Jun 082013

It has been interesting to watch the ongoing strife and turmoil that has been shaking Turkey. We were there for two weeks in March & April and had a chance to speak with a number of people in different locations. To a certain extent it has been hard to reconcile the strength of reaction given our conversations and the views shared, though some of the seeds of the reaction were easily visible.  Our time in Turkey was marked by three main themes when we spoke with people:

Ongoing tensions between secular & traditional Turks – Due to reforms driven by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey has a modern history of being open to different forms of religious worship, or no worship at all compared to the rest of the region.  The majority of the people we spoke with (bias of English speakers) identified as Muslim, but not devout and in many cases, non-practicing.  They had plenty of scorn for the clerics and traditionalists and dismissed their political power as buy-outs & giveaways to segments of the population. They felt that their options & lifestyles were under threat to a certain extent.

The Turkish economy is (or was) great – We saw a lot of new development and construction as we navigated the country.  In general all of the folks that we spoke with said things were good and life was getting better for everyone.  Despite Turkey’s run of growth there is increasing worry that the economic growth and stability in Turkey has been fueled unsustainable by outside lending. Sound familiar?

Turks are happy to be separate from the Euro – Without prompting people would mention how proud they were that they were doing better than the Euro zone, and that they were very happy to have not joined the Euro.  The financial crisis appears to have given confidence to going it alone.  Perhaps the growth experienced in the last five years was amplified by the troubles in Europe and investors looking for (and paying more for) opportunities in Turkey.

Time will tell how far the current unrest will last, both sides don’t appear to be backing down and are further instigating the other.  I wouldn’t give up hope soon – Even now it is very common to see Atatürk bumper stickers and tributes.  Turks are proud of their country and consider it unique and a model for other countries to follow.

Dec 292008

During my chores today I finally caught up with This American Life podcasts. I just finished listening to episode 304: Heretics. I come from a bit of a charismatic background, so the story had a big impact on me. I highly recommend giving it a listen:

Carlton Pearson’s church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the reverend. He didn’t have an affair. He didn’t embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse: He stopped believing in Hell.

Dec 182007

The CS Monitor has a great 3 part series on the explosive growth of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America. The first two parts, dealing mostly with Guatemala and Brazil are posted and have been quite interesting. I’m looking forward to the third.

As church lights dim across the US and Europe, Christian houses of worship are opening every day in Latin America. The majority of the new churches are Pentecostal, an expressive evangelical creed that emphasizes individual “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

“Renewalists,” a term that includes those belonging to Pentecostal denominations and “charismatics,” who have adopted the expressive worship services of Pentecostals but belong to Catholic or mainline Protestant churches, now make up an estimated one quarter of the world’s Christians, according to the World Christian Database. That number was just 6 percent 30 years ago….

Pentecostals across the region, most of whom considered themselves Catholics before, say they converted in order to tackle their problems, for a sense of community, or simply because Pentecostalism offered something that the rituals of the Catholic mass did not. Most Pentecostal services today are rollicking events that include 10-piece bands, movie screens, and emotional testimonials – a reflection of society’s preferences. It’s what Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, calls “bringing the fiesta spirit to church.”

Pentecostals have been particularly skilled at reaching out to the region’s poor, providing answers to the overwhelming problems their poverty provokes each day. The Catholic answer, in the 1960s, came in the form of “liberation theology,” a Marxist-tinged approach to addressing the needs of the oppressed. It had enthusiastic supporters across Latin America, but soon got wrapped up in cold war politics. Religious scholars often quip: “Liberation theology opted for the poor, and the poor opted for Pentecostalism.”

I’d guess the growth has also been strong in parts of the USA. Walking around my neighborhood on a Saturday or Sunday night one will hear plenty of spanish voices and the upbeat hymn-pop that accompanies the movement.

Mar 072007

I’m just going to rip the text of this WP story:

Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson and other conservative Christian leaders are calling for the National Association of Evangelicals to silence or fire an official who has urged evangelicals to take global warming seriously.

In a letter this week to the board of the NAE, which claims 30 million members, Dobson and his two dozen co-signers said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the NAE’s vice president for government relations, has waged a “relentless campaign” that is “dividing and demoralizing” evangelicals.

Cizik has been a leader in efforts to broaden evangelicals’ political agenda beyond abortion and same-sex marriage. He says Christians have a biblical imperative to protect the environment, which he calls “creation care.”

“I speak with a voice that is authentically evangelical on all the issues, from religious freedom around the world, to compassion for the poor, ending oppression in Darfur — and yes, creation care is one of those issues,” Cizik said yesterday.

The NAE’s board is scheduled to meet next week in Minnesota. Its former president, the Rev. Ted Haggard, resigned in November after a scandal involving sex and drugs.

His successor, the Rev. Leith Anderson, defended Cizik as “a great asset.” He also said that the Dobson letter was released to the news media before it was received by the board. “I guess that says it all,” he said.

Oct 042006

Kurt Andersen has written a great piece over at NY Magazine. Titled “The End of the World As They Know It”, it dives into culture and attitudes obsessed with apocalypse.

