Tirmizi Family with Linda K. Wertheimer. From left to right: Hadia, mother; Wertheimer; Rahim, youngest son; Zain, eldest son; Ali, father. Photo source: Linda K. Wertheimer
#Notinmyname. Hadia Tirmizi, the mother of a student profiled in my bookFaith Ed., posted that Twitter hashtag on her Facebook page last week in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. She is Muslim, lives in Wellesley, a Boston suburb, and knows the backlash that can follow when terrorists are identified as Muslims.
The same week she posted her statement against the terrorists, she also posted photos of her family celebrating her youngest son’s tenth birthday and photos of her and her husband, both physicians, on a vacation to Paris in a past year.
When I was fifteen, I stepped into a warm bath on my church's sanctuary stage. I was a bit of an outsider—the occasionally bullied Chinese-American kid in the white suburb—and I had found a place of belonging at this Chinese immigrant church. I made a joke about how I felt the same way about my new faith as my sixteen-year-old friend felt about her new driver’s license: I had no idea how I ever lived without this. Even my pastor chuckled as he clasped my hands, preparing to dunk me. Then I heard the splash of the warm water, the muffled underwater silence and the burst of cheers as my body broke through the surface. Smiling through currents of water, I saw the congregation beaming back. I had begun my new life in Christ.
From there, my story followed a steady path toward lifelong evangelical devotion. Equipped with the good news, I led youth group Bible studies and then attended college where I became an evangelical activist, leading my campus ministry's weekly gatherings of more than 100 students. Some friends called me the “super Christian,” the kid who was “on fire for Jesus.” Mentors from church and my campus Christian club encouraged me to join their staffs. I longed to be in ministry and these opportunities fit the disciple’s narrative. There I was at the precipice of adulthood, armed with my fiery devotion. But just a few years later, the flame went out.
Deborah Jian Lee left the evangelical world in her mid-twenties after growing weary of the culture wars. While she remained committed to her faith, she struggled to reconcile the message of the religious right with the gospels, so her faith became a wandering, nameless thing. After returning to the evangelical world as a journalist, she sought out believers who were living out the teachings of Jesus and found a radical tribe of evangelicals thriving at the margins. Racial minorities, women, and queer Christians were carving a new path for evangelicalism—one rooted in social justice. Deborah decided to write a book for the younger version of herself—the one who mistakenly thought that being evangelical and embracing social gospel values were mutually exclusive. She realized that if she had met these devout believers back then, if she had known their stories intimately and understood evangelical history more robustly, she likely would not have left the community. This book is for the generation of faithful evangelicals, post-evangelicals, ex-evangelicals, questioning evangelicals and weary evangelicals looking for a family with whom to live out their faith, with all the mess and beauty that comes with community. It’s also a book for the rest of the world—secular liberals, the media, religious progressives, etc—who have often misunderstood and stereotyped the evangelical community. With love, passion and rigorous reporting, Deborah tells the story of the evangelicals the world needs to meet in Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism (on sale November 10).
An Invitation to Our Readers: We want you to add your voice to the conversation by sharing stories about ways evangelicals are reclaiming the faith and rescuing it from partisan politics. Use the hashtag #RescuingJesus across social media and help us shine a light on the individuals and organizations who are propelling this shift.
Read on to learn about some of the individuals who are part of the new face of the Evangelical movement.
Some Tennessee lawmakers and parents are in a tizzy because they believe seventh-graders are spending too much time learning about Islam as part of social studies.
A Tennessee lawmaker leading the charge has spewed an all-too common refrain, saying the state's schools were leaning toward indoctrination because they emphasized learning about Islam more than about Christianity. The lawmaker last week upped the ante and proposed a bill prohibiting Tennessee public school courses from including "religious doctrine" until students are at least in 10th grade. What the lawmaker means by religious doctrine is fuzzy. But she's a part of a statewide movement of parents and groups taking aim at lessons on Islam. A Christian organization joined the fray by submitting a public records request to every school district in the state asking for curriculum that included Islam.
