The Art of Language & Religion

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”

John Shelby Spong

religiousdiversity

We cannot talk about our cultures without speaking about our language, because through our language – even by the way we structure our language or the way we speak – we find ourselves. In other words, the traditions that form us are embodied in our own language. As the philosopher and linguist Frantz Fanon has said.

“To speak a language is to assume a culture.”[1]

Therefore, when speaking our language we do not speak from an objective place but we speak from our particularity wrapped in legends, stories, traditions, music, and more things that define us as people. Our languages are the way by which we know ourselves and at the same time, others know us.

What, then, is the relationship between our language, religion, and science?

We must think of religion as a language, that is, as a world of meaning full of symbolism, metaphors, stories, parables, theological histories, traditions, customs, and various interpretations that give the religious person a formative narrative – a narrative through of which the person knows and is known by the world around her. Beyond religion and its various practices, religion is involved in a particular way of seeing

science_vs_religion_by_onytgvx-d410jd8

and interpreting the world. Often the discussions between religious and irreligious people put science as the antithesis to religion by making one choose one side or the other, but in putting science in contradiction with religion one misunderstands the function and purpose of both disciplines.

Science and religion are both valid ways of seeing the world. To say that religion and science are contradictory is incorrect, rather they have different ways of speaking. In the world (or language) of science we predominantly investigate observable facts and in the world of religion we invite people to enter into the reality of the Divine. As the activist, theologian and African American pastor Martin L. King Jr.,

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man the wisdom, which is control. Science deals chiefly with facts; religion is mainly concerned with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science prevents religion from plunging into the valley of paralyzing irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the swamp of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”[2]

Therefore, it is not that religion and science are not in contradiction, rather both are ways of seeing the world – religion interprets the world theologically while science interprets the world scientifically. Perhaps the lack of understanding between the religious and irreligious comes from the fact that we speak a different language even if they are the same words.

_2255814

Is not science in contradiction with the concept of God?

“For in him we live and move and have our being”

Acts 17:28

The question of God goes beyond science. In short, science neither denies nor affirms the reality of God. However, being a religious person – particularly Christian – I want to criticize the classic conception of the God in classic theism – a popular idea among religious and irreligious. Being a Christian Panenteista, I do not believe that God is up there and that we are down here, but I believe that God is a reality that penetrates the entirety of the universe. Speaking from my own tradition, the apostle Paul teaches us how God is an ever present reality in our world. As theologian Marcus J. Borg once said,

“God is the More who is here moving the universe according to its physical laws and its ultimate telos.”[3]

Even more important, this universe is a sacramental universe, that is, a means through which we experience God. What or who is God? God is the sum of all things, but not the sum total of all things – God is an encompassing spirit. From God all things – time, history, culture, etc. – they receive their existence and it is in God that we have our being. As the theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich has said:

“The being of God is being-itself. The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being alongside others or above others. If God is a being, he is subject to the categories of finitude, especially to space and substance. Even if he is called the “highest being” in the sense of the “most perfect” and the “most powerful” being, this situation is not changed. When applied to God, superlatives become diminutives. They place him on the level of other beings while elevating him above all of them. Many theologians who have used the term “highest being” have known better. Actually they have described the highest as the absolute, as that which is on a level qualitatively different from the level of any being – even the highest being. Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being-itself. Many confusions in the doctrine of God and many apologetic weaknesses could be avoided if God were understood first of all as being-itself or as the ground of being. The power of being is another way of expressing the same thing in a circumscribing phrase. Ever since the time of Plato it has been known – although it often has been disregarded, especially by the nominalists and their modern followers – that the concept of being as being, or being-itself, points to the power inherent in everything, the power of resisting nonbeing. Therefore, instead of saying that God is first of all being-itself, it is possible to say that he is the power of being in everything and above everything, the infinite power of being.”[4]

Therefore, when we speak of God, we recognize God as the foundation of being from which all things receive their existence. Put in another way, that from which existence is derived is God – the source of life.

Last Words

In short, religion is like a language, it is a world of meaning wrapped in stories, parables, metaphor, music, legends, and more things that form the identity of its followers. Religion does not have the same function as science, but religion seeks to invite people to the mystery of God.

– The Reverend

_________

[1] Fanon, Frantz, Charles Lam Markmann, and Paul Gilroy. Black skin, white masks. 2017. <http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=4861797&gt;.

[2] King, Martin Luther, and Coretta Scott King. Strength to Love. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2010.

[3] Borg, Marcus J. The Heart of Christianity. [Place of publication not identified]: HarperCollins e-Books, 2014. <http://rbdigital.oneclickdigital.com&gt;.

[4] Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. London: S.C.M. Press, 1978

Advertisements

El arte del lenguaje y la religión

“Dios no es cristiano, Dios no es judío, ni musulmán, ni hindú, ni budista. Todos estos son sistemas humanos que los seres humanos han creado para ayudarnos a entrar en el misterio de Dios. Honro mi tradición, ando en mi tradición, pero no creo que mi tradición defina a Dios, creo que sólo me señala a Dios. ”
– John Shelby Spong

religiousdiversity

No podemos hablar de nuestras culturas sin hablar de nuestra lengua, porque por medio de nuestra lengua – incluso por la forma en que estructuramos nuestra lengua o la forma de hablarla – nos encontramos a nosotros mismos. Dicho de otra manera, las tradiciones que nos forman estan encarnadas en nuestra propia lengua. Como ha dicho el filósofo y el lingüístico, Frantz Fanon.

“Hablar una lengua es asumir una cultura.”[1]

Por lo tanto, al hablar nuestra lengua no hablamos desde un lugar objetivo sino que hablamos desde nuestra particularidad envuelta en leyendas, historias, tradiciones, música y más cosas que nos definen como personas. Nuestras lenguas son la vía por lo cual nos conocemos a nosotros mismos y a la vez, otros nos conocen.

¿Cuál, entonces es la relación entre nuestra lengua, la religión y la ciencia?

science_vs_religion_by_onytgvx-d410jd8

Debemos de pensar en la religión como una lengua, es decir, como un mundo de significado lleno de simbolismos, metáforas, cuentos, parábolas, historias teológicas, tradiciones, costumbres y diversas interpretaciones que dan la persona religiosa una narrativa formativa – una narrativa a través de la cual la persona conoce y es conocida por el mundo que le rodea. Más allá que la religión y sus prácticas diversas la religión está envuelta en una manera particular de ver y interpretar el mundo. A menudo, las discusiones entre los religiosos e irreligiosos ponen la ciencia como la antítesis a la religión haciendo que uno elija un lado u otro, pero en poner la ciencia en contradicción con la religión uno malinterpreta la función y el propósito de ambas disciplinas.

