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Thursday, October 15, 2020

"Prayer" by Margaret Matt | Art and Identity Series

 Today's blog post comes from Philadelphia artist Margaret Matt. If you are interested in submitting an art piece and reflection to our blog, please email Liz Royer at er@interfaithphiladelphia.org or Dr. John Hougen at jbh@interfaithphiladelphia.org


I have been a professional artist for more than 40 years. I design computer graphics for print materials and web design. I am also a traditional artist who creates realistic images, from portraits to narrative pieces. My religious art is a different experience. I meditate on a Bible verse and then begin to create it. What is interesting to me, if the art speaks a truth, it takes on a life of its own. People see different aspects to it. If it isn’t right, it falls flat. No amount of technical skill can bring life to it. During the creative process, I feel a responsibility to do the very best I can and be true to the Bible verse. These art pieces also speak to all ages in different ways. They have a unique affect that is different from my other art pieces. My husband, George Butler, also has an artistic photographic outlook. He helps clarify my vision with thoughtful suggestions. 

 I live in Philadelphia and am a Roman Catholic. I am a lector at Our Mother of Consolation Church. I also participate in the church’s faith building groups. These have been very instrumental to my faith life.

 

My website is: margaret-matt.com. I can be reached at: m3artplus@gmail.com.

 

"Prayer" by Margaret Matt 

Medium: photography and computer graphic design 

 



Dear Lord, I feel the vastness of your world. The air, wind and hot sun. Yet, I feel alone, empty and in need. I don’t know where to go next. I am reaching inward for strength which is eluding me. I need to feel your presence. Your power. Your guidance. Your love. The wind wraps around me. I feel it but don’t see it. I imagine that it is the Holy Spirit making His presence known. The sun is warming me but it is blinding also. I bow down and plead for relief and mercy. Please strengthen me. Please forgive me. I am scared.


I gather myself and look outward. Reaching out to hear and feel your presence. I become aware of your earthly universe around me. I need to feel again your love, your presence. Strengthen my faith. Do not abandon me. I reach out to you. And see your works around me. I feel comfort.  I am not whole but know that I am not alone. The sun’s warmth is comforting. My mind is filled with confusing thoughts. I cannot still myself. Then I remember your words: “Be Still and know that I AM.”  I focus on your words.” I AM” is around me. I feel and see “I AM”. And I begin to still my thoughts and feel your calm.


I remember to offer praise. Thank you for all around me. The stillness is now comforting. I reach my arms up to open myself and praise you. “Holy, Holy , Holy Lord. God of Power and Might. Heaven and earth are filled with your Glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Holy, Holy Holy Lord.”


I ask for forgiveness and for help. Guidance.


My heart is stilled. Comfort surrounds me and calms me. In gratitude, I thank you and praise you, O Lord. Guide me today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Mosaic 2020: Looking Back

In August of 2020, Interfaith Philadelphia’s Mosaic program ran online for the first time, as part of adaptations made for the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on for reflections from staff and facilitators about the program, including some highlights and favorite memories. 


Anneke


This was our third year offering Mosaic to middle school-aged youth in Philadelphia, and just like most things in 2020, this year felt different. Although our strongest connection to our students in the program this year was through a chat box and screen, Interfaith Philadelphia staff could sense a real hunger for activities and engagement with fellow peers. Our discussion around intersectional identities and religious diversity felt more important than ever, and art served as a way to process these emotions and reflections. I so deeply appreciated the close to 40 students who braved logging into Zoom with a bunch of fellow youth they didn’t know, and shared a bit about who they were with this small new community.

 

 

 

Rowan 


Mosaic in the midst of Covid19 and the uprisings presented us with new challenges and new joys. I was amazed to see the sense of justice these young people already had established, and their desire to further Dare to Understand one another through discussion and the arts. Daily stretches and meditation seemed to provide a much needed sense of comfort for these youth, and I am so grateful to have been a part of this unconventional summer camp.

