Implicit Bias in Sacred Stories

From my daily practice today, I encountered implicit bias. Implicit bias is: “The attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The dude in today’s story needs the reiteration of another dude to understand and hear the woman. There you have it.

A Few Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases from the Kirwan Institute:

  • Implicit biases are pervasive.  Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs.  They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

Given the events of last week in which implicit bias is seen all over the news (we have seen the news of the 11 Jews gunned down in Pittsburgh and held vigils, but have we seen the news of the 2 black folks gunned down in Kentucky by a white nationalist? And the reticence to label it as a hate crime, although the police are now investigating it as such-after public pressure.  And the dude had tried to enter a traditional black church to gun down folks before he settled on the grocery store.

And implicit bias affects how these killers were taken in. They are both alive and untouched. And yet we hear the call all the time with regard to people of color who are shot and killed–we must keep the community safe–we had no choice but to kill this man in his own backyard (Stephan Clark) or we had no choice but to kill this cooperating man in his own car (Philando Castile). Surely, if they couldn’t be “taken alive,” then two mass murders … well, you know. They were white. Implicit bias affects how we treat and approach folks. If there is bias in favor of whiteness, they there is a chance of having a kinder, gentler approach taken that allows life to continue on. Anyway, my rant of the day.

Onward to my daily practice that instigated it all!

Altar’s smoke rises
Blurring earth and the cosmos
Connecting us all

[end]

Judges 13
This is the beginning of the story of Sampson of the tale of the super strong guy who lost his strength when his wife cut all his hair off.

I was so excited by his birth story that I didn’t read through to the entire allegory. Because, #biblegeek. Come on!

Anyway, I forgot the bit about his parents not having children and that they entertained a stranger who told them they would have a child anyway. Hmm…who does this sound like? Sarah and Abraham? And later, Elizabeth and Zechariah? Miraculous birth stories abound!

What I had remembered was that Sampson was pledged to be a Nazarite from birth. In Numbers 6, the rules for being a Nazarite for “men and women” is revealed. I even looked in the KJV version…the inclusion of women was not a modern-day inclusion. It was there from the beginning. The basic rules for Nazarites was no cutting of hair, no drinking of alcoholic beverages, no going near dead people, dedicated to God.

What I liked most about this story was the birth story and the messenger of God that came to Manoah and his wife (another unnamed woman in the Bible). The messenger goes to Mrs. Manoah first. Then manoah who doesn’t get it and needs clarification and asks for the messenger to come talk to him directly.

Manoah asks the “messenger” to stay so they can have a goat together and the “messenger” says, “No, make a burnt offering to the LORD.” So they do that and when the flames and smoke rises, the “messenger” rises up into the heavens along with the smoke (hence today’s drawing).

Then Manoah declares, “We’ve seen God.” The messenger wasn’t a messenger, it was God.

The leadership challenge may be one of implicit bias. Do we let implicit bias drive our “double checking” of voices (like Mrs. Manoah’s voice) or do we believe them?

Peace,

Rev. Terri Stewart

Note: Terri (a.k.a. Clocked Monk) is a pastor in the United Methodist Church at the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s Youth Chaplaincy Coalition. She is the founder of Beguine Again, focusing on spritual practice and ideals. Terri is a member of the Zine’s core team. Beguine Again is the sister site to The BeZine. ./ Jamie Dedes, Managing Editor

#judges #bible #nonbinary #Lgbtq #queer #metaphor #values #seattleu #Poetry #Leadership #Leaders #Haiku #UMC #Christianity #Poetry #PNWUMC #Scripture #Gonzaga #Seattle #BibleJournaling #BibleJournal #Pastor #Chaplain #seattleu #biblestudy #biblereading #implicitbias

The Sacredness of December: “Look to the Light” (Hanukkah), “The Magnificat” (Advent and Christmas) & Mevlûd-i Peygamberi (the Birth of the Prophet)

My soul magnifies the Lord ...


