A Feather in Your Cap

World Religions
I’m taking courses in both world religion and mission this semester and as a result I have been thinking a good deal about how we best meet culture and faith. How do we effectively communicate respect of an individual for who they are as an individual as well as an individual as part of a culture as we meet them from our own position of self, in faith, and culture?

In reading this article (http://huff.to/11T4YBD) I found myself pondering the subject once again…yet this time from a slightly different angle…You see of late I have been more focused on thinking about meeting culture in “going to” and less so on the concept of “inviting in” unique cultural practices my own backyard. It seems easier for me to think about discussing witchcraft practices of an indigenous Ghanian church than it is to think about a fellow congregant seeking to incorporate smudging into our own typical Sunday worship. (I know – smug of me). Nevertheless I am thinking about it … how can we be sensitive to individual cultural practices or norms that people bring into a setting where the majority are settled within the comfort of their own cultural norms? I contend that sometimes we need some shaking up (to challenge our “ways of being” realizing what is core to our beliefs and what is superfluous). But at the same time, I am probably more comfortable causing change than accepting it.

That is all background for the article at hand which highlights, Chelsey Ramer (a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians) who was fined $1000 by her Alabama High School because she wore an eagle’s feather (of spiritual and cultural significance) on her graduation cap. Interestingly, Chelsey, knowing the feather might breach the graduation ceremony contract rules regarding wearing “extraneous items unless approved by the administration”, sought permission to wear it. She was denied. Given her strong convictions, however, she decided to wear it anyway. Now she owes the school $1000 and has yet to have received her diploma.

The article led me to ponder how my way of being may inadvertently (or overtly) deny someone their sense of authentic self, or freedom to their own cultural expression or identity. How can I more effectively “meet others” in their culture honoring them without breaching (or feeling I am compromising) the core tenets of my beliefs and convictions as a Christian? Where IS the line between being sensitive and being compromising? In this way, what does it REALLY mean to “meet culture” with faith?

What seems clear to me from this example is that meeting culture is not done by having a blanket rule (such was the case in this contract stating “no extraneous items”). Clearly the school’s policy was intended to establish some sense of order (perhaps seeking to eliminate the risk of students being goofy). Like in church, however, if our posture and policies suggests “nothing extraneous is accepted here” we might miss the point and we might hurt someone (unnecessarily) in the process. While I am in no way suggesting compromising tenets of our own faith in the name of sensitivity, I AM suggesting that we needn’t, like the school, be so fearful of the extraneous so as to come up with contracts that deny people from being themselves. Perhaps understanding the need (or felt need) for the “extraneous” we may both see the issue with greater clarity…In the end I am led to wonder how many people have been turned away from my own church because of our posture against the “extraneous” and also….who among current congregants may be hiding such a “feather” wishing it could be exposed. I sense its time to start paying more attention.

Tweet: Denied her diploma and fined $1000. Why? For wearing an eagle’s feather in her cap. Read it here: huff.to/11T4YBD

Afro_Cuban Religion

World Religions
Throughout the developing world, and arguably in portions of the developed world, there is a tension between religious organizations and tourism. On the one hand, many religious organizations desires a legitimate opportunity to present their faith and traditions to those interested. On the other side are the governmental bodies seeking to draw tourist dollars by creating a cultural spectacle (See http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=11&int_new=62842#.UcZtlBbfzVu)

In Cuba, this balance is being negotiated right now between their federal government and the Santería religion. In recent years, as the country started opening up to a wider range of tourism, the government started promoting Santería as a Cuban cultural and religious tradition, giving it official status through the creation of the “Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba” (Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba).

At first glance, this appears a positive, as the religion was given official status and a platform to speak. However, not all were positive, especially with the inclusion of the word ‘cultural’ in their organization’s title. The government’s move has increased tensions within their own group, and between the government and other religious groups.

Adrian Hearn, in his book Cuba: Religion, Social Capital, and Development (2008), outlines some of the impact on several levels. On an artistic level, many new works were produced, and the general art forms from the Santeria tradition came to the tourist eye. Their traditions were also on display, with tourist shows and presentations that walked through their worship practices – including some sacred rites involving animal sacrifice.

