Tag Archive | religion

Discussion: Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating?

manger-620x412This morning I found this fascinating article entitled “Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating?”  In it Valarie Talerico takes us beneath the surface of the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth and looks at the inherent messages about female sexuality.

“A woman used is a woman soiled. A woman raped is a woman ruined. A girl who explores her body with a boy is a licked lollypop.  A divorced woman shouldn’t get married in white. Only an unbedded and so unsullied female—a virgin—could be pure enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.”

The article goes into depth into the cultural and religious history behind these ideas that a woman who has never been sexually touched is superior to all other females.

Looking deeper than the article does, I must point out that these same cultures and religions often employ rape as a sort of weapon:  once used by the rapist, a woman is considered wholly unsuitable for marriage.

Though rape is a traumatic experience for the girl or woman, in societies and religious traditions where female conduct reflects on her male owners, the intent of the rapist is revealed to be more an attack on the men in her life, a way of dishonouring them through her.

Boudicca artist concept chariotThat is, in fact, the primary reason why Roman soldiers raped Queen Boudicca’s daughters:  they were sending a terrorist message that just as they ruined and shamed the Iceni (to rape their princesses is to shame the entire tribe), they were perfectly prepared to shame and terrorize any Briton daring to stand up to them.

And so we must examine in our own hearts what our values are and what we really want them to be.  Do we want to continue to measure a woman’s worth based on how many male genitals have touched her body and in what fashion?  Do we want to continue to weigh a person’s worth based on another person’s behaviour or experiences?  Do we still want to confuse service/nurturing with subservience and demand women treat themselves as inferiors to men?

Libby bird iconOr do we want something better for ourselves, our families, and our societies?  Do we truly believe in the equality of all people and the rights of every person to act according to her or his own conscience and convictions or will we persist on judging and condemning others for choices and circumstances that differ from our own?

Will we take the dark road of hate and judgement or will we take the harder road of love, acceptance, and peace?

I cannot answer that question for you; only for myself.  I choose love and peace.  I choose to accept you just the way you are — free of judgement.  You are wonderful just because you are you.

 

Merry Christmas!

–Laurel A. Rockefeller

 

The Human Touch: Thoughts about the Teachings of Esther/Abraham Hicks

I am really into the Law of Attraction.  I believe in and the power that our thoughts make on our reality and what comes to us.

negative emotion is

One of the best known lecturers on The Law of Attraction is Esther Hicks who is allegedly channeling a group of beings collectively known as “Abraham.”  While the advice given is generally sound, I do confess a certain unease at the whole channeling thing; it smacks of a scam, especially given there are books, DVDs, CDs, cruises, seminars, and so forth for sale in great abundance.  People pay lots of money for an audience with Abraham and to get a personalized reading of sorts from them in the hopes of turning their lives around.

In such a context it becomes a bit of a minefield as one searches for truly helpful affirmations and advice from all the clutter.

Abraham Hicks emotionKey to the philosophy taught is that emotions are on a sort of hierarchical scale ranked from good to bad.  These are allegedly arranged by vibration — a high vibration emotion is certain to attract what you really want in the LoA while a low vibration emotion is said to greatly hinder you in manifesting it.

In  general there is a measure of common sense to it.  Obviously if you are hateful and vindictive, you are not going to attract love.  Like attracts like.  So hate bring more hate.  This really is common sense.  It speaks to the core of the law of attraction — you reap what you sow!

But a side effect inevitably comes when you rank order your emotions:  you repress the ones that you judge wrong or inappropriate.  That is to say you still have the emotions because they are part of the human experience. They make us Sentient spiritual creatures.  There is no capacity to love if there is absolutely no capacity to hate as well; the capacity for BOTH is what defines each on both a psychological and practical level.