La ciencia y la religión son ambas formas válidas de ver el mundo. Decir que la religión y la ciencia son contradictorias no es correcto, sino que tienen diferentes maneras de hablar. En el mundo (o lengua) de la ciencia predominantemente investigamos hechos observables y en el mundo de la religión invitamos a las personas a entrar en la realidad del Divino. Como ha dicho el activista, teólogo y pastor Afroamericano Martin L. King Jr.,

“La ciencia investiga; la religión interpreta. La ciencia dá al hombre conocimiento, que es poder; la religión dá al hombre la sabiduría, que es el control. La ciencia se ocupa principalmente de los hechos; la religión se ocupa principalmente de los valores. Los dos no son rivales. Son complementarios. La ciencia evita que la religión se hunda en el valle del irracionalismo paralizante y del oscurantismo paralizante. La religión impide que la ciencia caiga en el pantano del materialismo obsoleto y del nihilismo moral.”[2]

Por lo tanto, no es que la religión y la ciencia no estén en contradicción, sino que son ambas formas de ver el mundo – la religión interpreta al mundo teológicamente mientras la ciencia interpreta al mundo científicamente. Tal vez la falta de entendimiento entre los religiosos e irreligiosos proviene del hecho de que hablamos un idioma diferente aunque sean las mismas palabras.

¿No está la ciencia en contradicción con el concepto de Dios?

“Puesto que en Dios vivimos, nos movemos y existimos.”

– Pablo el Apóstol

_2255814

La cuestión de Dios va más allá de la ciencia. En pocas palabras, la ciencia ni niega o afirma la realidad de Dios. Sin embargo, siendo una persona religiosa – particularmente cristiana – quiero criticar la increíble idea clásica del Dios del teísmo – una idea popular entre los religiosos e irreligiosos. Siendo un cristiano panenteísta, no creo que Dios esté allá arriba y que nosotros estemos aquí abajo sino que creo que Dios es una realidad que penetra el universo.

“Dios es el Más que está aquí moviendo el universo según las leyes físicas a su telos (fin).”[3]

Aun más importante, éste universo es un universo sacramental, es decir, un medio a través de lo cual experimentamos a Dios. ¿Qué o Quién es Dios?  Dios es la suma de todas las cosas, pero no la suma total de todas las cosas. De Dios todas las cosas – tiempo, historia, cultura, etc. – reciben su existencia y es en Dios que tenemos nuestro ser. Como ha dicho el teólogo y filósofo Paul Tillich:

“El ser de Dios es ser – en sí mismo. El ser de Dios no puede entenderse como la existencia de un ser junto a otros o por encima de otros. Si Dios es un ser, está sujeto a las categorías de finitud, especialmente al espacio y a la sustancia. Incluso si se le llama el “ser más elevado” en el sentido del ser “más perfecto” y “más poderoso”, esta situación no cambia. Cuando se aplican a Dios, los superlativos se convierten en diminutos. Lo colocan en el nivel de otros seres mientras que lo eleva sobre todos ellos. Muchos teólogos que han utilizado el término “ser más elevado” han sabido mejor. En realidad han descrito lo más alto como lo absoluto, como lo que está en un nivel cualitativamente diferente del nivel de cualquier ser, incluso el ser más elevado. Siempre que el poder infinito o incondicional y el significado se atribuyan al ser superior, ha dejado de ser un ser y se ha convertido en sí mismo. Muchas confusiones en la doctrina de Dios y muchas debilidades apologéticas podrían ser evitadas si Dios fuera entendido primero como la base del ser. El poder del ser es otra forma de expresar lo mismo en una frase circunscripta. Desde el tiempo de Platón se ha sabido – a pesar de que a menudo ha sido desatendido, especialmente por los nominalistas y sus seguidores modernos – que el concepto de ser como ser, o ser-mismo, apunta al poder inherente a todo, el poder de resistir al no ser. Por lo tanto, en lugar de decir que Dios es en primer lugar ser-en sí mismo, es posible decir que él es el poder de estar en todo y sobre todo, el poder infinito del ser”.[4]

Por lo tanto, cuando hablamos de Dios, reconocemos a Dios como el fundamento del ser desde el cual todas las cosas reciben su existencia. Dicho de otra manera, aquello de lo que se deriva la existencia, es Dios – el fuente de vida.

Las últimas palabras 

En pocas palabras, la religión es como una lengua, es un mundo de significado envuelto en historias, parábolas, metáfora, música, leyendas y más cosas que forman la identidad de sus seguidores. La religión no tiene la misma función que la ciencia, sino la religión es invitar a la gente a la realidad de Dios.

 The Reverend

——–

[1] Fanon, Frantz, Charles Lam Markmann, and Paul Gilroy. Black skin, white masks. 2017. <http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=4861797&gt;.

[2] King, Martin Luther, and Coretta Scott King. Strength to Love. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2010.

[3] Borg, Marcus J. The Heart of Christianity. [Place of publication not identified]: HarperCollins e-Books, 2014. <http://rbdigital.oneclickdigital.com&gt;.

[4] Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. London: S.C.M. Press, 1978.

Reading Together: Hail Caesar..? (Mark 1)

Jesus-Love

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…’” – The Gospel of Mark 1:1-3

For many reading this reflection, the name ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ may seem extremely familiar (whether positively or negatively) and for others the name Jesus of Nazareth may seem strangely unfamiliar. However, in light of our familiarity and unfamiliarity with Jesus of Nazareth, I would like to invite you on a journey with me through the life of Jesus. Perhaps, some of you may be thinking well, “I am not a Christian”, yet this journey is not just for the Christian – in the traditional/institutional sense of the word – it is inclusive to all people from all walks of life. Hence, in this first of many reflections I pose this question:

Who is Jesus of Nazareth?[1]

In contrast to our often domesticated and overly spiritual images of Jesus that are ever so present in our modern world, Mark’s portrait of Jesus is far from tame.[2] Mark’s portrait of Jesus is not of some ‘other-worldly’ figure who came preaching an ‘other-worldly’ message of liberation (salvation), rather Mark’s portrayal of Jesus is a depiction of an anointed (or consecrated) kingly instrument of God’s liberation in the ‘present now’. Hence, this is particularly why Mark begins his gospel by describing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Often the Christian imagination has explained the titles given to Jesus, such as, the Christ and the Son of God in terms of divinity (suggesting that Jesus is God). However, the titles given to Jesus by Mark are not titles that suggest divinity; rather they are titles that are suggestive of kingship.

57b45fab230eb63431f73cb306362ee1--yeshua-jesus-jesus-art.jpg

Jesus, the Son of God: The title Son of God has often been a title that has been characteristics of kings in the ancient world in both Israel (the community that Jesus belonged to) and in the greater Roman world (the empire that was in power during the time of Jesus). For example, Augustus Caesar (the Roman Emperor) called himself the divi filius (Son of God) and even on the Roman coin the inscription divi filius can be found. Another example is Alexander the Great (the king of the Ancient Greek kingdom) who also called himself the Son of God. Finally, it should be mentioned that the term Son of God was also used in Israel (the community that Jesus belonged to) way before Jesus can into the picture. For example, in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament), the term Son of God was not uncommon for kings in the Hebrew world.

