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The Real Martin Luther King Jr. (…and what to honor on his day)

Our society has whitewashed the civil rights leader’s life and deeds. On Monday, we should remember his dream of beloved community and his commitment to activism.

By , President and columnist of EastBayExpress in Oakland, California. Published with permission.

On January 20, our nation will celebrate the American hero Martin Luther King Jr. Schools and post offices will be closed, giving many of us a three-day weekend — a welcome respite from our busy lives. But what will we be celebrating?

If we are to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. the man, we need a return to the real King, not to the tissue-paper-thin image of him devoid of meaning or historical accuracy. Tributes and celebrations are all too often marked by false remembrance, in which radical and transformational leaders and movements are cynically turned into bland narratives of fairness and justice. When applied to King, this process does a disservice to his work and the issues he held dear.

King was an activist and an intellectual whose courage shone during one of our nation’s most important moments. He was moved by religious faith and earthly fire. He was a believer in divine miracles and in progress through human endeavor. He was a religious figure and scholar who understood how the ills of society interconnect. He was a complicated man in a time in which the fundamental question upon which his activism began — justice for black Americans — was a simple binary. In the town where I grew up, Little Rock, Arkansas, there was one question with only two possible answers: Do you believe in segregation of the races — yes or no?

It is in King’s extraordinary writings that we can find the man today. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written to a hostile white southern clergy, is a classic of American prose. It should be read by kids and adults everywhere this week. King argued for the sacredness of the inclusive “beloved community” of our human species and the importance of all of us. He stressed notions of love, power, and justice and their relationship to the nature of social existence — a message echoed in progressive strains of Buddhism and Catholicism.

It was through his conception of beloved community that King led the Civil Rights Movement, maybe the most important movement in our country’s history. In this struggle, he also inspired a generation of activists. In response to the Vietnam War, he called our government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The elite howled and The New York Timesexcoriated him for this “reckless” connection of racism and militarism. King died in 1968 while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, yet many believed his decision to link war with racism led to his murder.

The realization of beloved communities of human joy, plenty, and safety, King preached, is frustrated by three things: poverty, racism, and war. On January 20, we should remember that these three evils still exist today. Last week, the US Census Bureau reported that nearly one in three Americans experienced an episode of poverty between 2009 and 2011, a scandalous proportion. As to racism, the legacy of the death of Oscar Grant remains with us, and the educational opportunities for black Americans continue to deteriorate, as our privileged starve the public education system in the guise of standing up to teachers unions. As to war, our culture of endless conflict continues to cost us dearly in lives and money. King fretted about the diversion of resources from human improvement to war. Last year, a Harvard researcher calculated that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually hit $6 trillion.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day also comes on the heels of the death of Nelson Mandela, another hero who is being sanitized by contemporary culture. Mandela was praised by all the world’s leaders, yet, in his struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he was no pacifist. Despite tremendous pressure, he refused to condemn the actions of apartheid’s opponents — even when those actions included violence. Yet at his funeral, world leaders tried to remake him in the image of their sanitized version of Martin Luther King. Mandela’s funeral was surreal, as he was joyfully praised by leaders of nations who had branded him a terrorist and funded the apartheid system that kept black South Africans in slave-like conditions. Luminaries such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, a supporter of apartheid in his college days, and one of our American princes of impoverishment, Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, made the pilgrimage.

Whitewashing the misdeeds of the elite — and the responses of historical heroes — is nothing new, of course. It’s worth revisiting Tom Paxton’s satirical ballad “What Did You Learn in School Today,” which Pete Seeger sang at a historic Carnegie Hall concert fifty years ago. Paxton’s lyrics described what kids were being taught at the time.

I learned that Washington never told a lie. I learned that soldiers seldom die. …

I learned that war is not so bad. I learned about the great ones we have had. …

I learned that policemen are my friends. I learned that justice never ends. …

I learned our government must be strong. It’s always right and never wrong. …

An understanding of history and what to honor and what to remember is not an empty intellectual enterprise. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote from the Mandela funeral, “The past has a legacy and the present has consequences: our understanding of how we got here and why is crucial to our decision about where we go from here next and how.” Understanding who our heroes really were and what they actually did is, indeed, critical.

