From the Archives: Green Tara by Jassy Watson

This was originally posted on March 6, 2015

Goddess Tara is one of the oldest goddesses who is still worshipped extensively in modern times. Tara originated as a Hindu goddess, a Great Goddess or Mother Creator, she who represents the eternal life force that fuels all life. In Sanskrit, the name Tara means Star, but she was also called The Great Compassionate Mother and The Great Protectress.

A version of the Goddess Tara exists in most cultures. It is believed that she will assume as many forms on earth as she is needed by the people.

Adopted by Buddhism in the third century BCE, Tara came to be the most widely revered deity in the Tibetan pantheon. Not only is she a Tibetan Goddess, but she is considered a female Buddha; an enlightened one was has attained the highest wisdom, capability and compassion. One who is able to take  human form and remain at one with every living thing.

Continue reading “From the Archives: Green Tara by Jassy Watson”

On Ki Tavo and its Absence of Divine Compassion by Ivy Helman.

Grounded in an ancient theodicy, Ki Tavo (Deutoronomy 26:1-29:8), the Torah portion for September 17th, is an emotional rollercoaster.  In it, the Israelites find their lot in life directly linked to their own behavior.  Follow the commandments to gain blessing; ignore them at your own peril.  While the commandments listed here are laudable from a feminist perspective, the deity’s response to non-concompliance is problematic.  It is full of victim-blaming and empty of compassion.  Furthermore, Ki Tavo’s portrayal of divine expectations leaves no room for human nature to actually be anything other than complete perfection.  This is unacceptable.   

As should sound familiar to the reader by now, Ki Tavo speaks to a specific historical context: the Babylonian exile.  As we are aware, the typical theodicy of the Babylonian exile places blame for the Israelites’ lot in life on the Israelites themselves, specifically on how their behavior (or their ancestors’ behavior) has warranted divine punishment.  In other words, the Isrealites have not observed the commandments and thus deserve what is happening to them.  This justifies an understanding of the divine as vengeful, spiteful, jealous, and victim-blaming.

That being said, what exactly happens in Ki Tavo?  Ki Tavo, also like many Torah portions, discusses commandment observance.  From a feminist perspective, the portion rightly focuses its description of the commandments on justice and fairness within the community (27:16-25)  as well as care for the widow, stranger, orphan, the poor, and the disenfranchised (26:12-13, 27:18-19).  Its interpretation of the commandments seem to be truly about how, according to its time, a community, that puts the downtrodden and outcast first, should function.  These are generally good principles.

Taken by author.

Ki Tavo then lists, in varying degrees of specificity, what happens to the Israelites when and if they observe the commandments.  If they heed the commandments, they receive abundant blessings.  These blessings focus on material, this-worldly rewards (28:3-13).  Most offer abundant crops, flowing, deep rivers, good bread, fertility of human and animal, and rain, while, unfortunately, there are a few which mention blessings in terms of gaining power-over and, thus, influence.  (Here it is impossible to give specific verse references as many verses have a combination of material blessings and less tangible, power-focused ones.)

When the Isrealites fail to heed the commandments, they incur divine wrath.  This is depicted in Ki Tavo as curses or cursing.  The curses are sometimes quite mundane and other times absolutely disturbing.  There are the typical droughts (28:22, 24), plagues (28:22, 38-39, 42), diseases (28:22, 27-28, 35, 59-61), wars (28:49-53) and so on.  

And, then, there are some not-so-common curses.  One intriguing curse is exile, which forces the Israelites to practice idolatry (28:36). Interestingly, here idolatry is not a breaking of the commandments, but a punishment for doing so (28:36).  Exile signifies the physical breakdown of the group, while idolatry distances that same group from their covenantal relationship with their chosen deity (28:64). They are not a people any longer as they live in foreign lands and worship different gods.

The uncommon curses go one step further and remove any semblance of the Israelites’ humanity through cannibalism.  In Ki Tavo, this is a result of war.  The deity wages a vicious war against the disobeying Israelites, using other humans  (28:57).  Their cities are so mercilessly besieged to the point that the people completely run out of food.  With nowhere else to turn, they are forced to resort to cannibalism (28:53).  Even the most gentle and well-behaved man and woman becomes, when this happens, cannibals (28:53-55), eating their own children to survive.  

Yet, who is to blame for the death of their community and their own inhumanity?  The deity who punishes?  No.  Ki Tavo makes it clear that it is the Isrealites themselves.  By punishing the Israelites’ non-observance, the deity is only being faithful to the established covenant to which both parties freely agreed.  This victim-blaming might have made sense of the Babylonian exile for those who were living through it, but it is also clearly a product of patriarchy.  Back then victim-blaming justified war and disease. Now, it condones such practices as domestic violence, rape, and various manifestations of power-over.  It is problematic because it does not acknowledge who is most often truly at fault: other, more powerful, humans.

Ki Tavo also paints a one-sided picture of divine understanding when it comes to good and evil.  There is either goodness (in Ki Tavo, observance) and blessings or evil (non-observance) and curses.  There is no middle ground, no explanation, and certainly no compassion.  

This lack of divine compassion is what bothers me the most in Ki Tavo.  Even though humans are divine creations, the writers of the Torah have depicted the Creator as so disconnected from creation that there is no compassion and no understanding of humanity, only sheer anger and divine wrath.  According to Ki Tavo, our Creator is more than willing to shattered the community, our relationship with the divine, and even our own humanity than practice forgiveness and mercy.

Thank goodness that the Jewish tradition’s understanding of the divine does not stop at Ki Tavo.  Rather, Jewish tradition teaches us that we, in the covenant, have partnered with the divine who understands us, showers us with compassion and mercy, and does indeed forgive us (when we don’t always behave as we should).  We have a faithful deity who is abundant in goodness and rarely upset or disappointed.  We can put our hope and our faith in the goodness of the Holy.   

As we enter the High Holy Days, may Ki Tavo’s understanding of the divine as wrathful, angry, destructive, and vindictive stay in the past where it belongs. In this new year, may Compassion embrace us, gifting us with a sacred empathy for others and also for ourselves.  May mercy and goodness be with us this year and all the days of our lives.  And, may the world and our hearts be at peace.

L’shana tova umetukah! (For good and sweet year!)

Ivy Helman, Ph.D.: A feminist scholar and faculty member at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic where she teaches a variety of Jewish Studies, Feminist and Ecofeminist courses.  

A COMPLICATED CHOICE by Katey Zeh – Book Review by Esther Nelson

Katey Zeh, an ordained Baptist minister, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and a contributor to this Feminism and Religion (FAR) blog recently published her newest book, A Complicated Choice  Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement (Broadleaf Books, 2022). Not only does Zeh push back against those individuals who are dead-set against giving space to pregnant people to make their own decision about whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, she dares to imagine a world where people are not just free to easily access an abortion procedure, but are also given the support to grieve (if need be) and heal without being bogged down with shame heaped on them by the larger society. 

One of the strengths (given the current religious-political climate in the U.S.) of this slim volume is that Zeh uses Christian Scripture to illuminate the way for pregnant people to embrace their inner knowing, something that helps slough off the stories that our society (collectively) has given them that silences and shames them “from speaking up and speaking out” about their abortions. “There is a culture of silence around abortion, and that silence is shaming and isolating on both a personal and a collective level.” When we break the silence of isolation and give voice to our difficult and painful experiences, we are then free to find healing and wholeness.

Continue reading “A COMPLICATED CHOICE by Katey Zeh – Book Review by Esther Nelson”

The Utter and Undeniable Need For Walls of Compassion. Still. by Karen Leslie Hernandez

This piece was already published – back on September 11, 2015. Yet, it’s still so relevant, I am sharing it again. Edited a bit, but the same sentiment, same message, same hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We build a lot of walls, especially when we are fearful, hateful, angry, and retaliatory.