So to love you have to also be able to hate.  To trust, you have to be able to not trust.  To be honest, you have to possess the ability to lie.  This is also what I find troubling and unrealistic about the ways that Christians talk about God.  If God is ONLY LOVE, COMPASSION, FORGIVENESS, ETC and CANNOT experience those other things as well then is God truly a Sentient and living being and therefore objectively existing at all?  No wonder it is easy for atheists to argue that God was created by humankind and not the reverse!

And so we are brought back to this organization of emotions.  What happens to you psychologically when you tell yourself “I’m only allowed to feel THESE emotions?”  Answer:  you repress the other ones.  This in turn means you put up walls within your mind and spirit which, intentional or not, naturally grow into walls between yourself and other people.  You end up FEELING LESS.  Empathy wanes.  You lose the ability to understand and relate to other people.  This in turn makes you LESS LOVING, LESS COMPASSIONATE, LESS HAPPY.

In cutting yourself off from the emotions Abraham says are bad for you, you ultimately destroy your own humanity and the best parts of yourself. This in turn makes it easier for you to harm yourself and harm others.  It is, after all, the person who feels the least, who is cut off from her or his emotions that is most capable of destructive behavior — to self and others.

permission to walk away

And this is the danger point with Abraham and why it would be perhaps correct to label them as demons or manipulative spirits.

That is not to say that they are completely wrong.  But each assertion needs to be thought about and weighed for its value with a focus on balance.  Instead of arranging emotions from “good” to “bad” recognize that all emotions all important.

I am no longer a Christian, but I see the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Abraham would have us believe that if we experience both sides that we are harming ourselves.  In reflection I disagree.  We are only harming ourselves if we 1) repress emotions instead of embrace them or 2) focus our energy on hurtful emotions (and therefore attract more hurt to our lives).

Tulips Bouquet

There are many sources of wisdom and inspiration.  The human experience has no limit to these.  Balance comes from applying wisdom from MANY sources of inspiration — from Christianity, from Judaism, from Islam; from Wicca, from Buddhism and Daoism, from Shamanism, from Asatru, and a thousand voices from across time and space.

Embrace your humanity.  Feel your feelings.  Keep your focus on what you want and always phrase everything positively.  Look honestly at your life and think about what barriers your mind projects between the direction you choose for yourself and achieving it.  Believe and have faith and confidence in your ability to achieve and reach what you focus.  Say “I WILL” instead of “I want.”

The law of attraction is powerful. It is common sense. But even as mindfulness about it offers the potential to bring great good and joy in our lives, how we go about it also makes a difference.  For when we wall up part of our emotions in our pursuit of happiness we ultimately destroy our ability to feel, to connect, and therefore be truly happy.

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Originally posted March 27th, 2012

 

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Easter Sunday-for Christians around the world Easter is arguably the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. The message of Jesus’ act of self sacrifice by allowing himself to be crucified by the Romans as a zealous rebel to Roman authority, his preaching against the legalistic status quos of the time, and the literal or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus just days after his execution is all central to Christian belief. And yet American Christians refer to the commemorating festival associated with all of this by the name of the German goddess of spring and the dawn, Easter, also known as Ostara in High German.

Christians decorate eggs, hold sunrise services, wear new and typically pastel-colored clothing, decorate with spring flowers, and embrace Easter’s egg-laying messenger hare, all of which are part of how Germans have honored Easter/Ostara in the centuries and millennia before the Common Era. American Christians even use the German goddess’ name to refer to their holiday rather than referring to it by its proper nomer, Resurrection Sunday.

So how did this happen?

