Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: February, 2015

Conversation Between Saddam and Glaspie about US Media

Media

APRIL GLASPIE: I have a direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq.

HUSSEIN: But how? We too have this desire. But matters are running contrary to this desire.

GLASPIE: This is less likely to happen the more we talk. For example, you mentioned the issue of the article published by the American Information Agency and that was sad. And a formal apology was presented.

HUSSEIN: Your stance is generous. We are Arabs. It is enough for us that someone says, “I am sorry. I made a mistake.” Then we carry on. But the media campaign continued. And it is full of stories. If the stories were true, no one would get upset. But we understand from its continuation that there is a determination.

GLASPIE: I saw the Diane Sawyer program on ABC. And what happened in that program was cheap and unjust. And this is a real picture of what happens in the American media — even to American politicians themselves. These are the methods the Western media employs. I am pleased that you add your voice to the diplomats who stand up to the media. Because your appearance in the media, even for five minutes, would help us to make the American people understand Iraq. This would increase mutual understanding. If the American President had control of the media, his job would be much easier.

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Combining Yoga and Journaling

Journaling

I love journaling and I love yoga. So when my niece Sandy, a yoga instructor, asked me to participate in a trial yoga and journaling class for her upcoming studio workshop, I was delighted to do so. I have been doing yoga for over ten years and many instructors have incorporated creative ideas along with this practice but journaling was never one of them – although it makes perfect sense to combine the two.

Many times in my yoga class the instructor would say a profound statement or I myself received an inner message, a revelation which I wanted to jot down. I would remind myself to take note of these things at home, only to get too preoccupied. I’d leave the yoga studio, pick up my children from the daycare center, and arrive home to a list of unfinished household chores. By nighttime, whatever I wanted to write left my mind and like a bird flew into the sky.

When Sandy led this yoga and journaling class Tuesday afternoon, I enjoyed the moments in between the meditations and yoga movements where we had the opportunity to look within and write about certain experiences.  It was a lovely, meaningful and deep way to start the day, with its positive energy spilling over into the evening and night.

As I write this, I recall an interview with Billy Hayes, who wrote a book about his life in a Turkish prison, Midnight Express. The story was later made into an award winning film by Oliver Stone.  Hayes says that yoga saved his life in jail.

“Stress kills,” Hayes said in the interview. “Yoga keeps me healthy, helps me chill. Emotionally, it keeps me balanced. It saved me in jail. In prison, you have no control over anything except you; you still have yourself, your own body, so yoga gives you back that control that the prison takes away.”

Today Hayes works with James Fox on the Prison Yoga Project.

Writing has had a similar healing, growing and thriving effect on people.

“When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.” Michael Leboeuf

Imagine the power of combining these two activities into our regular routine.

For more information about this workshop, visit www.sandynaimou.com

pure intention 2-26-15

International Coffee Hour

Coffee Hour

My husband normally drops off the kids at school in the morning. Once they’re out of the house, I usually start the day with writing, cleaning the house, cooking, and then it’s 3pm and I have to pick up the kids. Yesterday morning was different. I volunteered to drop off the kids because I wanted to join a new coffee hour event at 8:30am.

Over coffee and donuts, I sat with the principal of the school, Mr. Slancik, and the community’s favorite priest, Father Matthew, along with several teachers and parents. We discussed politics, religion, and community news. I noticed for the first time the flags that hung on the walls of the cafeteria. I counted forty-one flags, each from a different country around the world.

I asked the principal what these flags represent. The principal said that according to what he was told, since Schcuchard Elementary was built, students from that many nationalities had at one point or another attended this school. I was happy to know the school had such rich diversity. The more diverse a place is, the more opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and learn new things. This is precisely what I loved about traveling overseas. I always attained a new perspective and returned home with greater and deeper knowledge and appreciation of the world, as well as my home.

I carefully observed the flags, each distinct in its symbolism. One in particular caught my attention and I asked, “Does anyone know what country that red flag belongs to?”

The English teacher beside me said, “That’s an Albanian flag. It’s from my birth country. The symbol is a double-headed eagle.”

The eagle was used for heraldic purposes in the late middle ages by a number of noble families in Albania. The Kastrioti’s coat of arms, depicting a black double-headed eagle on a red field, became famous when he led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire that resulted with the independence of Albania from 1443 to 1479. This was the flag of the League of Lezhe, which was the first unified Albanian state in the middle ages.

I did not know that like Iraq, Albania was once occupied by the Ottoman Empire. People are always focusing on our differences, allowing our similarities to go by the wayside. More coffee hours would help cure that.