 

 


Gilana


Each day of Mosaic, Philadelphia-based religious leaders joined us to share meaningful objects and respond to curious questions offered by students. Our first visitor, Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter, invited curious questions and even “clumsy curious questions.” I appreciated the vulnerability, sensitivity, and of course, curiosity, that students demonstrated in offering questions. Our brief workshop on curious versus judgmental questions seemed to prompt mature and careful thought around how to craft questions. Students sometimes ran questions by staff members before offering them to the guest religious leaders, and they inquired about a number of topics, including the meaning of a guest’s name, religiously significant foods, and advice they might have for young people. Thank you, Mosaic students, for your respectful and enthusiastic engagement with our guest religious leaders! 

 

 


Liz 

I’m so grateful to our awesome students for diving into this program, in the middle of a challenging and disorienting year. We had rich discussions about justice and allyship, made art together, and learned more about the city around us through virtual visits from local faith leaders and Philadelphia trivia. In addition to what our other staff have said, I loved opening our surprise snack each day and learning about everyone’s traditions around holidays and food while we ate together on Zoom. Thanks so much to our campers, guest speakers, and everyone who helped make this camp possible. 

 

 

 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Five Steps to Break Down Separation | by Bronwen Mayer Henry

Navigating life and relationships in the best of times is complicated. With COVID-19 and the divisiveness of an upcoming election, many of us are thinking, “Woah, how do I get through these next few months?”


We have a few options. One, we can never get out of bed. Two, we can go to ‘battle’ for our views and be frustrated. Or three, we can use this time to intentionally build skills to help our relationships in the short and long term. As co-facilitator of the Passport to Understanding Online, I have learned (and share with participants) five approaches that can significantly alter the way you interact with people with different views, beliefs, and backgrounds than you. These five approaches are useful with close family and friends as well as people new to your life.

 

  

Be Curious

Interact with others with the conviction that you have something to learn from them. Ask questions that invite the other to tell you stories, and make them want to share their experiences with you, instead of using judgmental questions like “Why in the world would you think…?” Try, “What is it like for you…?”

 

Venture Out 

How can we intentionally venture into new spaces? Whether in person or online, what new views and ideas can we learn from? Though in some ways this is a very isolating time, in other ways it is a time with more access to different experiences around the world than ever before. We can visit the Bahai house of worship in Illinois, attend a high holy day service at the Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City Philadelphia, or attend a Friday prayer service at a mosque in Washington DC, without getting on a bus or in the car. In some ways, our ability to venture out is limitless.

 

Welcome In 

We often think of welcoming in through hospitality around food and comfort. But what about welcoming in new ideas? 

 

Stand Tall 

What does it mean to stand tall? We are challenged to finding a way to inhabit our own ideas while being curious, humble and open to others. This is an artful way of living that takes time and intention. Former surgeon general Vivek Murthy articulates this: “Listening inwardly and learning from our own stories, we see that we are in need not so much of experts to define our way, as of our own clear and direct inner attunement.” 

 

Stand With 

How can we be an ally and stand with others? This is a pressing question for our times, one that invites preparedness and spontaneity. By gathering in community and practicing how to stand with others in challenging moments, we develop more capacity to show up for others. 


How do we do this when many of us are limiting outings and activities, may have homogenous social circles, and we are already exhausted by the demands of life? 

This is how it is done: through intentional relationship building, with time, and through building trust.

 


 

These five themes of our ongoing series, the Passport to Understanding Online invite each of us to go deeper. Are you ready? Want to practice in diverse community? Looking for accountability and support? Join us for six weeks. There is a great deal of hope available in the world, and it needs to be cultivated through thoughtful engagement with people of all viewpoints.


“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation...speaking our fears, listening to the fear of others, and in sharing vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.” - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. 


I am so grateful to be a co-facilitator for such practical and enriching work. It truly is through the conversations that we are changed and create space for change. I hope you will consider joining us for our next offering, starting September 23rd.