Diverse sources indicate that changes in the Church began in the 5th century Common Era (the same era as King Arthur in Britain and Bishop Patrick in England/Ireland) when Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Visigoths, and others, in search of Roman prosperity, moved south and east into Roman lands, often seizing these territories from Roman control. The same Germanic warrior culture that produced the epic poem “Beowulf” infused these lands-just as previously the Germans and Celts had sought to adopt Roman culture and values in the centuries before. As Rome collapsed under these pressures, and the social pressures created by the oppressive policies of the elite over the vast majority of residents in the empire (seehttp://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/romefallarticles/a/fallofrome_2.htm for more on the 5th century Roman Empire), the Church found itself needing to change with the times. In “Christianizing the Germans, Militarizing the Church” athttp://atheism.about.com/b/2006/11/04/christianizing-the-germans-militarizing-the-church-book-notes-fighting-for-christendom.htm, Austin Cline explains how Christian leaders were forced to convey Christianity using native German values. Jesus became “The Lord of Victories,” and a “generous mead-giver.” Heaven was described as being similar to Valhalla, and so on. These are not terms that probably any of us have heard in modern churches, but those familiar with early English and German literature are certain to recognize the flavor of these declarations. Using these descriptions, Jesus ceases to be a part of his native Jewish culture and becomes a fellow German, someone members of each German tribe on either side of the Rhine could relate to.

But the process of Christianizing hardly came overnight. The German travel guide athttp://www.germany.co.za/christianisation.html details how slow and gradual this process was. Chlodwig (Clovis) of the Franks was the first German king baptized in 498 CE; his Catholic wife, princess Chrodechildis of Burgundy is believed to be largely behind his “conversion.” Later, in the 8th century CE, Karl der Grosse (Charlemagne) used Christianity as part of his visions of a united German empire. He first conquered Bavaria and Lombardy, and then attacked the Saxons of the north. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him emperor, creating what became known was the Holy Roman Empire. Christianity was now the official religion of Karl’s empire.

In the three centuries between Chlodwig and Karl der Grosse, the Church adapted itself to native German culture, evolving and integrating German ideas and customs-just as the Church in Celtic societies needed to integrate Celtic culture. It is easy to see, in the light of this history, how the Church came to refer to its Resurrection Sunday by the name of the German goddess of spring. At first the German church, more likely than not, dovetailed Resurrection Sunday observances to the existing festivals for Ostara/Eastre celebrating spring, simply tacking on Christian elements to those services and rituals. This probably meant celebrating the festival when the Germans celebrated it-on or close to the vernal equinox. Later, as the Christian elements became more accepted, the celebration was moved to its “proper” date as required by the Council of Nicaea (325 CE): the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (seehttp://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/f/Calculate_Date.htm), until finally the old references to Eastre/Ostara as a German goddess faded from memory. The two very distinct holidays and theologies became inseparable. Today, most Christians are fully unaware that most of observances for “Easter” they practice come from a far older German religious tradition. Easter/Ostara is evoked merely as the name of the holiday-without recognition for the goddess whose name is evoked each time.

Only recently have we come to recognize how these very different religious traditions merged. Christianity assimilated the Old Religion and, in true irony, therefore preserved it. Academic honesty requires us to recognize this history of religious joining and honor every choice-Christian or Old Religion-each individual makes for her/his own life. Likewise, it is my hope that Christians will honor the role that Jewish culture played in the early Christian church and strive to understand the beauty of Jewish society-independent of religious bias. Only by respectful learning of diverse cultures and traditions may we attain true harmony, respecting all and hating none for being different.

Breaking the Religious Code of Silence in Rape, Incest, and Domestic Violence

May 16, 2012

May 10, a New York Times article reports, “Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse.” The story details the dire consequences many Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn continue to face for daring to report child molestation and abuse to secular authorities. As we have all heard reports about for the last few years with the recent controversy over Roman Catholic clerical sexual abuse, the incidents, and the religious community response to anyone daring to break the code of silence that keeps victims hidden and perpetrators un-noticed, transcends religions. Blaming the victims and protecting the abusers is not just a Roman Catholic problem, or an Orthodox Jewish one for that matter.

