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What would the Bible look like in Lego? Like This!

September 13th, 2012 No comments
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I’m always on the look out for fun and unique twists on the presentation of religious stories, myths and teachings.  The Brick Testament definitely falls into this category.  Here, you’ll find the stories of the Bible told through Lego.  The site even provides a rating system for those who may find the content of the Bible objectionable or not suitable for minors.  Ratings include ‘N’ for nudity, “V’ for violence, ‘S’ for sexual content, and ‘C’ for cursing.

Kudos to the Rev. Brendan Powell Smith for this very engaging and entertaining site.  Now swoop on over and check it out!  While you’re there, stop by The Brick Bible Shop to purchase greeting cards, books and posters.

The Brick Testament:  http://www.bricktestament.com/home.html

M. xo

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Holy Daze: Rosh Hashanah (September 16- 18, 2012) – Judaism

August 29th, 2012 No comments
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I’ve decided to start a regular series of posts showcasing upcoming religious holidays. I’ll be entitling this series, Holy Daze, because clearly these observances are sacred, and I’m hoping to dazzle you with new and enlightening stories, myths and rituals. Of course, I will only be able to give a snapshot into these sacred celebrations, but I’ll provide links and fun resources for you to find out more information. Let’s get started by talking about the upcoming “Jewish New Year”.

Rosh HaShanah (September 16- 18, 2012) – Judaism

Rosh HaShanah is one of the High Holy Days in Judaism. It occurs on the first and second days of Tishri (the seventh month of the Jewish year). In Hebrew, Rosh HaShanah literally means “the first of the year”, and is commonly regarded as the Jewish New Year. It is a time for reflection, resolution and renewal. The main ritual of Rosh HaShanah is the blowing of the shofar (a ram’s horn) which symbolizes both a trumpet call of a coronation of a king and a call to repentance, particularly those of man’s first sin. Other special observances include eating apples dipped in honey to symbolize wishes for a sweet year ahead and casting bits of bread from one’s pocket into a nearby stream to symbolize the casting away of old sins.

Check out these music videos that explain and celebrate Rosh HaShanah in a hip-hoppin’, rockin’ way:

Rosh Hashana Rock Anthem:

Shofar Callin':

Suggested further reading:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/index.shtml

http://www.chabad.org/

 

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Sikhs: The Way of the Disciples

August 8th, 2012 3 comments
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This past Sunday, another mass shooting spree occurred in the States. The target this time was a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Speculation that this attack may have been a case of mistaken identity began to run rampant in the news. Reporters, bloggers and the like suggested that the gunman may have believed that he was attacking a Muslim house of worship. This, they said, was because many Americans thought Sikhs were Muslims. Of course, there is no way of knowing the shooter’s motivations as he was killed by police. As an aside, I find it curious that the media were quick to suggest this attack was meant for Muslims. With no evidence to suggest otherwise, this is clearly another case of media scaremongering.

I’ll admit that my feathers have been ruffled with this latest attack on a religious group. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have little tolerance for religious intolerance (I know, a bit oxymoronic, right?). I’m also concerned that in the Information Age (you know, an era where information is available at the tips of one’s fingers) that so few people bother to educate themselves about the world around them. While I agree the Internet isn’t always the most reliable source; a little critical thinking can certainly weed out the bad from the good information. But, I digress…

The point of this post (aside from a bit of squawking) is to introduce you to the Way of the Disciples (Sikhs).

Being a Sikh means being a disciple of the Guru. There are ten Gurus in the Sikh sacred story, beginning with Guru Nanak. The succeeding Gurus are all believed to have carried the spiritual light of Nanak and God’s word. Writings about Nanak in Sikh sacred texts, known as Adi Granth, suggest that he was influenced by both a Muslim and Hindu spiritual upbringing.

As with any religion, there is both unity and division within the community; however, there are some core central beliefs at the foundation of the Sikh world meaning. Like other monotheistic belief systems, God is central. Sikhs, however, recognize God (Nam) as the same One worshipped by many different belief systems and known by many different names. God is considered formless, timeless, and beyond human conception. Sikhism does not claim the only path to God, nor does it work toward converting others. Part of the Sikh world view is freedom of religion, which may come from the fact that Sikhism has blended many ideas from different faiths.

