When an anniversary falls on Yom Kippur, the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, thoughts of living and dying take on cosmic proportions. Fortunately, it’s rare for the two milestones to collide given the differences between the secular and Jewish calendars. Both are celebrations, but Yom Kippur which ends the New Year’s ten Days of Awe, is a sacred time when the celebration of life is combined with contemplation its finite nature. This year, I have a double dose of introspection and my mind sought the path separating living from dying and wandered from wonder and gratitude to mourning and humility.
When the Jewish New Year arrived, I got many questions about faith and calendars from Human Resource departments. They wanted to know why the holiday occurs on a different day each year according to our secular calendar. And they asked about food associated with the holiday. Offering the traditional apples and honey for a sweet New Year was the easy part. Explaining the timing was the real challenge.
What should I write about religion and religious calendars in these contentious times? I know that many organizations and companies would prefer that the issue of religious diversity would disappear. But every year, thousands of religion-based lawsuits claiming a “hostile or offensive work environment” are registered with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Bullying can be based on various things. A person, most likely, a school student, might find themselves bullied by others because of their race, gender, sexuality, appearance, academic or athletic performance, personality, and other aspects of their identity.
A solution to the problem as complex as this one must be equally comprehensive. Today, however, I would like to tackle but one element of this problem: religion-based bullying.
Roots of faith-based bullying
Religion-based bullying is a horrible trend that is still going strong in our schools. It happens both in the physical world and online and shows no signs of stopping. It would be preposterous for us to blame it exclusively on children, equally as preposterous as to turn a blind eye to it.
Children, indeed, seldom have a strong understanding of religion: spirituality usually requires some life experience. Children are even less likely to be interested in the small differences between various faiths and creeds.
They can, however, and often are conscripted by grown-ups into the hate of the different. It is our instinct, after all, to fear and distrust “them” who are opposed to “us”. An instinct that goes counter to the ideals of diversity, sure, but still remains an instinct. And as it is with instincts, it can be easily exploited when there is little understanding or willpower.
It is us, the adults, who fuel this instinct in kids. What we say to them or around them doesn’t need to be downright offensive. A little biased comment here. A slightly derisive one there.
And it all builds up into a structure of oppression.
Let us be aware that creating your own business requires a connection between spirituality and entrepreneurship. How does that work? The first element is the business side of the endeavor and its bottom line, otherwise known as ‘show me the money.’ The second motivation is self-fulfillment. Some refer to this element of entrepreneurship as ‘personal satisfaction.’ But the core of the vague term ‘personal satisfaction’ is what is best described as a spiritual sense of purpose. This spirituality is sometimes linked to one’s particular faith tradition, but is not necessarily so. Rather, there is a commonality in this spiritual sense of something greater than ourselves that translates across the boundaries of specific religions. Most importantly, there is tremendous power where this spirituality and business overlap.
Last semester I went through an experience I’d never gone through before in my teaching career: I taught a student whose face I couldn’t see. The reason? She was from Saudi Arabia, and she was wearing a niqab, that part of her all-black outfit that covered her face from the bridge of the nose down.
(The Bermuda Jews History Series was originally published in The Bermudian Magazine)
In the 1990s, I made my first trip to Bermuda in fifteen years. My family, once the mainstay of Bermuda Jews, were long gone from the island. The first whiff of salty sea air hasn’t changed but the airport is a jumble of construction. A short jog across the tarmac should end in a hushed wait for the appearance of a customs agent, sitting patiently on the dark wood furniture of the terminal’s old-fashioned waiting room. Today, official greeters wave us through a temporary cordoned maze to a terminal with a second story, a food court, and customs agents encased in glass booths. An electronically-enhanced steel band strikes an earnest rendition of “Island in the Sun” where a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth once hung.
Why does Diversity & Inclusion include so little religious diversity trainng? The cultural awareness and cultural competence inherent in D&I are increasingly embraced as the major tools of the global market place of the future. Yet, there is a black hole of information on diverse religions. The silence is surely not due to a lack of interest or visibility. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet and religion pops out as a major issue across the planet. Look at the growing number of EEOC complaints based on religious expression. Yet, the vacuum of expertise in religious diversity exists in most relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. As a result, too few professionals understand how to avoid clashes involving belief systems. How can their paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared be managed?
Our faith and humanity requires renewal given the divisiveness of our culture, boosted by the anonymity of online social networks. Powerful inspiration for reminding us of our spiritual mission towards our fellow human beings, and our inner strength to commit to that mission, come from our religious leaders and traditions.
“As we welcome a New Year many people follow the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions. Others ponder what they would like to see happen to make the world a better place. In the movie ‘Miss Congeniality’ each contestant in the beauty pageant (or scholarship program) when asked what they want, all answer ‘World Peace’. I would agree with them, but how to go about it?
All major religions have the injunction, expressed in one way or another, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This sentiment can be agreed upon by all people of goodwill. I pray that as more people take seriously in their daily lives this simple injunction, we will begin to experience a more peaceful and sane world.”
~ Monsignor Al Humbrecht, Knoxville TN Catholic Diocese, Soddy Daisy Holy Spirit Catholic Church
Four Contemporaneous Scenes
I. The Inn
Torchlights singe the late night air and the kicked-up dust glows on the path to the inn. A man in a brown robe leads the donkey, each step measured. His wife, wrapped in a wool shawl, stays the autumn chill. For a moment, she must stop, grips the nape of the donkey’s neck, and winces, as before, bracing for the next contraction. He steadies her, wonders if Mary’s okay. She relaxes her hold and smiles, but the harvest moon glinting off her eyes belies her calm assurance. As sure as ebb and flow, the next wave of pain cannot be quelled—her hands pressing her belly as if to stem the tide. Joseph’s feet, no longer downtrodden by fatigue, rush him to the inn. He raps on the oaken door as if his fists were made of brass. But his own would have him not. Go Away! A gruff voice rumbles through the wood. There are no more rooms. Those words echo in the desperate air with Mary’s cries. Yet, there is a shuffle of shoes. A clenched-jaw voice on the other side of the door seeps through, Jacob. Let them in! The innkeeper’s eyes wedge, Yes, Eliana. She stokes the fire, pots clacking on the coals. Water boils. He shows them to the straw-crib behind the house, where the sheep lay.
Presentation & Dialogue
I was excited to return to Cincinnati to speak on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. Always a dynamic city, Cincinnati has become an innovative powerhouse. It was an honor to share the lessons, analysis, and strategies gained during my three decades and two books devoted to the topic of religious diversity.