I know all about this from my personal life. I too grew up in a very conservative religious community. In my case, it was Evangelical, “Born-Again” Christian. I grew up hearing sermons from Jack Van Impe, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and countless others whose names I’ve forgotten across the years, all of whom would probably be considered Tea Party today for their ultra-conservatism. When I was in junior high I remember an older, teen peer being shunned in a formal church service, ex-communicated and banned from our church for pre-marital sex. With so much hidden (or not so hidden) pain of my own to go through, I did not process at the time (or perhaps could not in that religious environment) exactly what I had witnessed in seeing that shunning.

It is time our organized religions stop this conspiracy of blame and conspiracy of silence. No one makes a man or woman beat another. No one makes someone rape anyone. Responsibility for these terrible things lies on the person who does them. Surviving doesn’t make you dirty or sinful or evil or corrupt or anti your religion. When you suffer this, you are NOT to blame, no matter what someone says. Churches, synagogues, temples, religious communities of every theology and structure all need to stop this behavior. No matter how many weapons a perpetrator has or how powerful s/he is physically, not one abuser can continue without the silent consent of the group. When the group stands against these horrible things, the violence STOPS.

Violence is not the victim’s problem; it is everyone’s problem. We are all diminished every time a person is verbally demeaned, every time someone is forced into a non-consensual sexual act, every time someone is physically assaulted. Responsibility lies with all of us. If we do nothing to help the person in jeopardy, if we ignore the screams, if we turn away instead of intervening, then we have only empowered those doing these things.

Major and Minor Tools in Wicca

Wiccan altar with candles, chalice, cauldron (bowl), wand, and athame

Wiccan altar with candles, chalice, cauldron (bowl), wand, and athame

When most people hear the word “Wicca” or “witch” stereotyped images typically come to mind. Whether it’s a green skinned hag with warts or a beautiful seductress using magic to overcome the will of others, few people unfamiliar with Wicca/Paganism have clear and accurate images of who these people are and what they believe. Central to these stereotypes are tools used by Wiccans in their practice. Whether it’s a cauldron, a magic wand, a cup, or a dagger, outside of “the Craft” and often even inside it, the primary and secondary tools used by the majority of Wiccans remains poorly understood. Here’s a quick primer on some of the most common tools:

Athame: a dull-edged knife or dagger (typically more dull than your typical letter opener), often with an ornamental hilt, athames cut only air and spiritual energies. They are used to define and sanctify a space for worship and release the area back to its normal use after. Hence there is a “calling” and “dismissing” of spiritual energies with the athame. Unlike the wand whose job is to invite energies, the athame is used primarily to repel unwanted energies and spiritual entities. In other words, it serves a protective function, cleansing the defined inner space and warding against everything outside the defined boundaries so that only positive energy can enter and negative energy is kept away. Masculine, yang force tool.

Wand: typically made of wood or crystal, wands also define worship spaces, but differently than athames. While athames repel unwanted energies and spiritual beings, wands invite desirable energies into the worship space. For that reason, many rituals begin by “casting the quarters” first with an athame, then with the wand to first repel what a person or group does not want, then invite what the person/group welcomes. The type of material a person uses for a wand affects the direction of the invitation (see http://www.gildedquill.net/GQWands.htm for several wands with their associated wood meanings and uses). Masculine, yang force tool.

Cauldron: a bowl or cooking pot, often made of cast iron with tripod feet, the cauldron originates as the primary household cook pot used to prepare meals. As such, cauldrons tend to retain their traditional associations with foods and food stuffs. Sometimes used as a brazier for burning incense, candles, or herbs, the primary focus of most cauldrons remain on food, hearth, and home. Symbolically the cauldron represents female, yin force energy as the cauldron closely resembles a woman’s womb in appearance. Regular, modern cook pots can be used as cauldrons, particular in kitchen witchcraft.

Chalice (cup): probably the most universal religious tool, the chalice’s ritual use transcends time, space, culture, and religion. Intuitively, the chalice’s first and primary function is that of a drinking vessel, holding the milk, juice, water, or wine called for in religious ceremonies. As such, it is the most versatile. A female, yin force symbol, the chalice resembles the female reproductive track in appearance and therefore is the most feminine of the tools used in Wicca.