The question is not whether to praise King; the question is what we commemorate. For me, it was his commitment to direct action with his eye always on the prize of a beloved community, a place where joy and a healthy life for all can be created. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote in his Birmingham letter. This is the message to be celebrated and taught to our kids.

How Christianity Became Cool Again

Hallelujah! 2013 may be the year that it became cool again to be a Christian.

Pope Francis emphasized activism at World Youth Day in Brazil, July, 2013.

Given the last several decades of political domination of Christianity by a coalition that described themselves as ‘the religious right’, it is hard to remember that there was a time in the 20th century when Christians were cool and spoke with a powerful, prophetic voice to the major issues of our day.

There was a time when Christians like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich, Dorothy Day, Henri Nouwen, Howard Thurman, Reinhold Niebuhr and John XXIII offered the basic framework for what Christianity meant to the world.

Collectively, these men and women offered some of the most philosophically deep and socially relevant thought of any kind. They inspired a generation of young people to work in racial reconciliation, environmentalism, economic justice, and anti-war activism. They fed the spirit, while also walking in Jesus’ way of justice and peace.

In those days you could say you were a Christian and the above names might come to the mind of the listener — and they were cool; meaning relevant, compelling, edgy, and forward thinking.

Sadly, that has not been true in recent history. And it has infected the American psyche so much so that when a stranger tells even me, a Christian pastor, that they are a Christian it puts me on edge. Imagine what it must do to a person of another faith or someone who don’t subscribe to any religion.

This has been helped by the media who, when they have wanted a ‘real Christian’ on the show, turned to Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins or James Dobson resulting in a Christian profile that represented a large, but by no means universal Christian outlook.

The generic Christian profile that has emerged over these last decades has been someone who does not believe in the equality between men and women, degrades LGBT people, is opposed to science, especially in regards to evolution or climate change, is suspicious of people of other faiths and no faith, and is pro-militarism in foreign policy.

In short, it has been a while since it has been cool to be Christian.

Well, 2013 may be the year that changes.

This week has been a particularly cool Christian week. To start with the amazing Pope Francis took advantage of his time in Rio for World Youth Day to make sure he visited the nearby favela (slum), a prison, and a drug addict center. While there, he continued his habit of speaking about the poor and inequality in a powerful, focused way that no world leader of any kind has for a long time:

No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!. No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.

In other words: No justice, no peace.

Pope Francis has consistently taken on the injustice in the world’s financial systems and the indifference the world has towards the poor and the outcaste. Noticeably absent from the Pope’s discourse has been the rights and dignity of gay people — until Monday when the Pope shocked the world by saying “Who am I to judge gay people” and opened the door to gay priests and a basic softening of the church’s hardline stance against LGBT peoples.

Cool.

The Pope was not the only world religious leader to make news this week on gay issues. On Friday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu rocked people’s mind when he said that he would rather go to hell than a homophobic heaven. The icon of the anti-Apartheid movement made the comments at the launch of a United Nations gay rights program in South Africa:

I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.

Really cool.

But these are just the latest headlines that are bubbling up with cool Christians doing relevant compelling things. The United Church of Christ has voted to divest from fossil fuel companies, the Episcopal Church is headed by an amazing woman who is both a scientist and pastor and who is spearheading the conversation between science and religion;

Evangelicals are taking the lead on climate change, the American Bishops are lobbying for immigration reform, the Patriarch Bartholomew is known as the ‘Green Patriarch’ for his work on the environment, Christians are involved with innovative and crucial dialogue with people of other faiths and no faiths; and pastors and priests across the country and the world are ministering to broken people with love and compassion every day.

Christianity is cool again.

Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is the Senior Religion Editor for the Huffington Post. From 2003-2011, Raushenbush was the Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University. He was the President of the Association Of College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA) from 2009-20011. An ordained American Baptist minister, Rev. Raushenbush speaks and preaches at colleges, churches and institutes around the country.

Here is one case in point. On Gay Pride Sunday in New York I invited a couple of my colleagues to a church where a friend of mine is the pastor. They were having a ‘disco mass‘ and I thought my friends might be intrigued enough to go. They were.

We had a great time at the church. My friends fell in love with the pastor whose style was relaxed and hip, and whose sermon was smart and compelling. They loved the community feel of the congregation, and they thought the ideas they heard there a good way to start gay pride.