There are personal walls, our own little “bubbles,” that give us the illusion of safety. Then we have bigger walls. Walls that our governments build. Walls to keep people in and walls to keep people out.

Current walls that come to mind are the Mexican-US Border Wall – you know, the one that Donald Trump loved and his minions chanted about … “Build that wall! Build that wall!” We have the Israeli-West Bank Separation Barrier-which has contributed to a drop of suicide bombings exponentially, but in the meantime, has cut off Palestinian livelihoods and led to the death of many who can’t get through the checkpoints in an emergency. Here in the US, we have “gated communities” – those communities that give a false sense of security to keep the “degenerates” out. No crime inside those walls, right? Right. We also have prison walls to keep people in. The prison industry is thriving here in the US and more walls need to be put up to incarcerate all the “offenders.” And who can forget the razer wire walls built in 2015, to keep Syrian refugees out of places such as Hungary.

Continue reading “The Utter and Undeniable Need For Walls of Compassion. Still. by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

Look for the Helpers: The Sikh Community by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

AnjeanetteI struggled with what to write about for my May post. Would I write about the ridiculous notion which has countless Americans buying into the idea that COVID19 is a hoax? I could write about how it is fool hearty for us to even consider lifting stay at home orders when the number of infected patients are still rising daily. The list goes on due to the rising pressures, frustrations, and anxieties that are surrounding each one of us.

Yet what I really want to talk about is a shining example of the goodness and compassion of humanity. During times of utter sadness, fear, and the unknown, we need to keep talking about things that warm our hearts, remind us there is beauty and happiness in life. So, for the next few monthly posts of mine, I am going to be highlighting specific communities, organizations, and peoples that are doing extraordinary things during these uncertain and challenging times. The first community that I want to talk about is the Sikh Community.

Continue reading “Look for the Helpers: The Sikh Community by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”

Forward, Upward, Inward: A Spiritual Response to Right Now by Rachel Hollander

Brother Francesco, known to the world as Saint Francis of Assisi, left us many sweet and lovely poems and songs. In “The Canticle of the Sun,” he wrote about the gifts of nature. Brother Sun, his light and radiance.  Sister Moon and Stars for their beauty.  Brothers Wind and Air, through fair skies or storms. Sister Water for her humility, purity, and usefulness. Brother Fire, who lights the night, is playful and strong. And Sister Death, whom no one living can escape. And, of course, he included: 

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs. 

Mother Earth. We live on her, we eat what she provides, we use what wondrous supply she shares with us, and….

We are not the kindest of children. We are not always so Grateful for what our Mother so generously lends to us. Because it is a loan. Do not be mistaken. Mother Earth is not a bottomless well of giving. She is a Mother with expectations; a Mother who gives and then wants to see us give back.

These are tough lesson for humans; some humans, anyway. And never before have we been taught that lesson more clearly than right now. Continue reading “Forward, Upward, Inward: A Spiritual Response to Right Now by Rachel Hollander”

The Truth Revealed by Coronavirus – It’s All Connected by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoCoronavirus is revealing many truths to this world – a world grounded in the patriarchal consciousness of domination and separation for millennia. Though still on the fringes of social awareness, the ancient wisdom of community and connection remains alive and growing.

Continue reading “The Truth Revealed by Coronavirus – It’s All Connected by Judith Shaw”

Goodbye…and Hello by Ivy Helman

20151004_161012Dear Mini,

I wish, desperately, that you were still here.  I miss you everyday. My body aches with grief. Tears run down my face.

It was so hard to say goodbye.  Sometimes, I feel like I should have done more.  I always thought you’d live to be older even though you made it to (nearly) 16.  I couldn’t imagine life without you. Some days I still can’t.

