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A Holiday Sermon for Every Faith: Tools for Teaching Tolerance

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Holiday Sermon for Every Faith: Tools for Teaching Tolerance

with Lecia Brooks

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 10:00 a.m. CST

 

 

 

 

What we know about the state of hate and intolerance in the U.S. is harrowing, but not crippling. How can holiday sermons transform communal calls for peace into tools for teaching tolerance? Join Lecia Brooks, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Director of Outreach, in the in the first webinar installation of our Faiths Against Hate campaign. Faith-based community and interfaith participants will benefit by this discussion explaining how interfaith measures can successfully mitigate the worsening climate of hate in the United States, how to link the lessons of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance campaign to the holiday sermon as a vehicle, what positive outcomes arose from peace-seeking action this year, and how to train parents to teach tolerance in a holiday season.

Lecia Brooks is the Director of Outreach for the Southern Poverty Law Center where she leads efforts to develop and facilitate educational resource models of anti-oppression, teaching tolerance, and advancing civil rights.   Brooks shepherded the publication of the widely-read biannual Teaching Tolerance Magazine of the SPLC in conjunction with the center’s first web-based professional development program, the Teaching Diverse Students Initiative.  Prior to joining the SPLC, she served as Director of Special Projects at the Conference for Community & Justice in Los Angeles.  While there, she initiated a series of anti-hate courses with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office for juvenile hate crime offenders; designed and directed residential camp programs with Tyra Banks for teenage girls to combat the negative effects of sexism; and created and facilitated anti-oppression workshops for high school students and teachers featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Brooks is also the Founder and Principal Consultant for Diversity Matters, an independent consulting firm that develops customized education and diversity workshops for non-profits, institutions of higher learning and government entities. Brooks began her career as an elementary school teacher, and earned her degree in political science at Loyola Marymount University.  

 

 

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/965841566

All of our webinars are recorded.  Click here to watch webinars

As A Sikh-American I Refuse To Live In Fear And Negativity

Photography credit to State of Formation

Simran Jeet Singh

by Simran Jeet Singh
from State of Formation

As a Sikh-American, I am absolutely heart-broken.

As soon as news broke about the massacre in Wisconsin, my parents called me to make sure I was safe. Our conversation was eerily similar to the moments immediately after 9/11.

After making sure I was safe, they asked me to be careful walking around the streets of New York City. They pointed out that: “You never know what someone might do.”

While I accepted their advice, their words crushed me.

As a Sikh, I believe that people are inherently good. Our faith instills a sense of perpetual optimism, and our traditions teach us to always make the best of a tough situation.

Fear and negativity are foreign to our vocabulary. Sikhs are not a God-fearing people; we are God-loving.

The commitment to love and optimism shapes the way that Sikhs interact with their societies, and I’m concerned that becoming cynical and negative might lead us down a slippery slope.

So I am making a conscious decision. I am refusing to accept that human beings are malicious and hateful, and I am rejecting the notion that we need to live in fear.

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.

Click here to read full article

July 25th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Faith Inspires: Hindu American Seva Charities

Photo Credit to Myra Iqbal, AOL

Niki A. Shah teaches yoga to a group of kids as a part of the Hindu American Seva Charities.

by Jahnabi Barooah
from The Huffington Post

This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the work of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), an organization whose mission is to engage in “seva, interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice and sustainable civic engagement to ignite grassroots social change and build healthy communities.” Seva, which means “service” in Sanskrit, is an important aspect of the Dharmic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

In 2009, when President Barack Obama issued a “call to serve,” Anju Bhargava, a Hindu American resident of Livingston, NJ, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. HASC is a result of that collaboration, and was designed to strengthen and put a spotlight on civic engagement and community service efforts in the Dharmic community.

Despite the White House’s support and guidance, HASC did not have the easiest start, and their success over the past two years can be attributed as much to creative theological thinking, as to the Dharmic community’s desire to be fully accepted in the American community.

“The Hindu community didn’t have a faith-based infrastructure [to perform community service],” Anju Bhargava, the founder of the HASC told The Huffington Post. Even though many Hindus were engaging in community service through informal means, Hindus did not have access to sustainable community service programs that were faith-based. If the goal was to bring seva to the forefront and make it relevant in the American context, the challenge was that the Hindu-American community was so fragmented because of its varied religious and philosophical beliefs, Bhargava told The Huffington Post.

Click here to read full article

 

Including Ourselves: A Lesson from an Elevator-Ride

Photo Credit to State of Formation by Simran Jeet Singh
from State of Formation

It’s not uncommon for kids to ask their parents about “that thing” on my head.

In most instances, the parents look at me uncomfortably, embarrassed that I might be offended in some way. I’ll usually acknowledge their discomfort with an awkward smile before looking away and pretending not to notice as they try to discretely shush their kids.