“And I – I appointed My king on Zion, My holy mountain.” Let me tell as is due of the LORD. He said to me: You are My son. I Myself today did beget you.  – Psalms 2:6-7

Jesus, the Messiah (In Greek the Christ): In reflecting on this title we must remember that Jesus (and his entire world) was unashamedly Jewish. The title ‘Messiah’ in hebrew simply means ‘anointed one’. The title the Messiah, the one anointed by God, was applied to the king of Israel, the high priest, the prophet, and even the king of Persia when he enacted God’s plan (Isa. 45.1). However, around the time of Jesus the term ‘messiah’ came to refer to an ideal king who would come and redeem  Israel from the dominating ‘would be powers’ of Rome. Also it came to refer to a king who would establish a kingdom like that of their ancestor David, whose reign was idealized as a time of peace, prosperity, and justice.[3]

Consequently, in contrast to view of Jesus that is ‘apolitical’ (non-political) and ‘other-worldly’, Mark’s portrait of Jesus is extremely ‘political’ and ‘very worldly’. Mark living and writing his gospel (around 64 and 72 CE) during the time of Roman Empire makes a bold and polemical (controversial) statement to his Jewish audience.[4] Mark’s gospel proclaims that Jesus is Lord (king/ruler). In making this statement, Mark suggests that Jesus is the rightful king who will liberate his people from the domination of Roman empire. Nevertheless, Jesus will also be the king that will free his people into the kingdom of God – a kingdom characterized by peace, mercy, and justice.

As a modern reader of Mark’s gospel, Mark’s claim  may not strike you as ‘political’ or ‘polemical’, this due to the distance from our world to Mark’s Jewish-Roman world where claims to kingship were seen as treason. In Mark’s Jewish-Roman world, the actual king (the lord, ruler, emperor, anointed) was not Jesus of Nazareth, but was actually Augustus Caesar – the king who through power, might, violence and imperial dominance brought about the Pax Romana (the period of Roman Peace) to all Rome. Thus, ascribing kingship (lordship) to Jesus would be seen by Rome as seditious and treasonous.[5] 

Jesus_on_Cross-1295364775l

Thus, at the beginning of Mark’s gospel when we hear the words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” the writer of Mark’s gospel makes a huge statement. Mark’s gospel emphatically states the Jesus is Lord and not Caesar. According to Mark, Jesus is the kingly Messiah, that is, the ideal king who has come to redeem and liberate Israel. The Messiah has come to end the age of Rome’s imperial dominance in order to bring  about a new age of peace, mercy, and justice.

According to Mark, the “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is not about going to this “other-worldy” abode in the sky called heaven, but the good news (or the gospel) is rooted in the idea that God will rescue and restore his people from the captivity and domination of  a violent and unjust empire. The “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is connected to the reality that God will shepherd (rule) and care for the people of Godself. As Isaiah 40:10-11 says, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

The good news for Israel was about God acting on their behalf redeeming them from captivity and liberating them into a reality of peace, prosperity, and justice.

wounded-healer-image.jpg

For now, hear is where our journey together comes to a pause. Our journey together pauses with Mark’s daring claim about Jesus of Nazareth, that is, the claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. 

  • What should we make of these hefty claims found in the opening chapter of Mark?
  • Will Jesus of Nazareth be all that Israel hoped for in the  Messiah?

We are left wandering about these questions at the end of verse 3 of chapter 1. Nevertheless, perhaps our questions will be answered along our journey together throughout Mark’s gospel. Until then, I ask that the peace of God be with you all!

______________________________________________________________________________

Post Thoughts

What do we know about this alternative way from Mark 1?

According to Mark 1, this alternative way suggests a way liberation from the dominating and oppresive forces of Rome. This alternative way has Jesus at its forefront liberating his people from the captivity of Rome and into a space of freedom.

How does one participate in this alternative way?

One participates in this alternative way through the act of repentance. Whether pastor, priest, imam, Politician, teacher, mother, etc. – all are called to reexamine their lives and repent from participating in the destructive ways of Caesar and empire.

Crucifix.jpg

This is precisely what Jesus meant when he said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe (trust) in the good news.” In talking about repentance, Jesus was calling Israel to turn from their destructive ways of participating with empire, that is, he was calling them to reject the dominating, violent, unjust, and chaotic ways of Caesar.

What is this alternative way like?

All that we learn in Mark 1 is that participation in this alternative way necesitates one to renounce the oppressive ways of violence, oppression and injustice (personified in Caesar and Rome) and trust that God – God as the ground of all being – will bring forth peace and justice throughout the world.

A quick side note: I (like the philosopher and theologian) define God as the ‘ground of all being’. What does this mean? I believe that God precedes ‘being’ itself. More sharply, all things have their being in God – all things are the sum of God, yet God is not the sum of all things.

________________________________________________________________________

[1] Please note that I am asking a ‘theological’ question, rather than a ‘historical’ one. Research on the ‘historical Jesus’ has been extremely beneficial for my understanding of Jesus in his second temple Jewish/Roman historical context. Nevertheless, in this reflection I want to talk about the theological Jesus that I encounter in the gospels – particularly the gospel of Mark. In my perspective, the Jesus who we come to meet in the ‘gospels’ is not solely the Jesus of history; rather in the gospels we meet the Jesus of history as he is ‘interpreted’ by the early Christian community.

[2] Traditionally it has been argued that the author of Mark is none other than John Mark. Supporting this claim is an ancient tradition (by way of a church historian called Papias) who recalled that Mark collected all the eyewitness accounts of Peter (a firsthand follower of Jesus), On the other hand, many scholars doubt Markan authorship suggesting that gospel of Mark is anonymous. For the sake of efficiency, I will use the name Mark when referring to writer of the gospel according to Mark.

[3] Levine, Amy-Jill, and Zvi, Brettler Marc. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Oxford Univ Pr, 2017. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=1561417&gt;.

[4]  Some scholars place date of Mark’s gospel before 70 CE. They argue that the destruction of the Jewish second temple (around 70 CE) had not happened yet by the Romans. In my perspective, Mark seems to be writing after 70 CE – which would be after the Jewish second temple destruction by the Romans.

[5] The Pax Romana was a period less military expansion and relative understanding of peacefulness. Nevertheless, the Roman period of peace can also be understood as a people of imperial peace where the Roman state dominated and controlled all other city-states.

La Fe y El Islam (Castellano: En luz de los atentados en Barcelona)

IMG_20170823_192021

“El camino del Mensajero de Dios es el camino del Amor. Somos los hijos del Amor. El amor es nuestra madre. ”

– Rumi

Para los musulmanes de todo el mundo, esta época del año es un momento muy sagrado. A través de la abstención de comida y bebida junto con la reflexión y la oración coránica, los musulmanes conmemoran un momento fundamental en su historia religiosa, es decir, el momento en que el Profeta Muhammad recibió la primera revelación de las escrituras coránicas del Arcángel Gabriel. Sin embargo, aunque esta época sagrada del año está marcada con grandes cantidades de alegría dentro de la comunidad musulmana, la imagen del Islam ha sido sometida a grandes cantidades de escrutinio e interpretación errónea en todo el mundo.

Ya sea a través de medios de comunicación, experiencias personales o conversaciones con amigos, la tradición islámica se interpreta a menudo en una forma sospechosa y menos positiva. Impulsado por el temor del otro, la sociedad ha imaginado el islam grotescamente y asociado su historia religiosa con la violencia, el terrorismo, la opresión y el odio.