Hearn continues to outline the negative side, viewed from those inside Santeria’s religious leadership. There is a split there, with many saying this is watering down their religion, making them a simple tourist side-show with sensational experiences for hire. Others say that this is an amazing opportunity to grow their impact and teach the world about their faith. Both sides argue about the finances.

From personal discussions during a trip in May of 2013, this author heard that the emphasis that the Cuban government has put on Santeria has caused many who are not involved in the religion to resent both the practitioners and the government. They said that it was distorting tourist’s views of Cuban realities and cultural traditions, giving a single viewpoint that does not reflect a significant portion of the population.

The tension, between finances and faith, is not unique to Cuba. Many governments exploit indigenous religious and cultural practices in search of the tourist dollar. So, the question then becomes, “Is it possible to properly balance faith and tourism.


Tensions Triggered by Gay Rights Question Threaten Interfaith Coalition

World Religions
“Coalition to Protect Religious Liberties Fractured By Differences on Gay Rights” (http://huff.to/1bed7Ax) describes the friction that arose in an interfaith gathering of religious leaders when the issue of gay rights popped up unexpectedly. Mostly this article is written with a focus on the growing pressure issues of homosexuality are causing for various faith communities.

But it got me thinking about the challenge this gathering faced from a slightly different perspective. Instead of directly addressing the actual issue of homosexuality I find myself wondering if it might be more of a ‘presenting problem’ (significant as it may be in and of itself).

By definition, the purpose of this second annual National Religious Freedom Conference was to address a growing concern “that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom” (http://huff.to/1bed7Ax) in the U.S. All could agree on the importance of ensuring religious freedom in the U.S. and, for a time at least, having this desire in common was enough to keep the coalition together.

But the triggering issue of homosexual rights brought the reality of their differences in belief to the fore. Gay rights may have been one problem but they weren’t really the problem – different views on what is true and righteous were the real problem. Which is why I believe it could have been any of a number of presenting issues that created the friction. Had issues like beliefs around marriage, divorce or gender equality and rights arisen the impact likely would have been the same.

One is left wondering if this coalition is the best way to address the issue. Can people with diverse understandings of what is true really work together to effectively preserve religious freedom?

In his book Truth and Tolerance Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that, as people of faith, we each live with a “double cultural identity” – our faith cultural identity (in my case Christian) and our historical cultural identity (in my case Canadian). He argues that these two “will never be in complete synthesis.” There will come points at which they clash and when this occurs we are forced to choose which will be ultimate.

Perhaps this is really what happened at this conference. I suspect that the participants shared the idea of religious freedom as an American historical cultural value but when the question of gay rights arose the reality of the differences in their faith cultural values became obvious. For some the question quickly became, “Which will prevail, the faith cultural value of what I believe is true and right or the historical cultural value of religious freedom which drew the coalition together to begin with?” The significance of this choice should not be underestimated for the very future of this coalition and the work they are doing could be determined by how participants answer it.

At the same time though, I think there maybe a deeper question that is worth pondering. Truth and freedom … are they really competing goods? Or is that a deception espoused in our historical culture? Christ promises that the two are inextricably linked (John 8:32) and so, as followers of Jesus facing these challenges and opportunities we are wise to ask if any freedom can really be achieved if we must compromise our belief in what is true to achieve it?

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2004.

Tensions Triggered by Gay Rights Question Threaten Interfaith Coalition http://huff.to/1bed7Ax


Beyond tolerance: re-evaluating religious diversity

World Religions
We live in a world that is more connected than it ever has been. From the speed and ease of air travel to tweets that make uncovered news accessible. Cultures, ideas, and goods are traded throughout the world. As we interact with and learn more about each other, the religious diversity of the global village also becomes apparent.

For a long time it has generally been thought that the global trend would be towards more secular society. The advancement of technology and scientific explanations would make religious beliefs unnecessary and the pursuit of growth and development would make economics the common framework. In addition, within a cosmopolitan society religion would become more muted to uphold tolerance and peace.