Look to the light, the light in the window,
The simple lit candles that shimmer and shine.
The message is clear as simple lit candles,
The passion for freedom is yours and is mine.
– Rabbi Dan Grossman

 December is a month rich in the holy days of the Abrahamic traditions. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, a commemoration of the Jewish reclamation of The Temple of Jerusalem in 164 B.C.E. Christians celebrate Advent – a period of waiting for the birth of Christ – followed by His birth, Christmas.  Muslims celebrate the birth of the Prophet in November or December depending on the lunar calendar. We do not need faith to appreciate the beautiful poems, music and artwork inspired by our religions, Abrahamic or others.


Look to the Light

Menorah
Menorah

In 164 B.C.E., the Syrians who ruled Israel took away the Jews’ right to practice their religion. Led by Judah Maccabee the Jews rebelled and succeeded in reclaiming their sovereignty and they rededicated The Temple of Jerusalem. The history of the celebration of Hanukkah has had some interesting turns in more recent times.

There’s a story of a young Polish soldier in then General George Washington’s army who held a solitary Hanukkah celebration on a cold night in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  The soldier gently placed his family’s menorah in the snow and lighted the first of eight candles for the first night of Hanukkah. The man was perhaps a bit homesick and missing his family. He must have thought about how much they’d suffered over time from religious persecution. There were tears in his eyes when General Washington found him. Washington wondered what the young man was doing and why he was crying. The soldier told his general the story of Maccabee and the other Jews. It is said that Washington was heartened by the telling and moved on to battle and victory. The menorah is on now on display at the Smithsonian Museum.

Yet another story surfaces in 1993 Billings, Montana where a family was lighting their menorah one night. As is custom, they placed the lighted menorah in the front window of their home where it was stoned by anti-Semites, as were the homes of other Jewish families that same evening. The town newspaper printed dozens of menorahs.  Rev. Keith Torney, a minister of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, distributed them to all the Christians and the paper menorahs were placed in windows all over Billings as a sign of solidarity and of respect for the freedom to practice religion as one’s conscience dictates.

Look to the Light is a commemorative poem written by Rabbi Daniel Grossman and set to music by Meira Warshauer. Enjoy!  … but if you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the web/zine to view and hear it.


The Magnificat

The Ode of Theotokos (Song of the God Bearer)

It is only in the Gospel of Luke that we read of Mary’s recitation of this poem that harkens back to Jewish prophecy and is constructed in the traditional verse style of the times with mirroring and synonymous parallelism.

From the Book of Common Prayer

My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holden his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.


The Prophet’s Nativity

A book explaining the meaning of the term Jashan e Eid Milad un Nabi
A book explaining the meaning of the phrase Jashan e Eid Milad un Nabi

One poem that celebrates Mawlid, the birth of the Prophet, is exceptionally sweet. It was written by the Turkish Süleyman Çelebi (also known as Süleyman Of Bursa) who died in 1429. You’ll note that in addition to honoring the Prophet Mohammad,  it honors three mothers: Asiya the mother of Moses, Mary the mother of Jesus and Amina the mother of the Prophet.

Mevlûd-i Peygamberi, Hymn of the Prophet’s Nativity

Some have said that of these charming three
One was Asiya of moonlike face,
One was Lady Mary without doubt,
And the third a houri beautiful.

Then these moonfaced three drew gently near
And they greeted me with kindness here;
Then they sat around me, and they gave
The good tidings of Muhammad’s birth;
Said to me: “A son like this your son
Has not come since God has made this world,
And the Mighty One did never grant
Such a lovely son as will be yours.

You have found great happiness,
O dear, 
For from you that virtuous one is born!
He that comes is King of Knowledge high,
Is the mine of gnosis and tawhid*
For the love of him the sky revolves,
Men and jinn are longing for his face.

This night is the night that he, so pure
Will suffuse the worlds with radiant light!
This night, earth becomes a Paradise,
This night God shows mercy to the world.
This night those with heart are filled with joy,
This night gives the lovers a new life.

Mercy for the worlds is Mustafa,
Sinners’ intercessors: Mustafa!