Aún más, la sociedad ha avergonzado a los adherentes de la fe islámica haciéndola de tal manera que el mundo vea a cualquier musulmán – no importa si es una buena persona – con una temerosa sospecha. El temor de la sociedad al Islam ha empujado a los musulmanes hacia los márgenes deshumanizantes. Así, a la luz de todo esto, ¿cómo respondo yo – un amante de Dios, un seguidor de Cristo y un ser humano? ¿Respondo yo, con la mayoría, con miedo? ¿O respondo con amor?

Elegiré responder con amor, porque creo que mi tradición cristiana me ha enseñado que:

“No hay temor en el amor, pero el amor perfecto echa fuera todo el miedo.” – El Evangelio de Juan

En el siguiente post, leeréis dos mensajes de dos musulmanes, Najwa Mardini, una musulmana estadounidense y Mohamed Khattab, un musulmán de Egipto, que escribirán acerca de lo que la fe islámica significa.

¿Qué es el islam?

“El Islam es una religión monoteísta, las creencias básicas del Islam son que uno cree en Allah, que en el idioma árabe significa Dios, y que el Profeta Muhammad – Paz y Bendiciones esté con él – es su último mensajero.

Además, los seguidores del Islam creen en todos los profetas anteriores mencionados en la Biblia, creen en Moisés, Noé, Ismael, Abraham y Jesús. La palabra islam viene de la palabra árabe que significa sumisión que se deriva de la raíz de una palabra que significa paz.

Hay cinco pilares en el Islam, el primer pilar es sobre nuestra creencia en Dios – Una deidad que es misericordiosa y tiene poder sobre todas las cosas. El segundo pilar es que uno debe orar cinco veces al día. El tercer pilar es que uno debe dar caridad cada año a los pobres. El cuarto pilar es que uno debe ayunar durante el mes sagrado del Ramadán, este es el noveno mes en el Calendario Islámico. El quinto pilar es llevar a cabo la peregrinación por lo menos una vez durante su vida en la ciudad santa de La Meca. “- Najwa Mardini

“La palabra Islam proviene de la palabra árabe salaam que significa paz. Así que el Islam es la religión de paz que cree en el Dios de Abraham, Moisés y Jesús. Creemos que sólo hay un creador en este mundo y todos estamos viviendo para adorarlo.” – Mohamed Khattab

¿Qué significa ser un musulmán o musulmana?

“Un musulmán es aquel que se somete a Allah SWT. Un musulmán es aquel que cree que no hay Dios sino Allah y el Profeta Muhammad es su último profeta y uno que se adhiere a los cinco pilares del Islam. “- Najwa Mardini

“Un musulmán es la persona que se somete totalmente a Dios y sigue sus palabras a través del Corán.” -Mohamed Khattab

¿Quién era Muhammad?

“Muhammad fue el último profeta y mensajero, recibió revelación de Dios a través del ángel llamado Gabriel. El Profeta Muhammad era huérfano, su padre había fallecido antes de que él naciera y su madre había fallecido cuando tenía seis años de edad. Era analfabeto ya pesar de eso, reveló el Corán, que es uno de los milagros en que los musulmanes creen. Fue criado por su abuelo y su tío cuando su abuelo había fallecido. Abogó por los derechos de los ancianos, las mujeres, los niños y las poblaciones más vulnerables de la época. Él enseñó la paz, la humildad, la bondad, el respeto por todos y el amor. Quería que las mujeres tuvieran derechos y estableció reglas para proteger a las mujeres de perder su herencia o ser lastimadas de cualquier manera porque las mujeres eran tratadas de manera inferior en ese momento.

El Profeta Muhammad, propagó el Islam a lo largo de la Península árabe durante su vida y después de su muerte, el Islam continúa creciendo hasta el día de hoy. “- Najwa Mardini

“El Profeta Muhammad fue un mensajero – o decimos el mensajero final – como Abraham, Moisés y Jesús que fueron enviados para entregar y enseñar la palabra de Dios. El Profeta Muhammad fue el último mensajero de Dios que entregó las palabras de la Palabra de Dios por medio del Corán. “- Mohamed Khattab

¿Qué es el Corán?

“Las palabras que el Profeta recibió de Gabriel fueron las palabras de Dios que fueron transmitidas a la paz y las bendiciones del Profeta Muhammad, y hoy esas palabras están compiladas en lo que se conoce como la Sagrada Escritura para los musulmanes, el Corán. El Corán fue revelado al Profeta (PBUH) durante el lapso de 23 años. El Corán no ha sido cambiado o alterado desde que fue revelado al Profeta PBUH y escrito. ” – Najwa Mardini

¿Es el Islam opresivo hacia las mujeres?

“Contrariamente a la creencia popular y lo que se difunde en los principales medios de comunicación, el Islam no es opresivo hacia las mujeres. De hecho, las mujeres fueron oprimidas globalmente antes de que el Islam se extendió en la península; El infanticidio femenino era una práctica generalizada que el Profeta había abolido porque la gente en ese momento consideraba a las mujeres como seres inferiores en comparación con los hombres. También se casó con una mujer de negocios llamada Khadijah, ella era una feminista; muy respetada entre los hombres durante ese tiempo que era una rareza en el momento.

Khadijah era también 15 años más viejo que el Profeta que disipó cualquier discriminación relacionada con la edad hacia las mujeres. El Profeta dio ejemplo a los hombres y las mujeres y abogó por la igualdad de derechos entre hombres y mujeres.

Además, porque el Islam tiene muchos seguidores de diferentes países y orígenes; A veces, hay un problema con respecto a la mezcla de cultura y religión. Algunos son incapaces de distinguir entre cultura y religión y por lo tanto los supuestos se hacen basados ​​en prácticas culturales que se han incrustado bajo la religión islámica; Es crucial que se distinga entre los dos.

Existen algunos mitos comunes sobre las mujeres en el Islam:

(1) Es obligatorio utilizar el hijab

(2) La mutilación genital femenina es necesaria para las mujeres

(3) Las mujeres son golpeadas por sus maridos.

Explicaré cuidadosamente y discutiré estos puntos:

El primer mito es negado simplemente por el hecho de que muchas mujeres musulmanas optan por no cubrirse la cabeza. A menudo, muchas mujeres no estan bien versados ​​en su religión y se cubren la cabeza sin sentido crítico. En el mismo respeto que las monjas eligen cubrir en el catolicismo, también lo hacen las mujeres musulmanas, es una manera que les hace sentirse más cerca de Allah. Básicamente, los que lo obligan necesitan entender que aunque el hijab se menciona en el Corán, en realidad está prohibido en el Islam forzar a cualquiera a usarlo; Además, está prohibido forzar a cualquier persona en cualquier cosa incluyendo forzar sus creencias en cualquier persona.

Con respecto al segundo mito, la mutilación genital femenina (MGF) se ha convertido en una fuente de debate y crítica con todos los dedos apuntando hacia el Islam siendo el culpable de una práctica tan humillante. El Islam no tolera en ninguna parte de sus enseñanzas que la MGF sea alentada o permitida; En realidad está prohibido mutilar cualquier cosa en su cuerpo, especialmente el área genital. La MGF tiene una larga historia y es muy alentadora en África, especialmente en Etiopía; De hecho, la MGF es una práctica cultural, la mayoría de la población que reside en Etiopía es cristiana. Los cristianos no toleran la MGF y de la misma manera los musulmanes tampoco lo hacen; Es simplemente una práctica cultural que ha sido mal interpretada como una práctica religiosa.

