Archive for October, 2006

Evangelical rock concert

October 31, 2006

So I spent the past four days trapped in an evangelical torture chamber, or Profecía 2006. On the invitation of a friend, I attended this four-day Neo-Pentecostal mega-church conference with participants from around the world. (As background, Guatemala is experiencing a massive conversion from Roman Catholicism to Evangelical/Neo-Pentecostal Christianity. There are about five mega-churches in the city, each with stadium-style seating, packing in 3,000 to 5,000 people per service, several times a day, every Sunday. There are also countless smaller, store-front evangelical churches throughout the city and countryside. Basically, it’s something I’d definitely like to learn more about as a phenomenon while I’m here.)

The most striking thing about the conference for me was the utter lack of ANY quiet time. (Thus the torture chamber reference.) It was constant noise – speaking in tongues, screaming, singing with a loud Christian pop band, what they called “clamoring” for God. I came home and instituted a silence policy each night – NO speaking to my husband, NO television, NO music. It was like being at a loud rock concert for the entire waking day (9am to 9pm everyday), with no time to process.

As a practicing Hindu, I’m used to silent meditation retreats to commune with God, daily meditation, and soothing chanting… On a related side note, every time I was asked about my heritage during the conference, I obviously said India (my Spanish is certainly not good enough to pretend that I’m brown-skinned because I’m Latina). The response is ALWAYS, “There is so much work to be done in India” – i.e., so many souls to be saved.

A whole group of “prophets” came here from the U.S. as the conference’s headliners. They were very charismatic, fire-and-brimstone preachers from the American South and Midwest (and one guy from home in the Bay Area). Although much of what the U.S. speakers said and did bordered on the intolerant, offensive, or charlatan (and strangely out-of-context for Guatemala), I was really impressed by many of the people I met over the course of the four days. In addition to being very sweet and kind, they were extremely intelligent and well-read about religious history, poverty in Latin America, and social movements. Every one of them had a strong belief (which I share) in God’s ability to grant us each a mystical, individual experience and inspire us to acts of bravery and charity… I guess I found that it’s good to go outside of my comfort zone sometimes if I really want “inter-faith” experiences…

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Guatemala vs. Venezuela (and other political musings)

October 21, 2006

Three interesting pieces of political news from Guatemala this week:

First, the voting continues for a temporary seat on the Security Council – it’s between Guatemala and Venezuela. The press here is definitely covering Hugo Chavez’s antics, who makes it sound like he’s running against the U.S. for the seat – as if a vote for Guatemala is a vote for George W. Bush or something… I think it would be great for Guatemala to be on the Council and to have more exposure on the world stage. At least the voting process is making more people around the world aware of Guatemala, its political interests, its economy, its culture…

Second, this past Tuesday, 10 major political party leaders – guided by a group of 15 community and academic leaders – released a “Visionary Plan for the Country,” with goals for improvement in the areas of security (which is dismal – see previous posts), health and nutrition (also dismal, since Guatemala this year fell to the bottom of Latin American-Caribbean countries in terms of child malnutrition), rural development, and education. Come this December, ten years will have passed since the Guatemalan Peace Accords, so it is time for a new agenda to shock the political system here – everyone I know here is pretty skeptical, but I still hope this is it…

Third, Wonkette – in a striking departure from its normal, humorous tone – covers the impending page scandal regarding House representative Jerry Weller, whose father-in-law happens to be Guatemalan former president/dictator, Efrain Rios Montt. Frankly, I’m addicted to U.S. mid-term election news, so it was surprising to see a Guatemalan connection like this. The Guatemalan supreme court ruled last week or the week before that Rios Montt cannot run for president again, but that still doesn’t seem to stop him as I just saw a campaign commercial for him on the local news channel yesterday… maybe he’s the equivalent of a Guatemalan Ralph Nader (but obviously more sinister)?

(Cross-posted at The View From Here.)

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Go Oprah!

October 13, 2006

I just watched Frank Rich on Oprah talking about his new book, the war in Iraq, Katrina, and a host of other issues. The show is part of a series about Truth in America. It was fantastic, balanced, and exactly what the country needs – a healthy airing of opinions and discussion – INCLUDING criticism of the government. Two different soldiers spoke up – one said the media doesn’t report enough good news from Iraq, and the other said that she and alot of other soldiers are questioning the war. I tried going to a bunch of blogs on the episode – and most of them are right-wingers criticizing Oprah for having Frank Rich on the show. Funny how most of them require log-in’s to comment… I imagine they don’t want any critical thinkers on their sites either…

Is it me, or is Oprah finally getting a spine? She took on minimum wage earlier this year, said Obama would make a good President, and now this!  I like how this episode made it clear that you don’t have to be a Bush-supporter to be a good American (hell, with his approval numbers lately, I guess that’s obvious)…

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Life: photos of cells and embryos

October 12, 2006

I just saw a piece on the Today Show about this new book of incredible photographs by the Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson containing pretty stunning photos of human stem cells, blood vessels, and embryos. Two quick thoughts:

1) It annoys me when TV news shows put up subtitles for brown people speaking English with accents (like Pervez Musharraf), but not for white people (like Lennart Nilsson), who can be just as tough to understand as any desi…

2) Although the photos are really amazing, it seems to me that someone on the Today Show should have raised the issue of their use for anti-abortion propoganda. When these types of fetus pictures first came out in Life years ago, they were quickly turned into pro-life emblems. In fact, when I searched on Google for the link to the Today Show website, I couldn’t even find the piece about the new book on MSNBC. Instead, all these pro-life websites came up, encouraging anti-abortion activists to use photos of fetuses as a tool in their protests, on websites, etc. to shame women considering abortions and deny them their constitutional rights.

