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Reality TV gets Religion

May 22nd, 2013 2 comments
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Earlier this month, I read an article that credited the Archbishop of Canterbury with suggesting that reality television should start including religion into its programming.  Part of his reasoning was so that people could learn more about other religions.  Now I don’t know if the Archbishop and I have a different definition of what constitutes reality television, but I’m pretty sure that reality television has already got religion, and it hasn’t always been the most flattering portrayal.

Some of the more well-known reality shows that have a religious angle include: Sister Wives, Breaking Amish, and 19 Kids and Counting, all of which are featured on TLC.  Religiosity may not necessarily be front and centre; however, it’s hard not to watch any of these shows and think about the religious paths that have influenced these people.  Yes, to some degree viewers are ‘educated’ about the different faiths followed by the show’s participants, but this ‘education’ comes with a huge dose of sensationalism.  On Sister Wives, viewers follow a polygamous fundamentalist Mormon family, while on 19 Kids and Counting the lives of a devout, fundamentalist Baptist Christian family who have (you guessed it) 19 children are showcased for viewers.  Breaking Amish diverts from showcasing a family, and instead follows a group of Amish and Mennonite young adults who leave their isolated communities and experience life in the big city.  Along the way, various mishaps and questionable adventures ensue.  Is this what the Archbishop had in mind?

Perhaps the new crop of religiously inspired reality television might prove less sensational.  Judging from the titles and reviews, I’m guessing that reality television has a cozy place in Hell waiting for it.  The Sisterhood which premiered early this year, follows the lives of several preachers’ wives as they interact with their communities.  I have yet to watch this series, but if reviews are any indication, it’s not as wholesome as it outwardly appears.  Sure to trump the aforementioned in the sensational department is the upcoming Divas for Jesus.  Described as a show that “follows a group of fabulous Christian women whose faith consists of guns, God, gossip and great wine,” you can bet this show is going to raise some eyebrows.  The recently premiered Preacher’s Daughters follows the lives of three preachers’ families and their teenage daughters.  It’s already been given a parental advisory rating.

Perhaps the most interesting reality show I came across in my research, is one originating from Turkey.  It’s called Penitents Competeand its premise is shocking (at least to this blogger).  Each week a rabbi, monk, priest, and imam (I think I’ve heard this joke before) attempt to convert ten atheists.  Any atheist that converts wins a free trip to one of four holy sites.  I can’t help but wonder how this show would be viewed if the roles were reversed.  You know, each week four atheists attempt to ‘convert’ ten religious people.  How’s that for sensational (or, I suppose, rational – depending on who you’re asking)?

I appreciate the Archbishop’s comments about people learning more about other religions, but there are much better ways to educate oneself than reality television.  One thought comes to mind – reality itself.  You know, go out and talk to real people about their religious perspectives.  Visit a mosque, church, synagogue and talk to the community.  You can’t get any more real than that.

Have you seen any of these shows?  Do you know of others that I haven’t included here?  Let me know.

M. xo

 

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NRMs: Satanism

April 14th, 2013 2 comments
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I hesitated to write this post because I realize that it may cause some controversy and discomfort for some of my readers.  That said, I felt it was an important new religious movement (NRM) to discuss because it aptly demonstrates how beliefs that seemingly contradict our own, or are foreign to us, can lead to the proliferation of misinformation and false accusations.  Besides, I like to ruffle feathers on occasion –  particularly if that feather ruffling might shed some stereotypes.

Of course, some of the first images that are conjured up when one mentions Satanism are of people who worship the Devil.  This has been largely propagated by those who see the Devil as an enemy of mankind and God.  Images of Satanists have also been framed by Hollywood with movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.  Yet, some who call themselves Satanists would find those images grossly amusing or offensive.

Satanism as an atheistic philosophy, invokes the imagery of Satan as a metaphor for rebellion, liberation, individualism, and self-indulgence.  Much like the Romantics, modern Satanists view the mythical figure as the bad boy bucking the status quo.  While there are Satanic rituals, they bear little resemblance to those of which tabloid newspapers and Hollywood blockbusters have imagined.  There are no sacrifices or sex rites.  Some rituals are designed for self-transformation and shedding unwanted emotional distress.  Other rituals may be to mark initiations, marriages, births, and deaths.  You know – the same kinds of life events that non-Satanists might honour.  One of the core tenets of the philosophy is individual responsibility for one’s own actions and choices.  Seems fairly reasonable, doesn’t it?