Por último, pero no menos importante, el Profeta dio un sermón famoso antes de que falleció; Dijo a los hombres que tienen que proteger, cuidar y honrar a sus mujeres. En Islam, un hombre que abusa de una mujer emocional o físicamente es cobarde y el Islam no tolera este tipo de acciones.El Profeta es un modelo para todos los hombres y mujeres porque trataba a todos con honor, amor y dignidad, sin importar de qué origen fueran “. – Najwa Mardini

“El Islam elevó el nivel de las mujeres. Se hicieron iguales los sexos con los mismos derechos y las mismas responsabilidades. Desafortunadamente en todo el mundo, las mujeres musulmanas son víctimas de aberraciones culturales que no tienen lugar en el Islam.

Se dice en el Corán:

“O usted que cree, no es lícito para usted herede lo que las mujeres salen atrás, contra su hace. Usted no los forzará a abandonar nada usted los había dado, a menos que ellos cometan un adulterio probado. Usted los tratará bien. Si usted tiene aversión a ellos, usted puede tener aversión a algo en donde DIOS ha colocado mucho bueno.”(Corán 4:19) ‘” – Mohamed Khattab

¿El Islam promueve actos violentos contra los no musulmanes?

“La respuesta es absolutamente no. De hecho, el verso malinterpretado por los medios de comunicación depende de un contexto particular. Este versículo fue revelado en un tiempo en que los musulmanes estaban siendo perseguidos por una tribu llamada Quraysh. Los Quraysh eran idólatras que no permitían a los musulmanes practicar su religión y sus oraciones; Los persiguieron matando a muchos de los musulmanes. Por lo tanto, en este versículo el Profeta PBUH les permitió defenderse contra sus opresores. En interpretar las Escrituras, los musulmanes deben de tener mucho cuidado porque muchas de ellas son contextuales a una determinada historia, tiempo y período. De la misma manera; algunas de las Escrituras son intemporales, por ejemplo, hay escrituras que les enseñan a esforzarse por la adquisición de buenas obras en esta vida o versículos que les enseñan a tratar a los demás con bondad y amor.

En una palabra; El Islam no aprueba ni alienta ningún tipo de violencia, odio o hostilidad hacia los no musulmanes. El Islam instruye a los musulmanes a tratar a todo el mundo a pesar de las diferencias de fondo, raza y credo con respeto y dignidad.

Un ejemplo de los muchos documentados es que el Profeta (saw) se levantó durante un funeral que estaba pasando por él y sus compañeros. Cuando el profeta se levantó en silencio por respeto al hombre que había muerto, los compañeros suyos le preguntaron: ¿No es judío? y les respondió, ¿No es un humano? “Él les enseñó a respetar a cualquier persona a pesar de las diferencias. “- Najwa Mardini

“Bueno, eso es otro desafortunado error sobre el Islam siendo que el Islam es una religión de paz y está prohibido usar cualquier tipo de violencia contra los no musulmanes. A menudo, los medios de comunicación son expertos en malinterpretar nuestra religión en la luz de terrorismo. Sin embargo, debemos de recordarnos que también nosotros somos víctimas de grupos terroristas.  “- Mohamed Khattab

¿Qué es la Jihad?

“Jihad es una palabra árabe; Significa luchar y / o esforzarse.

Desafortunadamente, esta palabra ha sido retorcida y malinterpretada para justificar el terrorismo. Sin embargo, la palabra jihad simboliza la lucha entre un ser humano y sus deseos. Los musulmanes creen que Dios prueba a la gente a través de las luchas durante nuestro viaje en esta tierra y creemos que cada individuo tiene una lucha diferente en esta vida. Por ejemplo, alguien puede luchar contra la adicción,  las drogas, el alcoholismo, la arrogancia, la ignorancia, el egoísmo, el enfado o la depresión. En luchar contra de estas adicciones un musulmán participa en su jihad. Por lo tanto, el jihad para el musulmán significa nuestro esfuerzo por ganar y contralar nuestros deseos humanos. Todos los musulmanes hacen un jihad en esta vida. Luchamos para controlar nuestros deseos y nos esforzamos para superar nuestra prueba. “- Najwa Mardini

“La palabra Jihad significa sumisión a Dios. Por lo tanto, en todo lo que hacemos como musulmanes – orando, ayunando y más – practicamos nuestra Jihad. “- Mohamed Khattab

¿Cómo ven los musulmanes a los no musulmanes?

“Los musulmanes consideran a los no musulmanes como seres humanos, el Profeta PBUH dijo en su último sermón que ninguna persona es mejor que otra excepto en sus actos. El Islam obliga a los musulmanes a amar y cuidar a nuestros vecinos sin importar su fe y antecedentes. Como musulmán, no se me permite asumir si alguien es digno de ir al cielo o al infierno. Como musulmanes, nuestra creencia es que sólo Dios puede elegir el destino de su creación. El Profeta (saw) dijo que si un musulmán se refiere a otra persona como un “infiel” que en ese caso sólo hay un “infiel”, es el que fue arrogante y pronunció esas palabras. Además, la palabra infiel significa simplemente “incrédulo”.

Un musulmán de verdad debe de entender que no puede juzgar a nadie. Los musulmanes creen que todos a pesar de su sistema de creencias serán tenidos en cuenta en el día del juicio y que Dios ciertamente contará las buenas acciones de aquellos que no eran musulmanes también. Los musulmanes no están permitidos a forzar sus creencias en nadie.  El Islam no eseñan a respectar y tolerar lo demás. -Najwa Mardini

“Los no musulmanes son personas que necesitan orientación.” – Mohamed Khattab

¿Pueden los musulmanes y los no musulmanes existir juntos pacíficamente?

“Absolutamente y ha sido probado a lo largo de la historia. Hubo un tiempo en Córdoba, España hasta aproximadamente el año 1492, cuando musulmanes, cristianos y judíos convivieron en armonía. Por supuesto, este no es el único caso aislado, los musulmanes y los cristianos vivieron en armonía durante siglos en Siria y Palestina, que también es contraria a la creencia popular. La tolerancia es algo hermoso, si todos los seres humanos se amaran y se abrazaran mutuamente, entonces viviríamos en una sociedad de paz. Muchos no se dan cuenta pero una gran parte del conflicto es motivado políticamente.

Los musulmanes pueden vivir juntos con los no musulmanes. ¡Soy testiga! Vengo de una familia  diversa; El 25% de mi familia es católica y el 75% musulmán, aprecio lo mejor de ambos mundos y acepto estas diferencias “. -Najwa Mardini

“Los musulmanes y los no musulmanes pueden vivir juntos pacíficamente. Egipto (de donde soy) es un ejemplo de unidad cristiana y musulmana. Durante cientos de años, los cristianos y los musulmanes han existido pacíficamente, incluso cuando los terroristas tratan de romper este vínculo haciendo estos actos a los cristianos en nombre del Islam. “- Mohamed Khattab

 

Faith and Islam

“The way of God’s Messenger is the way of Love. We are the children of Love. Love is our mother.”  – Rumi

For Muslims worldwide, this time of year is a very sacred time. Through the abstention from food and drink along with Quranic reflection and prayer, Muslims commemorate a fundamental moment in their religious story, that is, the moment when the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quranic scriptures from the Archangel Gabriel. However, while this sacred time of year is marked with great amounts of joy within the Muslim community, Islam’s image has been subjected to great amounts of scrutiny and misinterpretation throughout the world.

