This picture is my 6th birthday in 1971. Monday April, 18, marks exactly 51 years later. When I was six, my biggest wishes were for model cars and G.I. Joes. The boy to my right was also named Adam the other boy was named Paul (?) and the girl Natalie or Natalia (?)…not sure why I remember these names. They were my only friends at that time as I wasn’t in school. I had started first grade early the previous fall while I was still five, but my parents pulled me out of public school shortly after I began, in part because of ongoing teachers struggles in the New York City school system. Later that year, we tried me in school again. I started at the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine where my brother was already a student, and where one of my classmates was Ben Stiller (albeit not famous yet.) Funny how well I remember that ice-cream; I know I wished for that as well. My wishes were much simpler then.
And yes, I am wearing a daishiki. #blackpowerchild
I think about heavier and more weighty things these days. But considering the fact that the backstory to this picture includes teachers striking for equitable treatment, I guess it is no surprise that questions of justice are still part of my world. Now however, I am part of helping justice emerge or stay present and not just the unwitting happy child benefiting from the hard work and advocacy of others. Now, I hold my work to be just as important as education in that I am committed to ideas of equity in religious freedom in this country and the world.
In a democratic republic such as the United States, it is not enough to have “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” because the nature of democratic choice means that there also exists the freedom to use religion as a weapon or intentional tool of oppression. In a truly pluralistic society, there must also be religious equity…that is, a commitment to balance, relationship, and accountability among religions. This is how free entities of religion can remain in community with one another. Without a tool of relationship, there is the potential for chaos, unchecked conflict, and total war.
Religious freedom alone as a definition was fine in the United States when “religion” was defined solely as coming from Abrahamic traditions as expressed and dominated by a homogenous population that maintained total power. In the 17–20th centuries, the primary tool of relationship maintaining religious freedom was hegemony. The narrowness of an understanding of what religion was and how it functioned in a civil society and who had access to that understanding kept the definition of “religious freedom” contained. In a globalized world, with the decentering of wealth based, white male hegemony and after the emergence of women’s rights to full humanity, the end of African enslavement and the recognition of Indigenous genocide, true diversity requires additional systems of accountability.
Yep, I think about heavier and more weighting things these days.
My birthday wish is that the principles of religious equity will become clearer and take hold in the United States. And I pray that we will all benefit from an equal investment in protecting each other’s rights to living the faithful, ethical and or moral lives we choose.
Originally published at https://spirituwellness.com on April 16, 2022.