Religion and Politics


The two things some of us were taught never to discuss in social situations.  Reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, simply reaffirms why those who wrote the United States Constitution insisted on separating religion and politics.  Mixing the two leads to tyranny, war, misunderstanding, and a host of other ills. When did this mixture start?  Prehistory or at least the early recorded history.

Constantine, the Roman emperor,  converted for political purposes.  The Persians tolerated a wide variety of religions until it was no longer politically expedient; then they decided to persecute Christians and declare Zoastrianism as official.  When the barbarian hoards from the steppes started to overrun both the Roman and Persian Empires, they decided to cooperate–a huge change–and actually built a wall between the Black and Caspian Seas to stop the uncivilized.  Roman soldiers guarded the wall.  This helped Rome little, however, because the Visigoths sacked Rome.  The barbarians won.

And then there was Constantine’s Counsel of Nicea, held in 410, 420, 424.  The “eastern” bishops were not invited.  Therefore, the results applied only to what later became known as Roman Catholicism. Infighting among bishops, arguments over who was right and wrong continued, and on and on.  Eastern bishops saw the western teachings as heresy. The arguments mainly centered on the divinity, or lack thereof, of Jesus.

The western church focused on rooting out unofficial religious views, while the east focused on missionary activity.  The king of Yemen even became a Christian. Rulers converted, shifted allegiances, persecuted or tolerated, according to political expediency.

Little seems to have changed in 1500 years.

 

Meeting Phrike: Feminist Theology and the Experience of Horror by Jill Hammer


Today, I planned to write my own blog post this evening after work. Just before I read this post, I mulled over topics, whether I wanted to share a recipe or write about so many disturbing as well as inspiring events I experienced or watched in the past week. Then today a student in one of my classes loudly questioned whether the Holocaust even occurred. This was followed by another student announcing that Jews are not people. As I read through my emails, this blog post appeared. It seemed especially telling given that experience. I refuse to tolerate comments that denigrate the religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference of anyone.

Myself, I saw the numb pools amidst the shadows; myself, the wan gods and night in very truth.  My frozen blood stood still and clogged my veins.  Forth leaped a savage cohort… Then grim Erinys (Vengeance) shrieked, and blind Furor (Fury), and Horror (Phrike), and all the forms which spawn and lurk amidst the eternal shades.

Seneca, Oedipus (trans. Frank Justus Miller)

Horror is not a cognitive but a physiological or affective extra-discursive state of being. Not unlike the state of, say, feeling nausea, horror is a state of being, whose manifestation, based on the etymologies of the Greek φρiκη [phrike] and the Latin horror, may be described, as Adriana Cavarero writes, as “a state of paralysis, reinforced by the feeling of growing stiff on the part of someone who is freezing,” and further, through her mythological reference to the prototypical figure of horror, Medusa, as a state of “petrification”…

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The Chandravati Ramayana: A Story of Two Women by Vibha Shetiya


Although I do write many original blog posts, many times I see something that I think needs to be shared with others, something new, enlightening. This post tells a story I had not previously heard, an important story.

vibpicAlthough “the” Ramayana is a fluid narrative, scholarship has traditionally recognized the Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayana as the most authoritative of Ramayanas. But recent studies have brought to light the hundreds of regional stories of Rama and Sita which are more popular with the masses. These would include Krittibasa’s Ramayana in Bengal, Kamban’s Tamil Iramavataram in South India, notably in the state of Tamil Nadu, Tulsidas’s Ramcharitamanas among the Hindi-speaking belt of northern India, and so on. But even here, a pattern seems to emerge; all the above-mentioned authors are male. Within this scenario, a rather unique text stands out, and that is Chandravati’s sixteenth century Bengali Ramayana, for its author was a woman. Even more fascinating is the double-toned nature of the narrative – through Chandravati’s own voice and through the voice of its tragic heroine, Sita.

Chandravati (ca.1550-1600) was born in a village in eastern Bengal, today in…

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The Fringe is Our Stronghold by Oxana Poberejnaia


Women and historically other oppressed persons will often create their own spiritual traditions to stay sane, feel valued, survive.

oxanaRecently I have come across several stories of women’s fringe spiritual movements or practices. This made me think about the role of outsiders’ or minority views in religions and society.

Patriarchy pushes women and their issues to the margins of society and religion. It seems that there women sometimes invent their own spiritual practices. These allow women to stand their own ground in religious matters, to preserve self-respect and to keep the hope of the highest spiritual attainment.