– Süleyman Of Bursa 

* monotheism

Compiled by Jamie Dedes; Photocredits: (1) © Jamie Dedes,The first illustration was created using a public domain photograph of The Magnificat (Le magnificat) by James Tissot; (2)Hanukkah Lamp, Lemberg (Lviv, Ukraine), 1867–72 from the collection of The Jewish Museum of New York under CC BY-SA 3.0; (3) Photograph of a book explaining the meaning of the phrase Jashan e Eid Milad un Nabi by Saudmujadid under CC BY-SA 4.0

Evolution and Capitalism: As Tarzan Said to Jane “It’s a Jungle Out There”

skepticBy this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, it has become something of a cliché to compare the candidacies of both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and all the turmoil, often violent, surrounding the former’s campaign rallies, to the spawning of the monster in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Progressives and people to the left side of the political spectrum sometimes joke that such comparisons actually insult Frankenstein’s monster. But by concentrating exclusively on Trump and Cruz and the perennial freak show of the lunatic right, the comparison misses the larger point that the real Frankenstein monster – the monster that ultimately gestated Trump, Cruz, the Great Recession, and their attendant pathologies– is contemporary capitalism itself. I emphasize contemporary capitalism deliberately, because the adjective “contemporary” is absolutely critical: the capitalism to which we have all-too-rapidly become accustomed is not capitalism as it existed in the few Administrations immediately following the Second World War. That capitalism – roughly speaking, the capitalism of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years – was, comparatively speaking, a “kinder, gentler capitalism” than the system fortuitously denoted by the “c-word” today. To paraphrase an advertising slogan: This is not your parents’ capitalism.

600px-Boris_Karloff_as_Frankenstein's_monster

Now, before we go any farther and commit the criminal offense of misdemeanor sociology by over-idealizing what those years were like, I should back up a step or two and acknowledge that, no, the largesse of those supposed halcyon days by no means included everyone. Yes, the middle class was growing … but mostly the white, male, heterosexual middle class. Yes, home ownership was burgeoning … but mostly only for white, heterosexual families (and also in large measure because of the GI Bill to assist veterans, a measure a hard-right GOP Congress might well refuse to fund today, for fear of nurturing a “culture of dependency”). (The term “homosexual family” would have been considered as oxymoronic as “two-sided triangle”.) Yes, Dinah Shore sang her theme song – which I am old enough to remember – “See … the … U … SA in your Chev … ro-let … “ But you had to be able to afford a Chevy, which many people in that ostensible golden age of the American economy could not. This was also the time of the germinating civil rights movement; the schoolchild “duck-and-cover” time when we believed that the Nation could be annihilated in a half-hour – and when, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it nearly was; when schools were segregated … as Gov. Orval Faubus vowed they always would be in Arkansas; when registering black people to vote could be, in some cases was, worth your life, etc., etc., etc. But, that said, the fact remains that for some Americans – by no means all, but for a number unprecedented in world history – the middle class was, not just growing, but thriving … so much so that, in our optimism, we even coined a phrase for the coming of Camelot and the Kennedy era: “the Soaring Sixties”. Remember that?

So what happened? I like to think of it in terms of an analogy with biological evolution. A Reader’s Digest-condensed version of biological evolution, basically the skeleton of Darwin’s original theory, the first edition of which was published in 1859, says that as changes occur in an organism’s phenotype via random mutations in its genotype, the environment acts on the resulting mutated organism to determine whether the organism lives or dies. (Darwin had only the crudest conception — something called “pangenesis,” long since discredited — of how mutations originate.) It’s like a vast, jaw-droppingly complex, planet-spanning figure-skating competition: organisms “skate” their “program”, mutations included, and the environment acts as the panel of judges, determining which organisms survive and which do not … survival being defined as the ability to survive long enough to reproduce and thus pass on the adaptation to their descendants. But as the environment changes over time, the “judging criteria” that determine the fate of each species likewise change: mutations that were once advantageous or neutral may become disadvantageous – the technical term is “maladaptive” – under the new environmental regime. Perhaps the classical example of this process is the meteor strike on the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, that resulted in basically a “nuclear winter” due to the debris thrown up by the impact reflecting sunlight back into space and thus cooling the planet. Dinosaurs, being huge lizards which had no ability to regulate their body temperature, and which had been around for over 150 million years, suddenly found themselves in the midst of a catastrophe. Because the earth became colder – and there were other changes because of the meteor – the evolutionary niche once occupied by cold-blooded dinosaurs came to be occupied by mammals, which do have the ability to regulate their body temperature independently of the environment. Result: the dinosaurs died off; mammals – including humans about 64 million-plus years later – survived.

