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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Much Ado About Nothing – Is Religious Freedom Really Threatened by Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Apr18

by: on April 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi are co-founders of Reach And Teach and manage Tikkun/NSP web operations.

As we waited to check our luggage and get our boarding passes at the Charlotte NC airport we watched as couple after couple got to the counter, handed over their tickets, chatted with the agent, and then went on their way to their gates.

All seemed normal.

Then, when we stepped up to the counter, the agent looked at me and said “You, get back in line!” Pointing at my travel mate, and husband, I responded “We’re together.” She very loudly said “No. You have to come up here separately.” I responded quietly “You’ve had couple after couple come up here and check their bags and get their boarding passes.” She boomed out “You ARE NOT a couple.” “Yes, we are.” “Not in my line you’re not.” She then asked me if I wanted to travel at all that day, because if I didn’t get back in line she would make sure I didn’t fly anywhere that day.

This was around 20 years ago. Humiliated and near tears, I quietly stepped away from the counter while my husband checked his bag.

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Don’t Say We Did Not Know: One Man’s Struggle to Bring the Truth to Light

Apr16

by: Mechapesset Atid on April 16th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

The front cover of a small book written in Hebrew.

"Don't Say We Did Not Know" is the defense invoked by Germans after World War II. Activist Amos Gvirtz's mission is to ensure that this excuse cannot be used by Israelis when asked to answer for crimes against Palestinians. Credit: Donna Baranski-Walker.

When accused of being a traitor to Israel, as Amos Gvirtz has sometimes been, the sexagenarian activist author responds by advising caution.

“If I am a traitor,” he replies, “then Israel, by its very essence, is against peace.”

Gvirtz, who is careful to describe himself as an activist rather than a journalist, is the author of a weekly email blast called “Don’t Say We Did Not Know.” This title and concept refer to a common defense invoked by Germans after World War II when questioned about atrocities committed by their country. Gvirtz’s mission is to ensure that this excuse cannot be used by Israelis when asked to answer for crimes against Palestinians.

“I try to tell stories that I did not see in the mainstream Israeli media,” he says. “I think the Israeli media is ignoring the great majority of the daily human rights violations.”

Gvirtz has recently compiled a number of his own essays for a book with the same title as his weekly email. At present, the book is available only in Hebrew, but he hopes to have it translated so that it can reach a wider audience.

“My editor asked me, ‘Who am I writing to?’ and I said, ‘To everybody who wants to know.’”

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Religious Justifications for Oppression: A Brief U.S. History

Apr15

by: on April 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

Throughout the ages, individuals and organizations have employed “religion” to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.

Proponents of the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA) recently passed in states like Indiana and Arkansas argue that these laws promote religious freedoms and freedom of speech – two tenets already covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court opened the flood gates for the enactment of new and enhanced RFRA laws in its 2014 decision Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. While human and civil rights anti-discrimination laws primarily have never covered bone fide religious institutions, the Hobby Lobby ruling extended such exemptions to “closely held” (where no ready market exists for the trading of stock shares) for-profit corporations when these owners claim that to follow anti-discrimination statutes would violate their religious beliefs.

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Terrorism is Terrorism and Islam is Islam

Apr13

by: on April 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

President Obama is correct to characterize efforts against terrorist groups as a struggle against violent extremism and not as a struggle against “Islamic” terrorism. He is correct to deny groups such as Islamic State/Islamic State in the Levant/ Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS/ISIL/ISIS) the imprimatur of Islam, to deny them the cover of religion.

Just as words have multiple meanings, groups, individuals, acts, and texts have multiple meanings. Meaning comes not only from what an individual or a group says it is, but meaning also come from what we agree, to what we say: “yes and amen.” When IS says it is Islamic, we can agree to that or we can say no. I say no. President Obama and other world leaders also say no. ISIS is not religious, and it is not Islamic. It is a death-dealing cult of destruction. It deserves no respect. Thus, let us call it by its Arabic name of derision: Daesh. (pronounced daEEsh or dash)

Some people argue that the reason to say “Islamic” terrorism is because to deny the so-called Islamic elements of its ideology would cause misunderstanding and miscalculation in war. It would break an important rule of warfare: “Know the enemy.” I say it is possible to know the ideological goals of Daesh while demonstrating how its ideology falls short of the goals of Islam and is not religion.

