Sing along with our Star-Spangled Banner bicentennial celebration

Baltimore Star Spangled 200 websiteSEPTEMBER 10-16, 2014—That’s the Baltimore-area Star-Spangled Spectacular event, which some Baltimore officials are predicting will be the largest single tourism event in the city’s history. A Washington Times news story reports: “Tall ships, Navy gray hulls and the high-flying Blue Angels will come to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to commemorate the birthplace and bicentennial of The Star-Spangled Banner. Many of the museums, historic sites and restaurants are also showcasing exhibits and deals during the Spectacular.”

Logo for Star Spangled Music Day 2014SEPTEMBER 12, 2014—That’s Star-Spangled Music Day, promoted by a wide array of allies including The Star-Spangled Music Foundation, The American Choral Directors Association, America Sings, Resounding Joy and many others. Schools across the nation are asked to hold their own birthday events to honor “The Star-Spangled Banner” and to share these efforts using the hashtag #Anthem200. Here are all the details you’ll need to participate.

At ReadTheSpirit, our own columnist sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker has written extensively about the 200-year history of our national anthem. Here’s a column by Dr. Baker recommending what we think is the most fascinating website about Star-Spangled Banner history. (And that column includes a video of the anthem performed as it would have sounded two centuries ago.)


Star Spangled Banner sheet music

DETAIL FROM an 1814 copy of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Note the melody is identified as “Anacreon in Heaven.” This was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music. Copies such as these were sold from a catalog of Thomas Carr’s Carr Music Store in Baltimore. Currently this is one of only ten copies known to exist, and is housed in the Library of Congress.

Most Americans are a bit fuzzy about what happened in September 1814, toward the end of America’s War of 1812 with Great Britain. Wikipedia has an exhaustive chronology as well as historical images.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. Because they had heard those plans, the British made them captives.

During the September 12-15 British attack on Baltimore, Key had a ring-side seat to watch the bombardment. The British HMS Erebus provided the “rockets’ red glare” and HMS Meteor provided at least some of the “bombs bursting in air.” Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort.

Aboard ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on September 16, he was released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law Judge Joseph H. Nicholson who matched the poem to the melody of a tune popular in gentlemen’s clubs. So, yes, the original melody was a “drinking song.” One version of the new song was printed September 17. Newspapers began printing it by September 20. More newspapers and magazines followed throughout the autumn of 1814.


University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker has written extensively about The Star-Spangled Banner, it’s evolution over the past 200 years—and the American values embodied in the singing of that song …

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Anant Chaturdashi: Hindus submerge Ganesh on last day of Chaturthi festival

Two males submerged almost fully in water, on either side of a golden and colorfully painted statue of elephant god, Lord Ganesh

It is popular custom on Anant Chaturdashi to submerge statues of Lord Ganesh into a body of water. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7: The colorful and auspicious days of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival culminate today on the Hindu holiday of Anant Chaturdashi. (Dates vary by region and by family; some devotees worship Ganesh for 11 days, instead of 10.)

On Anant Chaturdashi, Ganesh statues—from the massive to the tiny, the ornate to the plain—are marched in procession to a nearby body of water, for submersion. Singing and dancing often accompanies the processions through which Ganesh is bid farewell until next year. (Wikipedia has details.) With recent concern rising over the toxicity of the figures being submerged into rivers and other bodies of water, alternatives have been introduced: reusable figures, environmentally-friendly figures and the suggestion of community pools, for the safe submersion of Ganesh statues.


While Lord Ganesh claims the spotlight in most regions on Anant Chaturdashi, another legend prevails, too: the legend of the Anant Vow. The story tells of a girl named Sushila, whose stepmother troubled her so much that she left home with her love, a man named Kaundinya. During their journey, the pair came to a river, where Kaundinya took a bath and Sushila spoke to a group of gathered women. The women were worshipping “Anant,” a ritual that required specific prepared foods, offerings and the tying of a string on the wrist. The string is known as “Anant,” composed of 14 knots and worn for 14 years. It’s believed that a faithful vow will bring wealth and divinity. Sushila took the vow.