But, the vet said you’d broken your jaw, probably from cancer.  You struggled to walk from the arthritis and now your balance was off.  The medication we put you on to help the infection in your jaw caused you to not eat for two days.  You were so skinny. I couldn’t even keep you comfortable anymore. You cried so much. I knew, even though I didn’t want for it to be time, it was. Continue reading “Goodbye…and Hello by Ivy Helman”

If I Don’t Care, Then, Who Will? by Karen Leslie Hernandez

What are we going to do with this world that’s on fire right now?

I continually ask myself what my role is on this beautiful blue planet – what am I supposed to really do? What am I going to do? What have I done?

I never wallow in my past, but, gosh-darnit, I’m a survivor. Things I suffered in my early years, intermingled with what happened to me in the many years since, have, at times, won. They’ve drowned me, torn me, thrown me, and found me in the fetal position. Yet, here I am. A high school drop-out getting my Doctor of Ministry. A survivor of abuse standing strong as a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. A suicide attempt survivor with an incredible zest for life. I share all this not to brag, but, to remind myself mostly – I am still here. By God’s grace, I am still standing.

Without boring you with too many details, this last year was probably one of the most difficult I have encountered. Ever. Yet, hello! I am here to continue my rage against the machine – remaining at peace with my mouthy, rebellious, sassy self. And, yes, mindful of all that was, is, and will be.

Continue reading “If I Don’t Care, Then, Who Will? by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

Compassion. Simply Be. by Karen Leslie Hernandez

Karen Leslie Hernandez and Arun Gandhi

From November 1-7, I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. With a myriad of religions and spiritual traditions represented, this was my third Parliament. Inspiring people from all over the planet gathered to teach, to listen, to learn, and to grow as human beings. From there, we take that wisdom and knowledge back to our communities and live by example – at least I try.

I was struck this Parliament by two things: That our planet is in peril. Literally. And, Compassion is something that needs to be taught? I am asking, not stating.

Continue reading “Compassion. Simply Be. by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

Lessons from Shofetim by Ivy Helman.

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThis is the first part of a series of reflections on the weekly Torah portions.  For those of you unfamiliar with Judaism, we read the Torah in sections.  There are 52 parshot (or portions), one parshah (portion) is read each week (most often during Shabbat morning services).  It is common for rabbis, prayer leaders or someone of the congregation to offer reflections on the week’s parshah at Shabbat services.

The parshah for this week is Shofetim.  It is Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9 and will be read this Shabbat, 18 August.  Shofetim discusses a range of topics: setting up of a system of judges to make important decisions for Israel; the entitlements of the Levites; the rules of warfare; the importance of justice and just governments; and the acknowledgment of G-d as the true and highest Judge.  It also warns Israel against false prophets and practices of idolatry.  Shofetim contains a number of well-known verses including ‘justice, justice you shall pursue…(16:18),’ and notorious punishments like “…a tooth for a tooth; an eye for an eye…(19:21)”  Continue reading “Lessons from Shofetim by Ivy Helman.”

Please, Let’s Give Feminists a Break by Sara Wright

Please, Let’s Give Feminists a Break.

I remember so vividly entering graduate school in my early forties and being told I was an “eco – feminist” by my professors. What does that phrase mean I asked having no relationship that I knew of to feminism. Feminists, I thought vaguely, naively, even stupidly, burned bras and hated men…

I was asked to read “Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her” by Susan Griffin to help me see who I was, and after finishing this one book I submerged myself in feminist writings like a starved woman – child. My teachers were right. I was a feminist – an eco –feminist because I had already made the connection between what was happening to the Earth and what had happened to me. Every tree that was chopped down was a part of me, every stream that was polluted was a part of me, every animal that was slaughtered was a part of me because I was a part of Nature. I owed my life to Nature, the only mother I had ever had. I loved Her, honored her, became her fierce advocate and in the process She eventually taught me to love myself.

