Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

The “Ground Zero Mosque”

August 19, 2010

The proposed “Ground Zero Mosque”—or more accurately, the proposed multi-purpose Muslim community center, Park51—has been at the center of a media firestorm lately. All the usual suspects among the right-wing pundits have been milking the outrage over the planned construction. Some prominent Democrats, such as Harry Reid and Howard Dean, have jumped on the bandwagon. President Obama has backed off his earlier defense of the project. In the face of majority opposition to the project, these politicians are willing to compromise their principles for political expediency. But the fact that a majority of US citizens apparently oppose the Mosque does not make that position just or wise.

From what I gather, many who oppose the community center acknowledge that the developers have the right to build on this site. Instead, the opposition is denouncing the plans as inappropriate. They seem to believe it is insensitive to build a Muslim center so near the site of a catastrophe associated with Islam. Some, such as Newt Gingrich, even suggest that the project is a vindictive triumphalism, that this is some “victory mosque” to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

Park51 is not next to, will not loom over or be visible from the 9/11 Memorial, will not even be on a prominent route to the Memorial. The proposed project is not a mosque. But really, I don’t care if it was a mosque, or directly connected to the site of the twin towers or the memorial. I don’t feel that the project is insensitive to the US or the pain of caused by 9/11. On the contrary, it is exactly what we as a nation need.

We need the visible presence of sincere Muslims of goodwill—of whom there are many—to take back Islam from the Jihadis and radicals. We need Muslims who reject the corrupt Islam which looms so large in the perception of our nation today, and who want to help heal the devastation done by those who have misappropriated and desecrated the name of their faith. We need Muslims who will declare through their works “That which tore down and destroyed this area is not Islam. This which we do to build and renew is Islam.” We need a presence which can help bridge the divides between us, help overcome the xenophobia which has only grown stronger as a reaction to the work of evil men under the pretense of religion on 9/11. We need their help in taking back the site from the spectre of the terrorists.

The developers of Park51 seem qualified to be that presence. The people and organizations involved with the project, such as the Cordoba Initiative, seem to all be “moderate” Muslim organizations, focused on outreach to the wider community and to multifaith understanding. As Newt Gingrich has suggested, the name Cordoba is significant, but not in the way he believes. Yes, Cordoba was the capital of Muslim Spain. Cordoba was also the land of the most religious freedom in Europe at the time—and for several centuries afterward. The Cordoba Initiative is inspired by that oft forgotten legacy to nurture understanding and respect among different faiths and cultures.

To thwart Park51 would ultimately hurt our nation. It would be a boon to Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic organizations in their recruiting. They would be able to point to the US’s obstruction of Park51 as further proof of the irreconcilable differences between the West and Islam, that the West is inherently hostile to their faith. Compromise and appeasement only encourages the West to act as bullies, they will say, and thus the only way to communicate with the US and the West is through violence.

More importantly, it will aggravate the divisions between us, alienate Muslims and others who are different from the majority in the nation. Our collective psyche will never mend if we continue to nurse the pain and jealously protect it as our own. Innocent Muslims died on 9/11 as well. The only way to heal the festering wounds caused by 9/11 and our xenophobia is to face them head on, to meet with Muslims of goodwill, to find the common ground we share with them, to have faith in their humanity, and invite them in to share our pain as we share theirs. Park51 can play a role in facilitating that healing process.

As Valerie Elverton-Dixon eloquently put it:

Our true power lies in how we refuse the terrorists our terror, our fear and our suspicion of our Muslim sisters and brother. Our true power and our true strength is that from many we are one. It is from the strength of that unity that gives us the bravery not only to allow an Islamic Community Center two blocks from ground zero, but to welcome and to celebrate it (“Park 51 and America’s Unresolved Pain, Tikkun Daily, 08.19.2010)”.

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Chris Buttars’ Christmas Demands

December 3, 2008

Since the rest of the Utah blogosphere is abuzz with the news of Chris Buttars’ Christmas buffoonery, I might as well get into the game.