423px-Charles_Darwin_photograph_by_Herbert_Rose_Barraud,_1881_2
Charles Darwin

OK … now back to capitalism … Societies – in particular, societies’ economies and the underlying technological infrastructure – evolve, too. And the process is intriguingly similar to biological evolution in response to a changing environment. The “figure skating competition” here, however, is between forms of socio-economic organization – what Marx called “the mode of production” – and the overall technological environment in which production takes place – what Marx called “the means of production”, with the “mode” playing the part of the skater and the “means” playing the part of the judges. (Again, the same caution: this is a Reader’s Digest-condensed synopsis.) Conservatives spill ‘way, ‘way too much ink pooh-pooh-ing Marx’s theory of the materialist dialectic of history – by which, Marx says at one point, he “stood Hegel on his [Hegel’s] head” – and ‘way, ‘way too little ink acknowledging the keen insights that, despite the undisputed oversimplifications of Marxist theory, lie at the heart of Marx’s basic paradigm. An example might clarify matters. In the Middle Ages, the production of goods was carried on according to what we today would call a “cottage industry” paradigm. A wainwright – a carriage-maker – would typically start with raw materials, fabricate the various parts of the carriage, put those parts together into higher- and higher-level assemblies, and finally put those assemblies together into a finished carriage – and, in the process, maintain exclusive control over the entire manufacturing process from start to finish, “touching” the entire carriage at each stage as it was being built. Working with the wainwright would be some young men – always men – who would serve apprenticeships as “wainwrights-in-training”. Furthermore, a master craftsman usually developed a close personal relationship with his apprentices, journeymen, etc., and the group often even lived together. As the “junior wainwrights” were trained, the supervising craftsman and the local wainwright guild would observe their progress and together determine what stage each trainee / “intern” was at: apprentice, journeyman, etc., all the way up to master craftsman – at which point the once-apprentice could become an independent craftsman in his own right, authorized to hire his own apprentices and teach them, whereupon the cycle would repeat.

483px-Karl_Marx
Karl Marx

Then came the factory movement from the middle 1700s on, the reasons of which are too complex to even synopsize here. Suffice to say that the factory movement eventuated from advances in technology that enabled the manufacturing process to be broken down into rather naturally occurring, small, easily identifiable, discrete stages, each of which could be physically isolated from the other inside an immense building – called a “manufactory,” later abbreviated to just “factory” – where a given worker, or more likely a cadre of several dozen workers, performed the same discrete sub-task, and passed the results on to other cadres of workers who would perform subsequent sub-tasks. In Marxist language, the “means” of production underwent a tectonic change. Now, instead of working on an entire product, each worker in the factory dealt with only a small, discrete task, and often had no idea how that one discrete task fit into the manufacture of the end-product. Furthermore, the idea of craftsmanship became quaint … then ceased to have any meaning altogether: there is no sense of craftsmanship in the fabrication of a mere “sub-widget”. Over time, and a rather historically brief time, at that, workers became mere fungible ciphers: if worker A and worker B fabricate the same type of widget X, then they are interchangeable; and given the simplicity of the discrete tasks, either can be trained to fabricate widget Y. The workers became strangers to the end-product, and, unlike a century before, strangers to one another. In Marxist language, the “mode” of production underwent a tectonic change. Our hypothetical wainwright building a carriage from start to finish with the help of his apprentices and journeymen became as obsolete as the post-meteor dinosaurs – and for essentially the same reason: the craftsman, like the dinosaur, was adapted to an obsolete environment. In the brave new world of the factory environment, mere physical dexterity – the ability to rapidly build sub-widgets – will win out over craftsmanship every time.