Candles: from small chime candles to thick column candles, the variety of candles individuals may use is limitless. Usually the type of candle used is decided by functional needs and the color(s) is decided by spiritual or symbolic considerations. For example, green candles may represent balance, harmony, money, wealth, or nature. Pink candles are often associated with love-both romantic and non-romantic. Purple candles tend to have spiritual connotations-and so forth.

Candle snuffer: a safety tool, candle snuffers may be large or small, silver, brass, copper, or another preferred metal. Their function is implicit: to extinguish candle, incense, and other small fires by depriving the flame of oxygen.

Incense: whether in powder, cone, or stick formats, incense is a blend of herbs and/or resins that are burned for the aromatic and/or spiritual properties. Used broadly across numerous world religions, Wiccans often interpret the smoke of incense as symbolic of air (element).

Boline: a sharp ritual knife or dagger typically used to cut plant materials such as fruit, vegetables, prepared foods, and/ or plant stalks. Unlike the athame whose purpose is purely symbolic and spiritual, the boline is a practical object, a cutting implement used in sacrificing plants or simply to facilitate the serving of ritual foods such as a loaf of bread or a pomegranate.

Essential oils: part of the herbalism aspect of Wicca, essential oils are concentrated oils derived from plants and resins used for their spiritual and aromatic properties. Most oils need to be blended with a carrier oil such as almond or olive oil before they can be applied to the skin for healing. Oils can also be mixed with water and sprayed in a spray bottle or sprinkled into an area for a spiritual or physical impact. For example, lavender oil mixed with water and sprinkled onto a pillow or bedding is a well-known remedy for sleep disorders. Spiritually lavender is known for its protective qualities (see http://www.religions-and-spiritualities-guide.com/herbs-magics.html).

Herbs: important to kitchen witchcraft and its focus on herbal healing, herbs/spices are more than just flavorful for your ordinary cooking. Herbs have both physical and spiritual impacts, promoting health and healing on all levels of the person when used mindfully. The number of resources on herbs and herbal healing are too numerous to list, but one nice one for beginners is athttp://www.linsdomain.com/herbs.htm. My favorite source for herbs and herbal teas is athttp://www.13moons.com/.

Mortar and Pestle: used to grind whole herbs into a powdered form and mix herbs together, mortar and pestles are important tools for making herbal teas and combining spices for cooking. An essential tool in kitchen witchcraft.

Bells: used in numerous religious traditions, bells can serve many different functions. They can define spaces using sound. They can signal the start of worship. They can represent the element of air. They can also be used purely for their musical tones. The uses are almost endless according to individual preferences and outlook.

Besoms: also called “brooms” or “broomsticks,” ritual besoms are probably the most stereotyped of the tools used in Wicca. Contrary to stereotype, besoms are not used to mix toxic brews or for riding on at night, but are used to sweep away unwanted negative energies and form protective spaces. Many Wiccans keep their besoms in places of honor-above chimneys, doorways, or other entry-points of energies. They are literally used to sweep an area-but not free of loose floor debris like their non-religious counterparts. Instead a besom sweeps spiritual energies. They are typically round and may be of any number of sizes or compositions.

The tools of Wicca are often the same tools used in other religious traditions, just used for different specifics. They are highly individual in design and function. Yet together they help individuals and religious groups shape religious and spiritual experiences.

For more information on Wicca and its tools, please consult:http://www.tylwythteg.com/wheel.htmlhttp://www.willowgrovemagick.com/wiccan-ritual-tools-athames-and-swords.aspxhttp://www.gildedquill.net/GQWands.htmhttp://www.religions-and-spiritualities-guide.com/herbs-magics.htmlhttp://wicca.com/celtic/bri/cndlcolor.htm,http://voices.yahoo.com/wiccan-ritual-tools-besom-2031629.html?cat=34

From Orthodox to Reform: an Introduction to American Judaism

Changing gears, here is a post exploring Judaism in America.

