Activist Monks

An image seared into my psyche from the earliest years of my consciousness is that of a burning Vietnamese monk. The incident happened before my existence but was repeatedly shown during the long, drawn out war. The flames so violent, yet the monk so stoic. So Buddhist.

The image of such drastic protest to oppression is in sharp contrast to the stereotype of monks I later developed while studying Buddhism and talking to various practitioners - stoic and detached. In fact, one of the few criticisms of Buddhism that I hold is that, unlike Christian liberation theology, it is a philosophy that does not encourage political involvement. While I had heard rumours of socially engaged Buddhism and even read a few books on the subject, I hadn't seen much evidence of it in recent years. (Aside from Thich Nhat Hahn of course, bless him.)


One thing that continually amazes me about the city in which I live, the nation's capital, is how drastically different the neighborhoods are - grimy poverty side-by-side with opulent excess. I wonder why we allow either one to continue.

I am also struck by how different the "cultures" are in the various neighborhoods. This contrast was particularly stark one humid afternoon in July as I sluggishly walked from the downtown bank where I was applying for a mortgage, up Connecticut Avenue, past Dupont Circle where I work, through Columbia Heights where I (used to) live (until I got the mortgage) and to my church on the border of Mount Pleasant. Four neighborhoods. Let me share with you my DC.

Picturing Mohammed

The Islamic proscription against depicting human forms, especially that of the Prophet, has never been as strong in the Safavid Empire (Persia/Iran) as it was in the others (Ottoman and Mughal). Knowing this, it is perhaps not surprising that an Iranian woman artist named Oranous can openly paint a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
One of the arguments made is that because the painting is of a young Mohammed, before his calling to "recite," he is not technically yet the Prophet... despite the glowy halo.
Also note that the color green is traditionally associated with the Prophet and his city of Medina.

What is surprising to me is that she can sell this painting online for money.

Conforming Individualism

Happy Halloween everyone!

My first Halloween in my house, and in a residential neighborhood.  And yet I didn't get more than a handful of kids.  So sad.  Now I have all this chocolate left-over.  Oh well, more for me!

My housemate and I had an interesting discussion tonight as we waited for the kiddies.  It's not the first time that we've talked about the extreme individualism in this country, at the expense of community, and how we lament its effects.

But tonight the question came up as to "why?"  Especially amongst so many intelligent and educated people, why would they not see the limitations of this extreme individualism?  Why would they not see that such stringent adherence to the doctrine of individualism is in its own way a kind of conformity?

Making God in Their Image

A federal jury in Baltimore yesterday decided that the disruption of the funeral of a marine and the emotional harm that caused was worth close to $11 million.

While I am sensitive to how vulnerable people are when grieving for their loved ones, especially when they are taken violently and in their prime, I would normally think that $11 million is unreasonably excessive.

Model Diversity

The Asian/Pacific Islander "group" of All Souls (in other words, a group of us who are of A/PI descent) had a potluck this evening and our senior minister was kind enough to accept an invitation to join us. It was billed as a purely social event, a space where A/PIs can get to know each other, but this is Washington, DC with the movers and shakers, and some stereotypes of Asians have basis, so eventually people could not resist the opportunity to get down to business. Talk turned to diversity and how to build more of it at our church. What the group was specifically interested in was how to build true multi-culturalism in our congregation as opposed to the bi-culturalism that people often mean by "diversity."

The Spirit in Islam

I am feeling that shiver of excitement that I feel every time I discover a connection.

Over the last few weeks, a discussion group at church, has been reading "No god but God" by Reza Aslan. For those of you who still don't know about it, I can't possibly praise this book enough. It's a loving yet critical overview of the history of Islam, starting with an account of the religio-socio-political environment into which Mohammed was born, then the Prophet's life, then the four caliphs up until the Sunni/Shi'a split. The insights that Aslan presents are astounding, describing Islam as in the throes of a Reformation, with its future dependent on which side wins.

But that's not why I bring it up tonight. I'm excited because of the following passage in his description of Sufism.


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative