Thursday, January 25, 2007

Languages

I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to yesterday's post on racism and race relations. I really enjoyed all of the comments and e-conversations and hope some of these new found bloggers will become good friends.

Years ago, when I decided to "follow my bliss" and study religion and society in grad school, I would get a lot of folks asking me why I'd chosen that particular field. My response was, and remains, threefold.

First, I chose to study religion because I am fascinated by the need religion fills in peoples lives and the ways in which it manifests itself.

Second, I wanted to learn the languages of faith. In other words, you say Allah and I say God. You say the Holy Trinity and I say the Godhead. You take communion and I take the sacrament. You have a pastor, I have a bishop. You fast and I fast. Each of those terms have significance and meaning within our specific religious context. I want to understand the words you use to explain ideas and concepts, feelings and experiences that are deeply personal and spiritual, while at the same time recognizing that when it comes down to the nuts and bolts, we're all saying the same thing: we believe in something greater than ourselves.

And third, I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between defensiveness and proselytizing (two elements that often characterize conversations between the faith of my upbringing and others) and creating meaningful, constructive dialogue. In other words, by understanding your language, I'm able to speak in terms that you can hear and that show my understanding and respect for your faith. It also means stepping outside of what is familiar to me, listening to how it sounds to a total stranger, and reframing it in language that can be heard and understood. It's eliminating the exclusiveness and esoteric language and inviting everyone to the table for a conversation.

Does any of that make sense?

I share that perhaps to clarify why I took up the topic of racism on my blog yesterday. I want to learn the languages of race, culture, diversity. I want to understand what certain things mean and why they're important in groups other than my own subcultures. And, most importantly, I want to find ways to create constructive dialogue that allows all sides, but especially the disenfranchised sides, to be heard and respected. I hope, beginning with Creole in D.C. and The Gunfighter, that we started something meaningful and lasting here.

We're still not any closer to being an inclusive society, but I have hope and I hope those who read yesterday's blog or who commented have hope, too.

7 comments:

Gunfighter said...

Yes. You ARE making sense.

Religion and race are both topics where it can be easy to offend, or be offended... but either of those things can be avoided when you learn the language... or are listening to whatever language the speaker is using.

It is v. important to use the brain when asking the tough questions, but equally important to use the brain when listening to a question.

Zanne said...

Makes perfect sense to me too! Am hoping to learn the language of religion this next year as I embark upon my seminary journey. Language can be such a barrier to connecting over that which IMHO is essential. GF is right about the importance of using our brains in asking the tough questions and listening to the answers. I think I'd add to that, that it is also important to remember that the heart, it's hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires, is the thing that links each of us to each other as brothers & sisters, regardless of race, religion, or whatever. (am probably gonna get a sound thrashing theologically this next year but c'est la vie!) :D

DJ Black Adam said...

I concur. Religion can get as touchy if not more touchy than race. I know that race is a scientific fiction, but the social reality of it is a very powerful tool to manipulate the masses. I do find it funny, that from my theological / religious studies, how the topic of race is approached in different religious traditions. I know that there are competing theories, but the Aryanism in the Vedic faiths (Hinduism) is foundational in the establishment of colorism within the caste system, I will one day look at how this foundation affected social Darwinism and eugenics.

Of course the topic is addressed as well within the Abrahamic faiths, however, I ramble; don’t want to take up to much of your bandwidth with my prattling.

Rachel said...

I came a day too late but I went back and read your previous post and commented as well.
I am not as well spoken as your previous commenters so I will keep this short and sweet.
I grew up LDS and left when I was 18 as I found it too restrictive and judgemental. I didn't attend any kind of organized religious functions for years.
I wanted to find a community where anyone was accepted and that it didn't matter where you were on your path or even if you were on the path but that if you had the desire to attend that you were welcome.
I am utterly confused by the exclusionary tendencies that organized religion hold so closely to their heart.

JMK said...

GF: Excellent point! Asking questions is such a delicate process. It might sound good in my head, but when it comes out of my mouth... well, that can be an entirely different deal.

Zanne: Have you heard from either school? I can't wait to find out where you land! Yes, learning the languages of faith is a blast. It's as fun as learning a foreign language, only without all the grammar rules!

DJ Black Adam: Prattle away! I've believed for a long time now that more than economics or politics or education or even race, religion has defined and permeated and is more powerful than any other social demographic out there. It's the social system that defines and orders universes and that creates hideous institutions like caste systems and motivates politics (case in point: look at our own country right now and the extreme right.) Religion is about exclusion and say who's anointed and who isn't, which is really sad. I'd like to think God is grander than that and there is no exclusion. Unfortunately, we're dealing with humanity and it's efforts to harness God for its own agendas. Not only is that sad, it's scary.

Rachel: Exclusiveness in religion is the great irony, isn't it? And it is confusing. Here you've got God saying, "Come to me, those of you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you a place to rest." S/he didn't, "Only those of you who have worked a full 8 hour day and who remembered to say your prayers and read your holy books and paid alms to the poor can come to me. The rest of you are slackers. Go away."

If you want inclusive, there's always the Unitarian Universalists. They're known as the most inclusive group out there. You could worship a rock and your collection of your baby teeth and that's all right with them.

DJ Black Adam said...

You brought up the concept of exclusiveness vs inclusivness, how far should “inclusiveness” go? And by what measure is that inclusiveness set by?

For example, should people who believe in Satan, Azazel or whatever devil of the month be accepted amongst even the most liberal Christians? If so or if not, why do you think so or why not?

HM-UK said...

There is a writer called 'bell hooks' who, I think, has done more to explain (in very very patient terms) what white priviledge is and does for the perpetuation and justification of racism in the US (and the UK, too, but on a different level, I notice). I haven't read any of her latest books but, 'Teaching to Transgress' was brilliant and opened my eyes even more...even though I understand and believe the truth of history, by virtue of my colour I still enjoy all of the priviledges of being white in a racist society. It's a dirty way to make a living.