Quite often these beliefs and practices seem shocking in their bizarreness and their stubbornness not to accept orthodox norms.

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Naked and Unafraid: Mahasveta Devi (1926-2016)


A powerful story of the power of woman and in this case of “right”.

03devi-obit-master768 Photo credit: The New York Times

Mahasveta Devi died last month at the age of 90 in Kolkata, India. A widely acclaimed Bengali writer, she identified as an activist first, clearly evident in her meticulously researched “fiction.” Most of her stories champion the cause of those living on the margins of society, particularly the Adivasis or original inhabitants of India; poor, unemployed and itinerant, they traditionally subsisted off the land, and continue to struggle against exploitative upper caste landowners.

I cannot claim to be an expert on Devi or her activism, but there is a story I read a few years ago, which never fails to haunt me, whether because of the rawness with which she describes the harsh reality faced by tribal people or because of what can be seen as the violent but ultimate triumph of its female protagonist, I cannot tell. Perhaps because of both, or because…

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“All Children Are Our Children” by Carol P. Christ


This is a rather long read the gist of which is this: what if “we were taught to love and nurture and be generous to others” and these were the primary values in the world rather than the current values. “What if we were taught to open our hearts to the world? Would domination, violence, and war be possible?”

Carol P. Christ by Michael Bakas high resoultion“All children are our children.” As I was posting my recent blog about the shooting of black men by the police, these words came into my mind with the force of revelation. At the time I was looking at a photograph of Philando Castile, taken at his place of work. Yes, I thought, my heart opening: “he is my child too.” This widening of the heart is at the center of the maternal values of ancient and contemporary matriarchal cultures around the world. It is a feeling some of us who were mothered well enough or who mothered children—including children not our own—carry within us. Is this the healing balm our world needs today?

Maternal  values?  So many of us turn up our noses at such a “gendered” term. Perhaps we were not mothered enough in our families of origin. Perhaps we still feel un-mothered. Perhaps we don’t want…

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Ethiopian Journey–Ancient Churches of Lalibela


In the 12th century the king of Ethiopia decided to build a New Jerusalem.  Eleven churches were carved out of solid rock on the mountain top in the village of Lalibela.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, these churches remain intact and in use.

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They were all carved from the rock top of the mountain down into the earth so that they remain invisible unless the person is only a few feet away.  This protected them from the vision of potential invaders, usually Muslims from what is now Sudan.  The above is probably the most photographed of these churches and stands separate from the others.

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My friend is standing near where the stairs lead down to the bottom where visitors and worshippers can enter the church.  Visiting all these churches in one day is not an activity for the faint of heart or for one terrified of heights.

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This is the first church we visited.  It still mystifies many as to how such incredibly intricate structures could me carved by hand out of solid stone.  Even these columns are carved out of the rock.  The “official” Ethiopian Orthodox Christian story relates how angels helped the builders.

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This and most of the other churches are connected by “waterways” where in the rainy season a sophisticated system of drainage keeps all of them from flooding and makes it possible for visitors and worshippers to walk along from church to church.

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Everything in the Christian churches in Ethiopia  symbolizes something related back to Jerusalem and the Bible.  Even though the guide explained it all in detail, keeping up with all the symbolism proved a daunting task.  Notice the swastikas.  They are ancient symbols of the eternal circle of life and death.  Hitler turned them backwards and into a totally different meaning.  There are also many different styles of crosses there, two of which can be seen in the windows of this church.

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This is a fertility pool.  In the past a priest got in the water–it is very deep–with a woman who could not conceive and bless her in the water.  At one point when it began to fill too much, they cleaned out the bottom and found many treasures buried there, apparently dumped into the pool to protect them from enemy invaders.

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The inside of the churches are intricately carved and sometimes painted.

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Two types of basalt exist on this mountain, soft and hard.  Churches carved out of the soft basalt have begun to deteriorate and as a consequence are covered.  As can be seen here, people still come to these churches to pray and attend services.

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Our guide lead us from church to church through these narrow passageways which are, as previously mentioned, used to drain water away from them in the rainy season.  If Ethiopia had a national color, it would be white.  It is not only worn to go to church and for religious purposes but in daily life as well.  It mystifies me as to how they keep whites so very white.