But the crowning humiliation came when the factory movement, leveraging advancing technology, gradually substituted machines for human workers altogether. In some meaningful sense, human beings became quite literally worthless in many contexts. What supplanted the value of workers was the value of capital, i.e., the money necessary to buy land and equipment, build factories, buy raw materials, and in general “jump start” the entire manufacturing enterprise. The cost associated with the workers themselves was relatively minimal: defined as the minimum wage necessary to enable a worker to subsist and to reproduce, so as to engender other workers to feed into the system. (The factory movement routinely employed children whose age was expressed in single digits.) Because workers could not afford the costs of transportation to and from their jobs, this also meant that workers had to move from the countryside, where most of the “cottage industry” work had been done prior to the factory movement, into great cities where they could be close to their jobs, usually congregating into vast, vast slums whose appalling misery has been so well documented in the novels of Charles Dickens, giving rise to scenes of human degradation that bear comparison only to conurbations of nightmare like today’s Mogadishu. It is this “para-Hegelian” dialectic between “means” and “mode” that drove the evolution of history, argued Marx. No wonder Romantic poets of the late 1700s and early 1800s like William Blake wrote of “the dark, satanic mills of Wolverhampton” and of the hellish filth-scapes of Whitechapel and the East End. No wonder the Luddite sect, with its hostility to any and all forms of technology, became increasingly popular. No wonder French workers, for fear of being displaced by machines, threw their wooden shoes (sabot, in French) into the cogs and gears of the machines … thus coining the word “sabotage”. As it is in biology, so also it is in socio-economics: evolution does not forgive.

dark-satanic-mills

So in many ways, the London of Charles Dickens is the tangible embodiment and vindication of Karl Marx: the means of production – factories leveraging technology so as to use human workers, if at all, only as flesh-and-blood machines – and the mode of production – wage-slavery intensified to a lyrical pitch through the massive urbanization of labor. All in the service of Capital. Now multiply the single example of London by all the great cities of Europe – their name is “Legion,” for they are many – and the sense of moral crisis becomes almost tangible. Two questions end up being begged: (1) how the hell did matters come to such a pass back then? and (2) why is the present so much like the past to such an unsettling extent? I would suggest that at least the outlines of an answer begin to emerge if we consider two factors we usually do not associate with each other: biological evolution and the European Enlightenment.

It’s important to remember a critical fact about the evolution of our species:  it’s about survival. Or, to be strictly precise, evolution is about surviving long enough to reproduce. Furthermore, given the short life-spans (on geologically and cosmically significant time-scales) of our species, homo sapiens sapiens, the type of survival toward which evolution is biased is short-term survival. Evolution — evolution alone and unaided by human intentions — is “concerned” with the long-fanged beast hiding behind that rock over there, not the long-fanged beast hiding behind other rocks elsewhere farther away. Evolution certainly has long-term consequences, but these are worked out in billions upon billions of particular, discrete, short-term instances. In an odd kind of way, evolution is like that verse in II Corinthians 6:2:  “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation”.  For evolution, now — or perhaps 5 minutes or perhaps an hour from now — is all that counts.  An organism that dies right now never reproduces, and thus falls out of the evolutionary stream.