Mind you, neither of them had been to church of their own volition — ever. And they may never go back to church. I really don’t care — they are wonderful, spiritual, and ethical people — I don’t need them to become Christian.

However, by being there they understood a little more about why I am Christian, and how Christianity guides the way I view the world and do the things I do. And even with that short glimpse they respected my faith more than they had before.

If more Christians can speak out the way Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this week and so many have been in recent memory — it will change the way people view Jesus and the faith that he inspires in so many of us.

And that will be so cool.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post by Religious Editor Paul Raushenbush

An Advent Sermon on Compassion for All of Humanity

 AGAINST SPIRITUAL AND POLITICAL SLEEPWALKING
(A powerful sermon of compassion for all of humanity)
Preached by the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, Jr.
All Saints Church, Pasadena, California
First Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2012

 
In a great southern Episcopal cathedral, an elderly southern gentleman walked up the aisle and knelt at the communion rail to receive the bread and wine made holy. Over the course of his life, he had inherited without criticism his culture’s religious and political script about the way the world works. Those people with white skin have privilege. Black people are appropriately in the back of the proverbial bus. That particular Sunday morning, African-Americans had come to his cathedral, the multi-generational “whites only” place of worship for this man’s family. The Dean and Vestry had instructed the ushers that this morning, they were to admit any people who wanted to worship. As the southern gentleman walked down the aisle to receive communion, so did a young African American woman. As only the Holy Spirit can choreograph these moments in life, the two knelt together, side by side, to receive at the same rail from the same piece of bread and the same common cup. As the southern gentleman received the bread, he looked up into the eyes of the priest, tears beginning to roll down his cheeks. He whispered to the priest, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

Seeing, waking up is essential to life.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, marking the four weeks until Christmas. The Advent Wreath becomes our focal symbol, with four candles, one lighted each week. There are a variety of values and dynamics that those candles can represent: faith, hope, joy, peace.

But the overarching value and dynamic represented by the increasing number of candles burning more brightly each week? That dynamic is enlightenment.

Light. The ability to see what is really going on in our lives. The value of alertness, of watchfulness, of consciousness, of awareness.

The physician, Naomi Remen Stone, told Bill Moyers, when he interviewed her about healing and the mind in the early 90s, that all spiritual paths have four steps: show up, pay attention, tell the truth and don’t be attached to the results. Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don’t be attached to the results. (See: Moyers, Bill, Healing and the Mind, p. 351)

Jesus and all the other founders of the world’s religions emphasized how important it is for you and me not to sleepwalk through our lives, to wake up and see what is going on around us.

Every time someone becomes aware that they are living out of a narrative that they inherited and that narrative is toxic, suffocating, unsustainable for the health of the individual or for the larger human family, that is a moment of enlightenment, of awareness, of consciousness, of waking up to real life, to a generative life, to being fully alive.

The word “Buddha” is often misunderstood as the name of a historical figure from India, but this is not the deepest understanding. “Buddha” is a principle, not a person. “Buddha” actually means “awake.” When asked “Are you a god,” Gautama, the person who became a Buddha replied, “No.” “Then what are you?” the man asked again. Gautama’s answer was, “I am awake.

And so the collect or the prayer that we just read that collects or focuses our reflections on this first Sunday of Advent deals with our personal and collective struggle to cast off the toxic narratives of darkness so that we may live in the light, what that prayer calls the “armor of light.” Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

We definitely need to use light as armor at times in life, but more about that later.

The casting off of darkness, as did the white southern gentleman kneeling together at the altar rail with the black young student, always means the end of the world as you knew it. That is why Jesus mentions in this morning’s gospel that the end of one old world and the beginning of the new world, which happens to you and me many times throughout our life if we commit to staying awake, will seem as if the whole universe is falling apart. Many will suffer from breakdowns and fears they cannot control, and in all this confusion, Jesus says the “Complete Person” will emerge, like someone appearing out of the mists. The sight will be powerful and dazzling.