Let us consider the meaning of Islam – submission to the will of God. The Koran refers to God as the Most Gracious, Most Merciful Master of the Day of Judgment. Thus, Islam is submission to a gracious and merciful God. The concept of radical means extreme, basic, the root of the thing, so radical, extreme Islam would require an extreme, basic submission to a God of grace and mercy. Too often we use the term radical as a synonym for violent. Further, in Islam, Jesus is a revered prophet whose teachings ought to be obeyed. So Muslims, like Christians, have an obligation to love one’s enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. So to refer to Daesh and other terrorist groups as Islamic is to insult Islam. To even refer to Daesh as religious is a mistake.

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Class Suicide and Radical Empathy

Apr10

by: on April 10th, 2015 | No Comments »

Last Friday, on the first night of Passover, I was asked to share a teaching on Moses, who led our people out of slavery in Egypt. A friend suggested I share it with you:

The idea that always arises for me when I think of Moses and many other leaders of spiritual or political revolutions is Amilcar Cabral’s concept of “class suicide.”

Cabral was the revolutionary socialist leader of the national liberation movement that freed the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau. “Class suicide” describes the act of dying to the privileged class of one’s birth – for instance, by taking a step with no return – and thus sacrificing one’s own privileged position and power in favor of full identification with the oppressed.

In either political or spiritual history, a large proportion of such trailblazers were born into privilege. Siddhartha was the son of chieftain; Mao Zedong was the son of a wealthy farmer; Ho Chi Minh was the son of a Confucian scholar and magistrate; Gandhi’s father was the chief minister of a princely state and Gandhi himself received law training in London. And Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt in Pharaoh’s house.

Clicking my way through a Google search for Cabral’s term, I happened on the work of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a freeborn African-American abolitionist and author born in 1825. Her life story is pretty remarkable. One of her books was Moses: A Story of the Nile.


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rEVOLution: NSP News and Happenings in April

Apr9

by: on April 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

Revolution: The NSP Newsletter, April 2015

What is inspiring about the NSP is its call to ground activism in moral and spiritual values. In this time where justice remains elusive, it’s easy to feel despair at the enormous task at hand.

In the spirit of Passover, I found myself reflecting upon the story of Moses’s life and the tremendous burning angst within him that he heard as a call to action. This is a call that we all hear and like Moses, do not believe we are up to the task.To read more about my interpretation of this epic story, please click here.Continue below to learn more about how you can join us in our own efforts to transform the world.

Cat Zavis, Executive Director of the NSP


 

Mark Your Calendars! We are excited to share with you that from May 19th – 21st we are hosting (with the Shift Network) a series of calls with activists, leaders, theologians, historians, authors and others who are working to create a world based on a New Bottom Line of love and justice in fields such as: Conscious Politics, Global Capitalism, Structural Injustice, the Environment, and Youth Activism. We will explore how the values of love and justice infuse their work and how we can build a movement of love and justice. The series is called:The Politics of Love and Justice: Integrating Spirituality and Activism to Build a Sustainable and Caring World. Keep your eyes open for an email in the next few weeks with information to register for the telesummit.


Happenings from Chapters
We are so excited by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support we’ve received as of late and the interest in building chapters and connections with others who share our vision. If you are interested in starting a chapter or project where you live, please click here to read our Starter Guide and then join our monthly calls – see below for details.

To join a local chapter or learn more, please contact the person listed below if you if you live in their neck of the woods. Click here to read more information from chapters throughout the country.

