Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ten things I know about the mosque

1. America missed a golden opportunity to showcase its Constitutional freedoms. The instinctive response of Americans should have been the same as President Obama's: Muslims have every right to build there. Where one religion can build a church, so can all religions.

2. The First Amendment comes down to this: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It does not come down to: "The First Amendment gives me the right to repeat the N-word 11 times on the radio to an inoffensive black woman, and when you attack me for saying it, you are in violation of my First Amendment rights."

3. The choice of location shows flawed judgment on the part of its imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf. He undoubtedly knows that now, and I expect his project to be relocated. The imam would be prudent to chose another location, because the far right wing has seized on the issue as an occasion for fanning hatred against Muslims. It has also narrowly reframed the project as a mosque, rather than a community center with a prayer room, which is what it would be. To oppose it on the grounds that it is Muslim is religious prejudice and nothing else. The Muslims who attacked the World Trade Center are not the Muslims who are building the center.

4. One buried motive for the attacks on Park51 is exploitation of the insane belief of 20% of Americans that President Obama is a Muslim. Zealots like Glenn Beck, with his almost daily insinuations about the Muslim grandfather Obama never knew and the father he met only once, are encouraging this mistaken belief.

5. The Bill of Rights has a parallel with pregnancy. You can't be a little pregnant, and you can't be a little free. Nor can you serve yourself from it cafeteria style.

6. Somewhere on the Right is an anonymous genius at creating memes. Sarah Palin floats a suspicious number of them: Death Panels, Ground Zero Mosque, 9/11 Mosque, Terror Babies. Her tweets are mine fields of coded words; for her, "patriot" is defined as, "those who agree with me." When she says "Americans," it is not inclusive. These two must have been carefully composed in advance to be tweeted within 60 seconds of each other:

By using the evocative word "shackles" she associates Dr. Laura's use of the N-word with the suffering of slaves. By implying Dr. Laura was silenced by "Constitutional obstructionists," she employs the methodology of the Big Lie, defined in Mein Kampf as an untruth so colossal that "no one would believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." She uses the trigger word "reload" to evoke her support of Second Amendment activists while attacking "activists" for evoking the First.

7. Many Americans and a great many politicians have either never taken a civics class or disagree with what they should have learned there. The major opinion sources in America that seem to devote the most attention to the Bill of Rights are Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, all distorting it as an everyday practice. Bill O'Reilly, to his credit, doesn't indulge in this.

8. A meme is infecting our society that Muslims are terrorists and hate America; they are the enemy. It is a cliche to say, "the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful," but is true. When Muslim nations are bombed by America, can those nations be expected to applaud? In Iran after 9/11 there were candlelight marches in sympathy with the United States.

9. I find hope in the words of two American strippers interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Cassandra, who works at New York Dolls, just around the corner from the proposed community center, said she worried that calls to prayer might wake up the neighbors. The WSJ writes: "But when she was told that the organizers aren't planning loudspeakers, she said she didn't have a problem with the project: 'I don't know what the big deal is. It's freedom of religion, you know?'"

Chris works in the Pussycat Lounge, even closer to the site. When the airplanes struck the World Trade Center, Chris became a Red Cross volunteer working with survivors. The WSJ writes she "sat on a barstool in a tiny, shiny red dress and defended Park51. 'They're not building a mosque in the World Trade Center. It's all good. You have your synagogues and your churches. And you have a mosque.'" Chris lost eight of her friends on Sept. 11, 2001, firefighters from the Brooklyn firehouse she lived next to at the time, but "the people who did it are not going to the mosque."

Cassandra and Chris reflect American values more instinctively and correctly on this issue, let it be said, than Sarah Palin, Howard Dean, Newt Gingrich, Harry Reid and Rudy Giuliani, who should know better.

10. I wonder how many Americans realize the community center is not intended for Ground Zero. What will be constructed there includes a 55,000 square foot retail mall. This mall will be deep enough to connect with subway lines -- deep enough, that is, to theoretically be embedded in the ashes of some of the 9/11 victims.

What might have been more appropriate? On September 12, 2001, I wrote a little op-ed column:

A Green Field

If there is to be a memorial, let it not be of stone and steel. Fly no flag above it, for it is not the possession of a nation but a sorrow shared with the world.

Let it be a green field, with trees and flowers. Let there be paths that wind through the shade. Put out park benches where old people can sun in the springtime, and a pond where children can skate in the winter.