Beacon Press author John J. McNeill died at the age of ninety on September 22, 2015 in Florida after a full and world-shaping life. He leaves literally thousands of survivors, people like myself whose lives were enriched, in some cases even saved, by his courageous and prophetic work as a gay religious pioneer.
John McNeill was a Jesuit priest who wrote the first substantive treatment of Catholicism and same-sex love in his 1976 book The Church and the Homosexual. It was originally granted the required Imprimi Potest, but that permission to print was shortly withdrawn by his religious superior when it became obvious that John had touched a nerve.
Contra Catholic teaching, John argued that homosexuality was part of the will of God. Far from being a threat to the family, he claimed that lesbian, gay and bisexual persons (transgender people were not in his view at that point) had new experiences to share about sex unconnected to procreation. He proposed that same-sex love, rather than alienating people from God, could instead bring them closer to God. So much for the Catholic teachings on Sodom and Gomorrah, of heterosex only, and that without condoms or other forms of contraception. He articulated post Vatican II moral theology with intellectual rigor and pastoral insight.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I did not expect to ever want or need a rabbi in my life again. After years of defending my Jewish identity as the child of an interfaith family, I thought I was done with Jewish institutions and clergy. I joined a community created by and for interfaith families, filled with families that spurned religious dogma, labels, and litmus tests. And I was happy.
And then, Rabbi Harold Saul White swept into my life, like some kind of mystical wind, simultaneously fresh and ancient, revealing a new way to connect back to Judaism. Here was a rabbi so radical, so confident, that he was willing to become the spiritual advisor of a community of interfaith families—and share leadership of this interfaith community with Reverend Julia Jarvis. He worked with ministers and priests, marrying generations of interfaith couples, and welcoming their babies, and helping their children come of age, and conducting their funerals.
Linda K. Wertheimer's book launch at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, August 18, 2015. Photo credit: Christian Coleman
Linda K. Wertheimer had a fabulous book launch at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts last month. In her presentation, she talked with us about the classrooms she visited throughout the US to write Faith Ed. The ones in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Modesto, California stood out. Teachers in Wellesley spend half the school year teaching the world’s religions to sixth graders. High school students in Modesto take a world religions class in order to graduate. You can watch her full presentation here to hear more about her travels and the current state of fostering religious literacy in today’s youth. Here are some highlight questions from the Q&A session that followed.
The tragic shooting in South Carolina offers another painful reminder of American Christianity's troubled relationship with race and segregation. While it is true that most of the great abolitionists were inspired by their Christian faith, it is also true that their opponents were inspired by their Christian faith. As a result, much contemporary racism is rooted in Christianity.
Unfortunately, the Bible is not very helpful when it comes to race issues. Many have found within its pages justifications for slavery, abuse of African-Americans and segregation. Unfortunately, the divisions between the races are exacerbated, not diminished, by Christianity.
According to family legend, I first fasted—for a day—at the age of four.
I have no clear memory of this fast, although I do have the vague recollection of walking into the kitchen while my mom prepared iftar and her asking, "If you're fasting, why are you sucking on a lollipop?"
Ramadan in our house was a big deal. Ramadan meant we could—at least for a month—pretend we were adults. I insisted on fasting the entire month starting at the age of seven. My parents agreed, but with three stipulations: I had to wake up for suhoor, eat whatever was served during suhoor (generally, a huge meal including rice, chicken curry, and daal) and take an afternoon nap. I can’t remember ever agreeing to family rules so readily and without complaint.
On the nights we didn’t go to the mosque or visit friends for iftar, my brothers and I would break fast with a collection of random food items we'd collected throughout the day—cold pizza from a pizza party our class won for selling the most magazine subscriptions, cookies from someone's birthday party, a stale piece of cake. As teenagers, we’d break fast with friends, then pray side by side with them at our youth group’s all night qiyam. We’d eat suhoor at Denny’s or IHOP, and sleep in the next day, only to be awoken by our mom yelling, “What good is praying all night if you sleep through the day and miss the required prayers?
Ramadan became more challenging as the years went on. It meant not drinking water during high school basketball practice and games, taking college and law school finals while dehydrated and sleep deprived, and eating by myself at work during long nights at the office.
