’s happened in between these two major events, with great interest. When Benedict resigned, I felt a moment or two of incredulity, because it’s practically unheard of. Then I followed the whole voting process, including the betting, with bated breath. And I haven’t been disappointed, for Pope Francis is proving to be an absolute gem in so many ways. As I said, fascinating news… even though I’m a Muslim.


When Liberals Feared Equality (And Conservatives Merely Hated It)


by: on April 3rd, 2013 | Comments Off

Late one evening in April 1963, Dick Gregory came crashing through the door of his Chicago apartment – drunk – and was informed by his wife that the president of the United States was looking for him. As Diane McWhorter related in her 2001 book, Carry Me Home, about the drive to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, the comedian returned the phone call to the White House and spoke with John F. Kennedy, who reportedly told him, “Please, don’t go to Birmingham. We’ve got it all solved. Dr. King is wrong, what he’s doing.” Gregory, a celebrity at 30 years old, replied – “Man, I will be there in the morning.”

Kennedy and his aides were hardly the only ones pleading for racial calm in that place, 50 years ago. Birmingham’s liberal white clergy and even its black newspaper had urged Martin Luther King Jr. (who died 45 years ago, on April 4) to jettison plans for a campaign of nonviolent direct action. They feared that an escalation of tactics would only make the segregationists angrier.