human-evolution

As paradoxical as it may sound, given the time-scales involved, evolution is actually the ultimate in short-term thinking.  So we should not be surprised that humans are biased, down to the deepest sub-basement of our neuroanatomy, toward similar short-term thinking. We are evolutionarily predisposed to think in terms of the next 5 minutes or 5 hours. That is the consequence of the way the human brain evolved. Evolution tends to be very parsimonious:  it throws almost nothing away. (Most of the DNA in the human genome is so-called “junk” DNA:  perhaps functional, even vital, at one time, it has since been superseded and no longer “does anything” — but was never discarded.) So as the brain evolved from reptiles to mammals to primates, the earlier parts of the brain were, not discarded, but built upon, rather like a medieval castle or manor house. “Evolution” and “efficiency” both start with the letter “e”, but the similarity ends there. (The conservative parsimony of biological evolution, by the way, poses a sticky problem for advocates of intelligent design:  whatever Designer exists must have a severe hoarding fetish if S/He preserves so much “junk”.) Those archaic parts of the brain — less accurately but more descriptively called the “reptile brain” — are collectively called the “limbic system”, and include structures like the amygdala that do primitive, “fight or flight” processing of the emotions that demand instantaneous, reflexive, very-short-term responses, i.e. responses, like dropping a match when it burns your finger-tips, that do not require conscious thinking. Comparatively primitive structures like the amygdala reflect evolution’s “assessment” that stopping to think can sometimes be fatal — and therefore maladaptive

What does all this have to do with capitalism, both old and new? Well, if you stop to reflect on the fact that, at least in capitalist economies, the economic system is an arrestingly faithful analog of a biosphere, complete with “nature red in tooth and claw” survival for competition, the answer should be obvious. Because of the emphasis on competition and survival in the marketplace, the evolution that occurs in capitalist economies is no more predisposed to long-term thinking than the evolution that occurs in biospheres. The natural and “naive” tendency of all capitalist economies is to concentrate on today’s profit and tomorrow’s or next quarter’s bottom line, and if that means the growth of slums, the pollution of the natural environment, and social pathologies that can only be restrained and contained by the application of brute force, then … well …the Devil take the hindmost.

capitalism_by_graffitiwatcher

But the limbic system was not the only part of the brain to evolve.  Human beings also developed a cerebral cortex — the part of the brain that, loosely and qualitatively speaking, deals with abstract thought and therefore, most importantly, with long-term planning. With only an amygdala and its associated structures, human beings would still be capable of pursuing their self-interest. But only with a cerebral cortex are we capable of pursuing our enlightened self-interest. But like any powerful instrument — a car, a computer, a nuclear reactor, etc. — there is the issue of learning how to use it.  Much of human history could be written in terms of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of humans learning how to use the cerebral cortex. And we are still very much in the process of learning how to use it. One of the most critical, make-or-break steps in Westerners’ learning how to use this awesomely powerful instrument was the European Enlightenment that began in the middle 1600s and that continues today. Much of human history between the fall of Rome and the end of the 30 Years War in 1648 consisted of religious zealotry placed at the service of the amygdala and the limbic system.  But because of the rediscovery of the classical world, the efflorescence of science, and in consequence a renewed confidence in the powers of the autonomous human intellect and rationality, Europeans gradually — it was a very near thing — discovered how to agree to disagree and live with their differences instead of slaughtering one another over them.

It would be literally impossible to overestimate the importance of this discovery. The fact that Europe, with all its faults, is not a late-Bronze-Age wasteland today is because, over time, the principles of the Enlightenment — tolerance of differences, the concept of inalienable human rights, the unique value of human beings, the idea that governments and economies should work for human beings instead of the other way around, that it is legitimate to circumscribe the behavior of the few for the good of the many, etc., etc., etc. — came to dominate the culture in terms of its rhetoric … and gradually in terms of its behavior.  Anyone who watches the news or even reads a newsmagazine occasionally or peeks at internet blogs now and again will be convinced that there is still an enormous amount of work to do to put these principles into practice.  But even a casual acquaintance with history will reveal that we have come a long way. As Dr. King once said, quoting an old slave hymn, “We ain’t what we ought to be, and we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God we ain’t what was”.

renaissance-the-school-of-athens-classic-art-paitings-raphael-painter-rafael-philosophers-hd-wallpapers

