Kwanzaa December 26, 2014 – January 1, 2015

Table set for Kwanzaa festival
Table set for Kwanzaa festival

Another festival of Light to illuminate the darkness and warm the heart of Winter: KWANZAA
The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili word meaning “first” or “first fruits of the harvest.”

Kwanzaa is an African-American 7-day festival celebrated mainly in the U.S. for the week between 26th December and 1st January each year. The festival itself is neither religious nor political. That being said, increasingly many faith-based communities throughout the country are celebrating Kwanzaa as part of their winter holiday rituals to teach tolerance, foster diversity and practice inclusion. I honor this new tradition reflective of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa. Namaste!

“The holiday was established in 1966 to help African Americans remember and celebrate their heritage. The word “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili language and means “first fruits”. Each day of the seven days is dedicated to one of “The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa”, which are:

umoja – to maintain unity in the family and community
kujichagulia – self-determination, to be responsible and speak for oneself
ujima – collective work and responsibility, to build and maintain a community together
ujamaa – economic cooperation, to help and profit one another
nia – purpose, to build and develop the community for the benefit of the people
kuumba – creativity, to do everything possible to leave the community more beautiful and beneficial for future generations
imani – faith, to believe in parents, elders, teachers and leaders

A candle is lit each day on the special candlestick, the “kimara”, to represent these principles. The kimara is placed on a mkeka, a traditional straw mat, and one ear of corn is also placed on the mat for each child in the family. A fruit basket, called a “mazao”, is also displayed, along with a special “unity” cup, out of which everyone drinks. Families decorate their homes with traditional African crafts. The colors red, green and black – representing the African flag – are used. Gifts, known as “zawadi”, are given on the last day of Kwanzaa.” *http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/kwanzaa

Do you have Kwanzaa traditions or festival dish recipes to share?

Other Kwanzaa Resources:
The Official Kwanzaa Website: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/23/kwanzaa-2014_n_6349952.html
http://theblackcandle.com/about-kwanzaa/
http://www.bhg.com/holidays/kwanzaa/traditions/kwanzaa-history-traditions/

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Kwanzaa December 26, 2014 – January 1, 2015

The Social Function of Christmas

Good reading…

Social Health

Christmas
Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.
– B.C. Forbes

Imagine you’re a visitor from another planet and have never heard of Christmas. The beliefs and rituals celebrated during Christmas would look very puzzling: cutting down trees to put in our living-rooms, putting an array of trinkets on them, covering everything in lights, and telling stories to our children about an absurdly generous man who uses reindeer to fly around the world in a sled. Why would any rational creature engage in the silly behavior associated with Christmas?

As a holiday rooted in religious rituals, the heart of Christmas is to the spirit of community. The purpose of evoking such a strong spirit of community around this time goes back to Christmas’ pagan roots and celebrations associated with the Winter solstice. Marking the darkest…

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The Social Function of Christmas

Hope = Compassion + Forgiveness

Photo courtesy of NPR
Photo courtesy of NPR

As a minister, I’m on the lookout for moments of contemplation into action within my personal and professional encounters throughout the day. Finding the Sacred (or Divine or God or The Holy or Buddha or the goddesses or Jesus or Allah) is not always easy. I teach myself to look more carefully; listen more intently; and touch more intentionally. I have much to learn.

Amidst the despair, fear and revenge of the tribal war between Israel and Palestine, this NPR story by Ari Shapiro, a Jewish journalist, offers glimpses and whispers of hope, compassion and forgiveness… the mission of my interfaith ministry.

The forgiveness moment is soft and subtle… but it’s there… a gentle reminder that just as there are many paths to God, there are also many paths to reconciliation. Can you help me find forgiveness?

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/07/09/330160839/what-happens-when-israeli-mourners-visit-a-palestinian-family

Forgiveness
Forgiveness
Hope = Compassion + Forgiveness

Van Gogh Speaks to Me

The Starry Night, Vincent VanGogh, June 1889
The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

In college, I took two Humanities courses that turned me on to classical music and fine art. I was not raised to appreciate art nor did I understand it. Both courses opened a new world to me as I began to see, hear and feel the transformative power of human creativity. I, myself, am not so artistic… but I have evolved to honor our shared, cross-cultural and trans-historical heritage of art, architecture, music and ritual.

I respect that the creative arts are shared common elements across all of the 5 major world religions. I also believe that they can help provide expression for interfaith meaning, understanding and communication. In fact, the appreciation of religious art is a hallmark of interfaith celebration worldwide.

Art has a revered place in my sacred garden.

Visually, I’m attracted to Impressionism and the visions of Monet and Van Gogh. (I’m also attracted to what Georgia O’Keeffe saw… another post for another day). Their color and texture choices speak to me. I am in awe at how thousands of individual and seemingly unrelated brush strokes can melt together into symphony of color that portrays a scene. From chaos to order… is the beauty on the canvas or in my eyes? Impressionism keeps me asking… is what I am observing subjective or objective? I keep coming up with “its both!”

I must also admit that I kind of like that these Impressionists were rebellious souls… the “bad boys” of art in their day. Breaking with tradition, they created a whole new dimension within the heart of the 19th century that thrives and inspires today. These guys also excite my Pantheism.

I invite you to listen to some of my favorite Vincent Van Gogh paintings. Can you feel the Sacred? Does he invite you to pray too?

