"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
-- Rev. Martin Luther King
Regardless of where or how we are situated with respect to Boston, Watertown the Boston marathon, geographically and emotionally, almost all of us, what can I do?
It strikes me that in fact, there is so much we can do, as we see the recent events in Boston as a part of a phenomenon in whose midst we live-the cycle of violence and retribution or as Biblical scholar Walter Wink calls it, the “myth of redemptive violence.”
Regardless of who these young men were and from what country they hail, there is no question that they were motivated by some kind of desire to punish and destroy in a very public way. We cannot change that now, but we can push back against impulses to punish and destroy and in so doing do our part to dismantle this myth. We can seek restorative justice in every corner of our lives— instead of allowing our rage to lead us to plots of revenge, we can use it to lead to plans for intervention- in poverty, in marginalization, in imperialism, in our own tendencies to be numbed, desensitized, and entertained by violence.
We can refuse to believe that religious beliefs lead to violence. They don’t. Trauma, fear, and profound hurt lead to violence.
We can make eye contact with one another. We can ask questions. We can revolt against a culture of isolation. We can show other people, in our houses, in our dining halls, in our classes, in our places of work that they matter. We can know that we matter. There is a myth that knowing we matter makes a difference, but it’s not the kind of myth that is false. It’s the kind of myth that is a great, enduring story, and that story is as much a part of our history as is the myth of redemptive violence. Let’s tell that story.
What I Know is True
Thu 20th Dec, 12:35
The faith tradition(s) that I follow allows me a certain acceptance of uncertainty and ‘living the questions”as the famous poem by Rilke puts it. Grappling, wondering, ruminating, and questioning are all part of the journey for me— as is the case for many of us.
Yet when a tragedy occurs, so “close to home” as it did in Newtown Connecticut last Friday, people want answers. I want answers.I want to explain the situation—”well,it has to do with the isolation of our communities,” or “it all goes back to the value placed on the second amendment in this country” or, “its because of the unavailability of good mental health services,” and so on. Those three statements offer some fleeting feeling of understanding, and hopefully, ground us in some places to put our energy.But there is no one explanation, no one answer.
And most of us feel some combination of two things that come from being exposed to overwhelming events: numb-struck grief and helplessness. We are numb-struck to the effect that we are in shock and may not be “close” enough to feel our grief directly. We are helpless because there is nothing we can do to change what has already happened.
But what occurs to me is this—maybe those two feelings are the greatest assets we have in this historical, personal, communal moment. They bring a clarity that is inaccessible most of the time. The devastating truth is, children die every day—and not just from starvation or poverty. They die in gun fire in the inner city. They die in drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.But unless we are reminded of these facts by being faced with them squarely in the face, we live in relationship with the everyday equivocations of politics, and we live “through a glass darkly” as St. Paul puts it.
So as we “live the questions,”we can also seize this moment in which we feel grief stricken and helpless to assert what we do know to be true, as it is more crystal clear, really, than ever.The Buddhist practice of staying in the moment to observe the morass of our overwhelmed responses—including numbness—is profoundly apropos here.
Here is what I know to be true, in the midst of my numb-struck grief and helplessness:
We live in an inscrutable universe. There is not a reason for everything.
No child should ever die before reaching adulthood. Even more to the point, no child should ever die in the civilized world from causes that derive from adults’ need to feel safe, gain revenge, or justify their violent influences. We live in a world permeated by the “myth of redemptive violence”—the idea that striking out, either in offense or defense, is a human ideal to be validated and given extra-ordinary value.
I know those two things. We live in an inscrutable universe, where the unthinkable happens more than we care to believe. There is not a reason for everything, but we can make a reason from everything.A reason to deepen our convictions, question the status quo, look deeply at ourselves.
In other words—in grief and helplessness—the veil is lifted from our eyes. There are some certainties: There is nothing about the death of children that can be contested, argued over, or dissected.So we don’t have answers, but we do have certainty.
Let us rest in this certainty for a moment.
Let it inform our convictions—whether they be about gun control, mental health services, or what the deeply held value of “individual freedom” in the US really means.
Lets us rest in the certainty we have and see where it brings us.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
-- Mahatma Gandhi
"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
-- The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King
"A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us… The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb."
-- Henri Nouwen
Christmas as an Interfaith Holiday
Tue 18th Dec, 15:58
Perhaps we can look at Christmas, as it is celebrated in the U.S, as an Interfaith Holiday, in that its rituals are not drawn from just one religious tradition.
Advent, the season that leads up to Christmas in the Christian tradition, is a powerful reflection of this interfaith dimension.In terms of the Christan calender, we are “leading up to” the birth of the historical Jesus. But in fact, the practices of Christmas, such as the use of evergreen and the lighting of candles, predate Christianity and are associated with ancient Pagan traditions that mark and celebrate the winter solstice.Many pagan practices were absorbed by Christianity as the religion spread across Europe and we often forget that the practices themselves do not belong to the Christian holiday. To me this sort of melding of traditions, or syncretism,speaks to the ways that the boundaries between religions can be porous.