“You’ll get your confidence back,” Jesus says, “and see the new life you’ve been longing for actually becoming a reality.” “Then,” Jesus says, “just think about the trees, a fig tree, for example. When their leaves start to sprout, you can see that summer is on the way. So, when you see the things I’ve described happening, like the universe falling apart as you’ve known it, you know that God’s new world is on the way,” says Jesus. “Believe me, the world as you know it won’t disappear until all of these things have happened and one world will give way to another, but My words will last forever. So in times like this, you must keep your wits about you. Watch out for those things that sap your energy and drag you down, indulgences, drunkenness and worldly cares. Don’t miss the wonder of the great things happening all over the world. Keep your eyes open,” Jesus says. “Ask God to give you the strength to get through these difficult times so that you’ll be ready for the appearance of the Complete Person.” (See: Luke 21:25-36 John Henson’s translation)

I’ve thought about this passage about the end of the world as we know it and others like it on election night. After the presidential election had been called, I turned over to Fox News, where I heard our brother Bill O’Reilly, who works on Fox News, say the following:

“Ours is a changing country. The demographics are changing. We don’t live in a traditional America anymore. Twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney, but the white establishment is now the minority.”

In my imagination I heard R.E.M. singing in the background,

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

I love the fact that my brother Bill O’Reilly was waking up, at least to some small degree, to what I believe is God’s new world, which is on the way.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached one of his most radical sermons entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He recalled that Washington Irving had written the famous story about Rip Van Winkle. Dr. King pointed out that the one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years, but Dr. King said there’s another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked, and that detail is the sign that appeared on the village inn from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.

“When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. [But] when [Rip] came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington, [in] looking at the picture he was amazed . . . [Rip] was completely lost—he knew not who he was. And this reveals to us,” Dr. King said, “that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but . . . he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history—and Rip knew nothing about it: he was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses—that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution. “ (See: King, Martin Luther, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 268-269)

My friends, this morning I have no doubt about the fact that God’s new world is on its way. God’s revolution is continuing. It is the revolution of compassion overcoming sacrifice. It is the end of the toxic narrative that too many of our religions have promulgated. That toxic narrative is that in order to become a part of my religion, you have to hate someone else in another religion or you have to hate somebody else in another category. You see, every time we become more conscious or aware or awake, we discover that we have a soul which is our deepest self, and the discovery of our soul gives us access to a larger knowing beyond ourselves, and if we obey the voice of our soul, if we obey our consciousness, our awareness will become a very wise teacher of soul-wisdom and will teach us deep within ourselves. Some people call it the “inner witness” and this witness is what Christians have called the “Holy Spirit.” (See: Rohr, Richard, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 86-87)

Consciousness. Awareness. Soul. The Holy Spirit. It’s astounding to think about the following: that 14 billion years ago, the Holy Spirit hovered over the Big Bang and that is the first moment that God began to materialize. God had always been, but now God took on matter. And then 2,000 years ago, that very same Spirit, Holy Energy, that was present 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang came and spoke to a 14-year-old Jewish girl and told her that she was pregnant with God’s new world. And now this Advent morning in 2012, that same Spirit that was present 14 billion years ago and two thousand years ago, is coming to you, and saying to you and to me,

“You’re pregnant. You’re pregnant with the new world. The new world is on its way and the old world is passing away.”

It is saying to you and me,

“Jesus is not [the] exclusive Son of God.” Jesus is “the inclusive Son of God, revealing what is always true everywhere and all the time”

– that God’s compassion includes everyone. Christianity is not the exclusive religion. Christianity is the inclusive religion that embraces everyone with compassion. (See: cf. Rohr, Richard, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 87)

Every time you and I wake up to the fact that the world is a moral universe, where every human being is interconnected, and that we live in a universe that has a moral arc and that it is long but it always bends toward justice, whenever we awake to the fact that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and that the way that the universe actually works, its inner system of humming and buzzing and moving forward, is through compassion and grace and love. Whenever we awaken to that, we have awakened to the Holy Spirit that lives and dwells within each one of us, as well as being outside and beyond us. Don’t sleepwalk through that reality.

Now friends, I’m not talking about some abstract theory. I’m talking about something that is real and that can change the way that you act, think, and feel. Let me give you an example.

