Q: When I see Muslim women in traditional dress I see them as sexualized and oppressed rather than modest. Am I right?
Rabbi Rami: Patriarchal societies often fetishize the female body. Some do so by covering it, others by uncovering it. That said, compare the images of women in contemporary urban Islamic magazines like Brownbook with the images of women in, say, Vanity Fair. Which sexualizes women more? The key for me isn’t more clothing or less, but empowering a woman to challenge her culture and dress as she chooses.
There’s an underground spiritual movement in the United States that has grown so quietly over the last few decades that you may not even know you’re part of it.
To find out if you’re part of this secret network, just answer the following question: “Are you currently involved in a small group that meets regularly and provides support and caring for those who participate in it?” If you answered “yes,” congratulations. You are part of the small group movement. More than 40 percent of Americans belong to such small groups, reports Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow. Do you?
Why does it sometimes seem that people with the most money can be the least generous and most fearful about losing money?
We must teach our children about religion for three reasons. First, human beings are intrinsically religious: for thousands of years we have inquired into the meaning of life, often expressing our thoughts in the form of religious myth, ritual, and theology. Teaching our children about religion helps cultivate the art of existential inquiry: learning to ask and answer the core questions of life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? and Why?
Second, human beings often use religion to justify warring against one another. Teaching our children about the human origins of religion helps them to resist religiously sanctioned violence.
Third, our children live in a world where working constructively with one’s neighbors requires an understanding of our neighbors’ religion. Teaching our children about religion helps them to build more stable and loving communities.
My email flooded with questions from readers this weekend regarding the shootings in Portland, Oregon and Newtown, Conneticut. As always, I offer answers not to close a conversation, but to broaden one. Here are some of the questions, and my answers:
"My third grader asks why God didn’t prevent the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings. Our pastor told us what to say to our son, and the answers satisfy him, but not me. Why didn’t God spare these people? Why is there evil?"
This may be difficult to hear, but your questions are the shadow side of your theology. Because you imagine a God who could stop the killings, you wonder why he didn’t. Because you imagine a God who is all–good, you wonder why there’s evil. Imagine differently. In Isaiah 45:7, God says, “I fashion light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.” God contains all opposites, and creation actualizes them. Reality is what reality is because God is who God is: the source of all things, evil as well as good.
"Can you help me find Bible passages explaining these killings?"
Don’t search the Bible to explain what happened; search it for wisdom that helps you respond well to what happened. Start with Job 2:9—“Shouldn’t we accept the bad as well as the good from God?” Job realizes the “yin–yang” nature of God and creation, and teaches radical acceptance: facing the truth of what is as the first step toward positively engaging with what is. Without the distraction of “why,” we are free to grieve more fully. The healing is in the grieving, not the explaining.
In one day, Alexis Williams made two men cry.
It was the autumn of 2010, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was considering new regulations for coal ash—a toxic waste produced by coal-burning plants. Williams, a poised and passionate 26-year-old, and the campaign organizer for the faith-based environmental group Restoring Eden, had spent the summer canvassing the Midwest’s coal belt in support of regulations.
On the morning of the EPA hearings in Chicago, Restoring Eden co-hosted a prayer breakfast. As the faithful sipped their coffee, Williams reminded them that it was OK to hate the sin of coal ash pollution, but not the polluters. “They aren’t our enemies,” she said. “We need to remember to love them throughout the day.”
Later, a conservative-looking gentleman approached Williams. His wife had dragged him down from Wisconsin, he said. She was the tree-hugger—not him. But Williams’s rallying cry brought tears to his eyes. He’d never heard an environmentalist talk about love before.
Every worldview, whether religious or cultural, is steeped in the structure of a story. Christians, for example, elevate the value of love through the archetype of Jesus, the ultimate picture of faith and compassion. Buddhists understand the value of spiritual seeking through the image of the wandering Buddha, finally enlightened under the bodhi tree. American mythology upholds the “American dream,” and the rags-to-riches story is retold again and again through the currency of Hollywood movies and reality TV.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink” - Proverb
Recently I was at a marketplace in the old sugar plantation town of Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, about an hour from where I now live. It’s a once-bustling sugar cane industry town that now finds itself facing severe economic challenges. Hilo has had its share of hard times, and I’m pretty sure it never fully recovered from the great tsunami of 1960, a setback that took 61 lives and left the town almost completely destroyed.
Sooraya Graham, a devout Muslim and an art student in British Columbia, took a photo of a woman draped in niqab and abaya (face veil and full-body covering), folding a bra while doing her laundry. Needless to say this photo sparked great controversy: a Muslim woman doing laundry? That must be an insult to Islam. Or maybe it was the bra. I don’t know.