Tea5

Create a Paradise

Paradise

From Walk in Balance by Lynn Andrews – a book of daily meditations

You see, in a way I have created my own paradise. What we create in the world, we must first create within ourselves. A long time ago, I realized that we can either live in hell on this earth or we can live in a land of peace and joy, what one might call a paradise. There are really only two ways to live. If one is to find heaven, one has to open one’s heart to love. That is the moon gate that one has to walk through to find eternal peace.”

Shakkai  Shakkai, Woman of the Sacred Garden

God is the Recipe

God

“God is not an ingredient in your life,” said Pastor Aaron. “He is the recipe.”

Pastor Aaron talked about how people love God and get spiritual when life is rough and they’re having problems. But during good times, they forget about God. God gets put on the wayside.

“If you want to add God into your life, you have to subtract something from it,” he said. “In order to bring God into my life I have to remove what’s offensive to him.”

He took a glass of water and poured it into a full pitcher of water.

“We overflow the boundaries of life, and everything spills over and becomes saturated by what we add,” he said. “We end up making a mess.”

The pastor implored us not to waste time on this earth by waiting for something to happen. He also talked about the importance of prayer without ceasing, which means a continuous attitude and communication with God without being unproductive.

“Oftentimes we look at the enemy and say [confrontationally] let’s go,” he said. “We should focus on God rather than the enemy.”

To do that, he prays, “God, you got a problem here (whether in the church, the community, the neighborhood). How do You want me to help?”

“That prayer keeps your eyes on God and not on yourself,” He said.

I thought, it will also help us clean the mess we’ve made on this earth and replace it with a beautiful and delicious Recipe.

How to Advertise War

How to Advertise War

From The Magic of Believing by Claude Bristol (published 1948), pages 51-52

For forty-four years, ever since the Russ-Japanese war, the Japs immortalized Naval Warrant Officer Magoschichi Sugino, fabled as one of Japan’s early suicide fighters and greatest heroes. Thousands of statues were erected to his memory and in repeated song and story young Nipponese were taught to believe that by following his example, they could die in no more heroic manner than as a suicide fighter. Millions of them believed it and during the war thousands of them did die as suicide fighters… This terrible and persistent deeply founded belief, though based entirely on a fable, caused thousands of Japanese to throw away their lives during the war.

We, too, as Americans, were subjected to the power of suggestion long before and during World War I; we got it again in a big way under the direction of General Hugh Johnson with his N.R.A. plan, and in World War II it inspired us to increase our effort, to buy bonds, and so forth. We were constantly told that Germany and Japan had to be defeated unconditionally. Under the constant repetition of the same thought all individual thinking was paralyzed and the mass mind became grooved to a certain pattern – win the war unconditionally. As one writer said: “In war the voice of dissension becomes the voice of treason.” So again we see the terrific force of thought repetition – it is our master and we do as we are told.

This subtle force of the repeated suggestion overcomes our reason, acting directly on our emotions and our feelings, and finally penetrating to the very depths of our subconscious minds. It is the basic principle of all successful advertising – the continued and repeated suggestion that first makes you believe after which you are eager to buy.

Choosing Faithfulness

Pastor Aaron (2)

Pastor Aaron read from 1 Samuel 2:12

“Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot.”

He stopped and said, as if to himself, “It’s always dangerous to talk about food, especially when it’s barbecue, especially during second service.”

The congregation laughed.

Being light-hearted and down-to-earth makes it so much easier to feel God’s message. This is what happens every Sunday at Freedom Christian, where the pastor incorporates the bible’s teachings into his everyday family life. He turns the act of helping a man shovel his snow into a thoughtful and humorous story. The man whom he helped thanked him and asked, “Where do you work?”

“I’m a pastor.”

“Oh, you’re a man of God.”

“A title does not make me a man of God,” said the pastor. “You should know me for a few years and decide whether or not I am a man of God.”

He added that some Christian colleges are worse than regular colleges. They have the same ungodliness but they are wrapped up with religious terms.

The sermon’s topic was not religious terms, but it was about Samuel proving that we can be faithful in an unfaithful environment.

“You choose faithfulness and you choose unfaithfulness and then faithfulness and unfaithfulness chooses you,” he said. “I will take a faithful person in my life more than someone who is talented or someone who is flashy. Faithfulness means being faithful again and again and again. It’s being faithful in your life from the east of your life to the west of your life, from the north of your life to the south of your life.”

The pastor’s last words during today’s sermon were “Examine one area in your life where you can be faithful and work all week to make it a strength.”

 

The Power of Western Women

Photo by: Pedro J Perez

Photo by: Pedro J Perez

Last night, I wrapped myself in a red blanket as I listened to my teacher Lynn Andrews talk during a conference call with her apprentices. She said something which I never heard her say before. She said, “I really believe that the world is going to be saved by the women of the west.”

Many societies have thrived as a result of powerful women. Enheduanna of ancient Iraq was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad. She is the world’s first recorded writer. She was a high priestess in Ur of the Chaldees until her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from power. Kubaba, a Sumerian Queen in ancient Iraq, is the world’s first recorded woman ruler in history. She was said to have reigned peacefully for one hundred years.