But recently I had the most amazing experience. I walked into the elevator of my apartment building in Manhattan and — despite knowing New York etiquette — I couldn’t help but smile at the two little girls standing with their young mother. The girls were wearing matching, polka-dotted raincoats, and they were fully focused on not dropping their popsicles.

The older of the two girls must have sensed me enter the elevator, because she slowly shifted her neck to look up at me and gawked for a few seconds. She then turned to her mom and unabashedly shouted: “Hey Mom! What’s that thing on his head?!”

The young mother made eye contact with me and quickly checked to see if I was planning to respond. I flashed my standard awkward smile, and she returned an awkward smile of her own before totally catching me by surprise.

“That’s a turban.”

“Why does he wear it?”

“It’s part of his religion. Do you remember the boy in your class who wore a turban?”

“Yeah, he doesn’t cut his hair. He has really long hair. ”

I was shocked. I wanted to give everyone in the elevator a high-five, but remembering I was in New York, I tried to play it cool. I put on my Denzel Washington face (the coolest person I could think of on the spot), and as I walked out of the elevator, I turned to the mother and whispered a soft “thank you.”

Click here to read full article

Auburn Media Training: Top Ten Tips to Speak Prophetically through the Press

Macky Alston

Macky Alston

Click here to watch the video Thursday, August 30, 2012

10:00am U.S. Central Time

Join Auburn Media’s Founding Director Macky Alston for this workshop that will outline the top ten tips you need to remember to get your voice heard through the media. Voices of faith who are interested in using the upcoming news hook of the anniversary of September 11th as an opportunity to bridge religious divides are encouraged to join this special workshop.

Macky Alston is Senior Director of Auburn Media at Auburn Theological Seminary, and dedicated to informed coverage of religion in the media. Macky is an award-winning filmmaker and an organizer in the worlds of media and religion. He has received two Sundance Film Festival Awards, the Gotham Open Palm Award, three Emmy nominations, and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show and in The New York Times. Alston is currently screening his new documentary LOVE FREE OR DIE about Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the historic traditions of Christendom.

 

Title: Auburn Media Training: Top Ten Tips to Speak Prophetically through the Press

Date: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Time: 10:00am CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/842178510

All of our webinars are recorded.  Click here to watch webinars

 

Reimagining Interfaith Conversation: Engaging Your Community Through Multimedia

Beth Katz

Beth Katz

Click here to watch the video Wednesday, August 1, 2012

10:00am U.S. Central Time

Identity, religion, spirituality, and culture — these topics define our interactions with others but normally are taboo in conversation. How can we create a new normal in which families and communities openly and respectfully learn and share about these important aspects of identity? This webinar offers concrete strategies for doing so and reflects on other lessons learned from Project Interfaith’s most recent program, RavelUnravel.com.

Launched in May 2012, RavelUnravel.com is a multimedia exploration of the religious and spiritual identities that make up our communities and world. This unique site features over 720 video interviews where individuals from a wide variety of religious and spiritual identities discuss their identities in a personal way, as well as the stereotypes that impact them and whether or not their communities have welcomed their chosen religious or spiritual paths.

Beth Katz is Founder and Executive Director of Project Interfaith. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where she has taught courses on international conflict resolution and religious diversity. She also is a member of the Nebraska Medical Center’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Consultation Committee and serves on the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Board in Omaha as well as the board of the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at Creighton University. In 2012, she was the recipient of the President’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award from Creighton University and was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans (TOYO) by the Omaha Jaycees.

 

Title: Reimagining Interfaith Conversation: Engaging Your Community Through Multimedia 

Date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Time: 10:00am CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/317260390

All of our webinars are recorded.  Click here to watch webinars

 

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.

Click here to read full article

The Three Faiths Forum- Helping Children Understand

Photograph by Cathal Mcnaughton/PA

A Three Faiths Forum event in action.

by Jessica Abrahams
from The Guardian

Fifteen years ago, a Muslim scholar, a Christian priest and a Jewish philanthropist came together in London to create Three Faiths Forum (3FF), a platform for community leaders to engage with each another and break down barriers. But today, some of the most valuable work the charity undertakes is in schools, ensuring that tensions between faith communities don’t trickle down to the next generation.

Often this will simply be making sure that children of different faiths have an opportunity to meet one another or addressing a lack of knowledge about other religions; occasionally more severe problems occur. “We’re contacted by RE teachers to help when there’s been anti-Jewish, -Muslim or -Christian sentiment,” says Debbie Danon, the charity’s education manager.

Deputy director Rachel Heilbron speaks of one particularly serious case they became involved with last year. A teacher discussing the features of a church with a group of 14-year-old students at a non-denominational school in London mentioned synagogues. Some of the students complained they didn’t want to learn about “Jew stuff”. They said that Jews were dirty and smelly and that they kept money under their hats. As the situation escalated, some of the children began banging on the tables, chanting: “Kill the Jews, kill the Jews.”

