A close friend of mine asked what Little Christmas is. I answered that it’s called the “Epiphany,” and celebrated on the sixth of January when the three wisemen followed the star to Bethlehem in search of baby Jesus to worship and present him with gifts. She then asked why the wisemen followed the star and presented offerings to Jesus. I had no answer. I need an answer for my friend, or I’ll seem dense. I wouldn’t expect her to know being of Hindi religion, just like I don’t know anything about her religion, which makes me want to research it now. Getting back to the point–
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.
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 training? 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
When I arrived at Chattanooga’s Second Missionary Baptist Church, A true Southern gentleman, Pastor 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 stepped 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.