Matriarchal communities existed in the past, and there a number of them surviving today. One society in the high mountains of China is known as the Kingdom of Women. Their reputation for “free Love”, along with the breathtaking landscape of their homelands draws increasing numbers of tourists.

Jennifer Morse writes in her book Apprentice to Power the following conversation she had with Lynn:

“The nature of the earth is feminine, so we women naturally understand the nature of things,” Lynn said. “Deep down, each woman knows that she knows. But we are taught that we don’t know. For men, the energy of this plant is not familiar. So they don’t know. But they are taught that they do.”

“So it’s all set up backwards,” said Jennifer.

Lynn smiled. “Yes, it is. We have to teach them.”

Perhaps this explains the thousands of years of unnecessary wars and violence. The biggest difference between matriarch and patriarchal communities is that where women rule, there was and is no need for violence. Maybe that’s the core problem in the Middle East. It is overly male dominated, which has created an incredible imbalance in that region.

For me, I am incredibly grateful for the dozens of powerful western women who have supported my work throughout the years, and I would not be a bit surprised if it is, like Lynn says, western women who end up saving the world.

Can Romance Turn into a Disease?

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The pest control guy came over this morning, ready to spray away the carpenter ants. These ants had built a colony in the heating vent, he explained, and survived in what felt to them like summer. When they were hungry, they came out to my kitchen to pick up crumbs.

As he sprayed the edges of the house, he stroke a conversation about the importance of family. He said he had been married for thirty years and had three adult children who were healthy and well educated. He said that other people in his family were not as fortunate, that they had divorced, which had a negative impact on their children when they grew up.

The Americans for Divorce Reform estimates that “Probably, 40 or possibly 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce if current trends continue.” This once did not apply to the Chaldean (Christian Iraqi) community in America. But nowadays, divorce has become a trend to a people that once were determined to make it work, especially when children were involved.

“People spend a year or two preparing for the wedding,” said the pest control guy. “They pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars going all out. They have the wedding reception, and then the marriage lasts as little as a year.”

In his case, it took thirty days to prepare for his wedding. It was just a matter of calling the priest, calling a local restaurant to make a reservation, inviting the closest people and reserving most of the focus on the marriage, not the wedding.

I remembered something my yoga instructor said last week. She’s a beautiful Asian woman that looks as though she’s 24 years old. But when she said she’d been married for 34 years and has two children, I figured she’s much older than that. As we groaned while holding a position for what felt like forever, she said, “The challenge is learning how to become comfortable in what sometimes feels uncomfortable. That’s how my marriage with my husband has lasted this long.”

Most of the divorces that he and I witnessed were for petty issues that could have been worked out. I thought about something that Stuart Wilde once said, “What makes anything sacred is the fact that we concentrate on it and say, ‘This is sacred.’ You make it important. In fact love is actually concentration. Romance is actually a disease that comes from over concentrating on another person.”

The best article that talks about this is by Axinia, a Russian born blogger and photographer who works and lives in Austria.

Romantic Love vs. True Love and Why Happy Marriages are so Rare in the West

By: Axinia

Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy…We are so accustomed to living with the beliefs and assumptions of romantic love that we think it is the only form of “love” on which marriage or love relationships can be based. We think it is the only “true love”. But there is much that we can learn from the East about this. In Eastern countries, like those of India and Japan, we find that married couples love each other with great warmth, often with a stability and devotion that puts us to shame. But their love is not “romantic love” as we know it. They don’t impose the same ideals on their relationships, nor do they impose such impossible demands and expectations on each other as we do.

Romantic love has existed throughout history in many cultures. We find it in the literature of ancient Greece, the Roman empire, ancient Persia, and feudal Japan. But our modern Western society is the only culture in history that has experienced romantic love as a mass phenomenon. We are the only society that makes romance the basis of our marriages and love relationships and the cultural ideal of “true love”.

One of the greatest paradoxes in romantic love is that it never produces human relationships as long as it stays romantic. It produces drama, daring adventures, wondrous, intense love scenes, jealousies, and betrayal; but people never seem to settle into relationship with each other as flesh-and-blood human beings until they are out of the romantic love stage, until they love each other instead of “being in love”.

Romance, in its purest form, seeks only one thing – passion. It is willing to sacrifice everything else – every duty, obligation, relationship, or commitment  – in order to have passion.

http://1000petals.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/romantic-love-vs-true-love-and-why-happy-marriages-are-so-rare-in-the-west/

Is Yoga Dangerous for Christians?