Irises, Vincent VanGogh, 1889
Irises, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
The Red Vineyard, Vincent VanGogh, 1888
The Red Vineyard, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent VanGogh, 1888
Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent VanGogh, 1890
Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
Field of Poppies, Vincent VanGogh, 1889
Field of Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Wheatfield with Cypresses, Vincent VanGogh, 1889
Wheatfield with Cypresses, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Van Gogh Speaks to Me

Rainbow Bridge Prayer

Rainbow Bridge Poem
Rainbow Bridge Prayer

Pets have been an essential part of our human experience since prehistoric times. History suggests people and dogs have shared special bonds for at least 11,000 years. Asian dogs, African cats, Peruvian guinea pigs, Chinese goldfish, European polecats, Cuban birds, Syrian Hamsters – all have evolved toward domestication for the delight and special companionship of young and old.

We love our pets. Our pets love us.

Pets enrich our lives. Indeed, pets our truly beloved members of the family and integral to the herd. Many have told me that pets help motivate them out of bed in the morning and provide a consistent and predictable reminder that life is better not lived alone. Pets can help improve mood, enhance health and well-being, lower blood pressure, speed healing, boost vitality and actually lengthen the long term survival rates of heart attack patients.

I have witnessed the magic of pet therapy with severely disturbed children, recovering addicts and nursing home patients. The special bond between pets and caretakers inspires, redeems and ensures. Pets provide unconditional love and extraordinary acceptance without judgement. Their companionship soothes and protects.

The death of a pet can be devastating and profoundly painful. The hole left in the fabric of our lives can ache in our minds and in our hearts. Grieving the loss of a pet hurts. Although the emotional suffering varies from person to person, there is no one way or right way to grieve. We all need to find our own ways to say good-bye and make peace with the loss.

Spirituality and spiritual beliefs can provide meaning and comfort during these hours of need. I will not debate here whether animals have souls. However, I will share that I believe the same Life Force that created me and sustains me, so too, creates and sustains all of Creation. We are all in this together.

Prayers and blessings for pets who have died are simply a logical extension of my spirituality and my interfaith ministry. If this is in sync with you and resonates with your beliefs, please consider the Rainbow Bridge today… and whenever you might need it.

The Rainbow Bridge is a poem that appeared on the Internet and in some veterinary officers years ago. Its popularity has grown and is respected. Its author is still unknown although it was most probably written by Paul Dahm, a grief counselor from Oregon. Using the Viking myth of the Bifrost Bridge, the poem provides a compassionate metaphor of hope and consolation for those grieving the loss of a pet.

I have used The Rainbow Bridge both as a prayer and a blessing for my own pets and others’ pets who have died… after all… all pets do go to heaven!

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together. . .

*This post is dedicated to Plato, Precious, Francois and Marg – each of whom touched my soul and changed my life.

Rainbow Bridge Prayer

What I Believe

An Interfaith logo
An Interfaith logo

I received an email from a follower who asked me what I believed as a nondenominational interfaith minister. Great question…thanks for asking!
My answer is evolving. My clients and those I serve are my greatest teachers… more so than the sacred texts I study from religious traditions. Here are some initial thoughts:

WHAT I BELIEVE
-Spirituality is that dimension of reality beyond the mental, emotional and physical.
-Sitting quietly, closing my eyes, staring into nature, I’m aware of greater than me.
-That which is greater than me is God.
-There are many paths to one deity I call God, Sacred, Divine, Light, Universe.
-Each path is valid/true for the people that honor it.
-God has many names, faces and manifestations.
-My understanding of God is historically, geographically and culturally relative.
-I respect Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism equally.
-I’m most in sync with Buddhism and Christianity while a recovering Roman Catholic.
-Buddhism is my philosophy of life, guide, path to self-discovery/understanding.
-God does not have a religion… but She is fond of Pantheism.
-Interfaith has potential for solutions to many problems-social and religious.
-Religion is a large part of many of our problems.
-Love is better than fear. Forgiveness is an underestimated power.
-I believe in free will and ability to choose from among alterntives.
-Existence is multi-dimensional and beyond death.
-I believe in reincarnation and karma.
-Sacred texts are culturally-relative stories meant to teach how to be happy and coexist.
-Big differences between religion and politics. Often confused and/or co-mingled.
-Religious fundamentalism is self-centered, self-serving and narcissistic.
-Synchronicity, power of myth and our abilities to create our own experience.
-Many ways to pray, to meditate, to contemplate, to be mindful.
-Contemplation without action is never enough.
-I believe in the mission of my ministry: hope=compassion + forgiveness.

The problem of evil is an enormous problem that philosophy has wrestled with for millennia. I do not know why bad things happen.

WHAT I DO NOT BELIEVE
-I’m not Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu but honor each tradition.
-People do not need religion to tell them what to do or how to act.
-No one religion has a monopoloy on God, truth or morality.
-I don’t believe in original sin, predestination or cults.
-I don’t believe in clericalism.
-I don’t need religion to be redeemed, saved or to get to heaven.
-Medieval structures of power, authority and governance are irrelevant today.
-Scientology is not a religion.
-Buddha is not God.
-Gods/goddesses don’t endorse revenge, excommunication or human/animal sacrifices.
-Homocide, suicide, torture, genocide, rape or slavery isn’t of any God or religion.

The Power of Ceremony by Colleen Good The Power of Ceremony by Colleen Good

What I Believe