Sushila and Kaundinya accrued wealth, until one day, when Kaundinya learned of Sushila’s vow. Kaundinya took the string from Sushila’s wrist and burned it; trouble and poverty ensued. When Kaundinya underwent serious penance and searching, and finally was met by Vishnu. Kaundinya realized that Vishnu was Anant, or “the Eternal One.” Kaundinya made the vow.

In honor of Lord Vishnu, deities invoke his blessings by praying to him today. Some begin or renew the Anant vow.


Alongside Hindus, Jains observe Anant Chaturdashi for Lord Anant and often participate in processions of the day. Muslims in some regions of India, too, observe the entire festival of Ganesh Chaturthi by taking part in pujas and cultural activities, emphasizing love over separation. (Times of India reported.)

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Categories: Faiths of India

Ecclesiastical Year begins: Orthodox Christians renew cycle of feasts and fasts

Ornate church with gold cross in foreground, red carpet and paintings in the background

Interior of an Orthodox Christian church. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: The Indiction—a new ecclesiastical year—is ceremoniously welcomed by Eastern Orthodox Christians today, in a spirit of rejuvenation and joy. As the autumn agricultural season brings harvest, so, too, does the new year bring gratitude for the abundance of festivals, fasts and feasts that will once again be observed in the new Orthodox year.

History details that the Church long marked the beginning of a new year on Sept. 1, and this was the custom in Constantinople until 1453 CE. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) At this time of year, Orthodox Christians recall the Gospel story of Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth, where he read from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, and they recall that the people of Israel celebrated the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets. (Orthodox Church in America has details.)

Eastern Orthodox Christians mainly follow two calendars: the Julian Calendar and the Revised Julian Calendar, the latter of which coincides with the present Gregorian Calendar. Between 1900 and 2100 CE, there will exist a 13-day difference between the two calendars; the date of Pascha brings an exception, in that its date is calculated annually according to a lunar calendar, based on the Julian Calendar.

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Categories: Christian

Labor Day: How much do you know about faith and work? Try this quiz!

David Briggs quiz on Faith and Work for Labor Day

HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW about faith in the workplace? Click this image to visit the Association of Religion Data Archives website and take religion writer David Briggs’ online quiz.

“If Labor Day is observed as it ought to be, the gospel of humanity will be understood by all men and women.”
Terence Vincent Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor outreach

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: Amid parades, festivities and traveling this Labor Day weekend, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers.

Labor Day honors a value that has been a part of religious reflection for thousands of years—the value of human labor. Psalm 90 in the Bible ends with a prayer that God will “prosper the work of our hands.” In Islam, the Quran talks at length about the nature of our work and the morality of conducting ourselves in the public square. For two centuries, popes have written extensively about the sacred nature of labor.

At ReadTheSpirit, we were pleased to see that our colleague religion writer David Briggs published an entire Labor Day quiz, based on recent research into the connections between faith and labor. As David reports, “Faith matters in the lives of working Americans. It matters in their choice of a vocation: Other than marriage, the choice of a job or career is the next major life decision most likely to be influenced by faith, a study by Brandeis University researchers found.”

TRY DAVID BRIGGS’ QUIZ … Click on the image with this column—or just click here—and you’ll jump to his interactive quiz.


Black-and-white photo of people on streets in early 20th century, leisurely gatherings and walking in a built-up downtown

A Labour Day parade in Toronto, Canada, 1900. Labour Day was made an official holiday by Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson in July of 1894; less than one month later, Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why do we refer to “American Labor Day” in this column? Because American leaders in the late 1800s feared that a May holiday, which was favored by labor activists, would encourage memories of the tragic Haymarket conflict in Chicago. What began as a peaceful labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square wound up in headlines around the world after a bomb went off, police opened fire and many were killed or wounded. The tragedy continued through subsequent court cases. That May event in Haymarket Square well over a century ago is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world.

Instead of a May holiday, then, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months in our civic calendar. Instead, American holiday planners encouraged street parades and public displays of the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in each community community—including cheerful festivities and recreation for workers and their families. (Wikipedia has details.)

