shaktinah's blog

It Matters Where We Came From

Between my serving as worship associate on this Sunday and helping to create the accompanying communal altar for the congregation, I’ve been thinking about Day of the Dead and ancestors a lot these past few days. The other night while Dad was watching the Warrior game, a commercial for a beer came on - Modelo Especial. The commercial ended with “It doesn’t matter where you came from; It matters what you’re made of.” And I thought to myself, “Wow, they’re using a uniquely USAmerican perspective to sell a Mexican beer.” Because Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, is a recognition that it does matter where we came from, that what we’re made of is in large part due to where we came from.

Reflecting on Evil

Fountain of Peace, St John the Divine

By most counts I am a religion nerd. Not only is it a favorite topic of discussion, but if there is a church, temple, mosque, synagogue, shrine or ritual place of note in the area that allows visitors, I am there. So when I learned that the fourth largest Christian church in the world - the Cathedral of St. John the Divine - was in New York City, I of course had to go.

Thank You Body

Being religiously savvy Unitarian Universalists, most of you probably know that one of the core teachings of Buddhism is impermanence. All things are conditional and thus all things change. For example, people get older. When you're a kid this seems like a good thing. As an adult, not so much. (Young adults may not yet relate to this, but trust me, it's coming.) You probably also know that Buddhism teaches that attachment, or grasping - for example, not wanting things to change even tho all things change - is the cause of dukkha, the Sanskrit word that gets translated into English as suffering, or dissatisfaction.

Truth In the Time of Babel

A few months ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I no longer trusted my friends to tell me the truth. Some people expressed hurt feelings, and in retrospect, I should have anticipated how that would sound. But I wasn't questioning anyone's honesty. Rather, I was expressing dismay at feeling lost in a sea of misinformation.

It must have been easier in the days of Edward Murrow and then Walter Cronkite. Whether justified or not, the general perception was that you could trust these journalists to tell the truth, even if governments or corporations didn't want them to.

But by the time my generation came of age, that sense of trust in the media was gone. One of the defining characteristics of GenerationX is that we are distrustful of institutional authority - whether it's political, religious, advertising, or media. While sociologists have attached that cynicism to GenX, this distrust of mainstream media has arguably increased across all age groups.

Mother Earth Does Not Need Saving

In June of 2009, I was still reeling from my mother's death from cancer the month before when two DC metro trains collided near the stop I took every day, killing 9 people. One evening shortly after the crash, I got off that stop after work, walked by the flowers left for those killed, turned towards home, and then saw them... dozens, maybe hundreds of fireflies, flashing on the lush green grass. They didn't care at all about the recent deaths – they were looking to reproduce, to create life. Lives end but Life continues.

Anthropomorphization and Objectification

Image from timewheel.net

    I grew up in San Francisco in the neighborhood of Parkside, one block away from the city park. There was a small copse of trees and bushes there that together created a private space, if one was small enough to crawl into the center. And there, sitting on the cool earth against a tree trunk in the filtered sun, I could hear the birds and insects and, I thought, I could hear the trees. Talking to each other, joyfully. And taken all together – the sun, the earth, the chirps and buzzes and especially the trees - I heard God telling me that I was part of and connected to all. Loved.

When I was nine, my Buddhist parents sent me to West Portal Lutheran school, where I was taught, among other things, that God was NOT in the sunlight and the trees, and that humans were special, separate from the rest of creation.

Solstice Rest and Reflection

Like many of you, I consider it my duty to stay well-informed, and often times that desire to be informed conflicts with the desire to.... remain hopeful about the world, and humanity.  Almost daily it seems, a new video of another person, usually black, being killed by police bullets.  On the one hand, the terrorist attacks of ISIL, on the other, xenophobic attacks against Muslims.  Desperate refugees being turned away at borders. Murders of transgender people. Attacks against women's health care providers. New laws to further burden the homeless. Poisons in our water, earth, and air.  Overwhelmed, my instinct is to withdraw –  to contract into the protective cocoon of my home and closest loved ones.  And then berate myself for exercising the privilege of being able to do that.  The question always is, is it ok to withdraw occasionally, and for how long?

Losing Face

Back in 2010, some Unitarian Universalist congregations were already deeply involved in work on immigration, but most of our congregations weren't yet aware of the escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies in several states. That changed in April of 2010 when Arizona passed SB1070, which was the most punitive law against undocumented immigrants at the time. Suddenly, everyone was paying attention to Arizona, and calls went up to boycott. The UUA had previously scheduled our 2012 General Assembly to be in Phoenix, so a heated debate ensued as to whether we should honor the boycott or go to Phoenix anyway but working with local immigration activists to protest.

The Physics of Congregational Singing, Or Why I Go To Church

When I was a kid, especially in middle school, I used to love to sing. To myself. All the time. It was in junior high that my depression first manifested, tied with fears of inadequacy and failure – but the act of singing lifted my spirits, momentarily melting away whatever cares I had. Even when I graduated to high school, I still loved to sing. Until one day my mother said to me, “You have such an awful voice. I don't know why your voice is so hard to listen to; your father and I both have good voices.”

It didn't happen immediately, but over time I sang less and less, becoming more and more self-conscious about it, and eventually stopped. The things I struggle with – perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of looking foolish – these are things that I know many of us struggle with to varying extents. And sometimes, unfortunately, these fears cause us to give up things that we actually enjoy doing.

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