Followers of Satanism are recognized and protected in various countries that value religious freedom.  This, of course, hasn’t been without controversy – particularly in countries that hold a Christian majority.  Rightfully so, given the myths associated with Satan in their sacred stories.  Examining the archetype of Satan though, depicts this figure as not an enemy of God, but rather a counter-voice to a system of belief that has shaped civilizations around the world.  It’s the voice of the minority, the little guy, and the rabble-rouser.

Once again, I have only presented a brief snapshot of this fascinating, but small, movement.  There’s some great (and not so great) resources out there if you’re looking to learn more.  Some of the best comes from  The Church of Satan  and its founder, Anton LaVey who published The Satanic Bible in 1969.  In it, he lays out the nine Satanic Statements:

  1. Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!
  2. Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
  3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom, instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
  4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates!
  5. Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek!
  6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires!
  7. Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all!
  8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!
  9. Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!

These no non-sense, tongue-in-cheek statements are indicative of the kinds of beliefs you’ll find perusing Satanist material.  Of course, Satan himself has a rich history that embodies much of the imagery just presented.  A great documentary that examines The History of the Devil provides fantastic narrative of how this archetype has changed over the millennia.

The History of the Devil:

M. xo

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Adopt a Cardinal Website

March 11th, 2013 No comments
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Papal List

Papal List

You’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  It’s not everyday that a Pope resigns.  In fact, the last time it happened was in 1415 with the resignation of Pope Gregory XII.  A media circus that rivals the biggest Hollywood scandals  has surrounded the resignation of Pope Benedict.  Now that he’s officially stepped down, the media is hot on the heels of the papal shoes to report every second of the conclave and upcoming appointment of the 266th Pope.

Most Catholics have very little say on who might be the next Pope – although this hasn’t always been the case.  One site, however, offers laity the opportunity to ‘Adopt a Cardinal‘ who you can pray for during the process of election, and for three days following (of course, should you wish to continue your prayers afterwards,  I’m confident the Big Guy upstairs wouldn’t have any objections).  It’s easy to adopt a Cardinal.  Simply provide your name and email address (go figure) to be randomly assigned a Cardinal that you can support.  Of course, most people know that they don’t need a website to tell them where their prayers should be directed, but the Adopt a Cardinal site is just another way that religious groups are taking to the Internet to reach younger audiences.  It’s also amusing to see who the site assigns you.  This Canuck had hoped to be assigned Canadian papal contender, Marc Oulett – but, it seems the powers that be had other plans.

Adopt a Cardinal:  https://adoptacardinal.org/

M. xo

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God Hates…. Shrimp?!?

March 5th, 2013 No comments
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churchsignIn one of my classes we’ve been examining what the Bible says about various hot button topics including homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, and the environment.  Despite what many people on both sides of these debates say, the Bible doesn’t necessarily speak to many of these issues.  Various interpretations and translations over the years have skewed or taken these topics completely out of context.  Personally, I take issue with a literal or fundamental view of the Bible – particularly when those adhering to such worldviews attempt to take away freedoms or oppress people based on these ancient writings.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t find value in Scripture, but it does mean that I don’t believe that laws should be based solely on Biblical interpretations.  We must be careful in how we give relevancy to the Bible.

In response to some of these groups (WBC comes to mind), parody sites have turned the table, so to speak.  One such site points out that you can’t pick and choose what is an abomination in order to satisfy some social agenda.  It’s either all, or nothing.  The God Hates Shrimp parody site provides a tongue-in-cheek look at two Biblical passages that suggest that God forbids the consumption of all shellfish, thus we are Divinely mandated to boycott any restaurant that is serving up these abominations.  Remove the bib, put down the claw cracker, and repent your sins.  And while you’re at it, wipe that butter off your chin…

pinchsuckburn

M. xo

Images provided by: God Hates Shrimp

 

 

 

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Soaring out of the Spiritual Closet

February 13th, 2013 8 comments
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When I tell people that I study religion there is often one of two assumptions made – either that I am deeply religious or that I am unreservedly anti-religious.  These assumptions are inaccurate.  So, in honour of my second year of blogging under the Black Chicken moniker, I thought I’d soar out of the spiritual closet, so to speak, and clear up a few things (and undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers in the process).

I do not consider myself religious in the sense that I am a follower of any particular faith, institution or path.  I do, however, consider myself a student of all religions and paths – both the traditional and esoteric.  The closest definition I can attribute to my beliefs is agnostic.  Simply put – I don’t profess to know one way or the other.   I’ve never been particularly fond of rigid definitions, but for sake of classifying my beliefs, it’ll have to do.