Yoga

I was picking up food from McDonald’s when I heard a conservative evangelical Christian radio host say, “I would not touch yoga with a ten foot pole.” He and his guest host then went in depth about the the spiritual dangers of yoga for Christians. I thought, “Oh my! I’ve been in involved in a dangerous practice for over ten years.”

I remembered an article I wrote about yoga and Christianity. It was originally published by The Chaldean News. http://www.chaldeannews.com/staying-centered/

Here’s a reprint of the article:

Staying Centered

An unfounded belief that yoga is against the Catholic faith persists, though experts say it’s not true.

“Since the term yoga is used in Hindu, it conjures up images in people’s mind,” said Fr. Peter Fennessy, one of six Jesuit priests at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center in West Bloomfield. “But there are different ways of approaching yoga, one of which focuses on the physical. On that level, it is not religious. It’s a way to relax and become centered. It is then a nice way to pray, because praying without words is a much deeper form of prayer than praying with words.”

For the past eight years, Manresa has offered Christian yoga classes that today are held every Monday from 5:30-6:45 p.m. at a fee of $12 per class. Instructor Grace Seroka, who has been practicing yoga for 40 years, helped start the class when she found she couldn’t relate to other classes’ Indian, vocal music or new-age reflections that were played during the relaxation periods.

“That type of music was not where my heart and spirit were at,” she said. “It was not of my culture.”

Instead, Seroka uses spiritual and sacred Christian music, scripture readings, and weekly Christian themes.

“Yoga is a prelude to meditation,” she said. “On a personal level, over the years it has helped me to slow down, focus, deeply stretch my muscles, and gradually bring me to a stillness.”

Janice Bahura, whose father is Chaldean and mother is American, has been doing yoga since she was 13. She has been teaching classes at Lifetime Fitness in Troy for more than 11 years and also runs classes at the Wellness Training Institute in Sterling Heights. There she works therapeutically by integrating yoga and meditation with elderly, post-surgery patients or those with injuries, to get them to live a healthy lifestyle.

Bahura is impressed by Seroka’s classes. “During meditation, Grace played a tape of Assyrian chanting, the type you hear when you go into church.”

“In my class, I’m paralleling breathing and posture with Christianity,” said Seroka. “That has helped me see the gospel for today, not 2,000 years ago.”

The yoga instructors and the priests at Manresa agree that yoga is healthy to the mind, body and spirit and is not in conflict with Christianity or its belief system.

Where then does the conflict come in?

“Long ago higher-ups in the church would meditate, but politically they tried to keep the regular people from meditating for fear that they would lose respect and power and would no longer be needed,” Bahura said.

Those who are against yoga are an isolated group, but nonetheless, that group does exist.

“I’ve heard some Christians say they don’t believe it is right for a person to connect to God through meditation rather than through Jesus,” said Bahura.

To that, Fr. Fennessy responded, “We say ‘Our Father’ three times a day without mentioning Jesus. We go directly to God.”

Some fear each posture in yoga is specific to some Hindu god, such as when one is standing with arms over their head or sleeping with arms by their side.

“Well, right now, I’m sitting with my legs crossed,” said Fr. Fennessy, “and my arms are on the desk. Does that mean I’m invoking a certain god?”

“I’ve spoken to women who say their church does not allow it and so they’re going to follow orders,” said Bahura. “But they won’t know what’s dangerous about it because they’ll never ever try it.”

Her mother was not such a woman. A Catholic, Bahura’s mother was a practitioner of transcendental meditation. One day the priest at her church questioned whether that contradicted with Christianity, to which she replied, “It has actually strengthened my Christian faith.”

“People are afraid that yoga will lead them into a different religion or away from Christianity,” said Seroka. “But what they fail to realize is that as Christians we meditate too.”

“Christians can profit, can learn from, various Eastern disciplines,” said Fr. Fennessy, but added that one should be careful not to practice syncretism – the combining of different beliefs. “Yoga is a spiritual practice. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t work, don’t use it.”

Fr. Fennessy also noted an interesting contradiction. Hindus don’t believe that the body is real, that it is in fact an illusion, and one must transcend it to the spiritual to get enlightened. Yet though they think the world is an illusion, they put enormous time into the body through yoga, bodily cleansing, eating and breathing.

“We Christians say God created the material world and we focus on the body, yet the only thing we do about it is kneel and stand,” Fr. Fennessy said. “We neglect the body so much and yet theologically we say it’s important. For Christians, the body, the incarnation of Christ, should be very important.”

The official documents of the Catholic Church contain just two references to yoga. They allow that methods of prayer deriving from non-Christian religions can help Christians in their prayer, but warn that discretion needs to be exercised to avoid syncretism and to see that elements do not creep in that are contrary to the fundamental nature of Christian prayer and practice.

“Spirituality is universal and that’s what I bring to my classes,” said Bahura. “It’s where all speak the same language, just using different words. This is the key to getting along and understanding people.”