Five years after Islamic apocalyptists turned the World Trade Center to fire and dust, we chatter more than ever about the clash of civilizations, fight a war prompted by our panic over (nonexistent) nuclear and biological weapons, hear it coolly asserted this past summer that World War III has begun, and wonder if an avian-flu pandemic poses more of a personal risk than climate change. In other words, apocalypse is on our minds. Apocalypse is … hot.

Millions of people—Christian millenarians, jihadists, psychedelicized Burning Men—are straight-out wishful about The End. Of course, we have the loons with us always; their sulfurous scent if not the scale of the present fanaticism is familiar from the last third of the last century—the Weathermen and Jim Jones and the Branch Davidians. But there seem to be more of them now by orders of magnitude (60-odd million “Left Behind” novels have been sold), and they’re out of the closet, networked, reaffirming their fantasies, proselytizing. Some thousands of Muslims are working seriously to provoke the blessed Armageddon. And the Christian Rapturists’ support of a militant Israel isn’t driven mainly by principled devotion to an outpost of Western democracy but by their fervent wish to see crazy biblical fantasies realized ASAP—that is, the persecution of the Jews by the Antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon.

When apocalypse preoccupations leach into less-fantastical thought and conversation, it becomes still more disconcerting. Even among people sincerely fearful of climate change or a nuclearized Iran enacting a “second Holocaust” by attacking Israel, one sometimes detects a frisson of smug or hysterical pleasure.

He doesn’t have much trouble finding examples these days. I must admit, to a certain extent, I have also slipped into the mindset that the future will get worse, before it gets better. Why? I don’t think any one thing can be singled out. It is probably equal parts climate change and dangerous energy dependence, a sprinkle of looming brinkmanship, and a dash of perpetual war. Top with consumer and government spending and savings habits, and bake for 10-20 years.

But after thinking about it some more, I have to add in another ingredient to my pessimistic future pie. It is the increase in apocalypticism – the very subject of the article. Growing up on the evangelical side of the christian spectrum, the view point was not uncommon. The rapture was going to happen any day now. In that environment, it didn’t seem like such a strange thought. Now of course I fear what that does to one’s mindset and motivations. I mean, why fix this world, when doing so will delay your god’s coming?

Enough of my ramblings, the article is definitely worth a read.

Feb 072006

This whole cartoon thing is rediculous. Michael Standaert has the right idea:

Why does the Danish Prime Minister even need to be involved in this situation or apologize for this? What I don’t understand is the fact that GOVERNMENTS have been drawn into this mess. They are not responsible for the actions of writers and artists working at independent newspapers within their countries. Since when did a few independent newspapers become equated with the governments in those countries? One has to wonder what kind of cultural or psychological barrier there is between these worlds. How do the limits imposed upon free expression in the Middle East and the fact that a lot of the press in that part of the world have been under government and/or religious control play into the reactions we are seeing?

The greatest irony of all this, the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, is that the satire, crude as it may be, has been lost on the very people it could influence the most. Who can deny that a large faction of Islam has been debased by a militancy tied inherently, and falsely, to that religion of over a billion people? A Danish cartoonist didn’t create that, he just held up a mirror. Muslims who use Islam for political means to rally others of their faith to do violence have debased the image of the Prophet Mohammed more than any cartoonist ever will. I’d say the exact same thing about fundamentalist Christians who try to depict Jesus as a militant hero, coming to slay the unbelievers, and I have.

What the world needs is more free expression, not less.

A group of people is mad about being shown as violent, this group of people then expresses their outrage by being violent towards innocent people. That’s just retarded. Come on people, even this – Iran presents: Holocaust cartoon contest – is a much more reasonable response than firebombing an embassy.

Nov 032005

(All photos for this entry are posted here)

(The following is information I’ve picked up from various sources, so feel free to set me straight)

Dia de los Muertos is one of the more famous and widely practiced Mexican holidays. This ritual remembrance and celebration of the dead is said to be 3,000 years old, but was moved and mixed with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day by the Spanish to give it a church link. As I understand it, November first is All Saints’ Day, which is to remember children that have died. The second is All Saints’ Day, and is for everyone else. The celebration of the holiday tends of be quite different depending on the region. In Northern Mexico and the US, it tends to be a more private, with altars of loved ones in your home.

Anna and I visited the Sherman Heights Community Center on the first of the month to check out some of the traditional altars that were on display to the public. It was my first time in the center (I have only ever seen it from the road) and I was quite impressed with the building. It seems like a really great resource for the neighborhood. The altars were quite varied. Some were intimate, others very orate. Most focused on family members (for four years after death). But a few focused on other issues like lead in children’s candy, or the murdered women and girls of Ciudad Juarez. All of the altars had ofrendas of some sort – favorite foods or drinks, flowers, sugar skulls, photos, etc. We talked to the people at the center and bought some pan de muerto. I wish we could have stayed a bit longer, they were going to have some traditional dancers bless the altars.

We also checked out Chicano Park, as I had heard they were going to have similar events. But the park was fairly empty. Too early, or too late?