Continue reading “Please, Let’s Give Feminists a Break by Sara Wright”

How My Pets Have Taught Me Compassion for All Beings by Ivy Helman

20171119_155520My cat is a hunter.  You can see it in her eyes.  She plays fetch considerably better than the dog and seems to enjoy playing with her “kill” – throwing it up in the air, batting it around and pouncing on it – long after it is “dead.”  If we forget to clean up her toys before bedtime, her prowess invades the night.  For such a tiny cat, she can meow at almost deafening volumes.

Typical with any hunter, she loves anything meaty and has recently even begun fighting for a share of the dog’s morning pate.  For the cat, if the dog gets pate, she should too.  It’s only fair.  After all, she takes medicine daily too.  Continue reading “How My Pets Have Taught Me Compassion for All Beings by Ivy Helman”

Consideration by Valentina Khan

Yesterday I sat in my car, buckled and ready to reverse just when I looked out my side window to see the people getting into their car next to mine.

There was a very elderly lady being seated in the back ever so gingerly. Her caretaker (that is what she appeared to be) carefully buckled her in, and then offered her a sip of ice water. Meanwhile I was in mid reverse, my engine running, on the go, and yet the ladies didn’t notice anything around them.

Simultaneously the elderly lady’s wheelchair didn’t have its brakes on and rolled into my rear side door. Instantly, I thought OK a little rude, these people aren’t really being considerate of the tight space we are sharing, should I roll down my window and say with as much patience as I can “excuse me”? Or should I let it go? I let it go. Those immediate feelings of impatience and annoyance washed over me, because I made myself stop and observe the situation, and the details of these ladies. Continue reading “Consideration by Valentina Khan”

Positive Presence in Tiring Times by Chris Ash

Christy CroftI am tired.

I’m tired in that way that happens when mind-overload, followed incautiously into concrete corners, limits the ability to conceive of solutions and dig up hope. I’m tired of reading commentary and I’m tired of thinking about the seeming impossibility of resolution, though I seem to be doing both compulsively. I read the news and it is overwhelming. I read theory and it is immobilizing: the more I learn, the more I realize how every possible choice of action is complicated by its impact on some person or power structure.

I’m tired in that way that happens to people who take in the world just as fully through their bodies – through touch, sound, breath, feeling, and movement – as they do through their minds. I’m tired in the way of those whose hearts well love and grief that flow up in gentle washes or powerful surges until they must escape in sighs and sometimes tears.

We live in tiring times.

We love in tiring times.

For several years, I was a leader in New Thought churches that held strict adherence to the “Law of Mind-Action” – that we change the blueprint of the universe to manifest according to our thoughts and beliefs – and the “Law of Attraction” – that we attract all experiences into our lives based on our thoughts and beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious. Under both of these principles, the material world, and thus the body, are subject to the will of the mind – subservient, docile, and reactive – just as women (traditionally associated in many cultures with the land and processes of the body) were considered inferior to and expected to remain subservient to men. Continue reading “Positive Presence in Tiring Times by Chris Ash”

Finding Bavarian Ancestors by Carol P. Christ

Bavarian first communion
First communion, Bavaria 1800s

In the past month I have been on a spiritual journey seeking my German ancestors. Six of my 2x great-grandparents were born in Germany, which means I am 37 ½ percent German. Growing up, I was subjected to a form of patriarchal family disciple I came to identify as German, but I was told very little, positive or negative, about my German heritage.

Though I had been researching my family tree for five years when I began my trip to Germany, I had no clue about where in Bavaria the Thomas Christ-Anna Maria Hemmerlein branch of my family originated. While making final preparations before the trip, I learned that German church records are no longer kept in individual churches, but are grouped together in church archives. Some areas also have family records in state archives. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of German records were not destroyed  in the two World Wars. However, many of the German records are not online. Continue reading “Finding Bavarian Ancestors by Carol P. Christ”

Green Tara by Jassy Watson

JassyGoddess Tara is one of the oldest goddesses who is still worshipped extensively in modern times. Tara originated as a Hindu goddess, a Great Goddess or Mother Creator, she who represents the eternal life force that fuels all life. In Sanskrit, the name Tara means Star, but she was also called The Great Compassionate Mother and The Great Protectress.