Sikhs engage in various ritual and worship. Daily worship entails reading and meditation on the sacred word found in the Adi Granth. Worship at the gurdwara (Sikh temple) centers around the Holy Book (Granth Sahib). Before worship, a ritual bath is performed. Following, offerings before the Holy Book are made. There are no ordained leaders in the gurdwara, thus each Sikh is free to perform the rituals of worship.

Women hold a high degree of respect in the faith. It is believed Guru Nanak once said this about the status of women, “Why denounce her, who even gives birth to kings?” As such, women are given equal status with men in services and ceremonies. Further, Sikhs welcome all faiths and cultures to their house of worship.

Sikhs may be most identifiable by the turbans (dastar) worn by men. This is worn because one of the prohibitions in Sikhism is the cutting of hair. Devout Sikh men may have unshorn hair and beards. They may also be identified by a sword or dagger (kirpan) worn, which is symbolic of a willingness to protect the weak and fight for justice. A metal bracelet (kara) is worn as a constant reminder that one is a servant of God and should conduct oneself befittingly.

There is much more to the Sikh religion than what I have provided. My hope is this brief introduction might encourage you to learn more about this blended belief system. Certainly, there are similarities to other religions; however it’s important to recognize the differences. It is short-sighted (IMO) to lump together all peoples who may look similar, share similar beliefs, or who come from the same part of the world. Ignorance that perpetuates fear, anger, and confusion can lead people to commit horrible acts. It’s time to stop the madness.

Peace.

M. xo

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Happy Ramadan!

July 21st, 2012 No comments
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Today is the start of the Islamic holy season known as Ramadan.  It occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which follows a lunar cycle.  It is believed that during this period the prophet Muhammad received his first revelation.

Muslims who participate in this holy time abstain from ingesting anything into the body for one month from sunrise to sunset.  This includes food, drink, smoke and sexual relations.  It is a time of deep reflection and spiritual self-purification through prayer and meditation.  Additionally, one is required to refrain from evil thoughts toward others, such as thoughts of harm, lust or jealousy.  Through these ritual practices Muslims seek to gain an appreciation for the material gifts from God, regain self-control from bad habits, and deepen empathy for the hungry and deprived of the world.

Despite this seemingly disciplined and stringent ritual, Ramadan is also filled with much joy.  The nights are a time for the community to come together to share in food, prayer and one another’s company.   The end of Ramadan, or the breaking of the fast, is a celebration of grand proportions.

To all my Muslim friends I extend a Happy Ramadan!

M. xo

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Religious Tolerance

May 31st, 2012 3 comments
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I felt compelled to write this post because frankly I’m appalled by the declining health of religious tolerance in Canada.  Biases, generalizations, and ignorance are  insidiously penetrating the oft-lauded integrity of Canada as a nation of tolerance and acceptance.  Islamophobia is on the rise across the nation, and this is indeed troubling.  While headlines detailing the intolerance toward Muslims largely originates from down south, make no mistake, it is slowly infiltrating Canadian society – and in my opinion, we need to put a stop to it.  Adopting a misguided view of a particular religious group (and one of the fastest growing religious populations) will threaten the very essence of our Canadian values.

I believe the best solution to intolerance is education.  The fact is that many, many people barely know much about ‘other’ religions.  Most of the information we come by is garnered from sensational media headlines.  If you’re educating yourself about various religions through the media, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.  I’m not suggesting that the media doesn’t hold some value in bringing issues to light; however, the media is rarely ever objective.  There’s always an angle, and usually that’s to increase readership/viewership and ultimately revenue.

So, where can one start to learn more about various religions and in particular religious tolerance?  There’s a wonderful site that I’ve been visiting for several years now that provides a wide range of information on almost any religion imaginable.  The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance tries “… to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, world views, and systems of morality, ethics, and values.”  There are over 6,000 essays available to read and the site covers religions ranging from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism.  Practically any religion you might have questions about can be found on this site.  In addition, the site tries to present all viewpoints on controversial religious topics.

As a final note, while I am huge proponent of religious tolerance – I also want to stress that this doesn’t mean that I think you should accept other people’s beliefs as valid or that you have to practice a belief different than your own.  It also doesn’t mean that you have to believe your religion is equal to that of another’s (it’s fine if you want to believe that your religion is superior to others).  What religious tolerance means is that you respect the right of other religions to exist and that their practitioners should be free from discrimination.  Oh, and this also includes people who are generally considered NOT religious.  Atheists, agnostics and humanists have the right to religious freedom too – including the option to not participate.
 