Equating science with atheism is one of the most dangerous byproducts of America's culture wars. This strange polarization portends disaster, as the country divides into factions that cannot find common ground on the way the world operates. And it goes without saying that there will be no agreement on what should be done when scientifically significant issues need political action.
In the book I show how Adam evolved from an obscure character in Jewish literature to the "Central Myth of the West," and now stands as an almost impenetrable barrier to millions of Christians accepting modern science.
Many Christians, unfortunately, believe their faith requires a "first man" who sinned and brought trouble on the world (feminists can thank two millennia of patriarchy for getting the "first woman" off the hook). The central Christian theme is "Creation-Fall-Redemption": God creates a perfect world; Adam "falls" by sinning, wrecks everything, and God curses the creation with death and suffering; and Christ redeems the world. In this picture Adam and Christ function as symmetrical "bookends": Adam breaks everything and Christ fixes it.
In 2008, as the congregation worked to earn certification as a Green Sanctuary, members zeroed in on what they could do for water. They began with small steps—a water-efficient dishwasher in the church office, for one—and ultimately made real strides. The church invested in drip irrigation and switched out thirsty plants with natives. The congregation tapped a member to chair a local water taskforce. It sent others to testify at state Senate hearings on California’s “Human Right to Water” bill. The church’s green committee brought in speakers to talk about the importance of living with less water in a changing climate. They even got members to pledge to one less flush a day; the 1,000 or so gallons saved daily would add up.
Spread across communities, ethical water choices do add up. In fact, a widespread ethic for water was the single-most important part of the answer for how parched metros such as Perth, Australia; Singapore; and San Antonio, Texas, turned around their water fortunes amid crisis. In Australia’s severe drought of the early 2000s, one of the nation’s best-known scientists, Tim Flannery, pronounced that Perth could become “the twenty-first century’s first ghost metropolis,” its population forced to abandon the city for lack of freshwater. In large part thanks to a new water ethic that has Aussies shunning lawn sprinklers and wineries irrigating grapes with recycled wastewater, just the opposite is true. Perth has become a worldwide model for adapting to its dry home.
This post originally appeared on Debate This Book, a place for authors and educators to discuss issues.
We are living at the dawn of a new picture of the universe. We now know that everything visible with our best telescopes is less than one percent of what’s really out there. Our universe is made almost entirely of “dark matter” and “dark energy”—two invisible, dynamic presences whose 13.8 billion year competition with each other has spun the galaxies into being and thus created the only possible homes for evolution and life. This must change how we think about God.
Human sense perception has long been a fascination for me, though I know I'm not alone in this preoccupation. When I studied modern art in graduate school I got interested in the ways artists work with paints, photographs, and sculptures to "bend" reality and restructure our perceptual apparatuses. And when I investigated religious practices in various parts of the world I kept noticing the ways eyes and ears and tongues were triggered.
Some years ago I set out to write about all this, wanting to chart some of the ways the senses operate in religious traditions, how the senses perceive particular objects, and how the arts help us come to grips with these processes. The result was a book, A History of Religion in 5½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses. But as I note therein, something happened along the way: the objects became the subject. The incense became as crucial, even more so, than the olfactory system, and the drums themselves seemed to have powers beyond their rhythms and reverberations.
Nonetheless, it is one thing to simply say this, and another to teach about it. While the standard "read a bunch of words and write a paper" pedagogical procedure is finally beginning to fade, we remain bound by a primarily audio-visual mode of education. Not only is education far too word-based, it is also sensually deficient. The fullness of the sensorium—the perceiving across five or more senses—is generally reduced to two, at least past primary education.
In an excerpt from At Home in Exile, historian and scholar Alan Wolfe warns that, although the kind of Islamic-inspired anti-Semitism behind the Charlie Hebdo–linked attack at the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris is real, it is important not to let these actions overshadow “ongoing efforts at cooperation between the two faiths.”