So what conservatives miss in their critique of government “meddling” in the economy, e.g., their oft-avowed (though never fulfilled) pledge to abolish the EPA and like agencies, etc., is that the whole sweep of human civilization since humans descended from the trees and emigrated from east-central Africa has been to escape from, to transcend, Nature, and to temper and moderate Nature’s brutality, not to slavishly replicate it in our social and economic relations. “Nature red in tooth and claw” is fine if you are the “apex predator” who benefits from such an arrangement, so it is no accident that the farther up the affluence scale you go, the more intense becomes the hostility to government regulation:  if the game is already rigged in your favor, you will naturally be reluctant to change the rules of the game. But one of the benefits of the Enlightenment was a renewed confidence in humans’ ability to critique such arrangements and to perform tasks of autonomous moral reasoning, and thus establish a rational basis for altruism, for care for the weak, for the support of the disadvantaged — and thus to hedge about the otherwise-unrestrained cut-throat competition in the capitalist jungle with limits that ensure human life, human survival, and human dignity — values of which pure and unadulterated Nature is ignorant. Hence the abolitionist movement in 1850s England. Hence efforts to alleviate the suffering of the workers in the slums of London.  Hence the abolition of poor houses and debtors’ prisons. All were examples of “big government meddling,” and yet all were rooted in the Enlightenment-backed consensus that, while human beings emerged and originated from Nature, we are not bound to take up permanent residence there.

Capitalism can be and has been — and very often still is — a good and healthy and liberating thing. But capitalism is morally defensible only as long as, and to the extent that, human beings are in charge of capital for the good of the entire human community … never vice versa.

– James R. Cowles

© 2016, All rights reserved

Image credits:

“Rationality”:  public domain
“Capitalism is crisis” graffito: Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0
“Frankenstein” head: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
“Evolution” image: public domain
Karl Marx: public domain
Darwin photo: public domain
“Industrial mill”: COPYRIGHT © OLGA HARMSEN
“The School of Athens”: public domain

 

Happy New Year, Part II – Assembling now, The Conscious Army . . .

Peace will prevail because of people just like you. Maybe not this year or the next but ultimately. Amen!

Climate Care as Spiritual Practice

Editorial Note:  With this piece by Terri Stewart (Cloaked Monk) we announce our focus for 100,000 Poets (and others) for Change 2016, environment and environmental justice. We continue our Facebook group discussion page. Let us know if you would like to be included in that.

Terri is also the lead for the upcoming November issue of The BeZine. The theme for that zine issue, which will publish on the 15th of November, is at-risk youth. 

******

Caring for all that is can be an overwhelming job! If I think of the things within my control and trying to do the best I can, maybe I can do it in bite-size chunks. After all, I will never be able to invent some magical thing that converts pollution to life-giving energy. But I can compost!

Call on the animals to teach you; the birds that sail through the air are not afraid to tell you the truth. Engage the earth in conversation; it’s happy to share what it knows. Even the fish of the sea are wise enough to explain it to you. In fact, which part of creation isn’t aware, which doesn’t know the Eternal’s hand has done this? His hand cradles the life of every creature on the face of the earth; His breath fills the nostrils of humans everywhere. Job 12:7-10, The Voice-A Storyteller’s Bible

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Climate-care, earth-care, creation-care, creature-care, caring is a deeply spiritual practice. How we approach the other starts with our interior orientation. If we practice expansive spirituality, we will be filled with gratitude, mindfulness, and joy. If not, we will be led to a diminished experience.

I wonder how we could reconnect, simply, through ritual, to creation? Perhaps a mini-ritual?

1. Set your sacred space

What are you trying to connect to? Earth? Cosmos? Stars? Bunnies? Create an easy environment where you can let your gaze gently rest on a photo, object, or even the real thing!

2. Set your intention

What do you need at this moment? For example, “I am here to connect to the earth in a way that honors the createdness of us all.”

3. The body of the ritual

Combining your intention with a ritualized act. For example, if you were sitting outside on a lawn chair, offering honor to the cosmos during the day, you could gradually look around honoring each creation you see. “Blades of grass, I honor you. Cedar trees, I honor you. Beloved cat, I honor you!”

4. Closing ritual

A signifier that it is finished. Perhaps, if you were outside in the grass, you could bring a handful of grass seeds to add to the growth. Then you could sprinkle the grass seeds in all directions, offering life. 