This past Wednesday was the culmination of a long conversation that a couple of us here on the staff had been having with a rabbi and a couple who have been attending All Saints Church for quite awhile. The conversation was about the fact that the parents were of different religions, one Christian and one Jewish. The children have begun to put down spiritual roots here and it was time to take note of that, to mark that liturgically as a life transition. However, we didn’t want — we, this community of prayerful discernment — didn’t want to baptize the kids, to turn that into some kind of exclusive thing. We wanted something that was inclusive. We devised the following unprecedented liturgy. We took the baptismal font that we use here and put it out under the big oak tree. We blessed the water, made it holy water by recalling the important transformational moments in Jewish history and Christian history in which water had been redemptive. And then because the rabbi had suggested that we incorporate the blessing of the children from the Sabbath meal that Jews, observant Jews, use, the parents blessed their children both in Hebrew and English and then both children walked amongst all of us and each of us whispered a blessing while we touched each child.

Then, we took evergreen branches and, dipping them into the holy water we sprinkled the water on top of the children. Then to recognize that the children themselves are ministers, we gave them a little bowl of the holy water and gave them their own evergreen branch and they went around and dropped holy water on the heads of each one of us.

We concluded by having everybody express their appreciations for what had happened. One of the grandfathers who is crippled with ALS talked about how he had come to the service for his grandchildren, but that the service had helped him. Everybody said these wonderful appreciations of compassion.

I realized at the conclusion of the service that my heart had been stretched. My chest had expanded. My soul had gotten twice as large just so that it could have the capacity to have all of that God, compassion, and love in it. And it took me a full day for my lungs and my heart and my soul and my chest to kind of come back down, but it didn’t come back down to the size it had been before. I was forever changed and made a little more able to hold God’s love.

That’s being awake, for you to make room in your life for the Holy Spirit to cross all the stupid, toxic, unsustainable destructive barriers that divide the human family. My soul was so expanded that I felt like maybe it was as big as Mary’s, who said,

“My soul is big enough to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

Now, I mentioned that this light, this awareness, this alertness sometimes needs to be used as an armor to protect our souls. Two weeks from yesterday, an historic moment is going to take place in America. For the first time that I know of, a major Muslim body is going to have its convention in a Christian church. All Saints Church is going to host the Muslim Public Affairs [Council] Convention and all of us are invited to participate in it. Come, please, but make sure you come ready for the Holy Spirit to stretch your soul so that you have more compassion and inter-connectivity with other human beings across boundaries than you’ve ever had before. And also know that that’s going to be armor of light because we’ve begun to receive some of the most vile, vituperative, ugly, mean-spirited email correspondence I’ve ever read in all of my life, talking about All Saints participating in terrorism by being hospitable to Muslims. But this open-hearted, soul-expanded awareness and awake-ness is our calling.

If you and I practice this stuff, this soul-expanding waking up, I guarantee you all that by Christmas, our souls will be so expanded that they will be ready to receive the mystery of God made flesh because we will have understood God inside our flesh.

God made flesh not only in a baby, but in our very lives in our history and in our journey of casting off the narratives of darkness and exclusion and putting on the armor and narratives and new stories of God’s light and love and new world.

Amen.


The Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. is the rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California – a 4,000 member multi-ethnic urban Episcopal parish, with a reputation for energetic worship, a radically inclusive spirit, and a progressive peace and justice agenda.

Ed’s energies focus on leadership in anxious times, peacemaking, interfaith relations, integrating family, faith and work systems; and articulating the Christian faith in non-bigoted ways. He is a passionate advocate for peace and justice in the community, the nation, and the world. He has received several honors for his peace and interfaith work. He is a founder of Beyond Inclusion and Claiming the Blessing (working for justice for the LGBT community) and a co-founder of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative. He serves on Human Rights Watch California Committee South and on other national and community boards.

Ed has been a guest on Oprah’s Soul Series on XM’s Oprah & Friends Radio, as well as The Oprah Winfrey Show, which led to a regular role as guest host on Oprah’s Soul Series and contributor on Oprah.com. His first book, 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind, was published in September 2012.

Prior to coming to All Saints, Bacon served as Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Jackson, Mississippi; Rector of St Mark’s in Dalton, Georgia; and Dean of Students and Campus Ministry at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He graduated from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 1979, and in 1983 was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He holds honorary Doctorates by Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Mercer University.

He and his wife, Hope Hendricks-Bacon, have two adult children and two grandchildren.

All Things in Common

Clarence Jordan, “spiritual father” of the global humanitarian organization Habitat for Humanity.

by Ezra Millstein
from HabitatWorld Magazine

I like Clarence Jordan.