“How did the Jews get back at Hitler?” run the words of what one presumes to be a joke. “They sent him back the gas bill.” So spoke a British Muslim cleric, Abdullah al-Faisal, to appreciative laughter at a 2001 event in the English city of Luton. One of his listeners then posed some questions: “Should we hate Jews, and when we see them on the street, should we beat them up?” To which the good cleric replied, “You have no choice but to hate them. How do you fight the Jews? You kill the Jews.” These horrific sentiments are cited by Anthony Julius toward the end of Trials of the Diaspora. If Christian anti-Semitism is no longer as powerful as it once was, and if Jewish anti-Semitism is a far-fetched charge, then the most important source of diasporic anti-Semitism may well be the rancid language and all-too-frequent violent deeds emanating from the world’s ever-growing Muslim community, especially, as the Luton story suggests, in Europe, where tensions between these two faiths have been palpable. In a 2008 report, the highly reputable Pew Research Center found disturbing trends in xenophobia and anti-Semitism throughout much of the European continent. Not all such Jew hatred originates with Muslims. Neo-Nazi and ultranationalist parties, such as Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, and Svodoba in the Ukraine, while clearly anti-Semitic, contain more than their fair share of native-born Europeans who in all likelihood hate Muslims as well as Jews. But all too much of it does. France in particular has witnessed serious Islamic-based violence against Jewish targets. Toulouse, for example, was not only where four Jews, including three children, were killed by a French Muslim in 2012, but it has also been the scene of repeated anti-Semitic vandalism since. Saudi-run schools in Great Britain, according to the BBC program Panorama, rely on textbooks filled with anti-Semitic words and pictures, including descriptions of Jews as “monkeys and pigs.” Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, which has one of the largest percentages of Muslims anywhere on the continent and whose mayor once suggested that Jews bring hatred on themselves, has experienced record-breaking numbers of attacks, including an explosive placed in front of a Jewish Community Center. A survey conducted by the Belgian sociologist Mark Elchardus found that half of the Muslim schoolchildren in Brussels hold anti-Semitic views. One can argue about why these things are happening. But that they are indeed happening is obvious. Had large numbers of Muslims not made Europe their home over the past decades, anti-Semitism would no doubt still exist there. That so many have only adds to a potentially combustible mix.
Chanukah begins at sundown tonight. Though it was fun to light the first candle while also carving the Thanksgiving turkey in 2013, I think it is safe to say that, for those who include gift-giving as a part of their holiday celebration, it’s nice to have a few extra shopping days this year.
As if the extra time weren’t helpful enough, I’m going to make shopping even easier, dear blog readers, by compiling a list of eight reading recommendations (one for each night!) that would make wonderful gifts for the book lovers in your life.
My selections fall into three favorite categories—health, food, and Judaism—each sure to ignite lively conversations between family and friends.
And, as a special treat, I’m including my favorite Chanukah recipe for “Bourbon Pear and Apple Sauce.” It’s the perfect, grown-up accompaniment to latkes.
After our family Thanksgiving, set in the muffling silence of eternal snow in northeastern Pennsylvania, I sent my daughter back to her sunny California college with a care package to remind her of all the Christmases, and all the Hanukkahs, of her childhood. I tucked into her bag an Advent calendar, and tiny Hanukkah presents wrapped in tissue paper, numbered for each of the nights until she comes home for winter break.
As interfaith parents in 21stcentury America, we have the freedom to choose the labels we bestow on our children. A Jewish and Christian couple may raise children as Jewish, or Christian, or Unitarian-Universalist, or Quaker, or Buddhist, or secular humanist, or interfaith, or on two or more of these pathways simultaneously. No single choice is going to work for every interfaith family.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: U.S. military veterans set up 1,892 American flags on the National Mall March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America installed the flags to represent the 1,892 veterans and service members who committed suicide this year as part of the 'We've Got Your Back: IAVA's Campaign to Combat Suicide.'
Long before the number of suicides in the US military exceeded the number of combat deaths, Drs. Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini were working together to help veterans recover from the “moral injuries” they received during service. Cofounders of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School, they’ve run workshops, lectured widely on the topic, and coauthored the book Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. Now, as President Obama prepares to again increase the number of troops in Iraq, the lessons in “soul repair” developed by Brock and Lettini may be more critical than ever. “Moral injury,” they write in the book’s introduction, “results when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs, and in evaluating their behavior negatively, they feel they no longer live in a reliable, meaningful world and can no longer be regarded as decent human beings.” It is, according to Brock and Lettini, a state of despair particular to soldiers, and one that can have dire consequences. “When the consequences become overwhelming,” they warn, “the only relief may seem to be to leave this life behind.” In a longer passage, they outline exactly how this moral suffering plays out in a soldier’s life:
Visitors discover an exhibition in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw. The museum officially opened last week.