In some ways there have been shifts in these directions, however, this article (http://aje.me/YK01rP) argues that religion still has a dominant role in personal values, political activities and global affairs as a whole. And indeed, the approach to religious diversity that has been employed over the last few decades is flawed – a significant shift is needed to move successfully forward as a global community.

Religion provides the principle framework through which the majority of people in the world develop their values, norms, guidance, and identity. In this way, it also serves as a major identifier across people groups from various countries and ethnicities. In a multi-cultural, multi-national, diverse world, religious affiliation forms the largest common collection of people.

It is therefore critical that healthy discourse and mutual understanding between religions is fostered to build an effective and cooperative global community. Especially since religious beliefs extend influence far from personal convictions; they impact family life, civic society, and have implications in human rights issues, socioeconomic issues, and political action.

If religion has such a powerful influence on the world, and it doesn’t appear to be abandoned in the modern world, then we cannot afford to ignore it. One only has to read the articles on this blog site to appreciate the myriad ways religion impacts society.

Most people agree that religion is an important aspect of global affairs, however, this article suggests that the treatment of religious diversity has been damaging for the global community as a whole. A focus on the differences and foreignness of others’ beliefs has led to divisiveness where all sides are battling to assert claims to truth and disregard to other beliefs.

If we re-examine the way we view religious differences, can we find a new view that celebrates the common ground of shared spiritual value? Can the global community come to a place that incorporates religious diversity while navigating the fields of homogenization/domination on one side and dissension/division on the other given that most religions claim a single path to truth?

Tweet: “Beyond tolerance: re-evaluating religious diversity http://aje.me/YK01rP #worldrels”



World Religions
Persecution can happen anywhere. Religious persecution, it seems, happens almost everywhere. Whether we like it or not, the conflict that stems from such religious disputes puts the issue of religious persecution on the world stage, and we must take notice. The report, Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, draws attention to a religious dispute that for once–at face value–doesn’t appear to involve Christians. It might even come as a relief to some that Christians and Jews aren’t the only ones caught up in conflict with Islam, but is this the right kind of attitude to have?

First, it is important to have a fair understanding of the nature of such conflicts. The concept of jihad, or holy war, is often misunderstood. Many contemporary Western writers downplay “Islam’s military achievements and deny the importance of concepts like jihad as core Muslim values” (Hexham, Loc. 8564).

Instead, it is often described as “a spiritual struggle” (Hexham, Loc. 9137). This interpretation misses a fundamental Muslim belief that jihad involves a firm belief in social reform; that governments and principalities that don’t recognize the sovereignty of Allah must be set straight.

Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi writes, “If people are free to commit adultery, no amount of sermons will stop them. But if governments forbid adultery, people will find it easier to give up this evil practice … So, I say to you: if you really want to root out corruption now so widespread on God’s earth, stand up and fight against corrupt rule, take power and use it on God’s behalf” (Hexham, Loc. 9097).

Viewed through this lens, jihad can be viewed by Muslims as a religious duty for the sanctification of the world. It can even be viewed as an act of grace.

Of course, there are problems with this kind of thinking. Christianity has attempted these methods for proselytization. And the overwhelming majority can agree that this does not work.

Christ called his followers “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14). He taught us to preserve and to illuminate. He says, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (v. 16). Faithful witness involves the demonstration of goodness, not a campaign for conquest.

With regard to the issue of the religious persecution of Hindus. What would it mean for the world if Christians, not only back off from picking fights with other religions, but take a stance that opposes religious persecution of all kinds? Christ teaches, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (vv. 43-45).

And ultimately, this is what He did on the cross. Christ loved his enemies to the point of death. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

This is the example we have to follow. We cannot sit on the sidelines. Nor can we add to the destruction. But we must be involved.

Hexham, Irving. Understanding world religions: an interdisciplinary approach. Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2011

Report draws attention to hate crimes committed against Hindus. http://wwrn.org/articles/39944/ #uwreligions


Islamophobia is not helpful

World Religions
The recent BBC2’s Newsnight with Anjem Choudary, who is a radical Muslim religious leader, made some British views angry. (http://bit.ly/1af2L2A) Choudary’s attitude toward the recent tragedy that a British solider is slayed by two Muslim young man in the street enraged the audience. They thought it is not proper for BBC to put those radical voices on the screen. While other voices don’t agree with such an opinion. They believe it is fine to put them on the screen and it is helpful for people to see how radical those religious leaders like Choudary are.