But if he were around for his 100th birthday this year, it’s unlikely he would feel honored by a virtual befriending or an electronic thumbs-up. Clarence — the Greek scholar, theologian, community-builder, social critic, prophet and farmer — would have wanted those thumbs in the dirt instead, planting seeds of justice and mercy. Or poking the ribs of the slothful to prod them into action or to jolt selfish numbskulls into radical generosity. These things Clarence would enjoy for a birthday celebration.

Clarence and his wife Florence, who would also be 100 this year, founded Koinonia Farm, a Christian community located just south of Americus, Georgia. This fall, Koinonia commemorates the Jordan birthdays as well as the 70th anniversary of their community. Habitat for Humanity’s founder Millard Fuller claimed that Clarence was the spiritual father of Habitat. This anniversary is an opportunity for all of us who are Habitat adherents to listen to Clarence, reflect on our calling and renew our commitment to this work.

Clarence as a spiritual ancestor carries personal meaning for me. I’m marking one other anniversary this year: Forty years ago, in 1972 as a sophomore in college, I read Dallas Lee’s book The Cotton Patch Evidence and first learned about Clarence and the Koinonia Farm “experiment.” I was deeply moved, but to explain why that book was so formative in my experience I have to back up four more years.

Click here to read the full article

September 19th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Amid Pressures of Daily Life, More Koreans Revive Interest in Shamanism

South Korean shaman Lee Soon-ae performs prayers during a shipboard ceremony intended to exorcise the demons that threaten fishermen and bring good luck to everybody on board, off Incheon, west of Seoul, on June 24. Though an ancient practice, Korean shamanism – in which singing and dancing are used in trance rituals addressed to specific gods, often to get an answer to specific questions – had long been suppressed in Asia’s second most Christian nation. Choi Dae-woong/Reuters/File

by Jason Strother
from the Christian Science Monitor

The banging of drums, crashing of cymbals and blaring of a horn echo down the slope of Samgak Mountain. They’re coming from a shaman’s temple, where a goot, a spiritual rite, is underway.

The predominant religions in South Korea are the traditional Buddhist faith and a large Christian population, though a large segment of the population is not religious. Still, many are believers in an animistic spirituality that goes back thousands of years.

Shamanism is the indigenous faith of the Korean people, and although it has been diminished by centuries of influence from other religions and some repression, it is still intertwined with daily life among religious and nonreligious populations alike. And due to the pressures caused by the nation’s rapid development, many Koreans are turning to shamanism for guidance from the spirit world.

Click here to read the full article

Christian College Student’s Idea Leads to Rally for Burned Mosque

by Josh Levs
from CNN

When 20-year-old Ashley Carter heard about a mosque burned to the ground in her town this week, she was shocked.

“I was very saddened,” she told CNN on Wednesday. “I thought it was very evil.”

So Carter, a student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, texted a friend, suggesting they organize an event “promoting acts of love.”

But quickly, the idea changed: They would organize a “rally of people coming together, from all walks of life, all religions, a really diverse group of people trying to promote this radical love.”

She called Kimberly Kester, spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Joplin, whose worship house serving about 50 families in the southwest Missouri city burned down Monday. Investigators have not determined the cause, but the mosque has been attacked in the past.

Kester supported the idea. So Carter and some of her friends created the plan for the rally and announced it on a Facebook page. The next day, Tuesday, word began to spread. By Wednesday morning, more than 400 people had posted that they would attend the event, scheduled for Saturday, August 25.

Carter said she was inspired by “my love for Jesus. And I know that Jesus calls us to love people.”

Click here to read the full article

August 13th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Bussy-Saint-Georges, the Town with Built-in Religious Harmony

Photography Credit to Philippe Wojazer/Reuters from the Guardian.

Workmen prepare the European Regional Temple in Bussy-Saint Georges.

by Stephanie Le Bars
from The Guardian Weekly

Hugues Rondeau is the Radical party mayor of Bussy-Saint-Georges, a new town in the Paris suburbs. His taste for “ordered urban space” has led to an innovation: the multi-faith district. On a plot of land just beyond the built-up area, he has authorised the construction of several places of worship.

