Category Archives: Religious Diversity

Religious diversity in the workplace and interfaith projects in the community.

Pandora’s Box of Hate – by Deborah Levine

Editor’s note: this article on anti-Semitism was originally published as an op-ed in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Russian President Putin got my attention when he suggested that Jews with Russian citizenship might have interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” said Putin. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship – even that needs to be checked.” Putin reminded me why my great grandparents made the harrowing journey from Russia and the Ukraine to the United States. My ancestors weren’t the only ones. Between 1881 and 1924, over 2.5 million East European Jews sought to escape the relentless persecution and ghettoization. The slice of history was captured in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, but while Hollywood entertained, it didn’t fully show the history of anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe, or its ongoing ripple effect.

Continue reading Pandora’s Box of Hate – by Deborah Levine

A Christmas Drama: Four Contemporaneous Scenes – by John C. Mannone

          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.

          II: The Temple

Palm straw, mimosa boughs and Jerusalem pines—cut and blessed for the great harvest. Chants usher from inside the holy place to the outside air thick with sense of sacredness. The high priest raises a knife and slays the perfect lamb. Blood pools in a stone cup. With a hyssop branch, he splatters blood on the scapegoat laden with the sins of the world. It is sent out into the wilderness, and forgotten. The sky cracks with a blinding light as if a great deluge was about to burst. But there is no rain, only whispers in the air and the crackle of shimmering light. The moon smiles through high cirrus tinted carmine, ribbon’d green, flashed with gold from the sun nestled deep below the horizon. And there is peace in the silent air.

          III: The Palace

Herod paces the marble floor, stepping on signs of the sky—an ancient zodiac inked into the tiles—with the animals and many serpents. He stops on the head of the lion; his robe flows, swishing stars painted there. Rage burns in his eyes. He demands his court astrologers to explain the bright flash that diamonds the sky and the veil of colors that drape the town of Bethlehem to the south. But Sire, surely a favorable sign from the gods, for Augustus Caesar… for you! Herod’s face relaxes, taught muscles ease; his eyes, glassy in the torchlight. Behind him hangs a tapestry of hammered gold. It catches the light. As if snake-charmed, each flicker writhes as a worm. Herod simply gloats.

          IV: The Fields

Jerusalem grass shines purple under the twilight moon, and the sheep’s gray shapes melt into the dark. A shepherd deftly moves his fingers over holes of an olivewood flute, and a psalm wisps heavenward. God approves and opens the curtained sky exposing all its stars. A singular light flashes brighter than the moon. Sheer rainbows silk the night. Celestial choirs trumpet, ethereal voices swirl with the stars and sing. The baby boy crowns. Cries ring among the hills; whisper in the hearts of men. And the shepherds run to him with hope.

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Previously published in The Hellroaring Review, 2012
Image credit: aurora (stock) and nativity scene (pngtree).

Policies, Faith, and Calendars – by Deborah Levine

When the Jewish New Year came in September this year, I got many questions about calendars and holy days 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).

What can you do to avoid a hostile and offensive workplace when so many conflicts over religion are begun unintentionally? The bias is labeled “unconscious” when people think it’s harmless, and even fun, to joke about Jews and money, Muslims and head scarves, Sikhs and turbans. They’re surprised when people feel harassed. Isn’t it a right to exercise of their freedom of expression?

Some respond to the dilemma by insisting that no religious expression be allowed at all. Others consider that approach hostile and offensive to people of faith. How do you begin to negotiate between such polar opposites? The first step is for organizations to develop written policies around religion if they haven’t already. Without a written policy, every incident is a matter of debate and personal preference. It doesn’t take long for the resulting distrust and dislike to damage team cohesiveness.

Timing is every thing. Well-meaning companies may find employees disengaged and distanced by ill-timed scheduling decisions. Don’t hold a conference or essential meetings on a major holy day. And if you must, don’t penalize those who can’t attend. What happens when religious calendars aren’t respected? If employees aren’t able to spend time with their families on major holy days, they may feel undervalued and leave. The organization’s talent pool is diminished and it incurs the expense of replenishing it.