Choudary is a controversy figure. He did praised the terrorist attack of September 11st in 2001. He also believed in the implement of Sharia law in UK, which means the religious law and moral code of Islamic should be the law throughout UK. It is interesting that people tend to believe that Choudary is a radical Islamic leader, which means there is a mild side of Islamic belief.

I believe this is true. However, the belief of the existence of this mild wing of Islamic belief is not based on our real knowledge of Islam, but on an assumption and a lot of misunderstandings.

Islamic belief itself, is a radical one. Muslims are “commanded to establish justice on earth and establish the Word of God on earth without doubtful intentions.” (Hexham P.427) Unlike Christians, who believe this is achieved through community building and character building for each individual, Muslims believe it is right to achieve this through power and force. This includes using war as a method or using political power of a nation to enforce correct moral. For them, to be moral is not a choice but a demand. In this sense, Choudary’s belief in the implement Islamic law in UK is not on the radical side of Islamic at all.

It is also rightful, if we implement the Islamic understanding of peace and war on the issue of 9-11. Islam is a religion of peace “because the imposition of Islamic rule brings areas under Muslim control to peace and order” (Hexham P.437). And this peace is the will of God. As a result, the areas remaining free from control by Muslim are viewed as the “realm of war” (Hexham P.438). Could this help to understand the radical attack of 9-11 and the recent case of slaying British soldier in the street? The answer should be yes.

The western world has an emotion what we call Islamophobia. This fear causes two possible responses. 1) Anti-Muslim and 2) try to believe the mainstream Islamic is peaceful from the western point of view. Both responses are not helpful at all.

We need to face the reality that Islamic has a tradition of using sword as a tool for conversation. It is impossible to ignore the reality that the radical teachings like those of Choudary and the terrorism has the theological root in Islam tradition.

Yet I believe most Muslims are people who are searching peaceful life. The radical side of Islamic doesn’t make sense to them. The reason they buy into those extreme is a social problem rather than religious problem. Anti-Muslim will enforce the extremism. However, the anti-Islamic opinion will be interpret as anti-Muslim by the Muslim community. The expose of those voices like that of Choudary is helpful for those non-extream Muslims think and response. It is the Muslim’s responsibility to deal with the radical side of Islam and convert it to a religion that could co-exist with others. To expose those radical voices is helpful for them to develop their theology.

As a Christian, we claim we know God is Merciful and love. We claim the intimacy relationship we could enjoy with God through his son Jesus Christ. It is not about becoming apologist, but about our character. Could we live out the Mercy and love toward our enemy? The immigration of Muslim into Europe maybe is a good challenge for the Christian community. Now, those who we fears is living among us. Could they see a living witness of God, which they never learn from the teaching from their belief, from those Christians? In this sense, I fully believe that Islamophobia is not helpful at all.


Twitter posting:
Islam-phobia is not helpful for antagonism between Western and Muslim world.

Sunni, Shia & Syria: The Threat of International Religious War Between Muslim Sects