In addition, the Sunday preceding Labor Day is known as “Labor Sunday”—dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

In the late 1800s, leaders in the Knights of Labor worked diligently to spread awareness of this holiday. Terence Vincent Powderly, leader of the Knights’ outreach, wrote on the influence of religion, “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workingmen embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.” Powderly’s preamble to the union’s Declaration of Principles quoted Scripture, and the leader himself was a devout Catholic. (The Huffington Post published an article on this subject.)


President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” launched a series of programs intended to restore the nation’s promise of equality and opportunity—and, on Aug. 20, 1964, President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act. Part of this Act established the Job Corps, a residential education and training program for disadvantaged young people, and centers across the country are marking 50 years with open houses, demonstrations and more. Though the official anniversary was Aug. 20, take some time today to learn more about this fundamental part of labor history in America. (Learn more from the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Here’s an irony: Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers. More Americans work in the retail industry than any other, resulting in longer hours for the day that was intended to provide leisure for the country’s workers.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: National Observances

SEPTEMBER: Hispanic awareness, literacy, women’s friendship and yoga

SEPTEMBER 2014: This month, welcome a new school year with National Literacy Month. And, find your center in National Yoga and National Yoga Awareness Month. September also is Women’s Friendship Month, National Hispanic Awareness Month and Latino Heritage Month. We honor furry friends during National Guide Dogs Month. Foodies can prize apples, chili peppers and honey this month—all three of which hold a place of honor in September.

Check out this month’s highlights:


100-QA-Hispanics-Large-BookSeptember 15 brings the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through October 15 and recognizes the enormous impact that Hispanics and Latino Americans have had on American culture. Resonating a strong commitment to family, faith and work, the positive influence of Hispanics—and Hispanic culture—on American life cannot be overstated. (Learn more about the nation’s largest minority through this book, a product of students’ work at Michigan State University.) By date, Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968, to commemorate the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Today, upward of 50 million Hispanics and Latinos reside in the United States.


With international literacy rates on the rise, learn the statistics during September—National Literacy Month. According to data released by the Unesco Institute for Statistics in 2012, 87 percent of female youths in the countries surveyed had basic literacy skills; 92 percent of male youths claimed the same. Worldwide, an estimated 80 percent of adult women are literate, compared with approximately 89 percent of men. To promote literacy in your community, check out the ideas from SmartBlog on Education, which range from an inter-generational book discussion to giving kids the opportunity to “check out” Nooks from the school library.


Three young women standing close together, looking into the distance

Photo by Elliot Margolies, courtesy of Flickr

Launched by the Kappa Delta Sorority more than a decade ago, Women’s Friendship month quickly grew from a single day to month-long celebration, all in honor of the special bond that women can share. From Psychology Today to online parenting forums, the buzz on female friendships is louder than ever. Psychology Today offers ways for women to take stock of the friendships in their lives; Huffington Post published an article on 25 ways to be a “keeper” friend; on Pinterest, a board is dedicated to the subject of International Women’s Friendship Month, contributed to by women young and old . At ReadTheSpirit, the women of WISDOM have a significant presence, and their book, Friendship & Faith, points out the many and varied ways that friendships between women reach across lines of differing cultures and faiths. Learn more about the work of WISDOM here.


Woman in splits, smiling, against white background

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yoga and meditation plays a fundamental role in multiple Eastern religions, but it was the Department of Health and Human Services that designated September as National Yoga Month, in 2008. Known for its numerous health benefits, yoga emphasizes stress reduction through slow, controlled movements, while working on the body’s core muscles. Learn more about yoga, including how to get involved, at the Yoga Health Foundation website.


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Paryushan Parva: Jains ask forgiveness during principle festival

Building with white pillars, gray-and-white tiles on floor of outdoor area

The Parasnath Jain temple in Calcutta, in India. During Paryushan, many Jains spend more time in temples. Photo by Jyotirmai, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year: Paryushan Parva.

Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (Aug. 22-29, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (Aug. 30-Sept. 8, this year), Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too. (Learn more from Jain World and Digambar Jain Online.)

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. The end of Paryushan brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. (Wikipedia has details.) It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification.

Did you know? Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva. Some drink only between sunrise and sunset; others consume only water. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones.

Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.