The West Jordan Republican is having a resolution drafted for the 2009 Legislature that he said asks retailers not to “exclude Christmas from your holiday greetings.” Resolutions, of course, cannot be enforced.

Buttars said he is seeking the resolution because he was contacted by several employees of a retailer he declined to name that had been told they couldn’t say “Merry Christmas” to customers.

“We have a war on Christmas,” Buttars said, invoking the battle fought this time of year by conservatives nationwide, including, since 2005, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who has said the issue is at the center of the nation’s culture war ( “Buttars says bah to ‘holiday’ greetings,” Deseret News).

Oh, so many buttons. Where to begin? How about the fact that the entire War on Christmas is a complete canard? Or that trying to repair the integrity of Christmas through marketing slogans is oxymoronic? Rob of The Utah Amicus recently noted

…I don’t know of anyone who has been converted to a Christ-like-life by the words, “Christmas Sale.” Although I uphold any person’s freewill to patronize an establishment because they do use the word Christmas in their advertising, or when greeting customers, it is my opinion that the real war is within, and it’s not promoting Christ’s love when we force establishments to use the word Christmas so that we will give them our dollars regardless if they believe in the word, and it’s significance, or not…isn’t turning the words, “Merry Christmas” into a wedge issue to divide us, and forcing its use to insure the exchange of money about as un-Christ-like as it gets ( “Davis County Clipper Partylines—Is there still a war against Christmas?“) ?

Then there is the fact that the U.S. is not a Christian nation as Buttars believes. Not to mention the fact that such legislation is either an infringement on freedom of speech (by pressuring people to change the terminology they choose) or—as a resolution with no enforcement power—is nothing more than message legislation, and thus a pointless waste of legislator time and taxpayer money.

Buttars did it again. Every time you think he can’t get any more ridiculous, he trumps himself. If you were to try to dream up a caricature of the modern conservative, could you outdo him?

Celebrating Christmas

November 30, 2008

Given our goal of making Christmas less superficial and material, more spiritual and meaningful, my wife and I have spent a fair amount of time mulling over how to accomplish this. It isn’t enough merely to avoid shopping on Buy Nothing Day, or to limit the money spent on gifts. There needs to be positive steps, rather than merely negative ones (Christmas commission rather than merely Christmas omission). What do you do to replace the malls and credit card charges?

We find that it starts with emphasizing activities. There are many community events available this time of year which can help make the season memorable. In theory, I’m less reluctant to spend money on events than gifts: while the event itself is more transient than a “thing,” the impact can last far longer than most material gifts. In practice, there are so many free events celebrating Christmas that we rarely attend events which charge.

For us, one of the greatest aspects of the Christmas experience is music. While I’m no fan of most of the “Christmas contemporary” genre, I find great joy in traditional Christmas music. There is little we look forward to more than the Christmas Carol Service of Salt Lake’s Cathedral of the Madeleine. The traditional Catholic music is so ethereal and reverential, and the Cathedral is such a gorgeous setting. We find ourselves awed every time. If you are interested, call early for (free) tickets.

They don’t seem to have any specifically Christmas programs, but I’ve attended a couple services at Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church in December. I really enjoy Gospel music, and the services are always jubilant. It’s a nice change of perspective.

There are virtually nonstop concerts around Temple Square for your enjoyment throughout December.

Last year we found that the Utah Cultural Celebration Center had a dozen or so Christmas concerts in December, from musical traditions around the world. My favorite was the Peruvian group—Andean music is entrancing.

Another event at the Cultural Celebration Center is the Trees of Diversity exhibit. Years ago, I went to the Festival of Trees and was terribly disappointed. Most of the trees were nothing more than marketing promotions: The Jazz had donated a tree with ornaments of players and logos; KSL’s tree was covered with news anchors, logos, and topped with a news chopper; Michael McLean had a tree adorned with CD cases from his latest albums. Do those displays say anything meaningful about Christmas? The Trees of Diversity exhibit, on the other hand, was beautiful. Each tree was decorated with handcrafted ornaments from a given traditional culture. We could see what each group valued about Christmas, and we learned a little something about their culture.