World Religions
The Syrian conflict is sometimes seen by those in the West as simply the overthrow of a violent dictator. However, underlying the political battle is a centuries-old conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims which is continuing to intensify in the war-torn country. The divide between the sects threatens to explode into an all-out religious war, with Syria as a central battlefield.
Al-Assad, the political leader of Syria, is part of the Alawite sect, which is Shia; the rebels, and the majority of Muslims worldwide, is Sunni. Recently, an influential Muslim cleric named Yusaf al Qaradawi called on Sunni Muslims worldwide to join the fight against al-Assad, calling his sect a group of infidels worse than Christians and Jews. Leaders of Hezbollah, meanwhile, have joined al-Assad’s forces and are using strong rhetoric to incite Shia groups to join the fray.
A key moment in this escalating conflict was the detonation of a car bomb near a Shia shrine in Damascus which killed 17 people, including pilgrims. This attack has prompted Shia Muslims from Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations to travel to Syria. Many are trying to join a group of 10,000 fighters called Abu Fadl al-Abbas, whose mission is to protect Shia holy sites in the midst of the Syrian conflict. However, when arriving, they are told that they must join al-Assad’s army and protect Syria, not just the shrines. They endure difficult training in Iran, and then are sent to join the army.
The rhetoric between Sunni and Shia Muslims is frightening, with Qaradawi saying to his fellow Sunnis that it is the duty of everyone who has training to kill has the duty to go.
The international community may desire peace in the region, but this will be hard to find in the midst of this theocratic war. Both sides are guilty of atrocities and terrorism, and the hatred between them runs deep. Overthrowing al-Assad may seem like a good thing, but what kind of sectarian violence will it leave behind? How will this affect other Muslim nations? How will the balance of religious and political power shift in the Middle East as a result? The problem is much deeper than the overthrow of a dictator. There is a divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims that crosses international borders, and throwing support behind one side or the other has the potential to cause incalculable problems in the region, pitting nations with Sunni or Shia majorities against one another.
Watching this conflict from a distance since it began, I wondered why the international community hesitated to get involved in the overthrow of al-Assad, who was obviously committing heinous crimes against his own people and violating human rights by killing protestors. I now see that their hesitance to join the fray was warranted. The unfortunate thing is that by doing nothing but talk while the violence continues, many innocent civilians and children are caught in the crossfire. Many people will die. The violence is not likely to stop, because the religious divide between Muslim sects runs much deeper than any political partisanship ever could. When the doctrine of jihad is added to the mix, with both sides using it as a call to holy war, it’s a toxic recipe.
I am a pacifist, by my pacifist philosophy doesn’t know what to do with this one.
May there be peace on earth.

Tweet; Sunni, Shia & Syria: religion and politics mix in dangerous sectarian violence #uwreligions http://bit.ly/10OfZmi http://bit.ly/11JhEoR


Prioritize Belief

World Religions
I found a very interesting article regarding variations of belief among Muslims (http://bit.ly/10euOhK). One of the reasons the article is so interesting to me is because this article is different from other similar articles I have read as this one is written by a Muslim. I confess that I don’t know much about Islam, so don’t really understand the thinking logic of Muslim. Thanks to the current course I take this semester which allow me to solidly touch and have a glimpse of it. The aim of the article I read this time seems to redresses the misunderstanding on Muslim from the “outside world”.

As we always mention that all religions around the world have their characteristics according to their local cultural traditions and specificities. Every believer, similarly, also has his own understanding and interpretation to his belief. Muslims, as we understood, are keen to their doctrines and living standards. However, the author explained that the actual picture of Muslims is difference from what we usually think. Therefore it is so importance to study its history (Hexham, p. 407). Apart from learning the differences between Muslim communities and sects (Hexham, pp. 410-417), it is impressed and funny to me that the author in the article explained that ‘I have female relatives my age who cover their heads, others who wear mini-skirts, some who are university professors or run businesses, others who choose rarely to leave their homes. I suspect if you were to ask them their religion, all would say “Islam”.’ It is new to me that he also expressed that there are also different points of views upon issues of politics and human rights.

The article refresh some vocabularies that I learned, for example Islamophobia and xenophobic. On behalf of Muslims, the author seems tired of being misunderstood and isolated by non-Muslims world. I am sorry about that but it is true. I think the majority of Muslims are pacifists, however, I believe that the activities of some aggressive Muslim groups put other Muslims into the current situations. It is also sad that some of them even fight against each other to death only because of their different interpretation of their faith.

All of us live in an environment with various components such as our religious belief, job, study, family. The attitude of our living is highly depend on how we prioritize all those components. If one put religion at the top then his way of living will definitely be built up according to the doctrines he belief. On the other hand, a free-style of living will be seen if someone ranks his belief at a lower position. It is easily seen also in church. I think this is what I learn from reading this article. May the Lord help us to rank Him at the first place in our lives.


Hexham, Irving. Understanding world religions: an interdisciplinary approach. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2011