It is undeniably the case that this Holiday season in the U.S is fraught and problematic in the following ways:
1. As a “Christian” Holiday, Christmas can be alienating to those of faiths that do not celebrate it
2. We are surrounded by capitalism at its worst, manifested by an utter inundation of consumerism
3. While the media and the conventions of culture scream out “JOY!”, ‘HAPPINESS”. “PEACE,” in truth the month of December is the hardest of the year for a great many people. Those who are not housed and live in cold climates are under threat, those in poverty are further marginalized, and the conditions of those who suffer from depression and other mental and emotional disturbances are further exacerbated.
Yet despite all of this, and my personal ambivalence about Christmas for the reasons listed above, perhaps a recognition of the ways in which religions influence each other helps us reclaim some hope for the season. Many traditions, Judaism most specifically, have ways of celebrating the victories of life over death and good over evil at this time of year in this hemisphere when the sun is lowest on the horizon. And the traditions that history has tried to eradicate often show through despite it all… Maybe we can regard the Christmas tree with a conspiratorial smile—its not just a symbol co-opted by capitalism. Its an emblem of ancient traditions that have survived the spoils of empire….
Wishing you a safe and fruitful Solstice Season!
About Religious Diversity: A Social Justice Issue
Mon 12th Nov, 20:35
I thought Otelia Cromwell Day was inspiring as well as thought (and action!) provoking. I am so appreciative of all the imagination and creativity that went into the production of such a rich day. I was especially taken with the historical connections that Latoya Peterson made, and that she noted the need to remain ever vigilant for the “fracturing” that can happen inside our movements when we begin to ignore what is near and dear to our fellow people. I feel that paying close attention to ourselves and our relationships with one another is a crucial part of interfaith work.
With respect to religious diversity in particular, I am struck by the fact that it was difficult to have conversations about religion even (or especially) in academia following 9/11, and that some of those conversations have now started to happen. I am also struck by what fertile soil there is to be tilled, and how far we still have to go…
Please read this courageous post below—by a student responding to an incident which occurred on campus a few weeks ago in which anti-Muslim slurs were vocalized from a passing car. Islamaphobia is a pervasive and widespread social justice issue—micro-aggressions occur more than we probably are yet able to even identify.
Religion is interwoven with so many other things—history, race, class, culture, colonialism and globalization—it is the subject of a crucial conversation that needs to be had…conversations that are hard to enter into, but once we do, we have begun the work of transformation…..
-Matilda Rose Cantwell
Student Response to Anti-Muslim Incident
Mon 12th Nov, 12:33
On Friday, October 19th, EKTA, the South Asian organization, celebrated their annual Mehndi Night, a night of celebrating South Asian cultures through food, dance, music, performances, trivia, presentations, and of course, Mehndi. This event is a cultural celebration, not a religious celebration; even though this was a secular event, some men going by in a car took this event as an opportunity to spew their bigotry with anti-Muslim taunts against students departing from the festivities. The fact that these men equated a celebration of people who were not like them with Islam shows their xenophobia and ignorance; unless the men had a talk with these students, they would not have known whether or not they were Muslim, as religion is not as obvious as some people would like to assume, so this incidence also reminds us of the xenophobia in this country.
When a hate crime happens, the event’s effects are not limited to the people involved. When someone says a bigoted comment about Muslims to a group of students, I take it personally because I am Muslim. It’s not the first time I’ve heard bigoted comments about Islam, nor will it be the last time. In the last decade, my religion has been under intense scrutiny, especially from people who don’t understand Islam.
Time and time again, I have listened to news anchors, pundits, so-called experts, religious leaders, and guests on news shows call my religion the worst of names, the one that gets me the most being “the religion from the pit of hell.” I’ve seen people rally against my religion and rally against freedom of religion with Islam specifically in the protesters’ minds. I’ve heard bigoted comments about Islam all over the news and I’ve seen people go along with it. I’ve heard Islam used as an insult or as a legitimate reason to describe someone as unworthy or not as good. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes change when they find out I am Muslim, and I’ve heard the change in the tone of their voices from one of friendliness to one of uncertainty. I remember my fourth-grade teacher asking me if Islam was a religion of peace in front of the entire class, and my wanting to become invisible and praying that this wasn’t actually happening. I remember the dirty looks people gave me while I was walking to school when I was only eight and did nothing wrong except wear the hijab in public. I still fear people’s reactions to discovering my religious affiliation with Islam because it has not always been a positive experience. The most striking part about all these criticisms is that these people know nothing about Islam.