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The slit dug in the rock is part of the system of drainage.  The grass in the foreground grows out of a pool of holy water.  While we were there, a boy filled a plastic bottle with the water and left.

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St. George and the dragon are everywhere, not only in churches but also on beer.  He is the patron saint of the country, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over paganism as symbolized by the dragon.

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The carving in many of the churches reveal a sophisticated knowledge of how to work in stone.  It is difficult to believe that this was carved by hand downward into solid basalt centuries ago.

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The road to Lalibela is rather daunting, climbing  higher and higher with no guard rails, nothing.  As you can see from this photo, patchwork quilt  fields cover even the mountainsides.

 

 

To learn more about Lalibela, see detailed information and explanations of their River Jordan and other religious symbolism, go to my blog posts from August 2014.

Book Review by Mary Sharratt: ESTHER by Rebecca Kanner


I am reblogging this because it fits with my next book project: poems from the viewpoint of the ancient mother goddess and others from the viewpoint of women in the Bible.

esther

We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed into the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father and the celebrated chronicle of my brother.

-Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

To a large extent, women have been written out of history. Their lives and deeds have become lost to us. To uncover the buried histories of women, we must act as detectives, studying the clues left from ages lost.

At its best, historical fiction can write women back into history and challenge our misconceptions about women in the past. Anita Diamant’s novel, TheRed Tent, became such an…

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Ethiopian Journey–From Addis Ababa to Debre Birhan


Addis is the second highest capital in the world.  Only La Paz, Bolivia, is higher.  To a large extent, altitude determines climate in Ethiopia.  Addis and the surrounding area, much of which is high altitude farmland, receives a lot of rain this time of year and looks totally unlike what a lot of people think of when they hear the word Ethiopia–not desert but rather miles and miles of green.

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We had not driven far from Addis when we crossed a river, an area of which is considered healing.  Many people had come for priests to bless them and to experience the healing power of the water.

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I saw only three tractors in ten days of criss crossing farmland.  Why so few?  One reason is rocks.  Many of the fields remain rather full of rocks in spite of many having been removed.

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Therefore, they farm the “old fashioned” way; horses or cattle pulling plows with a human behind.

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Houses in the villages in the farming areas demonstrate old ways alongside new.

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Winnowing the way we did in the USA a century ago.

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Much of the farmland is a picturesque patchwork quilt of browns and greens.

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Before dropping down to lower country, we drove by Menelik’s Window.   The drop off here is steep and far.  I did not go near it–I had not yet become used to the endless drop-offs or even realized that I would need to do so.  This is one of four places in Ethiopian where you can see gelada baboons.  They are extinct elsewhere. Menelik was an Ethiopian emperor.  This “window” allows one to look from the high country for miles and miles to the landscape beyond.

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The large tufts of grass provide food for the gelada which are grass eating herbivores, the last of the grass eating primates.  All others are extinct.  This same grass is used by the locals for roofing material so boys stay in these areas all day chasing off the baboons.

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To keep themselves busy they weave woolen baskets and hats to sell which they display in the grass.

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This ten year old boy happily donned the hat he had made.  I bought it for my grandson who was the same age when I took the trip.

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Except for the different vegetation, driving down the mountain looked a lot like driving through Colorado.

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Down from the mountain the landscape appears quite different and considerably drier.  We drove through several smaller towns on our way to Debre Birhan where we stayed the first night.

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Driving in Ethiopia requires navigating around animals.  Everyone drives their cattle, camels, horses, all livestock down the road whenever possible.  The roads are generally very good.  Many, built by the Italians, have stood the test of decades.

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Along the road we saw many of these “apples”.  My friend told us how they played with them as a child.  However, the adults all warned the children not to touch their eyes when they did–it will make you blind.  They are called Apples of Sodom–so many things in Ethiopia have symbolic meaning.

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These fruit could be seen all along the road and even on the road.  After driving through this drier area we rose above a huge valley with miles and miles of grass.

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A semi-nomadic group brings their immense herds of cattle here in the rainy season to graze.  When we drove further on above the valley, I saw the first tractor working a field as big as this grazing land.

 

 

 

Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


A delightful, grown-up retelling of the old story.

Trelawney bio pictureToday, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:

Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”

Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”

Endelyn, “What? I don’t remember that story.”

Me: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you.” ……

Here’s the part where I froze momentarily, thinking “how can I tell my children that misogynist failed mentor story? how? how?” <deep breath>

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