Click here to read full article

Rebranding Interfaith

NewGroundby Rabbi Sarah Bassin

Inspired. Energized. Confused. Naïve.  I had asked a Jewish audience to share a single word to capture their thoughts of my presentation on Muslim-Jewish relations.  I had spent the last hour painting a picture of the broken communication between Jews and Muslims over the last 20 years – the public spats, the failed dialogues and the wounded relationships.  I devoted the last portion of the session to envisioning a more positive paradigm and cultivating the tools to get us there.

Some people entered the session eager to acquire the skills needed to strengthen relationships with the Muslims who share their city.  They had witnessed the breakdowns but refused to think of “Muslim-Jewish” as synonymous with “conflict.” They walked away from the session recharged.  Inspired.  Energized.

Others entered as skeptics, poised to dismiss interfaith work as a charming but ineffective effort to bridge an unbridgeable chasm of differences.   The cycle of conflict exists for a reason and those who champion engagement with the other don’t understand the threat to their own community.  Openness and vulnerability lead to exploitation.  Interfaith activists are unrooted. Confused. Naïve.

Those words may have felt cutting in the moment but they were also a gift.  It was early in my work as the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change though I had long been devoted to interfaith relations.  As someone who grew up with a mixed religious background, the importance of interfaith was engrained in my Jewish identity.  But my own experience blinded me to the experience of those for whom interfaith was not a self-evident good.  It was beyond my worldview that someone could see interfaith engagement not only as superfluous but as threatening.  I realized that I needed to take a step back and explain why the work matters in the first place.  More specifically, I needed to make a compelling case for why the work matters to them.

There is something that feels base about using the language of self-interest to undergird interfaith work.  I imagine that many of us find ourselves committed to interfaith activism because our highest ideals have led us down this path.  As someone who chose to become a rabbi to pursue a career in interfaith relations, I certainly felt compelled by the holiness of the endeavor.  My tradition demands it of me.  The Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas captures my deeply held belief with his claim that we experience divine commandment through the face of the other.

But I am also in this line of work because I believe wholeheartedly that a commitment to interfaith relations and Muslim-Jewish relations in particular tangibly benefits the Jewish people.  This work is, as they say, “good for the Jews.”

As a teenager and young adult, I despised the “good for the Jews” cliché.  It seemed to be an excuse for isolation, a justification for turning a blind eye to the plight of others.  But those excuses represent a narrow interpretation of what is good.  Those justifications conflate that which is in our self-interest with that which is self-serving.

Asking whether something is “good for the Jews?” is actually a useful question.  As my colleagues in community organizing assert, acknowledging one’s self interest is the first important step to social change.

When I engage Jewish audiences now, I open by speaking to that self-interest.  I lay out the vast overlapping domestic agendas between the American Muslim and Jewish communities and spell out the missed opportunities for collaboration.  I articulate how changing demographics will impact Jewish community relations.  Jews are becoming a smaller proportion of the American population and we will need to rely more heavily on coalitions.  I cite how the younger generations of Jews understand “Jewish values” more universally than their parents did.  Interfaith activism thus has a role in engaging these generations’ Jewish identity.

No part of me imagines that I will transform every skeptic in an hour by framing Muslim-Jewish relations in terms of Jewish self-interest.  But I often see something click for Jewish audiences when I cite the 2010 Gallup poll that directly links anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.  The single greatest predictor for whether someone holds Islamophobic beliefs is whether they also hold anti-Semitic beliefs.  This simple statistic reframes the issue from an abstract good to a concrete need.  Combating Islamophobia is not some altruistic endeavor for Jews rooted in the collective memory of our own historical persecution.  It is a strategic approach to prevent latent anti-Semitism from resurfacing today.

The rhetoric that we use to describe our work serves to undermine or enhance the power of our impact.  Early on, a supporter once described NewGround as “the ones getting everyone to love each other.”  She soon learned that this does not begin to capture what NewGround does.  We equip Jews and Muslims with the tools, space, and relationships to identify what matters to people in both communities– our fears, our values, our narratives and aspirations.  Sometimes, the conversation feels uncomfortable because interests do not always align (for example, we do not expect everyone to agree about how to handle the conflict in the Middle East). But the willingness to articulate what is at one’s core creates the foundation for a more honest and trusting partnership when there is alignment.  At NewGround, we are not the ones getting everyone to love each other.  We are the ones transforming intergroup relations in Los Angeles from a civic liability into a communal asset.

There will always be a core of people drawn to interfaith work for its more abstract ideals – people who need no convincing of interfaith’s inherent value.  But our goal ought to include preaching beyond the choir.  There is no shame in rebranding interfaith as savvy and strategic, substantive and smart.  Interfaith is all of these things and there is much to be gained by speaking of our work from this angle.  Those poised to call us naïve may instead walk away energized.  And those who thought us confused may instead find themselves inspired.

Rabbi Sarah Bassin is the Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change.