Convention says that the gift-giving tradition on Christmas is meant to represent God’s gift to the world of His Son, Jesus Christ. But a crucial aspect of that gift is that the gift of Jesus and the Atonement was given to a world entirely undeserving, and yet one in desperate need of that gift. In the same spirit, I think we symbolize the Christmas gift so much more by giving to those in need. So many lack material or spiritual sustenance. I can’t imagine a better gift to our Father than to memorialize his Son through service. Do we or our families need the new fashions, gadgets, or gizmos which typically make up Christmas? Or could our resources meet more crucial needs in others?

Giving generously to charity is certainly worthwhile. The Salvation Army and (for us Mormons) the LDS humanitarian services are a couple of the most prominent options. Several local organizations are sponsoring the Angel Tree program in Utah, which is a good way to connect specific individuals/families with donors, making it a more personal act of service. The Feminist Mormon Housewives team has created a Kiva Account to help raise funds for third-world people through the concept of microcredit, pioneered by Grameen Bank. One year we worked with my extended family to raise the funds to send an African student to college in concert with Signs of Hope international.

We have increasingly been looking to find situations in which we can contribute time as well as money. Last year a family in our neighborhood with three children under eight-years-old made a couple dozen Christmas cards, and then spent a day in a nursing home delivering cards, singing songs, and talking with the residents. For a recent Christmas, we arranged for our extended family to purchase materials for and then together assemble newborn “kits” for the Teddy Bear Den to distribute to needy single mothers. All of the young children in the family eagerly participated in filling the kits, thrilled to know that they were helping “babies.”

We still do some traditional gift-giving. I am intrigued by the idea of celebrating Christmas entirely without exchanging gifts, partly because I realize that celebrating Buy Nothing Day accomplishes nothing if you just spend the money a few days later. While we haven’t gone that far yet, we try to make as many of our gifts as possible. Over the last several years, we’ve had a lot of fun learning how to make wind-chimes, lamps, bean-bag chairs, homebound journals, art, etc. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than purchased gifts, but they are more personal.

When we must buy gifts (or the supplies for gifts), we try to shop locally owned businesses as much as possible. One good option in SLC is Earth Goods General Store, which honored Buy Nothing Day by remaining closed Friday, and which specializes in environmentally friendly items.

For a few more days, you have the option of a viewing the Old World Christmas Market at Gallivan Plaza, where you can buy hand crafted gifts from local artisans.

No doubt, it takes more work to make time for the various events and the service activities in which we want to participate. It can be hard to resist the allure of stuff. But we’ve found that our holiday is strangely less stressful and more rich as we focus on relationships and experiences.

What do you do to make your Christmas season meaningful? What events go on in your community, here or elsewhere, which you look forward to?

Buy Nothing Day

November 26, 2008

For me, the day after Thanksgiving has always been the real holiday. Neither the turkey nor the wall-to-wall football has ever excited me. But Friday was the day for unpacking the Christmas decorations, dusting off the holiday records, and welcoming in the Christmas season. This, I loved.

Among our Friday traditions was the mall crawl. Our family would pile into the van and brave the packed freeway to SLC, where we would wander three or four of the malls. We never got up in the wee hours to make the opening rush—as a family of night owls, I’m not sure you could get us up and out the door before first light if the house was on fire. But once we had taken care of the morning festivities, we wandered the malls until closing time.

Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed. Much of the thrill was simply seeing all the things I wanted, all the thing I might possibly get. Occasionally we would get gifts for others on the trip, but the tradition was primarily an opportunity to finalize our wishlists. Virtually our first act of the season was to pay homage to commercialism.

I’ve grown older, hopefully wiser, and have come to understand the shallow nature of consumerism, and appreciate the importance of sustainable living and simplicity. I’m no longer interested in celebrating C.S. Lewis’ aptly named “Rush.” Now I’m an advocate of Buy Nothing Day.

Honoring Buy Nothing Day isn’t very difficult. You simply don’t go shopping. There are plenty of other activities with which to fill your time.