Whether through media, personal experiences or conversations with friends, the Islamic tradition is often interpreted in a suspicious and a less than positive light. Driven by the fear of the religious other, society has majorly imaged Islam grotesquely and associated its religious story with violence, terrorism, oppression and hate.

Even more, society has vilified adherents of the Islamic faith making it so that the world looks upon any Muslim – no matter if she is a good person – with a fearful suspicion. Society’s fear of Islam has pushed Muslims into the dehumanizing and vilifying margins while deafening non-Muslim ears to counter Muslim stories of transformation and peace. Society’s placing of Islam into the dehumanizing and vilifying distance has demonized my sisters and brothers of Abraham and has slandered their name and faith.

Thus, in light of all this, how do I – a lover of God,  a follower of Christ, a human being – respond? Do I respond with the majority in fear? Or do I respond with love? I will choose to respond with love, for I believe as my Christian tradition has taught me that,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.” – John’s Gospel

In the following post, you will read two posts from two Muslims, Najwa Mardini an American Muslim and Mohamed Khattab an North African Muslim write about what the Islamic faith is to them. Enjoy!

What is Islam? 

“Islam is a monotheistic religion, the core beliefs of Islam are that one believes in Allah which in the Arabic language means God, and that the Prophet Muhammad Peace and Blessings be upon him is his last and final messenger. Furthermore, followers of Islam believe in all of the previous prophets mentioned in the bible, they believe in Moses, Noah, Ishmael, Abraham, and Jesus. The word Islam comes from the Arabic word that means submission which is derived from the root of a word meaning peace. There are five pillars in Islam, the first pillar is that one believes in Allah. One deity that is merciful and has power over all things. The second pillar is that one is required to pray five times per day. The third pillar is that one must give charity every year to the poor. The fourth pillar is that one must fast during the holy month of Ramadan, this is the 9th month in the Islamic Calendar. The fifth pillar is to perform pilgrimage at least once during one’s lifetime in the holy city of Mecca.” – Najwa Mardini

“The word Islam comes from the Arabic word salaam which means peace. So Islam is the religion of peace that believes in the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. We believe that there is only one creator to this world and we are all living to worship him.”

– Mohamed Khattab

What is a Muslim? 

A Muslim is one who submits to Allah SWT. A Muslim is one that believes that there is no God but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad PBUH is his last prophet and one who adheres to the five pillars of Islam.” – Najwa Mardini

“A Muslim is the person who submits himself totally to God and follow his words through the Quran.” -Mohamed Khattab

Who was Muhammad?

“Muhammad was the last prophet and messenger, he received revelation from God through the angel named Gabriel. Prophet Muhammad was an orphan, his father had passed away before he was born and his mother had passed away when he was six years of age. He was illiterate and despite that, revealed the Qur’an which is one of the miracles that Muslims believe in. He was raised by his grandfather and his uncle when his grandfather had passed away. He advocated for the rights of the elderly, women, and children; the most vulnerable populations at the time. He taught peace, humility, kindness, respect for all and love. He wanted women to have rights and established rules to protect women from losing their inheritance or being harmed in any manner because women were treated in an inferior manner at the time. The Prophet Muhammad PBUH, spread Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula during his life time and after he passed away, Islam continues to grow till this very day.”  – Najwa Mardini

“The Prophet Muhammad was a messenger – or we say the final messenger – like Abraham, Moses and Jesus that were sent to deliver and teach Gods word. The Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger of God that delivered the words of God’s word by means of the Quran.” – Mohamed Khattab

What is the Qur’an?

“The words that the Prophet PBUH received from Gabriel were God’s words that were conveyed to the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him and today those words are compiled in what is known as the Holy Scripture for Muslims, the Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) over the span of 23 years. The Qur’an has not been changed or altered since it was revealed to the Prophet PBUH and written.”  – Najwa Mardini

Is Islam oppressive towards women?

“Contrary to popular belief and what is spread in the mainstream media, Islam is not oppressive towards women. In fact, women were oppressed globally before Islam spread; female infanticide was a widespread practice that the Prophet had abolished because people at the time viewed women as inferior beings in comparison to men. He also married a business woman named Khadijah, she was a feminist; very well respected among men during that time which was a rarity at the time.

Khadijah was also 15 years older than the Prophet PBUH which dispelled any age-related discrimination towards women. The Prophet set an example for men to wed women that were working, respectful, dignified, and advocated for equal rights for men and women. Furthermore, because Islam has many followers from different countries and backgrounds; sometimes, there is an issue regarding the mixture of culture and religion. Some are unable to distinguish between culture and religion and therefore assumptions are made based off of cultural practices that have embedded themselves under the cover of religion; it is crucial that one distinguishes between the two. There are a few commonly spread myths about women in Islam, one is that they are forced to cover and that they do not have freedom to do what they choose, the second one is that female genital mutilation is required for women to endure, and the third is that women are beaten by their husbands.

I will carefully explain and argue against these points; the first myth that I mentioned regarding women being forced to cover their heads with scarves is negated simply by the fact that many Muslim women choose not to cover their heads. The issue is that some people that are not well versed in their religion and make it so that the Muslim head covering, also referred to as hijab in the Arabic language is required because to some it can be a cultural symbol as opposed to a religious symbol. In the same respect that Nuns choose to cover in Catholicism, so do Muslim women, it is a way that makes them feel closer to Allah. Basically, those that force it need to understand that although the hijab is mentioned in the Qur’an, it is actually forbidden in Islam to force anyone to wear it; in addition, it is forbidden to force anyone into anything including forcing your beliefs on anyone. In regards to the second myth, female genital mutilation (FGM) has become a source of debate and criticism with all fingers pointing towards Islam being the culprit for such a humiliating practice. Islam does not condone anywhere in its teachings that FGM is encouraged or allowed; it is actually forbidden and punishable to mutilate anything on one’s body especially the genital area. FGM has a long history and is very encouraged in Africa, most specifically Ethiopia; in fact, FGM is a cultural practice, most of the population that resides in Ethiopia is Christian. Christians do not condone FGM and in the same way Muslims do not either; it is simply a cultural practice that has been misconstrued to be a religious practice.

Last but not least, the Prophet gave a famous last sermon before he passed away to all Muslims; he said protect, care for, and honor your women because they are your comfort. A man that abuses a woman emotionally or physically is considered a coward and Islam does not condone these types of actions. The Prophet PBUH used to help his wife clean the house; this was not a usual practice for men at that time, but he should be a role model for all men because he treated everyone with honor, love, and dignity no matter what background they were from.” – Najwa Mardini

“Islam raised the level of women, they were no longer chattels being passed from father to husband. They became equal to men with rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately across the globe, Muslim women are victims of cultural aberrations that have no place in Islam. Powerful individuals and groups claim to be Muslim yet fail to practice the true principles of Islam.