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Guns and Child Molestation

October 10, 2006

If there is anything we’ve learned about the American people and the party in power over the past week, it’s that even the prospect of child molesters on the loose won’t get the Republican Party to give up on either Dennis Hastert or its guns. Three school shootings in one week – what more does it take to get us out there talking about gun control??? Check out this essay, which echoes my feelings exactly. We are out of whack with the rest of the industrialized world. Living here in Guatemala, I see my share of guns everyday, mostly on the shoulders of private security guards outside our building, across the university campus, in front of every shop and restaurant, even at the gym. Although I’m often happy they’re around, I recognize that this many guns can’t be all good…

I can bring myself to understand how middle America folk might have legally purchased guns for hunting and skeet shooting, but buying multiple shotguns, handguns, and 600 rounds of ammo to take over a peaceful Amish one-room schoolhouse – or any other school for that matter – is just not defensible. There’s room for all of us to come together on this, and I think we can find common ground in the realm of faith. If we take lessons from our different religions about LIFE, nonviolence, freedom, and peace, I’m convinced we could find some common ground that moves away from the extreme NRA position that currently rules our nation. There is another sad thread that runs through the events of last week: child sexual abuse. The Amish schoolhouse gunman molested girl relatives at such a young age; Mark Foley sexually harassed at least one young page and maybe more; Foley himself claims to have been molested as a boy; and, both the Pennsylvania and Colorado shooters intended to molest female schoolchildren. All this should send up a flare: child molestation and sexual abuse is much more common than we choose to talk about openly, and often not discussed until its effects play out years later… Let’s not let this month be simply about the mid-term elections, the implosion of the Republican Congress, or mourning for the lives lost or damaged. Let’s remember the victims of guns and child molestation and vow to do something about it, together. (UPDATE: Check out Sara’s Sunday Rant for more…)

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Kol Nidre at Beyt Tikkun

October 2, 2006

Tonight is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of antonement. Usually I spend Jewish holidays with relatives at their synagogues. I could’ve gone to Etz Chayim where my aunt and uncle belong yet again, but I thought I would try out Michael Lerner’s Beyt Tikkun.

Beyt Tikkun is a part of the Jewish Renewal movement, which seeks to:

heal the world by promoting justice, freedom, responsibility, caring for all life and the earth that sustains all life —tikkun olam.”

There’s lots of singing and dancing and the prayers have a comparatively modern language. Michael Lerner is a pretty well known figure in the religious lefty world. He’s the editor of Tikkun magazine, author of The Left Hand of God, one of the organizers of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and all kinds of other stuff as well. His version of Judaism places great value on the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As a result, he frequently brings up Darfur, torture, the Bush administration, AIPAC, “Israel/Palestine”, and a host of other relevant political issues.

I’m not really sure what to make of my experience. I was raised in a very conservative synagogue where dancing and other mystic tools for achieving “a connection with the G0d-Energy” were not present. It was pretty buttoned-down. And even though I’m not a particularly buttoned-down kinda guy, I feel a little uncomfortable in mystical Jewish settings.

Actually, I’m sort of uncomfortable around dance in general. It’s the one thing I’m pretty self-conscious about. I don’t really care what people think of my looks or attire (I don’t own a comb or a brush) but I do have something left inside me from awkward middle school years that has me feeling weird dancing in public. Lots of alcohol helps ease the discomfort in a club atmosphere, but that’s a no-go during services. I’m not proud of my self-consciousness, a trait I view as a negative, but I admit it and am trying to change. I knew Beyt Tikkun was pretty touchy-feely and dance-heavy, and I partly chose it over other shuls to challenge myself. When I see the rhythm-challenged middle aged white people dancing their way towards the Divine I’m more than a little jealous. After a while I felt more comfortable dancing with the crowd of several hundreds, but I was still pretty restrained.

The services were nice but a little long. There was a really good band and the content fit my level of understanding of Hebrew, customs and traditions. One of the interesting things was the translation of the Ashamnu. The prayer seeks forgiveness for an alphabetical list of sins that anyone in the community has committed during the previous year. Most translations, in order to keep the alphabetical aspect in English, tend to be for sins like stealing, lying, cheating, etc. Tonight it was sins like poisoning the sea and land with toxic chemicals, homophobia, xenophobia, building weapons of mass destruction, etc.

The services really challenged me. I’m not used to my religion and my politics intersecting so closely, and I felt a little uncomfortable. Which is good. That’s why I pray, to get outside my comfort zone to expand my mind to a higher level of consciousness.

So to all those who are fasting, have an easy one. To those that I’ve wronged in the past year, sorry ’bout that.

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