Beneath this field will lie entombed forever some of the victims of September 11. It is not where they thought to end their lives. Like the sailors of the battleship Arizona, they rest where they fell.
Let this field stretch from one end of the destruction to the other. Let this open space among the towers mark the emptiness in our hearts. But do not make it a sad place. Give it no name. Let people think of it as the green field. Every living thing that is planted here will show faith in the future.

Let students from all lands take a sunny corner of the field and plant a crop there. Perhaps corn, our native grain. Let the harvest be shared all over the world, with friends and enemies, because that is the teaching of our religions. Let the harvest show that life prevails over death, and let the sharing show that we love our neighbors.

Do not build again on this place. No building can stand here. No building, no statue, no column, no arch, no symbol, no name, no date, no statement. Just the comfort of the earth, to remind us that we share it.

Credits: Roger Ebert, Roger Ebert's Journal

Betty White Scores Emmy For Hosting 'SNL'

The Betty White phenomenon keeps getting bigger.

White won an Emmy Award for best guest actress in a comedy series for her turn as "Saturday Night Live" host. The honor came Saturday at the creative arts ceremony that is precursor to the main Aug. 29 Emmy show.

The trophy is the fifth prime-time Emmy received by the 88-year-old White, according to the TV academy. Her previous honors came for classic sitcoms including "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls."

So far this year, besides the "SNL" gig, White made a splash with the new TV Land sitcom "Hot in Cleveland," scored with a clever Super Bowl commercial and played a mad librarian on ABC's sitcom "The Middle."

She did not attend Saturday's ceremony, which included presenters Jane Lynch of "Glee," Elizabeth Mitchell of "Lost" and Christina Hendricks of "Mad Men."

Neil Patrick Harris was a presenter and winner, taking the trophy for best guest actor in a comedy series for his appearance on "Glee." The guest acting trophies for drama series went to John Lithgow for "Dexter" and Ann-Margret for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which has won Emmy acting honors for six consecutive years.

Harris, who stars in "How I Met Your Mother," shared in another award. The Tony Awards show, which he hosted to critical acclaim, was recognized as best special class program.

The top network winner was HBO with 17 trophies, followed by ABC with 15 and Fox with nine. CBS, NBC and PBS each claimed seven. "The Pacific," HBO's World War II miniseries, captured a leading seven creative arts awards.

Four trophies went to "Disney Prep & Landing," an animated Christmas special. Other big winners, with three trophies each, were freshman sitcom "Modern Family," "Saturday Night Live" and "The 25th Anniversary Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Concert."

Randy Newman won a trophy for original music and lyrics for "When I'm Gone," written for the departed series "Monk."

John Leverence, senior vice president of awards, received the Syd Cassyd Founders Award for his service to the TV academy.

The creative arts ceremony will air Friday on the E! channel. Next Sunday's 62nd annual prime-time Emmy ceremony, with Jimmy Fallon as host, will air live on NBC.

Other winners at the creative arts Emmys, which honor technical and other achievements, included:

Host, reality or reality-competition series: Jeff Probst, "Survivor," CBS.

Voice-over performance: Anne Hathaway, "The Simpsons: Once Upon a Time in Springfield," Fox.

Reality program: "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," ABC.

Commercial: "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like: Old Spice Body Wash."

Animated Program: "Disney Prep & Landing," ABC.

Nonfiction series: "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," PBS.

Writing for a variety, music or comedy series: "The Colbert Report: 5076 (in Iraq)," Comedy Central.

Music composition for a series (original dramatic score): "24: 3 p.m. - 4 p.m.," Fox.

Music composition for a miniseries, movie or special: "Temple Grandin," HBO.

Choreography: "So You Think You Can Dance," Fox.

Casting for a drama series: "Mad Men," AMC.

Casting for a miniseries, movie or a special: "The Pacific," HBO.

Casting for a comedy series: "Modern Family," ABC.

Costumes for a miniseries, movie or a special: "Return to Cranford (Masterpiece), Part 2," PBS.

Costumes for a variety-music program or a musical (more than one award possible): "Jimmy Kimmel Live: Episode 09-1266)," ABC; "So You Think You Can Dance (Top 12 perform)," Fox; "Titan Maximum: Went to Party, Got Crabs," Cartoon Network.

Costumes for a series: "The Tudors: Episode No. 408," Showtime.

Credits: NPR

Just start it!

One of the biggest themes of The Simple Dollar is goals. I find goal-setting – figuring out a specific goal, writing it down, coming up with a specific plan to get there, and following that plan – to be incredibly empowering. Diving head-first into such planning has quite literally changed my life, as it made The Simple Dollar and my subsequent writing opportunities possible. It made paying off all of our credit card debts, car loans, and student loans possible, leaving us with just a mortgage. Goal-setting gave me a framework for writing two books in the past three years, and it’s giving me a framework for learning how to play the piano and countless other personal objectives.

If you roll back the clock five years, I was buried in debt. I had vague dreams of being a writer. The Simple Dollar hadn’t even popped into my mind yet.

What took me from there to here? I attribute it to goals, of course, but there’s something much more specific than that at the core here.

The start.

The Simple Dollar was born because I sat down one evening and decided to stop dreaming about it and start doing it. I threw together a rough site design on Blogspot and wrote my first article within a couple of hours.

I started paying off debts because I sat down one evening and decided I needed to get my financial life under control. I studied all of my debts, came up with a plan for tackling them, and started cleaning out my closets within the first few hours.

When I look around my life, there are so many other things I would love to accomplish. I have several big household projects that are just sitting on the back burner. I’ve got ideas for two future books and at least two blogs I’d love to start. I’d like to run a 5K next fall.

Big goals, big dreams. None of them will happen until I sit down and make the decision to get started with them. I can dream all I want, but until I get started, nothing will happen.

Which brings us back to you.

Almost all of us have a dream or two floating out there. A big home project we’d like to pull off. A career change. A lifestyle change. A diet change. A change in our social circle. A new skill we’d like to learn.

It is so easy to dream about these things. But it’s not the dreaming that changes a life – it’s the doing and the accomplishing.

Today is the day to get started on one of those big goals.

Here’s my challenge to you. Tonight, go home and spend two hours on the big thing you’re dreaming most about in your life. Sit down, figure out a plan for how to get from where you’re at to where you want to be. Write out that whole plan. Then take the first big step towards getting there, whatever that might be.

You’ll feel so good about things that you’ll barely be able to wait until your next opportunity to take a whack at it. Soon, you’ll find yourself moving towards a goal that you thought was out of reach – and growing as a person at the same time.

That’s a big win, no matter how you slice it.

Credits: Trent Hamm, Christian Science Monitor

'Turducken,' 'Vuvuzela,' And More New Dictionary Words

Facebook History

Credits: this isn't happiness

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Your place in God's family

It was obvious. Summer vacation was at its peak. On the road, carloads of families and friends were coming and going – bikes piled in racks on the backs of cars, canoes strapped to the tops, boats pulled by trailers – enjoying a week, maybe two, with their loved ones.

My own family and some dear friends were returning from a week in a rented cottage in the mountains. There we enjoyed walks, real treks, swimming, picnicking, fishing, games around the fire in the cool evenings, mornings reading on a porch with a serene view.

On the highway, though, observing this stream of families just enjoying being families, I found myself returning again and again to an offhand but withering remark someone made during our week together about a family we knew. It seemed unjust and cruel.

It’s my practice to pray when I’m disturbed about something, and so when this kept coming to my thought, I turned to God to confirm in prayer the spiritual facts. Someone had recently shared with me a spiritual fact about the concept of family in an e-mail message. She wrote, “Family is evidence of God’s love for all of Her children – not a collection of disparate personalities, not a source of discord or frustration. Family, as a reflection of God’s love, is harmonious, a source of strength and peace.” Though this lifted my thought somewhat from the slur on that dear family, still the cruel remark returned and seemed more impressed on my thought than even these comforting statements about the spiritual concept of family.

Family is an adored idea in the hearts of many, evoking warmth, love, affection, and support. But like all things human, families are subject to failures, faults, even deep sadness. I realized that to get the loft needed, I had to go higher. And what helped me was an unexpected realization.

For months I’d been thinking about God’s sons and daughters as His spiritual, complete idea – the reflection, the very image of God, as described in the first chapter of Genesis. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, amplified that description in her work “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” where she wrote, among many other descriptions, that “man is the image of Love” (p. 475). And I was contrasting this concept of spiritual man with the mortal personality we are accustomed to thinking of as us – a mixture of good, even bright personal attributes, and an assortment of shortcomings, faults, and frailties.

