Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category

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On bullying and being different – Shane Koyczan’s spoken-word poetry

October 29, 2013

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”
Or do they?

Watch this 12 minute TED talk where Canadian poet Shane Koyczan puts his finger on the pulse of what it’s like to be young and different. It contains snippets of the animation “To This Day,” with his spoken-word poem (which was created, crowd-source style, by 80 animators).

This and his 7 minute video “To This Day,” got me thinking about how to deal with bullying for the child being bullied or for other children who might witness the bullying. This inspired me to start looking at making a video on this theme on ways to help the the kids – so they might have ways of responding at the moment the bullying happens. As a child running to a teacher or any adult was not a possibility for me. But if another kid had sung “bully bully what’s your beef” it would have made all the difference.
I love his film “To This Day” which raises awareness about the deep suffering caused by bullying. I am so grateful that I managed to overcome the years of depressions and low self-esteem caused by the bullying and beatings I experienced as a child. But I am thinking in terms of a tactical approach. What fun things could kids have as a form of antidote? – games, sayings, etc to combat prejudice and to make it known – also because so often kids (and adults) say things not realizing the prejudice in words that seem familiar to them. Even words such as “spiritually diseased” is name calling or scapegoating when it is used to push people away or to justify discrimination. If we have a counter argument or sayings, it raises awareness. So please share any catchy phrases or ideas you might have.

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Lady Gaga and “Born This Way”

May 5, 2011

Still of Lady Gaga for her hit, Born This WayClick to listen or watch “Born this way” by Lady Gaga

Today someone told me that a psychologist was recently warned against trying to “treat” homosexuality because it wasn’t supposed to be considered as a subject for “treatment”, in other words, “leave us alone, we like it this way”, it’s our “right”.
In response I used the phrase, “what’s wrong with being born this way?” and I remembered all the fuss back in March over Lady Gaga’s hit song “Born This Way”. Her title hit me with a new of sense of profundity. She uses ‘this’ for us, the human race, not ‘that’ – the other, the aberrant, but rather she includes and broadens what being human could mean and now I read her ‘alien’ look as being more than artistic expression. The ‘alienation’ sets us on edge and reminds us to be accepting of what we might find strange. That humanity is bigger than we think.


To recap: on March 25th, 2011, the Daily Express an independent national newspaper of East Malaysia ran the headline: “Lady Gaga deemed to have gone overboard” followed by a number of statements by religious organizations urging censorship of Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way.” The statement from the Malay Baha’i Office for the Advancement of Women is what made me take notice:
“Malaysia does not promote gays and lesbians, and has rightly banned the offensive content in Lady Gaga’s song, said Yong Su Sien, a member of the Baha’i Office for the Advancement of Women.

“We do not condone abnormal sexual relationships, so we don’t want her song to influence the minds of youngsters,” she said.”

This is counter to the October 28th 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice sent to an American Bahai and made public for the first time on January 3rd 2011 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. So most likely the Baha’is of Malaysia were not aware of this.

It states: “…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, … ”
“Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.”

The full letter is here: http://senmcglinn.wordpress.com

The rest of the letter is mainly directed at civil unions and appears to be a response to the current situation in the U.S. where same sex marriage has been associated with politics. Here in Europe it is associated with human rights.
In my view, there is a dire need for Bahais to state publically that they do not support any form of discrimination towards any gay and lesbians and that begins with not using the word abnormal.

It is not just embarrassing but it shames me that a Bahai representative would refer to “abnormal sexual relationships” as meaning gay or lesbian. As if any gay or lesbian person was ‘abnormal’. This is going much further than the current Bahai policy which does not allow gays or lesbians a Bahai marriage ceremony (as far as I know).

What message is this telling Bahai youth? That it is OK to discriminate and call other youth abnormal?
What message is this telling the world. That Bahais discriminate against gays and lesbians? Is this such an accepted matter of fact that a representative for the Advancement of Women does not see that this is an expression of prejudice?

Bahais have a policy of obeying the laws of their own country and if the representative had referred to this as the reason for support for the censorship of this song, it would be another matter. It would have been even better to have made no comment.
It would be nice to think that this was an isolated incident and that other Bahai representatives were making statements that peoples of all orientation were welcome and treated equally. But if that was the case, the world would know. OK some Bahai communities express prejudice and others don’t.
However so far there have only been public statements showing that Bahais damn homosexuality such as the U.K. Bahai statement, and the association of the Ugandan Bahais with the “Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality“, the slamming of a film festival Guyana, and the Bahai support of the the anti-gay US organization NARTH.