I consider myself a secularist.  In this sense, I mean that I don’t believe politics and religion should mix.  It does not mean, however, that I think religion should be banished from society or that religious groups shouldn’t have a voice (just like any other group representing a segment of people within society).   I just believe that when one group is given preferential status to shape politics, this inevitably leads to alienating people within that society.  For me, it doesn’t matter how small or fringe the out-group happens to be, they are still part of the make-up of society and have just as much right to express themselves to the powers that govern.

I am a secularist, religious ‘none’, but this does not mean that I don’t find value in religion.  I hold the view that religion has inspired people to create some truly beautiful things in the world.  From artistic expression to revolutionary movements, religious motivation can be wonderfully awesome.  I am also aware that this same motivation has aroused some truly heinous things.  I don’t deny that, but I think it’s important to point out that religions are not inherently good or bad – it is people that hold these qualities.  Sure, I can prattle off images of violence in sacred texts and historical examples of religiously-motivated atrocities.  In the same breath I can identify calls for peace and love in scriptures and point out divinely-inspired movements that have had great benefit to mankind.  It’s not as black and white as far too many people claim.

I believe in tolerance and respect.  I seek to achieve these in my own life by removing myself from my context and trying to understand and even appreciate the worldviews of my fellow human beings.   No, I don’t always agree with everyone or everything I come across.  That’s not the point.  I don’t have to agree, but I do believe that I have a duty to earn respect by giving respect.  It is far too often that I see extreme groups both religious and irreligious condemning the other for so called atrocities.  Let’s get real on this subject.  It is fine to align anywhere along the spectrum of belief.  That’s your choice, but to infringe on the rights of others to do so is horribly hypocritical – especially when one of your base arguments is that the ‘other’ forces their beliefs on people.  Kettle meet pot.   Far too often I see online groups that supposedly represent a rational worldview calling for an end to religion because it indoctrinates and dictates.  I hope they see the irony in these arguments.  On the other side, I see groups claiming a moral ambiguity and an erosion of ethics due to a lack of religious values.  Again, I think we need to get real.  Religion does not make people evil or righteous.  It is people who can be considered good, bad, or somewhere along the spectrum.  Yes, religion may inspire or motivate them.  So too can art, literature, politics, experiences, illness, and a host of other variables.  Again, it’s not as black and white as some claim.

Further, I’m not saying that you can’t critique, satirize or poke fun at beliefs.  Sure you can.  In my opinion, it should never be to hurt, mock or incite violence and hatred.  If you’re going to do it, be respectful and open to dialogue.  I realize this is a very fine line (one that I too have been guilty of crossing), but that’s how freedom of expression works.  The problem is when we express in a manner that is disparaging.   If the intent is malicious, then it really serves no good purpose such as engaging in critical thinking or laughing with someone instead of at someone.

We will never find peace in the world or within ourselves until we stop the madness of forcing other people to adopt our worldviews whether they are religious or otherwise.  We also cannot say that we are truly secure in our own beliefs if we are belittling and bullying others for theirs.  On this, the second anniversary of my online squawking and feather-ruffling, I extend a wish that you all find your inner peace and security.  Live and let live.

M. xo

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Project Conversion – Book Review

February 5th, 2013 No comments
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(Note:  Project Conversion is available through Amazon.com in either print or Kindle format)

If you’re a regular follower of my posts, you’re already well acquainted with my deep concerns about religious/irreligious intolerance.  Through my blog posts and academic pursuits, I’ve tried to understand what causes such hatred to exist, and how we can move forward to collectively embrace a mindset that celebrates, rather than condemns, our differences of faith and philosophy.

It wasn’t always this way for me.  I’ve been both the condemner and the condemned; the believer and the non-believer.  I didn’t always walk the middle path that I find myself now embracing.   Like so many others, I’ve struggled to reconcile the conflict within me.  I’ve read untold numbers of psychological research studies and various other social scientific theories in an attempt to find those answers.   I could find no simple answers.  Then, on the 11th anniversary of a day burned into so many of our minds, I was introduced to Project Conversion.  The sheer simplicity of the concept, although certainly not its implementation, was brilliant.

