Tag Archives: diversity

“The Crucifix, Its Uses and Customs” by Umberto Eco

In this short essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock, Eco discusses whether it is appropriate to display religious iconography, specifically the crucifix, in institutions of public education. I found this to be particularly interesting, given that there seems to be a growing tension between religion and state institutions in the US. Heated debates have erupted over the inclusion of texts in schools, or the display of the Ten Commandments at government buildings, and there does not seem to be any abatement in this tension.

Eco uses examples from his home country of Italy to make his point.

In Italian universities there are no crucifixes in the lecture halls, but many students are members of Catholic groups like Communione e Liberazione. However, at least two generations of Italians spent their youth in classrooms where the crucifix was hung between portraits of the king and Mussolini, and out of every thirty students in every class some became atheists, others fought with the resistance, and others again—the majority, I believe—voted for the Republic. All anecdotal evidence, if you will, but of historical importance, and this tells us that the presence of religious symbols in schools does not affect the spiritual development of the students.

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 274 – 275)

Eco makes a great point here. The exposure of young people to religious iconography and doctrine in no way ensures that those individuals will internalize the ideas, and conversely, the lack of these symbols does not mean that individuals will not develop along spiritual pathways. But what Eco adds later in the essay, which to me is the key point, is that tolerance of others is what must be taken into consideration in this issue, and that in a diverse society, if religious topics are to be taught in school, they should be inclusive of all religions.

School curricula of the future must be based not on the concealment of diversity but on teaching the techniques that lead youngsters to understand and accept it. For some time now people have been saying it would be nice, along with religious instruction (and not as an alternative for those who aren’t Catholics), if schools devoted at least one hour a week to the history of all religions, so that Catholic kids might understand what the Koran says or what Buddhists think, and so that Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists (and even Catholics) might understand how the Bible came into being and what it says.

(ibid: p. 276)

I agree with Eco. Personally, I enjoy reading religious texts from diverse traditions and faiths. The idea that one tradition has a monopoly on the truth has led to centuries of warfare and hatred. I feel that every spiritual or religious text has valid insights to share.

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough on this topic. Thanks for stopping by and reading my rambles. Have a great day and keep on reading interesting stuff.

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Filed under Literature, Non-fiction, Spiritual

“Once” – Poems by Alice Walker

OnceAliceWalker

I bought this short book of poems by Alice Walker from The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. It’s a slim book and all the poems are short, so I read through it fairly quickly. Overall, I liked the book. There were some poems I really connected with, and then some, not so much.

The earlier poems in the collection deal with racism and those I found to be the most powerful, especially in the current racially charged social climate. The later poems were love poems that slipped into what felt like self-pity over failed relationships. And while I don’t mean to diminish the pain of a failed relationship (I’ve felt this myself), those types of poems are just not my personal preference.

In the poem “African Images, Glimpses from a Tiger’s Back,” Walker writes:

in my journal
I thought I could
capture
everything. . . .

I love this image, particularly because I am a journal writer. I’ve been keeping a journal for many years and have one shelf half full of completed journals. I know some people don’t like to keep their journals around for fear someone will read them. Me – I don’t care. I know my family won’t read them while I am around, and after I am dead, then I really don’t care if my family reads them. In fact, I like the idea that my children and their children’s children might have the opportunity to look back on my life, hear about the things I did, the thoughts I had living in this strange and exciting period of human existence.

The poem “Once,” which the book is titled after, is by far the best poem in the book. It deals with racism on multiple levels, because, let’s face it, racism exists on many levels. One of the passages that stands out is about a mother’s disgust with her daughter for being in an interracial relationship.

One day in
Georgia
Working around
the Negro section
My friend got a
letter
in
the mail
–the letter
said
“I hope you’re
having a good
time
fucking all
the niggers.”

“Sweet,” I winced.
“Who
wrote it?”

“mother.”
she
said.

As I look around, I see that we have come a long way in addressing racism, but that we still have a long way to go. There is still hatred and prejudice directed towards people of different ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. I just hope some day soon we will all begin to recognize that we are all essentially similar, and that our differences are something to be celebrated, not hated. On that note, I want to end with one more passage from the poem “Once.”

what will we
finally do
with
prejudice

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #07 – Male/Female Duality and the Subtlety of Artistic Expression

ScarletWitch_07

This arc continues to surprise and impress me. Not only is the writing and artwork excellent, but the creative team is bold enough to incorporate thought-provoking ideas. And they do so in a way that challenges to reader to look below the surface at to what is implied instead of what is overtly stated.