When confronted with the event that happened on Friday, October 19th, I felt the same anger, confusion, and fear I have felt for the past decade while I have been watching my religion misrepresented in the media and misunderstood and misinterpreted by the public. Reading the email sent out in response to the event, I was reminded of all the other hate I have had to face as Muslim in a country that fears Islam. I was reminded of that lost and isolated feeling I have had every single time I heard a bigoted comment about Islam; there is this feeling that there is not a place for Muslim students to turn when these incidents occur. In the administrative email response there were no specific resources listed for affected students, which can only lead me to assume that the administration expect students to be affected by this incident, and therefore implying this incident is not as hateful as it is. I feel that this is a minimizing of the situation, which makes me feel as though my anger is unjustified. There was no suggestion of counseling or conversation for affected students, and so I am left wondering if there is space to express anger – was this incident significant enough to foster discussion of feeling targeted? I asked myself if maybe I was overreacting, and I came to the conclusion that no, I am not overreacting, and if anything, I am under-reacting; I have a right to feel safe and secure, and if my college cannot provide that, then that is a failure of the college. I should not have to be on the lookout, something Dean Mahoney asked of me when she urges us to “be on alert this weekend.” Why should I be on alert in my own home where I am supposed to feel safe? Is administration afraid of a repeat of last semester, or do they really not think that I should feel devastated when I read that email? Even if they are afraid of a repeat of last semester, is that any reason to isolate and stifle the anger and hurt of the community members suffering? Throughout the following week, there was absolutely no discussion about this incident; I did not hear any of the students bring it up, and somehow, I am surprised. Why should I be surprised that students aren’t talking about an act of bigotry on their own campus where their own community members were attacked if administration is trying to minimize the event? Is an email sufficient, and should I be content with the handling of this situation?
My heart goes out to those students on the receiving end of these slurs and everyone else affected because I know what it feels like to hear hateful slurs about something you hold dear to your heart and to have a part of your identity attacked and have no support from the people who are supposed to be watching out for your well-being. My religion, Islam, has taught me to be a better person, and it keeps me grounded, so when I hear people saying hurtful things about it, I am left to wonder why, along with another million questions.
When I read Dean Mahoney’s email, I read, “Some men said some hurtful things about Muslims to some Smith students, and that was not nice. That’s what happened, and we can’t do anything to undo it. Watch out because other people may say bad things about Muslims.” I hope that there can be a recognition of the inadequate handling of the event, and I hope the administration can learn from the events that transpired after Mehndi Night so that if something similar should happen again, students aren’t left confused and angry again. Although I would have preferred for there to be no biased incidents against Muslims on campus or off campus, we can take this event as an opportunity to foster discussion about being Muslim in America and the injustices Muslims face.
Thank you to all those who planned and participated in the candlelight vigil to recognize all those effected by Hurricane Sandy, on the one week anniversary of the storm, 11/5/12.
On this election eve we are inspired by the Interfaith leadership on our campus and beyond, and grateful for all those engaged in the process of making change—and most importantly not loosing hope.
Please read below this amazing post by Dean Walters!
Matilda Rose Cantwell
"I am interested in exploring the idea that an interfaith life is a legitimate “faith life” — not an impoverished shadow of a real (legitimate) spirituality but a rich, interesting, and valuable way to draw close to God, to others, and the world."
-- Jennifer Walters, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life
Considering an Interfaith Life
Tue 6th Nov, 20:02
I’ve been dean of religious life at Smith College since 2001. I’m not sure that makes me an Expert anything. I spend my days trying to be useful. To observe, listen, ask questions, try things out and try again.
When I was in college, I had a pretty haphazard approach to research. Armed only with a topic assigned by my professor and a hunch about how to answer it, I’d head to a section of the library, maybe with a catalog number or title scribbled on the back of my hand - a result of preliminary efforts.Once I located the desired volume, my eyes would stray to the title on its right, and then the one below, and before long I had an armful of books I wasn’t looking for.
Many of my sources did not make it into the final essays and I was often frustrated with my lack of efficiency. I have come to learn that I traded efficiency for the pleasure of looking at something from many points of view.It was deeply satisfying to immerse myself in the conversation across time and cultures. Those armfuls of other people’s ideas changed not only my essay answers, but also my questions and at times, my choices.
Today — still — I seek multiple sources to give me direction when I am figuring out a problems or answering a question: as mundane as what to say at a Smith College Convocation or a deep moral problem presented on a November ballot.
Here at Interfaith Matters, I will mostly write about interfaith approaches to everyday problems and questions. Because of my upbringing and education, Christian language, ritual, and scriptures have formed and inform me, but there are many more books on the shelf when I go searching. I’d like to reflect on and explore “interfaith thinking.”
I am interested in exploring the idea that an interfaith life is a legitimate “faith life” — not an impoverished shadow of a real (legitimate) spirituality but a rich, interesting, and valuable way to draw close to God, to others, and the world.
I look forward to the conversation.