I remember the confusion I felt when I visited my family’s town, Radomsko, on my first trip to Poland in the fall of 2000. What was I looking for? I had no idea. I didn’t know anybody there. My relationship to the town, where my mother’s family had lived for over a hundred years, had been obscured by time, emigration, and trauma.
In the Radomsko Regional Museum, located in the lovely historic town hall, I accompanied a guide past collections of pottery shards from archeological digs, displays of nineteenth-century butter churns, exhibits of roof thatching and farm implements.
There were photos of Radomsko citizens deported to Siberia under Russian rule, infantry helmets from the First World War, and gruesome pictures of Polish partisans from the town, standing in front of pits before their execution by German soldiers. Where was any mention of the town’s Jewish citizens, nearly 55% of the town before World War II, almost all of whom perished under the German occupation?
When Francine and David Wheeler lost their son Ben in the Sandy Hook tragedy nearly two years ago, one book they turned to for guidance was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Speaking with Oprah Winfrey last year, David Wheeler said he connected with Frankl’s message because “so much of what he writes resonates with me . . . . Because man’s salvation—and he means that not only in the religious sense, but actual survival—is found in and through love.” The Wheelers were able to take that spirit of love, and turn it into force that nurtured them through immense grief. It is a story as powerful as it is familiar to followers of Frankl’s teachings.
Fifty-five years after the original US publication of Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl’s timeless wisdom has helped generations of readers cope with hardship and overcome adversity, and his life-affirming vision continues to resonate today. In 1991, the book was listed by the Library of Congress as one of the top ten most influential books in the US, while more recently, Amazon listed it as one of its 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. Writing in The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith notes that Frankl, an Austrian Jew who survived a prolonged ordeal in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, devised wisdom there, “in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, [that] is just as relevant now as it was then.”
One thing I had noticed about the academic study of religion is that scholars invariably study their own. I do not just mean that Mormons write books about Mormons or Catholics about Catholics. It goes deeper than that: mainline Protestants typically observe people much like themselves, as do Orthodox Jews. My membership in none of the above, it turned out, had given me something of an academic advantage. I may have lacked the insights that come from lifelong involvement with one particular faith. But in return I was widely viewed as someone writing about religion with no particular axe to grind. When a referee was needed, there I was. Those I studied generally treated me as an outsider but also as one making a special effort to understand them. Far from feeling excluded from their world, I felt, if anything, a bit wary about the warm embrace they offered.
Yet the fact that I had spent so much time among deeply religious Christians made me increasingly aware of two ways in which my differences with them were insurmountable: I was Jewish by background and nonreligious by conviction. For me, the two had always been intertwined. My parents were not themselves religious, nor for that matter strongly committed to any ideology. (I recall my father telling me that when he grew up, everyone he knew was either a socialist, a communist, or a Zionist, but that he had managed to avoid all such identification.) Nonetheless my parents felt Jewish enough to arrange a bar mitzvah for me, and so without much conviction on their part or mine, I did my religious duty at the age of thirteen. That has pretty much been it. I do at times read the Old Testament—the prophets in particular appeal to me—but I cannot say that the angry God pictured therein is one I find especially attractive. It is not just that I have a hard time envisioning God creating the world and then meddling with it when we human beings displease him. The religious side of Judaism is as much about practice as it is about belief, and even in this realm I feel no urge to honor the tradition by following rules that at best seem arbitrary and at worst absurd. Although I know my share of rabbis, and even though I admire their learning and commitments to social justice, I cannot bring myself to regularly attend the synagogues of any of American Judaism’s major branches. The only times I enter a shul are when I am invited to speak in one. I study religion but do not practice it, not even the one in which I was ostensibly raised.