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Comic Book Religion

April 15th, 2012 1 comment
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I’m always fascinated with the infinite ways in which religion is intertwined into pretty well any aspect of life — and indeed, afterlife. Recently, I stumbled across this curious Web site called, Comic Book Religion.  Over 25,000 comic book characters and their religious affiliation are available to browse.

I have to admit, that I know little about comics; however, I do surround myself with geeks, freaks and assorted fan boys/girls.  I’ve been exposed to comic books through one channel or another for my entire life.  Yet, I’d never really given thought to whether any of the heroes or villains I’d heard about had anything at all to do with anything remotely religious.

Now, with just a few clicks, I can find out that Spider-Man was Protestant; The Thing, Jewish; and Green Arrow an agnostic.  And now you can, too!

http://comicbookreligion.com/

M. xo

 

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Cure for Love

January 28th, 2012 1 comment
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I had the opportunity to watch a 2008 documentary called, Cure for Love.  It was such an interesting film, hence why I’m posting about it here.  The synopsis reads, “Cure for Love is a full-length documentary about a controversial evangelical movement that purports to convert gay people into heterosexuals. The film brings us inside this unusual Christian subculture and follows the lives of several young people whose homosexuality is at odds with their religious beliefs.”

Of course, I wasn’t surprised that the types of ministries featured in this doc actually existed – and let’s be clear, I am clearly at odds with the mission of these ministries, particularly those such as Exodus.  For me, the most intriguing part of the film was hearing the stories of those who live in tension with their faiths and how they have come to reconcile that dissonance.  These are powerful stories of people seemingly struggling with similar issues, yet each has taken a different path in finding a resolution to their conflict.

As a voyeur into their lives, I found myself at times doubtful that some of the folks featured in the film actually had found a way to make peace with the tension between their faith and their sexuality; however I am mindful that I don’t live their lives and really can’t relate to their struggle – seeing as how I am neither a Christian nor a homosexual.  This film did reinforce, yet again, the powerful influence that religion has over people’s lives (a concept I cannot personally relate too – but one that fascinates me).

If you, like me, are intrigued by the power faith has in the lives of so many people, then this film is worth checking out.  It’s a well-balanced documentary that does shed some light on (IMO) questionable dogma, but even more than that, it is a film that speaks of the power of love.  For some that is the love of their Saviour, Jesus Christ; for others that is the love they find in their same sex partners.

Run time: 59 mins

Source: National Film Board of Canada

 

 

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When did Christmas stop being a Holiday?

December 3rd, 2011 3 comments
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The real war on christmas

It’s that time of year again. No sooner do the first snow flakes fall and the rhetoric around whether it’s appropriate to replace “Happy Holidays” with “Merry Christmas” begins to fly. It’s one of the most divisive issues surrounding this season.

Firstly, there are the annual campaigns via email and social media promoting the “put the Christ back in Christmas” polemic. I’ve always found this particular argument curious. Last time I checked, Christ hadn’t left Christmas. What has changed is that fewer people are celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday — if at all. Christmas is still a Christian derived holy day, and Jesus is still very much a part of that day for those who follow his teachings. For believers, Christ is present and accounted for in the celebration of this holy day.

Following this are the claims that somehow Christmas has been hijacked by other cultures’ religions. The arguments usually follow the reasoning that because we live in a Western society built on the Judeo-Christian tradition that Christmas should take it’s rightful place as the holiday of the land.

XMASWARS1

It’s true that our heritage is that of a Judeo-Christian tradition, but our heritage also includes unequal rights for women and minority groups, child labour, the assimilation of First Nation’s people… need I go on?

Societies evolve, and for us this has included the separation of church and state.  Citizens are free to practice the religion of their choice.  States, however, are required to keep religion out of its affairs (in principle anyway). It’s a bit ironic that so many Westerners have much to say about Eastern nations living under religious rule, yet so little to say about the idea of forcing Christmas on ever person living in this hemisphere.

So, we’ve reverted to calling Christmas a holiday. What’s so wrong with that? It IS a HOLY day for Christians, but it’s also a HOLY time of year for a number of other religious groups. Using the term “Happy Holidays” is merely an inclusive way to wish everyone a joyous season — and really isn’t that what this time of year is all about?  Shouldn’t we be trying to spread joy and our very best to everyone?