A version of the Goddess Tara exists in most cultures. It is believed that she will assume as many forms on earth as she is needed by the people.

Adopted by Buddhism in the third century BCE, Tara came to be the most widely revered deity in the Tibetan pantheon. Not only is she a Tibetan Goddess, but she is considered a female Buddha; an enlightened one was has attained the highest wisdom, capability and compassion. One who is able to take  human form and remain at one with every living thing.

The Celts called their Great Goddess Tara. Her name is thought to be the root of the word Tor, which is a mound of earth or hill imbued with spiritual energy or connection to the other worlds.

Her name is also echoed in the Latin word Terra, meaning earth; yet another connection between Tara and the idea of a “Mother Earth”.

The Goddess Tara is also associated with Kuan Yin, the great Chinese goddess of mercy compassion who is also another manifestation of Divine Mother.

There are many embodiments of Tara, but the best known are the White and Green Tara.

Green Tara is known for the activity of compassion. She is the consort of the Dhyani Buddha Amogasiddhi, and is incarnated in all good women. White Tara is also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity. Red Tara is the fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things. While Black Tara is associated with power and Yellow Tara with wealth and prosperity.

In her numerous incarnations the goddess Tara has many gifts to share with modern women. She is an embodiment of the feminine strengths of deep care and compassion. She can offer support during stressful moments, helps to overcome obstacles and is a constant source of sustenance and protection. She is here to remind us of our “oneness” with all of creation and the importance of nurturing the spirit within.

My following painting of Green Tara is embodied as “Mother Earth”, she holds the earth gently and compassionately in her hands. New growth in the form of a tea leaf sprouts from the earth with the sacred red thread extending from the roots and into her hair which flows to her garment becoming the ocean – source of life. For me, she is a reminder to BE compassion and at one with the earth. She also came as a guide of peace and love on my continuing journey of transformation.

Om Shanti

I send peace for all human kind, peace for all living and non living beings, peace for the universe, peace for each and every thing in this whole cosmic manifestation.

Green Tara by Jassy Watson
Green Tara by Jassy Watson

Dialogue Is Dying & I Have Only Questions by Kate Brunner

Kate BrunnerI have no answers right now. Only questions. And a battered, bruised, and exhausted heart. Where has functional dialogue gone? Where in the overculture has it retreated to? Can it even be rescued? Or is civil discussion dying a slow and gruesome death right before our very eyes? Our ability to dialogue seems to me to be a critically endangered phenomenon. So, what do we do now?

How do we grow together in civil society when disagreements over being, belief, and choice spirals so easily into vitriol? When parenting choices produce hate-filled diatribes that dominate media and social media? When race, gender identity & sexuality results in legally sanctioned violence and persecution? When political philosophies get you blown up? Your faith gets you shot in the head? Your nationality gets your head chopped off? Where on earth do we go from here? Continue reading “Dialogue Is Dying & I Have Only Questions by Kate Brunner”

Thinking Out Loud About Protecting Our Borders and the Ebola Crisis by Kelly Brown Douglas

Rev.-Dr.-Kelly-Brown-DouglasJust as crises can reveal the strengths of our infrastructure, so too can they reveal the weaknesses.  At the same time, a crisis can disclose the enormity as well as the limitations of our humanity.  Even as the current Ebola crisis may have shown forth the strong points of the U.S. healthcare infrastructure, it clearly exposed some of its vulnerabilities.

The same can be said in relation to our humanity. From the time that Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with the Ebola virus, cries to close “the borders” to those traveling from West Africa began. As two of Mr. Duncan’s caretakers contracted the virus, the cries to close “the borders” between the “United States” and West Africa became shrill.