“Here there will be two Buddhist temples, a mosque, a synagogue, a Chinese evangelical church and an Armenian cultural centre,” said the mayor, a practising Catholic who is convinced that in a secular state the government should not turn a blind eye to religious fact. “Our 30,000 inhabitants are mostly of foreign origin with 45% from Asia,” he said. “We couldn’t deprive them of their religious practice.”

Click here to read full article

Colorado Churches Remember, Reflect on Aurora Theater Shooting

Photo credit to Helen H. Richardson from the Denver Post.

Parishioners of the Potter House Church worshipping in a powerful service dedicated to the victims of the Aurora theater shooting.

by Elana Ashanti Jefferson, Kurtis Lee and Kristen Browning-Blas
from The Denver Post

Few things soothe like the familiar.

For parishioners in and around Aurora on Sunday, that meant coming together for worship and perspective in the aftermath of a far-reaching act of public violence.

Church leaders rose to the occasion.

“You can’t just not mention it,” Eleanor VanDeusen, religious education director for children and youth at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, said of Friday’s movie-theater shooting that left 12 dead and dozens more injured. “When these horrific events happen, we really come back to that idea of community and connection.”

Sierra Graves, 20, Derrick Poage, 22, and Naya Thompson, 22, went together Friday to see “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Century Aurora 16 theater. After an anxious, sleepless weekend and several national media interviews, the friends were together again Sunday, calm and composed, for an uplifting 11 a.m. service at Restoration Christian Fellowship, about 2 miles from the shooting site. The service began with 20 minutes of prayer and reflection around the massacre.

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July 25th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

The Real Environmental Crisis: Lessons From the Green Patriarch

Photo Credit to Trent Gilliss

His All Holiness Bartholomew, Patriarch of Eastern Orthodox Christians

by Krista Tippett
from The Huffington Post

Earlier this month, His All Holiness Bartholomew, the Patriarch of 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, convened a two-day conversation on “environment, ethics and innovation.” We gathered on the tiny, ancient island of Heybeliada off Istanbul, which was once the Patriarch’s Constantinople and before that New Rome.

There were scientists there, and activists, and religious thinkers. Greenpeace was represented, and so was Dow Chemical. We did not solve any problem or draft a white paper or conceive a plan of action. There were no expectations of these things, and so it was not, like the recent Rio conference, roundly condemned as a failure. But our discussion did yield some fresh examination of the often-unnamed obstacle to all the good solutions and plans already out there: the human condition.

The gathering convened in a former seminary, which Ataturk’s successors closed as they secularized Turkey and which the present Islamic government seems poised to re-open. It was poignant, in this space, to hear James Hansen — the NASA scientist who seminally defined the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide and civilization as we know it — profess that scientists need the help of the religious in an urgent struggle for public understanding.

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Making Room for People With Disabilities

Photo Credit to Creative Commons by Patrick Brown
from State of Formation

Each person was different and each brought with them their own challenges and gifts. Some of them had significant language challenges and behavior problems that were hard to navigate. Some were capable of a relatively normal life with a job, social life, and real community. The major aspect of the person center planning process is dreaming. This is what seemed to be the most difficult part of the institutional environment. As much as these people were cared for and even happy to some extent, they had very few dreams for themselves and the only people in their lives were paid to be there and so no one had aspirations for these people beyond the most basic care. My mom and I had to stretch ourselves to think of dreams for these people we didn’t even know. These individuals had been cut off from their families and natural relationships and put into a clinical environment that lacked the kind of creativity, which can only come from genuine relationships.

The experience has made me reflect on how important community is to human dignity and fulfillment. One of the most attractive aspects of organized religions is their capacity for community. When talking to these individuals about what they want out of life, participation is a faith community was a common desire. I’ve known many people with disabilities who have found strength and acceptance in their faith communities. My sister reads the bible more than anyone else I know. She always asks me about different characters and stories that shes been reading and I don’t always know the passages she is referring to. She is someone that takes her faith seriously and yet our home parish has no program to support her and so she attends a bible study at another church. Christian congregations generally don’t have a good grasp on how to incorporate people with disabilities. The bible study that my sister goes to is a special group, only for people with developmental delays and cognitive disabilities. There are a lot of programs out there with similar models. The problem is that they simply create a separate but equal kind of system where people with disabilities have to participate in a parallel congregation. I haven’t seen any programs that have really incorporated people with disabilities in to the main parish programming.

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