It is said in the Quran:

“O you who believe you are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the bridal money you have given them. And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and God brings a great deal of good through it.” (Quran 4:19)'” – Mohamed Khattab

Does Islam promote violent acts towards non-Muslims?

“The answer is, absolutely not. In fact, the verse brought up and misconstrued by mainstream media is contextual to a time when Muslims were being persecuted by a tribe called the Quraysh. The Quraysh were idolaters that did not allow for Muslims to practice their religion and prayers; they persecuted them by killing many of the Muslims. A verse was revealed to the Prophet PBUH in the Qur’an that basically tells the Muslims to stand up for themselves in self-defense but not to initiate war which is contrary to what many people assume and interpret. Scripture in general should not be interpreted by anyone because some of it is contextual to a certain story, time, and period. In the same manner; some of the scripture is timeless, for example, striving for the acquisition of good deeds in this life to go to heaven in the afterlife requires the same effort it required at the time of the Prophet PBUH; that did not change and that is timeless within the Qur’an. Treat others with kindness, love, and honor your parents, that has not changed.

In a nutshell; Islam does not condone or encourage any type of violence, hate, or hostility towards non-Muslims. Islam instructs Muslims to treat everyone despite any differences in background, race, and creed with respect and dignity. One example out of the many documented is that the Prophet PBUH stood up during a funeral that was passing by him and his companions. When the prophet stood up in silence out of respect for the man that had passed away; the companions of the Prophet asked him why and informed him that the man that passed away was a Jew. The prophet then replied to his companions; “Is he not a human? “He taught them to respect anyone despite any differences. ” – Najwa Mardini

“Well that’s another unfortunate misconception concerning Islam. Being that Islam is a religion of peace, it is forbidden to use any sort of violence. Often, the media is extremely masterful in painting Islam to be a violent faith due to ISIS. Nonetheless, we must note that ISIS is targets Muslims more than non-Muslims in the name of Islam.” – Mohamed Khattab

What is Jihad?

“Jihad is an Arabic word; it means to struggle and or to strive. Unfortunately, this word has been twisted, misconstrued, and explained as the meaning in which one goes to war against non-Muslims which cannot be more far from the truth. The word Jihad symbolizes the struggle between a human and his or her desires that he or she has difficulty controlling. Muslims believe that God tests people through struggles during our journey on this Earth; each individual has a different struggle in this life. For example; someone may struggle with a drug addiction, alcoholism, arrogance, ignorance, selfishness, anger management issues, depression etc… Jihad in this context would mean to strive to win and not give in to our human desires or any struggles that we may have. It is literally the meaning of striving to get through life without succumbing to desires that may plague our soul.” – Najwa Mardini

“The word Jihad means submission to God. So, in everything we do as Muslims – praying, fasting and more – we practice our Jihad.” – Mohamed Khattab

How do Muslims view non-Muslims? 

“Muslims view non-Muslims as fellow human beings, the Prophet PBUH said in his last sermon that no one person is better than another except in his deeds, morals, and the way in which he and she treats others in a good way. Islam obligates Muslims to love and take care of our neighbors regardless of their faith and background. As a Muslim, I am not allowed to assume whether or not someone is worthy of going to heaven or hell. As Muslims, our belief is that only God can choose the fate of his creation. The Prophet PBUH said that if a Muslim refers to another person as an “infidel” that in that case there is only one “infidel,” it is the one who was arrogant and uttered those words. In addition, the word infidel simply means “unbeliever.”

It is an insult to call someone that and once again it has been used to propagate fear in Non-Muslims to assume that Muslims are insulting them. A real Muslim that believes in Islam in its truest form and understands the core beliefs of Islam will never utter that word toward anyone. Muslims believe that everyone despite their belief system will be accounted for on the day of judgement and that God will indeed count the good deeds of those that were not Muslim as well. Muslims are not allowed to force their beliefs on anyone and this is a very important note to make especially when politically charged statements are being disbursed everywhere influencing peoples’ beliefs about how they perceive Muslims and thus creating for a negatively charged environment that breeds ignorance and hate.”  -Najwa Mardini

“Non-Muslims are people that need guidance.” –  Mohamed Khattab

Can Muslims and non-Muslims peacefully exist together?

“Absolutely and it has been proven throughout history. There was a time in Cordoba, Spain up until approximately year 1492 when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in harmony. Of course, this is not the only isolated case, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony for centuries in Syria and Palestine which is also contrary to popular belief. Tolerance is a beautiful thing, if all humans would love each other and embrace each other’s differences, then we’d live in a utopian society. What many do not realize is that a lot of the conflict occurring right now during these dangerous and troubling times is politically motivated. Muslims can live together with Non-Muslims in peace, prosperity, and harmony; I believe if one would take out politics, human greed, and selfishness out of the equation every human can live in harmony with everyone else. I come from a background that is diverse; 25% of my family being Catholic and 75% being Muslim, I appreciate the best of both worlds and embrace these differences.” -Najwa Mardini

“Muslims and non-Muslims can peacefully live together. Egypt (where I am from) is an example of Christian and Muslim unity. For hundreds of years, Christian and Muslims have peacefully existed, even when terrorists try to break this bond by doing these acts to Christians in the name of Islam.” – Mohamed Khattab

In this sacred season, I wish my sisters and brothers of the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus a very happy and joyful Ramadan.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Jay How

Living Stories: Race, Experiences and Understanding

1014182_187274628110457_946782098_n-720x315

“We must remove our mask to call attention to white advantage. That may help us understand one another a bit better. It may bridge divides, disrupt assumptions and stereotypes that block empathy and get in the way of serious efforts to achieve our country. As it stands, we don’t really talk frankly about race. And too many people are too damn scared to say so.”
― Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul


Hi, I’m Richard! A substitute teacher, grad student, musician, geek, husband, father, and aspiring Pokémon master. In complete honesty, this is my fourth draft on writing about my experience in America as a person of color. In the previous drafts, I started off with a quip about an experience in Japan in which a girl in Tokyo in her early-20s was confused about why/how my the back of my hand was black yet my palms as pale as her. In another draft, I began with Colin Kaepernick’s recent protest which I would love to talk about but, really, who hasn’t in the last 48 hours. But I think I will begin this with when I went to my friend’s quince-style sweet 16—a time in which I was struggling with my parent’s explanation to me of my dad’s Chicano roots (incidentally this was also the first time I tried a beer). It was the fall of 2006, my parents didn’t have a big conversation with me but my dad had been subtly dropping hints about things.

But I had questions. Questions manifested through my peers about why my afro would curl differently or why I had so much leg and arm hair, and the ever-stigmatizing “are you mixed”?

So here I am two weeks later, a soon to be 16 year old celebrating my friend’s birthday to the sounds of Oro Solido, Daddy Yankee, and Panic! At the Disco (it was 2006). Around all of the faces, food, and the new understanding of my Latino heritage—I still felt out of place. The film Lost in Translation is probably the best way to describe culture shock—Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two Americans in Tokyo on business who haphazardly need each other to survive socially lest they go insane from the thoughts and experiences of being. And in a vague way, that is also the feeling of being a person of color in America.