The futility and impracticality of such a measure seems to make little difference to those who call for closed borders.  At stake, they say, is the health and wellbeing of our U.S. citizenry.  Even when marked by sincere concern, I find the call to close U.S. borders a troubling indication of the limitations of our humanity.   A story in the life of Jesus makes this plain.

In the social-religious context of Jesus’ day, there was a long history of conflict between Jews and Samaritans. Jews had constructed images of Samaritans as an indecent and ritually impure people. Samaritan women were considered the most impure of them all. Multiple narratives of power intersected on the bodies of Samaritan women—ethnic, gender, and cultural. Put simply, they represented at once an inferior “race,” gender and religion.  Thus, the social spaces of Jewish men and Samaritan women were to remain separate.  Jewish men in particular had to protect themselves from the contamination of Samaritan women.  Generally speaking, Samaritans were a feared and thus demonized people.

By most accounts, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria on his journey from Judea to Galilee. This was considered a circuitous route.  It was also considered a dangerous route given the antagonism between Jews and Samaritans.  Again, Samaritans were considered dangerous enemies to the Jews, and most certainly ritually impure. However, Jesus crossed the borders into Samaritan space anyway. By going into Samaria, Jesus placed himself in the midst of those most feared, if not demonized, in the Jewish world.  He ignored all the prevailing animus directed toward the Samaritans and dismissed notions of them as an unclean and dangerous people. He flagrantly rejected the social-religious hysteria about Samaritans by going out of his way to enter their space.  He refused to let the “madness” of his times to blind him to the divine humanity of the Samaritans, or to overwhelm his own divine humanity.  He, therefore, crossed the constructed human borders to bring healing and salvation to the Samaritan woman. This story is of course only representative of a ministry that consistently crossed borders of fear and stereotypes to affirm the humanity of those who were lepers in Jesus’ day.  Simply put, Jesus’ compassion was no respecter of borders. Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud About Protecting Our Borders and the Ebola Crisis by Kelly Brown Douglas”

A New Perspective on the Story of Ruth by Ivy Helman

20140903_180423When I think about having returned to the Judaism of my family, I often think about a short phrase that is on almost all of the conversion documents I’ve seen. “Your people shall be my people and your G-d shall be my G-d.”  It comes from the Book of Ruth and is a powerful phrase in and of itself.  Imagine choosing a journey to a foreign land and being so committed to the person you are traveling with that you are willing to forsake the religion and practices of your people to join hers, even when she extorts you to return to your home.   Think about the kind of trust one needs in another to be able to leave everything behind and follow another path.  That is ideally what the convert to Judaism has chosen: to leave behind their past, setting out on a new religious path.  In fact, it is often frowned upon to ask a convert about their religious past because it is as if it never existed.

Besides these documents, I’ve also encountered the Book of Ruth early in my training as a feminist scholar of religion.  I read many commentaries on the story of Ruth, but what I read never spoke to me.  Yes,  two women were bonded in a deep friendship (perhaps as lovers) struggling to survive and avoid bouts of harassment from men. They also defied patriarchal standards of the day.  Sweet and touching, yes.  A good example of the importance of friendship between women, definitely!   What I 20140904_125500didn’t get then that I do now are the values elevated in these two women.

First, what struck me is just how much our pasts are an important part of who we are.  In many ways, they help to shape our futures.  Ruth’s past built within her the values necessary to make the decision to journey to a foreign land with another woman and without what, could be thought of, as adequate protections.

Continue reading “A New Perspective on the Story of Ruth by Ivy Helman”

A Song For All Beings by Jassy Watson

At the Jennifer Berezan concert
Jassy and sisters at the Jennifer Berezan concert

Last month I was blessed to have attended Jennifer Berezan and friends concert “A Song for all Beings” with Shiloh Sophia and a tribe of Cosmic Cowgirl Alumni sisters while visiting California – a long way from my Australian home. I first heard Jennifer’s music on tour with Carol Christ in Crete. I clearly remember  “Returning” being played as our bus descended the mountains on dusk one evening, and I was deeply moved. I now have a selection of her music and have played ‘A Song for all Beings’, inspired by the Buddhist practices of Lovingkindness and Compassion, nearly every day since.