Monday, August 17, 2020

Art and Identity | by Christine Petty

My parents raised our family with frequent visits to museums and galleries, fueling the passion for the making of art that became a large part of who I am. As I examine further links, the original creation of the world filters into my work, whether painting the human figure or screen printing molecular renditions of targeted cancer therapy. My abstract works reference the materials and acts that Deity used to organize the earth. After gathering, arranging and finalizing my assemblage pieces, I experience a visceral, in addition to intellectual, feeling of completion, a feeling of gratitude toward the Higher Power in my life. 



Natural dyes on water color paper; 2020.

 
During this time of COVID-19 quarantine, precipitously locked out of the print shop and my studio, I began teaching myself how to dye organic cloth and cotton paper, using natural foraged material in inner city Philadelphia. This has given me additional time to consider our God, his works and my human imitation of His original acts. His grand ability to create human beings who could also produce new ideas and art, strengthens my religious belief and reassures my art making.


Christine Petty The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints www.christinepetty.com @christinepettyart

Monday, August 10, 2020

Stigmas of Non-Traditional Faiths | By Joseph Rockford

Today’s blog post is about the rise of and simultaneous oppression of non-traditional faiths. 

    Although I was raised as a reform Jew, I’ve seen and read about the rise of non-traditional faiths.  Most of these faiths, such as the Asatru faith, are based on old religions that were once dormant. These faiths have seen a major rise in popularity particularly among the youth. The belief systems that guide them are a mix of Paganism and distinct cultures from around the world. One of the reasons these non-traditional religious beliefs are on the rise is because they are less organized and more individualistic in nature. It’s about what you put into the faith and get out of it more than following any strict guidelines. While these faiths do have temples and places of worship, there are only a few and they are scattered around the world. 

    The reason I bring all of this up today is that these faiths are under attack in certain ways. The Asatru faith that believes in the gods of Norway has been co-opted by white nationalism. These people have taken the symbols of the faith like Thor’s hammer and turned it into a symbol of hate. They believe the faith to be a symbol of white purity because of its roots in Viking culture. Very few people know about the struggles this faith faces to keep itself on the straight and narrow. Their main temple in Norway has thousands of followers. More importantly, its true followers are trying their best to keep the positive view of the faith alive. 

Hilmar Hilmarsson and other Ásatrú practitioners at a ceremony (Silke Schurack / Reuters)


    Another big issue these faiths face is being denied access to their holy spaces. One major example of this can be seen with the faith of Hellenism. Hellenist’s worship the Greek gods. In Greece, some factions of the government don’t look favorably upon the Hellenists religious practice. These Greek factions of government don’t take well to the faith due to the traditional clothing worn by Hellenists and more Pagenist parts of the faith. These factions try to make the Hellenists buy permits to pray and they give them terrible treatment if they show up at the coliseum or any major site. These factions don’t try to understand or want to understand this faith despite the Hellenists doing everything very peacefully. 

“The Council of the Gods” by Raphael


    As these faiths continue to grow in size because of the youths continued move towards a less structured religious system, problems continue to arise.  Many religions like these face persecution or destruction on minor to major scales, but unlike our larger monotheistic religions they don’t have the resources to defend themselves on their own. I wanted to bring attention to this issue as many people among these types of faiths are scared of the future. They are scared of what might come about from their opponents propaganda, they are worried the faith will die, lose its space to worship or worse.. become a symbol of hate.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Hineni | By Laurie Pollack

This summer, we are featuring meaningful art in our new blog series: Art and Identity. In this week's post, Laurie Pollack reflects on the Hebrew phrase, Hineni, through her art. If you have artwork and commentary you'd like to share, please email Liz er@interfaithphiladelphia.org and Andrew jaf@interfaithphiladelphia.org


I do not call myself an artist but I describe myself as a poet who sometimes also plays with paint.

