The Chicago Trip 1

November 11, 2009 at 10:36 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

I know it has been forever since I’ve posted, but time has never coincided with something worthy of sharing. Finally, I have time to sit and type. In fact, it’s almost all I can do. My new job as a computer lab attendant leaves a lot of time left to sit and stare at a computer monitor. Homework out of the way, I figured I could put the time to good use.

I recently had the chance to go to Chicago. Sadly, after fourteen hours in a minibus, there was little sightseeing done and I will one day have to return to see the beautiful city. Sightseeing wasn’t our purpose, though, and so the trip was still immensely valuable. The trip was organized through my Bible class this semester, Living World Religions. IN the course of the semester, we have studied numerous religions that span the globe, and this trip was a chance to experience firsthand the cultures and people that our textbook had only hinted at.

Last Thursday, during the early morning, 105 students including myself packed up and left Harding’s campus for a long day traveling across Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois. We arrived safely after a few bus problems, all a little tired and sore after so long. It took fourteen hours, as I said earlier, to reach the city, and by then we were ready to say goodbye to this day and sleep away the few hours we had until it was time to go again. Five o’clock felt like midnight, and by the time we reached the city at ten, most people were barely awake.

Friday came early in the hostel and I awoke to hair dryers going off at six in the morning in preparation to leave at eight. Sleep was apparently not high on the priority list for the week. Now, I suppose, would be a good time to confess that I had not been particularly excited about the trip. I was missing a lot of things going on back at campus, and it also required me spending about one hundred dollars I was not expecting. Friday morning, I was content to just stick it out and suffer through the long weekend. Always a little late, we left downtown Chicago and headed out of the temple towards a Baha’i House of Prayer. It was a magnificent structure. White with delicate, lace-like supports and walls, it had nine entrances, each surrounded by gardens and ponds. The morning was cold and, not surprisingly in Chicago, windy, and so the decorative outside was bypassed in favor of the warm interior.

The Baha’i faith is an interesting one. I can see the appeal, but I also can see the flaws. I do not doubt that a follower could easily explain some of them away, but I also do not feel like that is possible without belittling my faith and misrepresenting it. See, Baha’i believe that all major world religions are, actually, the same. At the core, they claim, each religion holds the same beliefs and teachings. It is the social laws that set them apart, and so many different teachers have appeared in order to “update” the religion for a modern era. The most recent was their prophet Baha’ullah, and another is not predicted to appear for one thousand years. They teach the unity of all faiths, and believe that anyone faithfully following these truths will be rewarded by learning skills necessary to use in the next world for drawing closer to God. One disturbing idea explained to us was of the afterlife. A soul never reaches God, but only strives for His perfection. There is no existing in the presence of God, for this would mean equality with God. Instead, the eternal soul continues developing skills to draw closer and closer, while still always being apart.

After this very interesting experience, we were again on our way. This next stop was one I was very curious about, and a little nervous as well. We arrived at the mosque a bit late for the prayers, but fortunately they seems to be running a bit behind as well. The women in the group walked upstairs for prayers while the men stayed below. Everyone removed their shoes and, after a devotional thought was brought by one of the men of the assembly, the noon prayers began. I must admit, I was somewhat confused. I had begun sitting in the back of the group to allow the worshipers the front to see the imam, but soon a Muslim woman came and ushered us to the front few rows. Once it was time for the prayers to begin, they quickly shuffled us off to the side to stand and watch. Later, one young lady came and told us that it was because they could pray towards no one but God, and so we could not be seated in front of them. Watching and hearing the prayers was an experience. These people are very devout, very sincere and loyal to Allah. I was touched by the sight of a woman weeping during these prayers. So often I feel that we portray Muslims s the worst kind of lost people, those seeking only to mislead and destroy. In fact, they are so much like us, it is startling. The religion is different, and I believe that our loving God wants to be Father and not a distant and exalted figure, but there is no denying the sincerity these people have in worship. After the service, we put our shoes on and rejoined the men downstairs for an explanation of Islam by one of the leader of the mosque.

Mr. Dogar was an older man from Pakistan who spoke with a heavy accent and a great deal of authority. He explained the origins of Islam, the basic tenets, and how Muslims followed Christ better than Christians. He left us with a packet of information to support this claim, citing the fact that Jesus had a beard, wore robes, and never touched the opposite sex outside of miracles and ministry as evidence of a Muslim superior loyalty to Christ. He was an interesting man who intimidated me, but not a malicious character of any sort. In fact, the congregation (I suppose the term can be applied to any gathering of people) had cooked all 105 of us a meal. It was a very delicious taste of Indian/Pakistani food and after a lot of fast food already, a very welcomed break. Of course, we were still behind on our schedule and it had to be a very brief visit, but it was still nice. I was surprised by the hospitality. I cannot say that, should a group of Muslim school kids ask to come by many of the churches I know, they would be met with such hospitality and openness. We tend to see our only mission to beat the Bible’s truth into people before we ever offer to build a relationship with them or even explain who we really are. I think that’s part of the reason so many misunderstand the purpose and desire of Christianity.

I will continue with the trip later. There are, in fact, four more religions that we visited, and each had something new to add in my growth over the weekend. This post is long enough and I know that any readers I might have will not want to stare at the computer so long. Until later,

God Bless.

Part II

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