Why not usher in the celebration of our Lord and elder brother by spending quality time with family? Black Friday is often spent with family, but I’m skeptical that time spent in lines, rushing to catch some special before stock runs out, or weaving over blacktop looking for a decent parking spot qualifies as quality time. Instead, why not spend the day making your Christmas decor? It isn’t so long ago that homes were not dressed for the holidays by Wal-Mart and Target. Families made their decorations, from the tree ornaments, to paper snowflakes, to the wreath, and even the nativity. How often do people still make those paper chains with which to count down the days until Christmas? While those earlier families may not financially have had the option of buying pre-made Christmas furnishings, I think they may have been better for the time together making their Christmases.

Not all of my enjoyment of Black Friday came from avarice. I am an extrovert by nature, and am energized by crowds. Being in among the (more or less) jolly throngs thrilled me. I love traditional Christmas music (and some few contemporary creations). Fortunately, I find that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the multitudes without offering up sacrifices at the altar of corporatism. Temple Square lights up for the season on Friday. Starting at 4:30, SLC’s Gallivan Center will host a “lights on” celebration, with a concert by Kurt Bestor and a children’s choir. Those less clumsy than I might enjoy Gallivan’s ice skating. Gateway is also sponsoring music and a tree lighting—just don’t be seduced into the stores lining the way.

Several local charitable and progressive groups are sponsoring at Coat Exchange at the Salt Lake City Library plaza, from 10:00-3:00 on Friday. Helping out at this or some other charitable activity would be a wonderful way to start the season.

What other traditions do you have to begin the holiday off right? What traditions have you considered starting? What other things are happening in your communities to ring in the season without a cash register?

Addendum

We just got through with being interviewed by Chris Jones for KUTV (channel 2) news about this post. Apparently he wanted to do a report on Buy Nothing Day in Utah, and googled my post. They came to our house, asked us some questions, and filmed us decorating our tree. Of all the posts I’d written, this is not the one I’d expected to get media attention. If you’re interested in seeing me being a stammering fool (as opposed to a typing fool), keep an eye on the news.

BYU Professor Chris Foster on Animal Advocacy

July 23, 2008

Yesterday, BYU Professor Chris Foster gave an interview on KCPW’s The Public Square about animal advocacy and humane treatment. I think his arguments are very persuasive. Of course, I’ve never been a fan of the machismo and violence of the rodeo. And over the recent years, I’ve been moving my family more and more towards a plant-based diet. I’m not necessarily planning on a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, if for no other reason that there are some meats and animal products which I really enjoy (sadly, my favorite meats tend to be the most highly processed, the various sausages). Any consideration of an outright ban is met with a fit from my palate. So instead, I’m simply seeing how many great meals I can make without meats, or with very small quantities of meat. I’ve found plenty of pasta, legume, or grain salads which are every bit as delicious as any meat entree. I’ve learned plenty of ways to get protein and the umami hit of meat without resorting to a cow (I’m not keen the texture of tofu, but there are plenty of ways to prepare great tempeh dishes!). I hear that many who go for a plant-based diet end up finding meat distasteful. If that happens, great. If not, we’ll continue to eat meat on occasion to satisfy those occasional carnivorous urges, but focus on plant sources of nutrients.

Concern for the treatment of animals is only one factor in my decision. The meat-based diet of modern U.S. society has been a key factor in the rise in obesity, heart disease, and various other ailments over the past few decades. Given the recent concern over food production and costs, it is worth noting that meat is a terribly inefficient source of energy; it takes many more times the amount of energy and land to produce a calorie of meat than to produce the same amount from plants. Many free-market advocates have made a big deal about the impact of increased biofuel production on food production, and their points are certainly not invalid. But long-term, the increasing emphasis on meat in diets throughout the world, and the increasing amount of resources needed to provide that meat, could be seen as a far greater threat to the world’s food supply than biofuels. Rather than encouraging developing nations to adopt the Western/U.S. style diet, we should probably be doing more to adopt diets more similar to theirs and to our ancestors. As Professor Foster pointed out, such diets would be much more consistent with the counsel of the Word of Wisdom than the hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, roast beef, and other staples of the U.S. (and Mormon) diet today.

