By Susan Katz MillerI happen to be a Jewish woman who says inshAllah. And, Alhamdulillah. Quite a lot. So earlier this year, I was frustrated and depressed when a college student conversing with his father on a cell phone while waiting for takeoff said he would call again when he landed, inshAllah, and then he was escorted off the plane when another passenger interpreted this conversation as somehow threatening.
By Kay WhitlockWhen I am filled with pain, and seeking change in my life but unclear, uncertain, or even ambivalent about new directions and possible choices, I spend time in quiet reflection and meditation. Then I head for The Crossroads. I go to make an inchoate plea for insight, revelation, and guidance—what some folks would call a prayer. I go when the daylight language of “issues” and politics as usual sounds like meaningless gibberish and possesses such a profound aura of lifelessness that even zombies cannot arise and lurch toward us in its presence.
By Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman and Michael BronskiThe words “queer” and “virtue” hardly ever appear together. Like alpha and omega, sin and grace, and wrong and right, they are always seen as opposing ends of a spectrum. Elizabeth Edman’s Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity brilliantly, succinctly, and with enormous empathy and insight argues that these terms, far from being oppositional, are wedded in ways that make them distinctly unique. Indeed, brought together they are the quintessence of Christianity.
By Bernardine DohrnIn 1970, we received a “Letter from the Underground” from Father Daniel Berrigan, printed in the New York Review of Books. It was a note from a comrade, for Dan too was a “most wanted” fugitive from the FBI and federal law enforcement officials at that time. A Jesuit priest, an acclaimed poet, a committed anti-war activist, his “Letter” was delivered, as was much communication then, not by mail or (landline) telephone, but via the media.
By Artemis JoukowskyIt was 1976, and I was a freshman attending the Allen-Stevenson School in New York City. My history and social studies teacher, John Pariseau, assigned a class report on the subject of moral courage. Pariseau further instructed us to build our papers around a personal interview.
By Marilyn SewellMy husband and I went on a long-planned trip to lovely Charleston, South Carolina, last October—as it turned out, just as the city’s most recent flood was subsiding. The local paper (The Post and Courier) reported one of highest tides on record, swamping cars, creeping into homes, and tangling traffic. Hundreds of people who live near the edge of the water in this tourist area couldn’t get to work. I chatted with the wait staff in restaurants as I sought out the shrimp po-boys, the collard greens, the fried chicken I love: Are you concerned about global warming? Typically, the answer was “No, flooding is a regular occurrence, we are used to it.”
A Q&A with Jay WexlerIn Mumbai, Hindus carry twenty-foot-tall plaster of Paris idols of the elephant god Ganesh into the sea and leave them on the ocean floor to symbolize the impermanence of life, further polluting the scarce water resources of western India. In Hong Kong and Singapore, Taoists burn paper money to appease “hungry ghosts,” filling the air with smoke and dangerous toxins. These are some of the instances of religious practice colliding with environmentalism that humorist and law professor Jay Wexler investigated for his new book that came out this month, When God Isn’t Green. Over two years, he made a round-the-world trip to understand the complexity of these problems and learn how society can best address them. We caught up with Wexler to ask him about his journey and how we can work toward ecofriendly rituals.
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Caitlin MeyerLands’ End recently did something wonderful and bold. Their newish CEO, Federica Marchionni, launched a feature in their spring catalog called “Legends,” which aimed to highlight a broad range of individuals who have made a difference in the world. Their first pick, Gloria Steinem, was beautifully photographed and interviewed by Marchionni about issues including gender equality and challenges faced by women in the workplace. Steinem posed with an embroidered tote bag, and part of the proceeds from its sale would go toward the Fund for Women’s Equality, a backing campaign that supports the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. What a lovely and unexpected move by a clothing company! Except soon after, they did something sort of terrible. They removed the interview from their website, apologized for it, and as a result, withdrew their commitment to the Fund for Women’s Equality.
By Carole JoffeThe Zika virus crisis, which is believed to have already caused the birth of thousands of newborns with microcephaly (which causes unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains), has created an acutely distressing situation for millions of women. Most of the affected countries, particularly in Latin America, have extremely strict policies about abortion and very inadequate provision of birth control. Most notably, in El Salvador, where the Minister of Health recently suggested that women delay pregnancy for two years because of the Zika virus, abortion is absolutely forbidden, even in cases where the pregnant women’s life is at risk. Women suspected of abortion, or even in some cases, miscarriages, now languish in El Salvador’s jails. (Other Zika-infected countries which have a similar absolute ban on abortion are Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic). But being pregnant while infected with the Zika virus is not life threatening—so even in Latin American countries which would permit abortion in such cases would not do so, under current law, because of the possibility of the serious birth defects of microcephaly.
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveIn a surprise turn of events, the exit polls at the Iowa caucuses showed a victory of 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz over Donald Trump. Pundits credit the turnout to Cruz’s advantages over Trump and the other Republican candidates—superior fund-raising and a strong campaign operation—as well as his success with Iowa’s majority voters, self-described “very conservative” evangelicals.
Islamophobia has reared its ugly head again. As author and journalist Linda K. Wertheimer noted in her previous post, education about world religions couldn’t be more important in today’s climate. Education about other religions comes not only from the classroom, but also from the life stories of others. In his book Acts of Faith, interfaith leader Eboo Patel writes about the time he spent with his devout Muslim grandmother in India. In this excerpt, he recounts the invaluable lesson his grandmother gave him in what his faith stands for.
In some ways, the profile of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who was arrested for a shooting rampage at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Friday, is similar to that of the other six individuals who have been charged with abortion-related murders in the past two decades. But unlike them, Dear does not appear to have a history of public involvement with the organized anti-choice movement. Though several sources, including an ex-wife, told the New York Times that he was staunchly against abortion, another former partner said that “It was never really a topic of discussion.”
#Notinmyname. Hadia Tirmizi, the mother of a student profiled in my book Faith 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q&A with Linda K. Wertheimer 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...