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Transformation Lessons from Moses and Passover

Apr8

by: on April 8th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A black figure kneeling in front of illuminated stained glass.

Credit: WikimediaCommons / Richard Simon.

There are many ways to interpret the epic story of Moses hearing God’s voice at the Burning Bush. For this Passover season, I share one way that I understand this story and its meaning to our lives in the present time.

Moses, who grew up as a prince of Egypt, had witnessed violence and abuse of the Israelite slaves and was horrified by it – as any person who has not hardened his/her heart would understandably be. Out of rage, horror and grief, Moses reacted by killing an Egyptian who was abusing the slaves. He is then forced to flee the palace (his life of privilege, the only life he has known). Though he was able to create a new and somewhat comfortable life for himself married to the daughter of one of the chief priests of Midian, he could not forget what he had experienced in Egypt. So while tending the sheep of his father-in-law’s house, one lamb wanders off and he chases it as it wanders up a mountain (that tradition later identifies as Sinai). There he experiences most fully the burning message in his heart that simply refuses to burn out. Moses envisions it as a burning bush that is not consumed, and from that fire within he hears a voice that tells him he is to return to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let his people go.

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This Easter, forgo the eggs and, like Jesus, rise up for social justice

Apr4

by: Rev. Rich Lang on April 4th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

A close-up of a statue of Jesus in despair.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Lisa.

This weekend, Christians will remember the last week of Jesus’ life. If you ask Christians what the significance of Jesus is, they will tell you that Jesus “died for our sins,” paving the way for our souls to go to heaven after we shed this mortal coil. This common view is really a rather odd answer.

Some Christians tell the story as if God, the spiritual source of the material world, is really angry with us human beings. We are a rebellious sort who eat apples off the wrong trees and have sex with the wrong people. God the spirit is so angry with us that when our mortal coil is shed, our own spiritual essence will descend into an eternal torture chamber for an afterlife marked by weeping and gnashing of teeth. But thankfully, Jesus takes one for the team, becoming the scapegoat that represents all of us filthy sinners, and in doing so, appeases the God who otherwise would roast and toast us like an eternal marshmallow at a campfire. If you don’t believe Christians talk this way, just ask one: “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”


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A Meditation on “Dayenu”

Apr4

by: Roxanne J. Fand on April 4th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A hand holding green onions/scallions.

Jews in Iran and Afghanistan hit each other with bundles of green onions during the Seder song 'Dayenu' to remember the Jewish people's yearning for food during exile from Egypt. Credit: CreativeCommons / Rachel Barenblat.

Ever since I could remember, I loved Passover Seders, especially the song, “Dayenu,” whatever it might mean. Perhaps the story of freedom from slavery appealed to me as a child “enslaved” by parental and school authority. When I was old enough to read the English translation, “It Would Suffice Us,” and followed along stanza by stanza, I simply recognized gratitude for all the benefits God gave to the Israelites, from being freed of their Egyptian servitude to their regaining the Promised Land.

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Why This Gay Jew Will Be A Liturgist in Church This Sunday

Apr3

by: on April 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi at their wedding in 1990. Credit: Craig Wiesner.

Twenty-five years ago, on April 8th, Palm Sunday, my husband Derrick and I were married at the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. This Sunday he and I will be Easter liturgists in that same sanctuary which has been our spiritual home for all of these years.

Today as the world remembers Christ on the cross and awaits the good news on Sunday, pundits like Mike Huckabee, decrying the outrage Indiana’s religious “freedom” law spawned, are claiming that folks like Derrick and I are trying to destroy the church. According to the Huffington Post, Huckabee said “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel [...] and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.”

No sir. The unabridged, unapologetic Gospel of the Jewish carpenter, executed because he dared to speak out against injustice and stood up for the poor, rings loudly in thousands of churches across this country. It is a message of love, hope, redemption, and absolute acceptance, with doors flung wide open proclaiming that all are welcome, and cursed be the one who puts up a stumbling block to the children trying to reach him.


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