Feminist Mormon Housewifes: Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too)

June 26, 2008

With the recent legal brouhaha over homosexual marrige in California and the LDS Church’s response, the homosexual marriage issue is again a hot topic in religious circle and around the blogosphere. One of the big arguments of those advocating for homosexual marriage bans is that we must protect “traditional marriage.” Of course, I’m always curious what form of traditional marriage they want to protect; after all, marriage has had many different forms around the world, and has experienced quite a bit of evolution over the past couple hundred years.

“Not Ophelia,” contributor to Feminist Mormon Housewives, has written a profound post, “Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too),” addressing just that point.

What we call marriage in this country is a very recent invention. Throughout the millennia marriage has been, not about two people who love each other and want to share a life together, but rather about power, property and paternity. About male control of women’s work, women’s lives and women’s fertility. The importance of virginity, the stigma of bastardy, the ‘head of the household’ status, coverture, and in some cultures arranged marriages, bride price, dowries, honor killings, and the right of husbands but not wives to divorce at will — all of this was (or shamefully still is) part of the effects of traditional marriage.

I’m glad she was willing to barbecue that sacred cow. Whether or not we believe homosexual marriage is sinful, it is certainly worth considering just what traditional marriage means as a theory and in our lives.

Symbols and Public Classroom Displays

February 11, 2008

A Utah Senate committee recently passed SB 190, which would require all public school classrooms to display the U.S. flag and Constitution, and each school prominently display the national motto (“In God We Trust”).

I very much agree with the stated intent of the bill, as listed in section 1.

The Legislature recognizes that a proper understanding of American history and government is essential to good citizenship, and that the public schools are the primary public institutions charged with responsibility for assisting children and youth in gaining that understanding.

I think that the means described in sections 3-5 by which it is hoped that the bill will help develop that proper understanding are very sensible—if perhaps a bit intrusive on the local school boards. I strongly encourage people to explore the documents by which our nation is governed, the principles upon which the nation was founded, and the words and lives of the men who were essential in establishing those documents and that nation.

But then the Senate committee got to what seems to have been the primary thrust of the bill, with sections 6 and 7 requiring the display of the flag and Constitution.

What, do the Senators believe that the students will absorb patriotism by osmosis? “The latest physics research indicates that the convection and radiation of citizenship from patriotactive materials will increase patriotactivity of all citizens within a forty-foot radius (though it may cause patriotactive poisoning in illegal immigrants).”

I suppose it is a fairly small thing—aside perhaps from the “unfunded mandate” issue (the inability of conservatives like Senator Christensen to distinguish between legitimate dissent over an unjust war perpetrated on false pretenses and a lack of patriotism is another issue altogether). It certainly doesn’t hurt to hang the flag in a classroom. Yet it is indicative of a larger issue among conservatives.

Items like flags are nothing more than symbols. Symbols are very important in the way humans process abstract information. But problems arise when people turn the symbol into a fetish. The Right seems to struggle with this tendency, as indicated by Orrin Hatch’s flag burning amendment, Chris Buttars’ attempt to dictate recitation of the pledge, the email-forward tizzy over Obama’s decision not to cover his heart during the national anthem (as addressed several months back by The Life that I’m Living), and this bill. These conservatives seem to forget that a symbol is only representative of an abstract concept, not an actual manifestation or avatar of that concept. The concept is in no way harmed by neglect of a symbol, or even outright desecration. Symbols are not voodoo dolls.

In fact, principles and concepts aren’t necessarily nurtured by the strict observance and veneration of their symbols. The pharisees very proudly maintained the symbols of their faith/culture/nation, strictly observing the outward rituals associated with those symbols—yet Jesus denounced them as vipers and hypocrites.

I would suggest that many in our history have tarnished the principles of this nation while wearing flag pins, waving the flag, saluting the anthem, and otherwise performing outward rituals of respect. Conservatives must learn that pride is not patriotism. Similarly, many who decline superficial observances have done much to buttress those important principles. External trappings really mean very little.