There is public discussion of creating an index of stocks of companies complying with Jain religious structures, reported Business-Standard, and officials are seriously considering the requests. Similar to the Islamic Shariah index, which avoids liquor companies, a Jain index would, for example, avoid companies that deal in food products that are not strictly vegetarian. With increasing numbers of Jain investors, officials say religious scholars would first need to provide an assessment of which stocks to include in the index.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaJain

Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus observe beloved deity’s rebirth with pomp and color

Elephant's eyes carved in figure with crown and surrounding vibrant colors

The favored Lord Ganesh is front-and-center during the festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo by Ishan Manjrekar, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29: Months of preparation and the handiwork of thousands of artisans culminate today with the launch of the Hindu festival: Ganesh Chaturthi. Named for its principle deity, Lord Ganesha, Ganesh Chaturthi lasts 10 days in most of India, although the extent of this festival varies by region.

The auspicious festival promises sweet dishes, spiked with coconut and dried fruit; processions, singing and dancing; colorful statuary in every size; and vibrantly decorated homes. For Hindus, Lord Ganesh is a god for everybody. Wealth, class or caste placement bears no interest in the eyes of Ganesh and for this trait the deity has earned many followers. He is known as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune—and, if invoked during his festival, brings fortune to any devotee beginning a new venture. In Hindu legend, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati.


Though traditions vary, legend has it that while taking a bath one day, Parvati wished for someone to stand guard by her door. Sculpting a son of sandalwood paste and breathing life into him, Parvati set her creation—Ganesha—to stand guard. Ganesha turned away every stranger who came by the door, including Parvati’s husband, Lord Shiva, when he returned home. Though the young boy did not know Lord Shiva, Parvati’s husband became enraged when forbidden from entering his own home. Finally, Lord Shiva severed Ganesha’s head. (Read more from Taj Online.)

Upon seeing her headless son, Parvati was distressed. Shiva promised to bring the boy back to life, but upon searching the lands, no human head could be found. Only the head of an elephant was available to save the boy. Shiva secured the elephant’s head onto Ganesha’s body.


Giant, colorful statue of elephant god sitting on chair, being paraded down crowded street

An enormous figure of Lord Ganesha is paraded down a street during Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Months before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, artisans craft models of Lord Ganesh, in all sizes and of varying materials: clay, Plaster of Paris, papier mache, stone and more. Intricately detailed and painted in a palette of bold colors, the models serve as sacred statues that are ceremoniously installed and, later, immersed in water.

Lord Ganesh is depicted in a variety of poses, in models ranging from less than an inch to 117 feet tall. (Wikipedia has details.) Many communities host a pandal (temporary structure), which is lavishly decorated and set in high competition against the pandals of nearby localities. Priests chant mantras, invoke the presence of Ganesha into the statues, and laypersons make offerings to the statues.

For several days, participants feast on sweets like modak (a dumpling of rice flour, stuffed with coconut and dried fruits) and karanji. From India to Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand to Europe, the United States and Canada, Hindus celebrate in temples and close the festival by immersing the Ganesha statues into local bodies of water.

In recent decades, devotees have been urged to discontinue some of the non-biodegradable Plaster of Paris figures that were causing environmental concern. Today, more and more adherents are choosing to immerse their idols into a tub or bucket; or, others are producing idols made of environmentally friendly materials. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made from Plaster of Paris is banned by the state government.


A festival in Hounslow for Ganesh Chaturthi, now in its seventh year, attracts thousands of people, according to London news reports. Claiming the title of “largest in west London,” this party for Ganesh brought in more than 4,000 visitors during the festival weekend last year. In 2014, events will kick off with the arrival of a Lord Ganesh—straight from India.

Artisans in Hyderabad, India, are wrapping up one of the tallest figures of Ganesha for this year’s celebrations, as the statue pushes a height of 60 feet. Crafted by 125 workers for more than 50 days, the figure began as a 1-foot model in 1954, and has been slowly built upon and utilized for Ganesh Chaturthi every year since. (Read the story here.) Organizers say the sacred statue now reaches 60 ft. high and 28 ft. wide, weighing in somewhere between 45 and 50 tons.

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Categories: Faiths of India