Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Marin Remembers MLK

The Marin Interfaith Council and the Marin Interfaith Youth Outreach presented an event in honor of Dr. King called Jubilee: Civil Rights & Marin County 50 Years Ago at Congregation Rodef Sholom tonight. I went alone. Some of the speakers were people I'm acquainted with, mostly through the MIC.

Rabbi Stacy Friedman, the senior rabbi of the host site, spoke of the meaning of the 50th anniversary, or jubilee. The jubilee is a year of restoration and celebration, called in Hebrew yobel, or "ram's-horn trumpet" with which the jubilee year was proclaimed. Besides celebrating 50 years of civil rights activism in Marin, the event also celebrated the jubilees of none Marin religious congregations.

Noah Griffin recapped significant events in the struggle for civil rights, citing legal rulings, Rosa Parks' bus ride, and his own few meetings with prominent civil rights leaders. He just rolled off all these facts; probably is asked to to it a lot.

Sister Chandru Desai of the Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center (soon to open a meditation center in Novato), in her very gentle way, lead us in chanting "Om Shanti Peace."

Interspersed between the speakers was some lively gospel singing. Fortunately, for me at least, most of the gospel singing was of well-known freedom songs rather than Christian hymns. Many, if not most, of the 500 people in attendance, sang and clapped and stood up and rocked. I'm always happy to join in good-time song.

The highlight of the evening was a screening of "Civil Rights & Marin County: 50 Years Ago," a film by Scarlet Shepard. Most of the interviewees were in attendance. Among those interviewed were American-born Nisei who'd been rounded up and interned during World War II -- a shameful chapter in U.S. history. Others were African-Americans whose families had come to Marin during WW II to work for Bechtel building Liberty Ships at Marinship in Sausalito. One of the women spoke of growing up in Marin City, how most of the housing for the workers had been temporary and Marin City itself had been integrated. The housing complex at Marin City was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

A white woman who was graduated from Tam High in 1950, spoke of the covert racial discrimnation she witnessed in earlier years, and noted landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and his dancer wife Anna spoke of their thwarted efforts to buy real estate in Kent Woodlands because they were Jews and how Roger Kent stepped in and made it happen.

I found the interview footage fascinating, yet I think the film needs to be expanded to contextualize the interviews and some polish. I'm viewing it as a work in progress.

One of the speakers preached, and as preaching goes she was good, but I don't want to be preached to no matter how skilled the preacher. I feel that preaching is inappropriate in interfaith contexts, even ones that celebrate the life of another African-American preacher.

I must admit that when one man sang a song he'd written about 'the Lord,' I just had to walk out for a while. He was a fine singer with a good strong voice, but the song made me so uncomfortable. Daresay it offended me. I know it was meaningful to him. But was it appropriate to all present? I don't think so. Not to me anyway. I returned after he finished.

What should a nice Pagan woman do in such a situation? I felt the only option I had to address my own discomfort was to absent myself for the duration. I did mention to the Director of MIC, who was one of the main organizers, how I'd been put off by such overt religiosity of a particular stripe. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this kind of work. I don't seek it out. It comes to me -- not this particular event, but in general I participate in interfaith activities because someone asks me to. I pass such opportunities to others when I can, and generally I feel I do a credible job, but still -- I'm never sure I'm the best person to be doing it.

We share many values -- peace activism, concern for the poor and homeless, opposition to capital punishment, green concerns -- and when we work together on those problems, I'm just fine. But still I find that the majority Abrahamics tend to slip into their assumption that all the world's population is monotheistic. It bugs me. I feel I should try to bring it up in as constructive a way as I can. How do others deal with it?


Anonymous said...

"...But still I find that the majority Abrahamics tend to slip into their assumption that all the world's population is monotheistic" ... or that it ought to be. My way to do this when I have to be present (funerals, for example), is to be honourable, to be as respectful as I can, but not really a participant. I don't join in with prayers or hymns, even when I know them. (Not my god/s; what would I have to say? Why would I say anything?) Sounds a bit mean or rude, and proceeding this way can single one out and cause discomfort, but it makes me so very much more uncomfortable to take an active part, like I am lying, or approving, or being complicit, that I just can't. Needless to say, it curtails my activities somewhat in these areas.
Hraefna in Canada

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Funerals and such are not really interfaith activities, even though they may contain elements of more than one religion, depending upon the deceased and the deceased's family.

In interfaith, per se, one is presumed to be there as a peer, and in that case I don't like it when they overplay the Yahweh hand. I don't speak group prayers and such when they address 'god.' I am quiet and respectful. But that's different, IMO, from having one's religion viewed for what it is -- and that is not as a revealed religion but as an experiential one.