 

From Orthodox to Reform: an Introduction to American Judaism

Exploring the Basics of Judaism in the United States

 September 6th, 2013
Growing up in Nebraska I knew almost nothing about Jewish cultures — even after taking a full year of Hebrew/Jewish history as part of my history major at the University of Nebraska. It took a 2005 move to Midwood, Brooklyn and a concerted effort on my part to discover and appreciate the enormous diversity in Jewish life, diversity most gentiles never explore. In the news, all Jews (ethnic and/or religious) are portrayed as the same. But in fact, there is at least as much diversity in Jewish life as there is Christian life, if not more so. There are Jews who live by very strict guidelines set by their denominations and Jews whose religious lives (or lack thereof) have absolutely no correlation with their heritage — and everything in between.To further enhance my understanding of my neighbors, I took time out in 2010 to regularly attend services at Temple Beth Emeth located only a few blocks away from the Church Avenue Station on the Brighton line (B/Q trains). Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • Dietary rules vary greatly across Jewish denominations. The secular Jews I know usually eat no different than others in mixed Jewish/gentile groups. At Beth Emeth, the Reform Jews I met ranged across the dietary gambit from absolutely strict kosher to non-kosher. By contrast, the most orthodox and conservative congregations tend to practice a kosher diet.
  • Gender segregation, while common in orthodox congregations, is not practiced in reform congregations. At this time, I have not located definitive information one way or another concerning segregation or a lack of segregation among conservative congregations.
  • While there are certain cultural and core theological ideas across the gambit of Jewish congregations, how these ideas manifest greatly depends on both the denomination of Judaismand the specifics of an individual congregation.

 

Jewish Congregations tend to fall in one of three categories: orthodox and ultra-orthodox sit at the most traditional end of the spectrum. In the middle are conservative congregations that retain many of the ideas and practices of the orthodox, but not all of them. At the most liberal end of the spectrum are reform congregations like Beth Emeth. The European equivalent of “reform” Judaism is called “progressive.”

 

Not surprisingly, conservative and reform Judaism are both more popular in the United States than orthodox.

 

In day to day life, these differences can be dramatic. In orthodox Judaism, the rules for living can be very exacting and detailed, especially during shabbat or during a particular holiday like Yom Kipper. So as you might expect with anyone whose life experience centers on interacting with people of the same cultural and religious background, I noticed it was difficult for my orthodox neighbors to understand why I would, for example, go off to catch the train on a Saturday — or even take the train to go to Temple.In reform congregations, there is no problem with driving or taking public transportation during shabbat. So no one blinked an eye when I took the B train to get to services. Under orthodox Judaism, it is not allowed to travel by train or bus during shabbat; orthodox Jews tend to walk to services.

These sorts of rules are probably one of many reasons why American Jews often prefer conservative and reform temples.

Fortunately there is a lot more to Jewish life an culture than just rules and theology. In my five years in Brooklyn, I discovered the many beauties of this culture — along with delicious cuisine that all gentiles should really give a try to.

For some reason, Jewish culture and Judaism remain mysterious among gentiles. I would like to suggest to you that it is time for that to change. Regardless your opinion about the particulars of one denomination of Judaism or another, the wonderful truth is that Jewish culture is beautiful and precious, its food delicious, and its holidays of value to all cultures around the world. As we enter the high holiday days that fill September, I wish you peace, joy, and enlightenment.

Shalom! May you have peace.
Learn more about Judaism at:

http://www.world-religions-professor.com/orthodox-jews.html
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/conservatives.html
http://www.policymic.com/articles/41113/israel-orthodox-laws-why-is-israel-moving-away-from-them
https://sites.google.com/a/bethemeth.net/templesite/
http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm
http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/2001/06/What-Orthodox-Jews-Believe.aspx