I first encountered Andrew Bowen’s Project Conversion on a post he contributed to the State of Formation web site.  I was immediately drawn into his story.  It was compelling, brave, heart-breaking, and inspiring all at once.  Soon after, I joined the ranks of his Facebook page and began following his journey to publication.  I was not only intensely interested in his pursuit to create an atmosphere of interfaith dialogue and tolerance; I also wanted to help spread the gospel – so to speak.  If this man, who once had such intense hatred, could become a believer in the humanity that binds us all, couldn’t others experience this same awakening?  If all it took was simply getting to know those who we fear, hate, or condemn – wouldn’t it be worth it if we could stop the violence, turmoil, and sheer madness?  Yes, I believed it was, and is, worth it.  So, when Bowen put out a call to bloggers to read his memoir detailing his Project Conversion experience,  I gladly knocked on his door.

The Project Conversion memoir is not only a testament of one man’s journey of immersion into twelve faiths over the course of a year; it also bears witness to a remarkable group of people who guide, support, and provide unconditional love during the process of this spiritual metamorphosis.   There is no doubt that readers will find the brief historical and descriptive surveys of each of the traditions enlightening, but they will also be compelled by Bowen’s candid, and often very personal, glimpses into his personal life.

If you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with the women in his life who, for all intents, seem to embody the triple Goddess archetype.  The innocent wisdom and humour of his daughters are perhaps some of the most persuasive sections of his memoir.  There’s just something utterly compelling about the untainted perspectives of children who have yet to be exposed to the often harsh cruelties of the world.  I guarantee that the anecdotes and quips of these young ladies will make you laugh and reflect.  Not to be outdone, Bowen’s Grandmother lends an unmatched wit to his adventure as she steadfastly keeps him clothed in custom-made attire indicative of some of the traditions he embraces.  Of course, I would be doing a huge disservice if I didn’t acknowledge the fortitude, compassion and insight of his wife, who provides the solid foundation in this uncharted, and at times rocky, terrain.

Family, friends, and strangers embrace Bowen as he undertakes a voyage to discover the divine manifested through a variety of lenses.  Beginning with a foray into the celestial complexity of Hinduism, he travels through a mosaic of faiths.  He embarks on a journey to understand the world’s foremost traditions, but also those often viewed as fringe or downright strange.  Certainly, the various stops along his voyage reveal our common humanity, but it is the people along his travels that stand as the true testament to these blessings.

Andrew Bowen’s Project Conversion memoir is a literary tapestry woven together with stunning metaphors, engaging anecdotes, clever humour, and modest candour.  It’s a book that I hope you will all consider reading.  It’s a book that’s sure to impart insight into beliefs you may not have known about, but more importantly it’s a book that speaks to the collective consciousness that transcends faith.

In celebration, Project Conversion (Kindle version) will be available free to download for a very limited time.

M. xo

 

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Holy Daze: World Religion Day (January 20th, 2013) – Bahá’í Faith, Interfaith

January 11th, 2013 No comments
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World Religions

In 1949, The National Spiritual Assembly (a governing body of the Bahá’í Faith in the United States) proclaimed that every year on the third Sunday of January, the Bahá’í community would observe World Religion Day.  Despite this observance being originally founded by the Bahá’í community, it is intended to be celebrated by all the world’s religious traditions. 

It is a day to celebrate the unity of all people of the world and all faiths.  A core message of World Religion Day is “Religion must be the cause of unity”.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful concept.  I hope you will take a moment on this day to reflect on your own faith traditions or viewpoints, while also seeking to understand and appreciate other faiths and viewpoints. 

Various communities throughout North America will be holding interfaith services and celebrations.  If you want to learn more about this inclusive holiday, check out the World Religion Day Web site for more information.

M. xo

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all. Together we stand, divided we fall.” ― Pink Floyd

“The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.” ― T. H. White, The Once and Future King

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”― Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

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NRMs: Raelism

November 30th, 2012 No comments
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Adam, Eve, and extraterrestrial Elohim

Many of you may be familiar with the Raelian Movement from when they made news in 2002.  A biotechnology company with ties to the Raelians claimed to have cloned the first human baby, a girl named Eve.  Obviously, this created some sensational headlines.

The Raelian Movement was founded in 1974 by Claude Vorillhon who claimed that he had a series of encounters with an extraterrestrial being, named Yahweh, that gave him a mission to bring new information to humanity.  From this encounter, Vorillhon (who subsequently became known as Rael) began writing these messages in a series of books.  Raelism is considered an atheistic, UFO religion.  There is no belief in a god or gods, but rather members believe that humans and life on Earth were created by Elohim, a species of extraterrestrials.  A series of prophets, including Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed were sent by the Elohim to maintain contact with their creation.

