We are Both Unique and One: The Gifts of Faiths of All Kinds
In a world that has been pushed to become divisive at a most critical time, with palpable signs of climate change and a ticking clock upon us, never has there been a time where unity is more needed. If we could only see our oneness as being in harmony with the beautiful diversity and variety that makes the world fascinating. If we could see the common thread of God, love, compassion, wisdom, ethics, creativity and a desire for peace, that runs through most all religions, we would understand our union.
What has thrown us off is when hate speeches and acts of violence are perpetrated by people of various faiths. We need to remember that this does not reflect the core religion, but rather a distortion of it. People have used religion to further their agenda for eons. I have a Christian foundation, but I am appalled at what has been done in the name of Christianity. It bewilders me and breaks my heart, as I feel Jesus’ message of love and compassion in the core of my being. A love-based world, instead of a world of competition, separateness and pain, would be possible through his teachings, as well as through the teachings of Buddha and the brilliant others. A fear of lack or whatever it is that triggers this isolation, needs to be overcome and seen for what it is. We are self-destructing with behavior we have learned from leaders who lack the wisdom required to bring out the best in humanity. It comes down to this, we the people need to lead the way. Art readily connects to spirit. That’s why I encourage creatives from all walks of life and all kinds of disciplines to use their art to spread the word.
I had the pleasure of interviewing such an artist, filmmaker, Kate Tsubata. I had fallen in love with her film Dancing Joy, and later was impressed by an article she wrote on the gift of freedom of religion.
Sylvia: You once said that faith underlies every advancement of human thought, action and behavior. Do you feel that most faiths share common threads, while the variation among faiths are also a gift to the world?
Kate: Faith informs conscience. People of faith, historically, have championed every positive development in history—the abolition of slavery, the freedom of a nation, the prevention of genocide, access to education, delivery of health care. Societies that protect the freedom of faith flourish and develop resilience, because faith freedom is an underpinning for other freedoms, such as speech, press and assembly. When faith freedom is restricted, stagnation, persecution, impoverishment and other destructive trends are the result.
Sylvia: What type of society would we be living in if we banned certain faiths or declared one faith to be the only correct one?
Kate: The Constitution of the United States First Amendment prohibits both establishing any faith, and restricting the practices of any faith. Establishment leads to the misuse of religious feeling, in which a dominant group can restrain, attack or control another, which was the cause of pogroms, inquisitions, religious wars and crusades. Free expression allows for the unique ways people feel called to connect to their faith—their clothing, ceremonies, daily life, prayer form, or observations. With such protections, the Catholic nun and the Muslim woman and the Hassidic wife, the Amish woman and the Pentecostal sister have equal rights to wear the head covering, cover their hair, or attire themselves according to their beliefs. The principle—free expression of their faith—is universal, and yet allows a vast range of diverse practices throughout the society.
Sylvia: How does faith influence creativity?
Kate: Faith connects to creativity in so many ways. Most faiths posit a Source, a Divine presence, that is our origin and endows us with creativity. In the conversation each person has with that Source—whether through prayer, mediation, scriptural study—people experience some new understanding, enlightenment, vision. Artists, traditionally, have expressed the power and love of that experience in tangible forms—music, painting, sculpture, architecture, writings, poetry, weaving, or dance. Around the sacred a body of creativity develops in every society. When faith freedom is destroyed, cultural freedoms quickly follow—books are burned, sculptures decimated, dance is outlawed. In such society, the writers and artists become the enemies of the state, merely for creating and speaking their truth. Both faith establishment—and faith expression—must be fiercely protected if a society wishes to produce great art.
Sylvia: Did this insight prompt the making of a movie? What was the inspiration behind your film, Dancing Joy?
Kate: The film, Dancing Joy, was sparked by a spontaneous outbreak of dancing at the Dead Sea in Israel. American and Druze youth started dancing around a parking lot—and suddenly, hundreds of strangers joined into this dance. Suddenly, I saw the world dancing together, and felt, “this is what we all really want.”
This vision would not leave me. We needed an antidote to the division and hostility that seemed to be spreading—mass shootings and violent confrontations and losses of liberty around the world. I decided to create a film, based on the immortal message of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and Schiller’s Ode to Joy, expressed in world dance.
We invited artists from every corner of the globe—every faith, every culture, every age and type of dancer—to choreograph their traditional dance movement to sections of the symphony. Then, we traveled the world to film them in locations that reflected their culture.
As far as I know, this is the first documentary in which music, scenery and dance tell the story. We tried to make it “barrier-free.” We incorporated American Sign Language Dance to honor the deaf culture, and Beethoven’s own surmounting of his loss of hearing. We translated the choral lyrics into 11 world languages, so the original German poetry could be more readily understood.
As a family--and as female filmmakers--we built honor and respect into the filmmaking process. We treated each participant as a co-developer of the final work. Our director, Lan T. Lee, engaged the dancers and choreographers in the filming process. Our editor, Mie Smith, carefully wove the various shots together with meticulous attention to the unique qualities of their movement. Our colorist, Anastasia Shepherd, highlighted the unique beauty of each skin tone, traditional garb and foliage.
What emerged was, even for us, a breathtaking journey that sort of lifts and carries the viewer from place to place, from people to people. Even those who don’t love classical music and don’t ordinarily enjoy dance have told us they were swept away. For children, it’s magical; many start dancing along with the film.
It’s been a joy to offer audiences something that honors and uplifts every viewer. Dancing Joy celebrates something core to all faiths—that we are beloved, and that we are capable of extending love to each other.
When artists express beliefs through beauty, it builds value. Neuroscientists have found that imagining or experiencing something on a screen affects the brain as if it took place in real life. Imagine if instead of images of violence, destruction, loss and damage, we were to share images of compassion, collaboration, restoration and celebration? What would that do to children’s mental and emotional development?, to families’ interactions? to our economy, our civic discourse, our environmental activity?
Rather than avoid faith as a hot-button topic, I think we should cherish our respective traditions, and seek out each other’s viewpoints. Such cultural freedom could well inspire new solutions for our suffering world.
Kate Tsubata is a journalist, video and film producer, songwriter and activist for human development.For more information on the film, Dancing Joy, go to www.dancingjoy