In this issue, Wanda collaborates with a Hong Kong detective named Alice Gulliver, also known as the Wu, who possesses mystical power. Alice is an intriguing character, specifically because of her balance of male and female energy. She has managed to incorporate aspects of her father and her mother into her being, becoming a balanced individual that transcends gender roles and bias.

Alice: My father was a Hong Kong detective, killed by one of the triads. My mother was the city’s magical heroine, the August Wu of the Coral Shore… murdered by a demonic entity.

Wanda: So you chose your father’s life and keep your inherited powers a secret?

Alice: On the down-low, that’s right.

A sign of great art, in my opinion, is to express something subtly, through what is consciously left out of dialog and what is conveyed through images. In this tale, there is a sexual attraction between Wanda and Alice that is only hinted at through the dialog and the images, particularly the eyes. I’ve always felt that eyes are the most expressive feature of a person’s face, and the artists captured an attraction through the way the eyes are rendered. It’s subtle, but clearly there.

At the end of the issue, Alice hesitates for a frame, eyes are averted, building tension. Then in the following frame, her eyes turn back to Wanda as she springs a question.

Alice: Hey… err … do you want to grab a drink? We can discuss how I do things differently.

Wanda: I don’t drink, Alice. I’m sorry.

Alice: How about tea? I know an amazing tea house.

Wanda: Oh. Now tea, I do.

And in the final frame, the two women walk off together.

I’m really impressed that a main-stream comic has taken on sexuality and gender issues. It takes courage, especially in an environment that appears to be more and more hostile to the LGBT community (looking at the states that have recently enacted legislation restricting rights of LGBT citizens).

I recently listened to a TED podcast that talked about moving beyond tolerance, and I have been thinking about that a lot since listening. Tolerating people who are different is not enough. We need to embrace diversity and not merely tolerate those who are different. I think this comic is a step toward embracing differences, and for that, I applaud the writers and artists who collaborated on this.

Cheers, and thanks for stopping by.

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“The Writings on the Wall: Peace at the Berlin Wall” by Terry Tillman

WritingsOnTheWallYesterday morning I went for a run and passed a wall freshly covered with graffiti. I was initially annoyed, but then the graffiti stirred a memory of a book I had purchased years ago that I had not thought about for a while. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I purchased The Writings on the Wall, which came with an actual piece of the wall as part of the boxed book set. I confess buying the book for the chunk of cement with a little paint on it, wanting that piece of history, but I ended up being really moved by the book itself. I decided to peruse it again.

The book is a collection of photographs depicting graffiti art painted on the wall. It also includes photographs of the wall being demolished. These stunning pictures are interspersed with quotes from writers, activists, thinkers, and politicians, all promoting concepts of peace and unity. It’s impossible to look through this book without feeling inspired and hopeful.

Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself. I can’t help thinking about the walls we are constructing today, whether it is to keep out immigrants, or to give us a false sense of security in our walled and gated communities, or whether they are the social barriers erected to keep us separated from those who are different. The types of walls may vary, but the resulting division is always the same.

The idealist in me hopes that someday we will abolish the walls we’ve created. It could happen, if we are able to let go of the “us and them” mentality that seems so prevalent nowadays. On that note, let me quote the opening paragraphs from Tillman’s book. Hopefully the words will help inspire us to “love our diversity.”

Before it began to be dismantled, the Berlin Wall was approximately one hundred and five miles long encircling the city. About forty five miles of the Wall was built of concrete. During several visits I walked or rode a bicycle along thirty of those miles and I was never out of site of graffiti. The graffiti were only on the West Berlin side of the Wall. In many places the graffiti is many layers deep. And most of it is only visible for a short time (often just a few days) because it is painted over by the next artist. The writing on the Wall seems to appear mysteriously. During the more than two hundred hours I spent near the Wall over fifteen days, I did not once see anyone painting on the Wall.

The message and experience of the writing on the Berlin Wall is strangely uplifting. It is a touching chronicle of human creativity, determination, hope, and unity. It seemed inevitable that the Wall would eventually come down. The graffiti prophesied that—literally the writing was on the wall. And the opening of the Wall is more than just the removal of a physical barrier and division. It is a joining, coming together of human consciousness. A new unity that is only possible when we love our diversity.

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Filed under Non-fiction