Perhaps most interesting is Rael’s reinterpretation of the Bible.   Popular Biblical images are transformed into narratives that rival the best sci-fi epics.  For instance, the Garden of Eden is transformed into a space laboratory where the Elohim created the first humans.  Noah’s ark is said to have been a space craft to escape a flood caused by a nuclear explosion.  The healing powers of Jesus are recounted as laser beams from a far off space ship.  Mary is said to have been artificially inseminated by Yahweh, so too was Rael’s mother (making him and Jesus half-brothers).  Jesus’ resurrection was from cloning of a single cell from his corpse.  The Tower of Babel is depicted as a giant space rocket.  And the list goes on.

If you’re interested in checking out this reinterpretation or the messages Rael received, visit their Web site.  You can download the e-book for free.

There are so many interesting bits of information that I could impart about this particular NRM, but in an effort to keep my post brief, I’ll provide you with some external links in case you happen to be as fascinated as I am about this curious movement.

M. xo

Raelian Official Web site:  http://www.rael.org/ 

Raelian News:  http://raelianews.org/news.php 

Testimonies by ex-Raelians  http://raelian.com/en/

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Holy Daze: Guru Nanak Gurpurab (November 28th, 2012) – Sikhism

November 26th, 2012 No comments
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Guru Nanak’s birthday lighting at Akat Takht near Gurudwara Harmandir Sahib, Punjab

Guru Nanak was the first Sikh Guru, and is considered the founder of the religion.  Sikhs celebrate the anniversary of the births or martyrdoms of the ten Gurus during remembrance days known as Gurpurabs. The festival celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday falls on the full moon in the month of Kartik.

In preparation for the festivities, Gurdwaras (Sikh places of holy worship) are decorated with lights, flowers, and flags.  Activities usually begin a couple days in advance of the anniversary day.  One important activity is the continuous reading, over two days, of the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book).  This is undertaken by several men and women, each reading for a few hours at a time.  On the day preceding the anniversary, processions are led by five people representing the original Panj Piare or Five Beloved Ones.  Following them are various musicians, singers, and groups displaying martial arts and sword skills.  The actual day of Gurpurab is devoted to early morning hymnal singing, sermons, lectures – many of which are based on the life of the Guru.  Of course, any Sikh celebration wouldn’t be complete without the congregation sharing langar – a free community meal.

The short video below gives a nice glimpse of a Gurpurab procession.  Enjoy!

Happy Gurpurab!

M. xo

Muktsar Nagar Kirtan – Sri Guru Nanak Birthday (3:09 mins):

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Holy Daze: Diwali (November 13th, 2012) – Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism

November 12th, 2012 No comments
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Diwali Celebrations

Diwali, popularly known as the “Festival of Lights” is an important festival in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.  All three traditions share this sacred day, however, the significance and meaning of the day differs.  I think many of you will also note some striking similarities around the spiritual metaphors between this revered Eastern holiday with one of similar reverence in the West.

For Hindus, Diwali is similar to Christmas for Christians.  It is the most important holiday and is celebrated with colourful displays of light.  It is also a time to rejoice with family and friends.  Central to Hindu philosophy is an awareness of the inner light (Atman) and the light of higher knowledge (Brahman).  In essence, Diwali celebrates triumph of good over evil or light (knowledge) over dark (ignorance).  For several days Hindus may celebrate Diwali with various traditions including fireworks, worship, colourful sand and light displays, the sharing of sweets, cleaning out of homes/businesses, gambling, the purchasing of new clothes, and the exchanging of gifts.

Jains mark Diwali as their New Year’s Eve.  Similar to Hindu belief, Jains believe in an inner light or awareness.  They celebrate in remembrance of the day in 527 BCE that Lord Mahavir, an Indian sage believed to have established the central tenets of Jainism, reached Nirvana.  Jains also incorporate light into their celebrations, particularly as a reminder of the absence of the light of Lord Mahavir.

Similarly, Sikhs mark Diwali as a day of remembrance.  It is considered the day in 1619 when the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, was released from prison along with 52 Hindu kings, whom he had a part in freeing.  He became known as “Bandi Chhor” (deliverer from prison).  Upon the Guru’s return, the Golden Temple was lit with hundreds of lamps in celebration.  Every year since, Sikh commemorate Diwali to pay homage to the Guru and religious freedom.

Diwali is an extremely important holiday and as such I can’t do it justice in this short blog post.  National Geographic has a fantastic, three minute clip that highlights some Diwali celebrations.  Check it out!

M. xo

Diwali – Festival of Lights

 

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