Consider your partners and vendors, too. For example: Don’t have a job fair on a day when diverse vendors can’t set up booths. If vendors aren’t able to observe their holy days, they may disappear. In that case, the organization not only loses needed vendors, but the communities that these vendors represent may remove themselves as customers. The organization now has fewer marketing options.

Ready to upgrade your scheduling strategies? A vital element of your company policy should be a multi-faith calendar. Religious calendars vary with seasons, months, and days. Do not try to guess the dates of major holidays. Purchase a multi-cultural calendar or get an online version, many of which are free to users.

While we may not share the same holy days, and many of us aren’t religious, respect for sacred time makes good business sense. Avoid insensitive scheduling and build credibility with employees, vendors, and customers onsite and online. Sensitivity generates good will year round. The trustworthiness you establish helps offset unintended mistakes. So check your calendars and enjoy a few apples and honey!

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For more information on calendars and religious diversity CLICK Religious Diversity at Work

Pastor Paul McDaniel and the Interfaith South — by Deborah Levine

When I arrived at Chattanooga’s Second Missionary Baptist Church, A true Southern gentleman, The Rev. Paul McDaniel, met me personally met at the door.   Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Pastor McDaniel has been part of the Southern landscape and its African American community for most of his life. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he received a Masters of Divinity degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in New York. A Chattanooga resident since 1966, Rev. McDaniel is stepping down from his post at the Second Missionary Baptist Church after almost 50 years of service.  A larger-than-life figure in the community, I share our conversation in his honor.

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You Are a Woman: Exploring the Mandate – by Lydia Taylor

Think like a woman, talk like a woman, walk like a woman because the mandate is ‘You Are a Woman’.  But how do I accomplish this?
In my previous article, I shared how I heard the words ‘You are a Woman’ during a time of prayer and meditation. In my pursuit of their relevance, I concluded that these words are not simply to confirm gender, but are a mandate urging women to make a difference in their communities and in the world. In that article, the reader is encouraged to discover how they may make an impact that will advance society and elevate those in their individual sphere of influence, whether great or small.

Continue reading You Are a Woman: Exploring the Mandate – by Lydia Taylor

The Atheism Challenge – by Terry Howard

‘Terry, I’m (gasp) an atheist!’  There was not a hint of anger in her during the entire time “Mary” and I talked that afternoon in the crowded sandwich shop. In fact, it was just the opposite. “Mary” laughed, we laughed, so hard and so much that out of the corner of my eye I could see icy stares from booths nearby “telling us” to pipe down so that they could get back to their business dealings, grandkiddos, tuna sandwiches, chips and lattes. Here’s the email “Mary” sent me the Friday before that prompted that late Monday meeting:

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Quick Reference Cards for Religious Literacy – by Deborah Levine

While leadership training will often include issues related to Diversity & Inclusion, few programs include instruction in religious diversity. Yet, cultural awareness, cultural competence, global leadership, and cross-cultural communication are embraced as the tools of the market place of the future. What accounts for this black hole of information on diverse religions?  One has only to turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet headlines to see that religion is a major factor in interactions across the planet.  It is both puzzling and disturbing that a virtual vacuum of expertise exists in the relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. Trying to avoid culture clash of belief systems can result in a paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared. Too many leaders are left scrambling for strategies and resources designed to turn the religious diversity novice into an expert.

Continue reading Quick Reference Cards for Religious Literacy – by Deborah Levine

Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski: Interfaith Pioneer

The Rev. Dr. John T. PawlikowskiJohn T. Pawlikowski, a priest of the Servite Order, is Professor of Social Ethics and Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He served for six years as President of the International Council of Christians & Jews and its Abrahamic Forum and currently holds the title of Honorary Life President. He has authored/edited some fifteen books on Christian-Jewish Relations as well as on social issues such as economic justice, war and peace, and ecological sustainability. He is the former editor of New Theology Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal for Ecumenical Studies. He is also a founding member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council.

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