Christmas-vs-Holidays-Holidays

It’s interesting that while so many of us have been debating this tiresome rhetoric, that we’ve failed to notice how the sacredness of this holy season has been hijacked by rampant consumerism.  Maybe those are the real issues we should be examining.  Why has a holy day meant to bring families and people together in joyful spirit become a sacred day for big box stores and credit card companies?  Just something worth thinking about…

Happy HOLY-DAYS!

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The Haunted History of Halloween

October 29th, 2011 No comments
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Halloween is my favourite time of year.  At no other time of the year can you completely alter your ego, and be encouraged to do so.  In addition to the identity shifting fun that can be had by kids and adults alike, the natural world is also shifting.  Gone are the hot humid days of summer- replaced by the slow fall into winter’s slumber.  We watch as the landscape transforms in dramatic ways – sometimes from a cornucopia of colour to a stark white overnight.  Visually, at least in my part of the world, it’s the season of dramatic transformation.  As if nature is making a grand statement before the long sleep of winter – lest we forget her majesty.  It seems rather appropriate that we engage in this rite of transformation called Halloween.  Why exactly do we shift our identities and parade door to door looking for sweet treats?  The History Channel’s “Haunted History of Halloween” has your primer for this ghoulish night of transformation.  The video is approximately 45 minutes long, so bookmark this page and put it on while you’re handing out treats to the ghostly revelers.  Happy Halloween!

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Religion in Schools

August 14th, 2011 4 comments
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Recent media stories have been aflutter over revelations that a Toronto area school is providing approximately 300 Muslim students with space for prayer every Friday afternoon.  Students congregate in the cafeteria for one hour and prayer sessions are led by an Imam who is brought into the school for this special rite.   In what has created more feather ruffling, girls are expected to take a position behind their male counterparts; and any girl menstruating is required to abstain from prayer sessions.  Additionally, non-Muslim students are not permitted to participate in the service.  The latest media reports suggest that perhaps more than one public school in the Toronto area is providing this service to its Muslim students.

There are a few things – at least to me – that are clearly wrong with this situation.  In fact, there are so many things REALLY wrong with this situation that I’m even more exasperated knowing that little is being done to resolve the issue.

Clearly, a publicly funded school board must find an appropriate balance for accommodating all students.  That accommodation should not extend to a student’s religious instruction.  The sheer diversity of religious groups within the public school system would make it near impossible to support every one of them.  There is nothing equitable about allowing one group of students to do it and not another.  Further, public schools are not in the business of religious education.  That kind of training should be extracurricular and at the parents’ discretion.

There is also something gravely wrong when a Canadian public school allows- even supports – a religious practice that clearly violates gender equality.  While I appreciate that certain religious customs deem it necessary and part of scripture to practice gender separation during prayer, I don’t believe those customs should be permitted to extend into our public school system.  All children should be treated equally in our schools and any action that counters this should be stopped immediately.

Finally, there has also been some concern about the background and history of the Imams conducting these prayer sessions.  It’s certainly a frightening notion that some of the parents interviewed had no idea who the religious instructors were or what they were teaching their children.  Where’s the transparency and accountability that is supposed to be a part of our school system?  Who hired these prayer leaders and what exactly are their qualifications?

As far as I am concerned, religious instruction has no place in our public school systems.  Truthfully, I’m surprised that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has allowed this to go on.  In the last couple decades we’ve seen public schools in Ontario steadily become more and more secular.  The Lord’s Prayer, once a mandatory start to each school day, was deemed inappropriate for a public school system comprised of multiple faiths and cultures.   Christmas and Easter events have been re-branded as Holiday and Spring festivities.  It seems to me that the TDSB is taking two steps backward by supporting prayer sessions in their schools.

Let’s be clear – public schools should be about education, not indoctrination.  It’s fine if a scholarly view of religion is offered in school; however, religious instruction should not have a place in our public schools.  Leave that kind of teaching to the parents – or better yet – let the children decide when they come of age.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, this is a very slippery slope indeed.  Once again, it appears that we’ve chosen to stand on the edge of the slope and see how far we can lean over before we slide uncontrollably down.

 

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