Bahais have to do something to change the impression that the Bahai community discriminates against gays and lesbians. I realise too, of course, some Bahais might think that this letter would only apply to Bahais in the U.S.A. since it was addressed to a Bahai there and then was allowed to be distributed publically.
My position is if a policy is not clear then look at the principles of the Bahai Faith and what is in Bahai Scripture. Perhaps this letter is not clear because one Bahai has already informed me that in their view Bahais would still be free to discriminate because of the later part of the letter:

“In working for social justice, Baha’is must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Baha’i Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage. “

Here the argument is that the words “nor necessarily oppose,” could mean it is optional for a Bahai to oppose same-sex marriage. Since the rest of the letter makes a comparision with the Bahai principle of non-involvement in party politics and given that in the U.S. the issue of same-sex marriage is often mixed up with this, I think it means, individuals can do as they wish as individuals, but as Bahai representatives or as a community, the Bahais must remain neutral.

Here is the end of the letter: “Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Baha’is actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.”

Note that the U.H.J. refer to marriage as a social issue, just as Abdu’l-Baha listed this in the Will and Testament. Being a social issue this is an area for the U.H.J. to rule on.

And so to Lady Gaga’s song itself. Since there was a such a protest about it, I thought I’d better go and see what was so awful about the song that some Bahais would show support of it being censored.

This is a country version – click play to listen while you scroll down to read.

The lyrics come from here

It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
‘Cause you were born this way, baby

My mama told me when I was young
We’re all born superstars
She rolled my hair, put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

“There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are”
She said, “‘Cause He made you perfect, babe”
“So hold your head up, girl and you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say”

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
(Born this way)

Ooo, there ain’t no other way
Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way
(Born this way)
Ooo, there ain’t other way
Baby, I was born this way
Right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Don’t be!

Give yourself prudence and love your friends
Subway kid, rejoice the truth
In the religion of the insecure
I must be myself, respect my youth

A different lover is not a sin
Believe capital H-I-M (hey, hey, hey)
I love my life, I love this record and
Mi amore vole fe yah

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Ooo, there ain’t no other way

Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way
(Born this way )
Ooo, there ain’t other way
Baby, I was born way
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

( Queen ,
Don’t be , Queen )

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way

No matter gay, straight or bi
lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, yeah!

Ooo, there ain’t no other way
Baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way
(Born this way )
Ooo, there ain’t other way
Baby, I was born this way
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

I was born this way, hey!
I was born this way, hey!
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, hey!

I was born this way, hey!
I was born this way, hey!
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, hey!

   The song begins with a reference to God as H-I-M. As a feminist, this is not how I’d refer to God, but Bahais don’t have rules about how one should refer to the divine.

Baha’u’llah wrote:
“O CHILDREN OF MEN!
Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. …”

The Hidden Words (The Hidden Words (Arabic Hidden Word,
Number 68) From info.bahai.org


In case anyone might think the references to oneness mean acting the same, Abdu’l-Baha stresses the importance of diversity:

How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches, and the trees of the garden were all of the same shape and color!
Diversity of color, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of The Divine Plan, p. 102

“And if this prejudice be the prejudice of nationality consider that all mankind are of one nation; all have sprung from the tree of Adam, and Adam is the root of the tree. That tree is one and all these nations are like branches, while the individuals of humanity are like leaves, blossoms and fruits thereof.”
Selections of Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá
p. 299


Surely phrases such as “Man is the supreme Talisman.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXII, pp. 259-260) and “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word, nr 4) are like the words:

“I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes”

In fact I’m surprised at the spiritual values in the song. She even sings that we should believe in God! Believe that God is there. And other lines echo Baha’u’llah’s words,

My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting. (Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word,
nr 1)

The song is about loving who you are and how you are born.

With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. … (Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word,
nr 12)

So I guess what upsets people are the lines:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen

The lines mean don’t hate yourself, love yourself. Don’t be unhappy, be proud.

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, (Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word, nr 13)

O SON OF SPIRIT!
My claim on thee is great, it cannot be forgotten. My grace to thee is plenteous, it cannot be veiled. My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed. My light is manifest to thee, it cannot be obscured.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word,
nr 20)

Or is the protest because she mentions gays and straights and bisexuals and transexuals – all of humanity?

No matter gay, straight or bi
lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave

Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee: therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word, nr 3)

There’s nothing in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings to suggest that some types of people were not made in His image. So thank you Lady Gaga, I’m one Bahai who is inspired by your lyrics celebrating diversity.


Bahá’u’lláh wrote that the

“Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (Wilmette, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979), p. 26.


And while some might find the idea of pop music the antithesis of what they would call inspiration, that’s a question of taste. In my view Lady Gaga’s lyrics exalt people to “(a)bide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word, nr 14)

And art, such as this song, means you need to listen, need to make the effort to find out what ‘the story’ is for yourself. Is it about making the strange or estranged human? familiar? Is it about celebration? What is the role of the divine in the song? What are the birthing scenes about in the video? New ideas? Questions about what is cultured (man-made) and what is nature? What is human nature then?

as one soul..., limited edition lithograph by Sonja van Kerkhoff, 1991

"as one soul," limited edition lithograph by Sonja van Kerkhoff, 1991


On show in Leiderdorp until June 26th, 2011.