The spiritual individuality, our actual identity, was expressed masterfully by Christ Jesus. One small episode has meant much to me in highlighting the difference between the material personality he shunned and the spiritual identity that he lived. In Matthew’s Gospel a man approached Jesus with this understandable greeting: “Good Master.” Jesus answered him, but corrected the greeting with the question “Why callest thou me good?” and added, “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt. 19:16, 17).

Had Jesus accepted that the good he expressed was personal, he would have subtly claimed a mortal personage, a mixture of good and bad. His faithfulness to his true nature, the Christly idea, saved him from the mortal trappings of personality, hinging on mortality, which includes sinning, being sick, and dying. Turning a mortal identity down in an apparently harmless context literally saved his life. His resurrection was the result of understanding his spiritual selfhood at all times.

Then it dawned on me in the middle of the night. If we are each God’s spiritual idea, actually unburdened by mortal personality and free to express our likeness to God, then family, God’s loving idea, is also free from having a personality. In spiritual reality, in all of God’s universe of ideas, there are no bad families, unloving families, dysfunctional, broken, or cruel families. There is just God’s family, which Mrs. Eddy described when discussing how “[a] human sense of Deity yields to the divine sense, even as the material sense of personality yields to the incorporeal sense of God and man as the infinite Principle and infinite idea, – as one Father with His universal family, held in the gospel of Love" (Science and Health, pp. 576-577). We all fit in this family; we are all at home in Love.

The “Our Father” from the Lord’s Prayer is the head of every household. And that opening address in this healing prayer is spiritually interpreted as “Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious” (Science and Health, p. 16).

With this realization, my thought was at rest, and I could see this as a waymark for my prayers – not just for a particular family, but as the basis for upholding the peace and goodness of family as God’s idea.

Credits: Rebecca Odegaard, Christian Science Monitor

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque: Digging a Hole in the Soul of America

I must admit that I was not fond of the idea of a Islamic community center and mosque being built near the site where the World Trade Center once stood. But this artircle opened my eyes and I am now second thinking myself.
It was a day we will never forget. It was a day that changed the course of this nation forever. It was a day that permanently bruised our hearts, with the potential of healing almost seeming impossible. Yet, with love, faith and compassion, we showed the world and showed ourselves through the promotion of one of our nation's greatest values -- tolerance -- we can overcome fear and hate.
Today, ten years later, I peer through the front windows of my apartment and still see a large gaping hole that once was the home to the World Trade Center. I pass by the firehouse on my block and say hello to the firemen who lost almost all of their guys on that day. This is my neighborhood, my backyard. And in my backyard, I have no tolerance for a new fear-mongering, hateful rhetoric that has sprung up over the proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center that they plan on building blocks away from Ground Zero.
It is not insensitive to put a cultural center of any sort, that has a place of worship, anywhere in our city. This is what makes our country and our city great. As a nation that was founded by men and women who were being persecuted for their particular faith, we should know that the best path to finding freedom is finding freedom for others. We were formed as a pluralistic society and this means we welcome all religions. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, sick and twisted men did, who not only hijacked four airplanes but also hijacked a religion. Let us not stereotype the over one billion Muslims around the world because of the evil acts of a few. A decision like this one, to support or not support the construction of this center, defines who we are as a nation. It's at the essence of our values, our freedom of expression, freedom of religion and religious tolerance.
As the Chairman of The Foundation Of Ethnic Understanding, my partner Rabbi Marc Schneier (also the Vice President, World Jewish Congress; Chairman, World Jewish Congress United States) and I have worked tirelessly to promote dialogue among different ethnic groups all over the world, particularly Jews and Muslims. We have witnessed the power of the fostering of this dialogue. We know that we must fight Antisemitism and Islamaphobia together and at the same time. We welcome and support this cultural center, as it will continue constructive conversations around a moderate approach to co-existence between all people, regardless of religious preference. In fact, we strongly feel that this center will bridge the divide that many of our nation's citizens have with the Islamic faith.
There are moments that define our nation. There are moments that test the strength of our character. There are moments that test the essence of our freedoms. Let this be that moment and let us pass this test with grace and dignity. As I will not stand for any sort of Islamaphobia in my backyard.
Credits: Russell Simmons, CNN