Be creative! This framework for ritual was created by my friend, Deborah Globus. Her avatar is LaPadre. She’s awesome!

Shalom and Amen!

Terri Stewart

by Terri Stewart

© 2014, words and illustration, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

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The Month of Light

Wishing peace and happiness to our Muslim friends and contributors during this holy month of Ramadan. This feature article is by guest contributor Imen Benyoub (Algeria). It is from the February issue (theme: abundance/lack of abundance) of The BeZine. The first illustration is courtesy of American multimedia journalist and novelist (Bagdad Fixer), Ilene Presher. She found it online and shared it on her Facebook page. Ilene hosts a weekly radio show, TLV1Radio, Weekend Edition. The second illustration is courtesy of Russian photographer, Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures.net. J.D.

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Ramadan is the month of light, the month of reflection, blessings, generosity, devotion, change and sacrifice and a pillar of Islam as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no God except Allah and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah, performing prayer, paying the Zakah (charity), making the pilgrimage to the sacred house and fasting the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  It is called the sacred month because it is observed worldwide by all Muslims as the month of fasting.  It’s twenty-nine or thirty days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.

Fasting in Islam means “to abstain.”  When you fast, you completely abstain from food, drinks, smoking and sexual intercourse from the break of dawn until sunset with an intention. This is not, however, all of it.  Real accomplished fasting is when you abstain from every behavior that is considered bad behavior in general.  It is something we share with Christianity and Judaism but with a lot of difference in details.

Who must fast? In general it is obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, who is adult, sane, not sick or in a journey (traveling more than eighty kilometers). The exceptions to this are women who are in period or post-natal bleeding days, pregnant women and mothers who are beast-feeding.  These women are expected to make up the fast when they are in a condition to do so.  Those who are terribly sick, need constant medications, and those whose illness may be exacerbated by fasting.

When you fast, you will have two essential meals, sahur ( a pre-dawn meal). The Prophet Mohammad talked a lot about the reward and blessing of this meal, preferably left ’till the last half hour before dawn.  This meal will help you resist during the long hours of fasting during the day.  The second meal is iftar or break-fast, you take it immediately after sunset.

Along with exceptions mentioned above, there are a lot of permissible things a person can do that will not invalidate his or her fasting, like swimming in the sea when it’s too hot, with caution of not swallowing water, taking injections, doing blood tests, using toothpaste and eating or drinking unintentionally when someone forgets.

Fasting is a school of wisdom.  It has great spiritual and moral meaning too long to be listed in a few lines.  Beside its health benefits, it teaches patience and utility. It makes us closer to Allah because we are doing it out of love and seeking spiritual reward. It cleanses the soul from grudge and hatred. It teaches self-control and maturity.  Through fasting we learn to be selfless because we feel the pain of the poor and the hungry.

There is a beautiful sense of solidarity and community in Ramadan when everyone is helping, when mosques are filled, when relatives visit each other, when people forgive and start a new page, when a person vows to be good to others and when people stand in one line to pray.

Fasting can truly change a person’s heart when done with utter sincerity. It fills the heart with satisfaction, happiness and light because you’ll be rewarded double fo revery deed of goodness, every charity, every nice word you say, every verse of the Quran you read. When you realize that Allah gave hose who fast a special door in Heaven because of its holiness and significance.

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Every country celebrates Ramadan differently.  Traditions and customs change. The only thing that connects us all together is that magic that everyone feels during the month. The one I truly love is when the family celebrates the fasting of a child, encouraging him and helping him to understand what fasting truly is.  It is like a recharge for the year, a self-nourishing experience and one of the most exquisite a person can have.

Some sayings about Ramadan: on Prophet Mohammad (PBUH):

“When Ramadan enters, the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of hellfire are closed and all the devils are chained.”

“Every action a son of Adam does shall be multiplied; good action is by ten times its value up to 700 times.  Allah says: with the exception of Fasting, which belongs to me, and I reward it accordingly for, one abandons his desire and food or my sake.”

“Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

– Imen Benyoub

© 2015, feature article, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; 2015