Hopefully the Utah Legislature as a whole will display a less shallow understanding of patriotism and citizenship, and will look at more meaningful methods by which to promote these virtues.

Centerville Citizen and a First Presidency Message

December 26, 2007

In a day when some think that Utah is “for war,” it is worth recalling with the Centerville Citizen the words of the First Presidency during WWII—a war which was unquestionably a just war (at least in the Atlantic Theatre). How much more should we take to heart their words during this current explosion of U.S. military adventurism?

When is the Black Mass?

December 14, 2007

Speaking of less outrageous Conservative Advocates, lets here from a more outrageous one.

On Fox News yesterday, Bill O’Reilly let loose on “far-left websites” like DailyKos, stating, “If you read these far-left websites, you’re a devil worshipper. You are.” O’Reilly’s ombudsman responded, “As a journalist, you know better than that.” O’Reilly shot back: “Satan is running the DailyKos. Yes, he is!”

Watch the video.

Score one for the Culture Warrior. He found me out. Of course, to the Evangelicals that comprise most of the Religious Right, that’s my second strikee. A member of a cult and a far-left blog writer? I may as well go watch The Golden Compass for the trifecta.

War on Christmas

November 30, 2007

It seems that over the course of the last few years, members of the Right have become agitated over some sinister Left-wing “War on Christmas.” Ron Paul laments the decline of Christmas at the hands of the the supposed “anti-religious elites” among the liberals (Paul’s notion that “a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers” shows an astonishing lack of understanding about the writings of the Founders, but I’ll address the Right-wing church-and-state foolishness another time). Dr. Dobson implores his legions to avoid patronizing businesses which market the “holidays” instead of Christmas. Bill O’Reilly insists to a scornful David Letterman that “you can’t say ‘Christmas’ ” because “politically correct people” are trying to “erode our traditions.” The American Family Association mounts a consumer campaign against the Gap because—you guessed it—it lacks the proper number of references to Christmas.

How silly.

I would agree that there are problems with the modern celebration of Christmas. And, as usual, the Right is barking up the wrong tree.

Why in the world do these people think that the Savior cares whether he is referred to in a marketing slogan? Merry Christmas—and don’t forget to check out our specials on aisle seven! Merry Christmas, brought to you by Target! This makes the season more meaningful? You think you’re gonna find Jesus in Wal-Mart?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

Christmas hasn’t been secularized by Jesus-hating Liberals. Christmas has been secularized by commercialism and by a society which has given into the orgy of consumerism. Oh sure, we give gifts in remembrance of the gift of the Savior. Somehow I don’t think that the gift exchanges and gift rotations so common in Christmas today capture the spirit of the Lord’s unselfish gift of His son.

Several decades ago, C.S. Lewis , brilliant wit that he was, penned “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” a wonderful satire about a fantastical land in which two celebrations “Crissmas” and “Exmas” (marked by a tradition Lewis refers to as “The Rush”) were celebrated on the same day.

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

My wife and I have decided to try to avoid the retailers and their holiday Rush altogether. We have noticed, like Lewis, that the atmosphere of commercialism detracts from the beauty of Christmas. There is nothing innately wrong with getting a gift for those you love. I’ve had fun during past Christmases in which I’ve really done some searching to try to find gifts which will wow my wife (and often gone well over budget in the process…). But ultimately, we’ve come to realize that the more involved we are in looking for gifts and spending money, the less we are focused on the meaning of the Savior’s birth. The less focused we are on the Savior at Christmas, the more superficial it ultimately feels. While we are really excited to open our presents, the afterglow rapidly vanishes. And the harried “Rush” of shopping often overwhelmed the joy of the season. So we minimize the gift exchanges we participate in, try to make as many gifts we give as possible, and try to spend our holiday season giving to those in need and spending quality time with friends and family. Nothing could be more pleasant—and the cheer lasts much longer!

I suspect that if the Right-Wing Christmas alarmists worried more about selfless service in the manner of Him for whom the holiday is named, and fretted less about the marketing verbiage of Wal-Mart, Sears, and the Gap, they might have the kind of merry and sacred Christmas they so desire.