My main genre and where I feel I may have a gift, is writing not art.

I paint not to perfect my rudimentary skill or create fine art but to express myself. I do not have the skills yet to express myself and may never get there.  But I find meaning in it  and do it anyway 

I am Jewish though not religious, and sometimes write or paint  on Jewish themes.

Here is a painting I did at the start of the pandemic, which hit us a little while before Passover.

It is called "Hineni".

The numbers refer to the 10 plagues

"Hineni" means in Hebrew: I am present.

On the left is an egg shaped earth: our planet and its people are bleeding, suffering. But blood is life.

For this reason the waves of the sea we must cross to get to a better, new, maybe not normal, are strewn with hearts/love: love is what we are carrying with us as we walk through the sea together.

The question marks? because we just don't know, do we? Will the water part? Will we all, or some of us be drowned? But we can't go back. Egypt/old normal, is over.

I find it amazing I painted this on March 15th.  Days before our lockdown started. At a time when 140,000 human beings perished here and half a million people lost worldwide would have seemed unthinkable.     It is now late July
But so much still resonates with me in this piece

I think we are still in the middle of the sea. I wonder what we will need to get to the other side and what the other side will look like?

Yours truly,

Laurie Pollack

Monday, July 27, 2020

2 Sides of the Same Coin | by Lia Hyman

I grew up with what one might consider a typical Jewish experience. I lit the candles and ate challah every Shabbat. I dipped apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah. I fasted on Yom Kippur. I shook the etrog and lulav. And I used the Shamash to light the Hanukkiah.

 

That wasn’t all, though. I also got to celebrate Christmas and (the occasional) Easter. Often when my friends found out I got presents for both Christmas and Hanukkah, I was deemed “super lucky”; however, it was all I’d ever known.






 

My mom grew up in a Catholic-Italian household. Later in her life, she became unattached to the religion that had raised her. My dad, on the other hand, had been raised Jewish and began practicing more frequently as the years went by. Cue the discussion of children, and they agreed to raise my older sister and me within the Jewish religion. I attended both a Jewish preschool and Jewish sleep-away summer camp, URJ Camp Harlam. Committing to Camp Harlam marked a crucial decision in my life that shaped the years following. There, I developed a love for Jewish music and traditions, wearing white on Shabbat as my friends and I walked up to Chapel on the Hill. I played games and competed in Maccabiah (Color War) for all 7 summers before traveling to Israel with my fellow campers on my 8th and final summer, sealing it all in a time capsule I can now only access through photos.



During my childhood, I felt I was also holding on to a special superpower. One that allowed me to dress in green and red when we made the long drive to my uncle’s home in Virginia. On the evenings of December 24th, I joined in the tradition of my Christian friends and sat by the fireplace sipping eggnog, faintly listening to the murmur of adults in the kitchen.

 

My ability to appreciate traditions in two different religions is what has sparked my curiosity to engage in interfaith dialogue and work. In high school, I learned about Islam and the prophet Muhammad, which led to reading the entirety of the Koran. I’ve visited mosques and participated respectfully. My increasing interest in inner peace and the ego then led me to Buddhism and Hinduism, reading library books about reincarnation and nirvana.

 

Today, in 2020, I consider myself a proud Jew who’s more spiritual than religious, but Jewish nonetheless. I love Friday night Shabbats and the minor chords of the music. I’m very active in my university Hillel and have met amazing staff members there. And I still enjoy Christmas dinner, pasta e modica, at my uncle’s. My spiritual side can be physically seen in the chakra flags that hang in my bedroom, the Torah portion from my Bat Mitzvah hanging on the wall, the crystal I wear around my neck, or the Om tattoo on my arm. But maybe most of all, you can see the blend of religions I’ve researched and practiced just in the way I live my life, constantly asking questions without the need for just one answer from one place.


Being raised in a home that accepted the possibility of two belief systems allowed me to find the string that runs through all religions: peace, love, and something greater than thyself.