Sure, we all speak and understand standard English but there are other things at work; culture plays in the background filtering our experience even in the mundane. I explain to my primary students that culture can be described as what a people group likes, dislikes, and loves to talk about. Trekkies, Sneakerheads, gamers, and etc. We all know, and can understand for the most part that you’re not going to talk about Mandolorian armor to a Star Trek fanatic.

But as a person of color in America, that understanding seems to be absent from the rest of the nation’s conscience. The nation cannot understand how the nephew of police officers can still cry out “Black Lives Matter.” Or how a community’s response to the influx of crime would be a request for more employment opportunities.

Understanding vanishes for a number of reasons, none of which I will go into length right now.

But even in the midst of the lack of empathy, being a person of color in this country, I’ve found, comes with a sense of comradery, or rather, a supplemented understanding.

My wife and I had the opportunity of growing close to a big family from India. The children, mostly in there early 20s like ourselves and first generation Americans, would share our commonalities of how our parents raised us, how culture still influenced how we react to popular art, movies, and the like.

But my favorite conversation was with one of their fathers, a man who left India to practice medicine, in which we talked for nearly an hour straight comparing the rhythmic drum patterns of India and West Africa. That was an understanding I’d never expected to experience. Drum patterns turned into comparing food and spices of India to my grandmother’s native Louisiana. Food transitioned to our stories of microagressions and discrimination.

As I would tell my students, we confirmed our belonging to a people group through that discussion of our likes, dislikes, and things we love to talk about.

Race discussions, unfortunately, do not happen organically or as often as this—though they should. Instead, we see them as vain pontifications. Political ideals well researched against another’s passionate emotional response; and there is nothing wrong with research or emotion but understanding has to be the goal.

Thus, I will continue my story of that sweet 16. I sat with my friends from the cross-country team. Myself and a guy named Jason, whose parents immigrated from China in the late-80s, were the only people who had no ties to this food, music, and dancing other than to celebrate our friend. As all of us runners, later joined by the birthday girl, had pointed out that the Coronas were unregulated. We all grabbed one. Some of us shared stories about how they’d tried beer before and others (just me) had never held a can. And in my first sip, I realized three things: 1. My race is regulated to my experience. And my experience doesn’t need to be the same in order to be valid. 2. My friend had invited me to experience her heritage. Not only of her nationality but of her family. Celebrating with her was an experience of race for everyone involved. And 3. Coronas are disgusting. I haven’t touched one since.


10384443_10203614043525512_5873181652564334276_n

Richard Damon S. Blacksher has recieved his B.A. in English and is currently working on his M.A. in Education.

Living Stories: The L in Lesbian is for Love

Creation is not black and white, it is amazingly diverse, like a rainbow, including sexualities and a variety of non-heterosexual expressions of behaviour, affection and partnering occurring in most species, including humans. The ability to reproduce is only a small part of the creation. Before God created male and female God made an even more important statement; ‘it is not good for mankind to be alone’. This is fundamental to all heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Lasting relationships are based on love, trust and commitment, not sex or reproduction.

― Anthony Venn-Brown, A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth


IMG_3049eff-700x325-300x232

If someone would have told me ten years ago that I would be sitting on the couch next to my beautiful wife watching the 2016 summer Olympics writing my story about coming out, I would have told them they were absolutely crazy. But here I am. Doing just that. I did not grow up knowing I was lesbian. Reflecting back on my childhood and going into my teen years, I can kind of put together some of the puzzle pieces or clues. But to be honest, there was no real defining moment in my life when I knew I was lesbian.

I went to a very diverse high school. There were people from all social classes, races, religions and orientation. It was not out of the norm for me to see girls kiss in the hallway or boys holding hands walking to class. When I would see them I just thought to myself

“that’s good for them, but my family would kill me if I ever wanted to date a girl.”

Even though I really did not feel opposed to the idea of it. I was more opposed to how my family would think of me. I would think about what if I did date a girl, how would I explain that to my mom? I knew she would be upset, so why go through the trouble telling her I’m lesbian if I was not even sure I was yet. I had never been with a girl before how do I know that’s for me? So I left it at that.

I left my home state of Washington for sunny southern California to attend college at California Baptist University. I grew up in a catholic household so the Baptist way was completely foreign to me.

By no means was I expecting to find God and my future wife in the same place, but it happened!

At a Baptist college, I found someone that I adored from head to toe without any restrictions. I have only been with one woman and now she’s my wife.  I remember the first time I saw her I thought

“If I were lesbian, I would be with her.”

I had no idea that she was lesbian at that point in time either. We were friends until we weren’t. I started off by confiding in my roommates. I told them that I did not know how to explain this, but that I had a girlfriend now. They were for the most part very understanding. The way they acted towards me did not change whatsoever. Then I told my sister. She laughed hysterically until she was crying when I broke the news to her. She explained the reasoning of her laughter was that our mother had always thought that she would be the gay daughter. My sister couldn’t wait to meet her. So now it was time to tell my parents.

I dwelled over this for five months before dialing the phone from school to finally tell my mom I had a girlfriend. That was the most awkward conversation ever. She had no words to say to me. She kept saying,

“I don’t know what to say” and “why would you do this to me?”

I was so upset because I was secretly hoping it would turn out differently even though this is exactly what I knew would happen. She said she needed time. We did not talk for the two weeks following that call. I wanted to respect her and give her whatever it was she needed to understand. After the way my mom reacted I did not want to tell my dad at all, but my mom told me I had to be the one to tell him. I reached his voicemail, so I decided to just text him. I sent him a picture of my girlfriend in her Army uniform with this message.

“Dad this is my girlfriend. I know that this is not what you were expecting from me, but I am truly happy and hope that one day you can be happy for me too.”

He replied back in the most unexpected way. His response,

“I love you no matter what. I don’t care as long as you are happy, safe and a contributing member of society.”

I had to laugh at the contributing member of society part. Once my mom met her and saw how happy I was every day that was when she finally accepted everything.

I had a very positive experience coming out. I knew that there were people who were not going to agree with it, but the people that were meant to be in my life would stick around. And they did. Me coming out did not change who I was as a person. I’m still the same friend, daughter and sister. I just chose love over everything and that looks different than the norm. I have been blessed to live in a state that is completely accepting of LGBT. People here are more concerned about recycling than they are with who you love. Yes, there is a LGBT community, but we all live so harmoniously here that I don’t feel like I need to seek out people who are like me because I feel accepted into society. I know this does not stand true for most places around the world though. There is still so much work to be done to make everywhere feel as safe as I do in Washington. So much change has happened in recent years for the LGBT community and it is only continuing. My marriage is recognized now in all fifty states where as before there were only a handful of states that legalized same sex marriages. While this has been a slow process to get to where I am today I would never change any piece of it.

Love conquers all.


263046_1411245097773_806461_n

Shelly DeLeon has a B.A. in Kinesiology and she is currently working as a Dance Instructor at Debbie’s  Dance Studio.