To have been given the opportunity to see the show in the flesh was a wonderful gift. It was the seemingly endless recital of the ‘Prayer for the Disappearing Species’ by Luisah Teish that left the greatest impression: Leatherback Sea Turtle, Northern right whale, Javan Rhinocerous, Siberian Tiger, Mountain Gorilla, Giant Panda, Orangutan, Polar Bear, Tiger….this is just a handful. Hearing this led me on a search to find out more about animal conservation efforts. Continue reading “A Song For All Beings by Jassy Watson”

Values of Respect and Compassion for Others by Deanne Quarrie

Deanne QuarrieWe live in an age when there are overall changes in our society in the values of respect and compassion. I no longer see people pulling back chairs or opening doors for others.  Actually, I am constantly witness to a general lack of respect everywhere.  From vulgar profanity in public places to downright abuse of others – this saddens me.  Where I see this lack of respect most of all is within social media.  There, people write anything they want – about anyone they want and to anyone they want without consideration of the grievous harm they might cause. Continue reading “Values of Respect and Compassion for Others by Deanne Quarrie”

Why a Kippah Reminds Me that Rationality Should Not Be Our Only Imago Dei By Ivy Helman

Neil Gilman in his book Sacred Fragments writes, “Since our faculty of reason is G-d-given, since it is the quality that distinguishes us from the rest of creation, and since all human beings share that same innate faculty, what better way to establish the veracity of a religious tradition than by demonstrating its inherent rationality?”  To be fair, Gilman is not the only and definitely not the first to support this position.  Many theologians, especially those influenced by various Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, have said the same thing.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, Thomas Aquinas is adamant that rationality is humanity’s imago dei, how we are made in the image of God – what the beginning of Bereshit (Genesis) suggests.  Descartes argues, “I think therefore I am.

Patriarchy emphasizes rationality as divinely given over and above other attributes that humans share with non-human life – like instinct, growth and maturity, life and death, memory, caring, empathy, dependence, interconnectedness, relationality, and communication (in all its forms, not just speech).  Continue reading “Why a Kippah Reminds Me that Rationality Should Not Be Our Only Imago Dei By Ivy Helman”

The Need for a Positive Counter-Narrative of Religious Involvement in Feminism by Ivy Helman

I’ve admired JC for years.  That’s Joan Chittister, OSB the Benedictine nun of course.  I first saw her speak when I was in graduate school and she visited Yale.  I’ve also read a number of her books.    Her life is an example of how religious people support feminist ideals.    There is a story in Beyond Beijing: The Next Step for Women: A Personal Journal that I would like to share with you

Chittister began her historic journey on the Peace Train to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.  As she  entered a conference room to register as a Peace Train participant, she was handed a large manila envelope.  To her surprise it was filled with condoms. At first, she thought that the woman who handed them to her meant to hand them to someone else.  However, Chittister was told (quite emphatically according to her) that she should distribute the condoms to the health workers she encounters while on the train and in the small towns she visits along the way to Beijing.  Eventually after much thought, Chittister decided to do just that and stuffs the manila envelope into her backpack.  Trying to find some humor in what she considered an awkward situation for a nun to be in she remarked, “Now all I have to do is to try not to die in front of some bishop with condoms in my backpack.”

My first reaction to this story is to laugh along with her.  I am also struck by her thoughtfulness to share the story publicly.  She could have been given the envelope, quietly distributed the condoms and then never told a soul.  But, no.  She includes the account of this feminist action she undertook in her book for the world to read.  What an amazing amount of courage and integrity this woman has! Continue reading “The Need for a Positive Counter-Narrative of Religious Involvement in Feminism by Ivy Helman”

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