Chicago Trip II

November 17, 2009 at 11:24 am (Real Life, Spiritual, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Part I

Well, I’m at work again and should be working on a paper, but my brain is still too fuzzy. Having this opening shift on Tuesday is not my favorite. Anything that requires me to wake up at 6:30 and brave the cold is not my idea of fun. But, that’s okay. I’ll make it through the end of the semester. So, since I don’t want to work on homework, I ought to work some more on all the Chicago stuff. It was such a great trip, and I really enjoy the processing of information that comes as I write this.

Well, I ended last time at the mosque. By then we were running pretty well behind schedule and needed to get back into the city to visit our last location of the day. This time we were on our way to a Soka Gokkai information center. Soka Gokkai is a branch of Buddhism that is centered around chanting and contemplation of the Lotus Sutra. We were greeted by a band of flag waving members, a victorious song playing in the background. They clapped and cheered, welcoming us to the center, and ushered us into a comfortable room to sit and learn. Two young guys came up to begin introducing the beliefs and quickly moved on to their chants for the evening. The main part of this chant is the repetition of a single phrase, “Nam myoho renge kyo.” They use something that looks like rosary beads in order to engage the sense of touch, and at various times strike a metal bowl to produce a beautiful ringing. The chanting is hypnotic, but a little unsettling as well. After a short while. the two men stood and closed the golden doors that housed a page of writing, revered as the Gohonzon. From there, another man joined them to further explain the beliefs of the Soka. Each gave his testimony, to borrow a typically Christian term, of how this chanting had caused positive change in their lives. By doing so, it awakened the inner Buddha nature and allowed the self to accomplish more through this determination. One man told the story of how he had gotten into college despite being from the wrong side of Chicago, how things had fallen in place to clear his debts. Hearing this, all I could think was that this chanting had so little to do with it. This religion, while appealing to many, seems to unfulfilling to me. There is nothing more than who you are, no source outside. Any benefit comes solely from the self, and so there seems little purpose in all the chanting. The main task is to create good causes, by chanting and doing good for others. That is admirable and I will never discourage someone from helping others, but it seems like religion without any real sacrifice of the self. In the end, it felt more like a relaxing, meditation than religion.

That evening, we had some time to spend in the city, though only a few hours. I went with some friends to the Hard Rock Cafe and spent way too much on delicious food, but it was a time for fun and fellowship. We discussed a lot of what we had seen and it was obvious that most of us were still figuring everything out. Soon, we had to head back to the hostel for devotional. There, we sang songs to praise God and then had a chance for anyone who wanted to, without comment, read a passage of scripture. It was very uplifting. Exactly what we all needed after hearing so many different viewpoints and having so much to think about.

Saturday came early, though we did have a little more time to sleep. We still had to be on our way bright and early to see all we had planned. We began at a Synagogue for Sabbath worship, where we met some of the nicest and most informative people of any encounter. It was obvious that they were more than happy to explain to us what they were doing, why they did it, and what it all meant, and it was definitely helpful that i knew the story of Judaism as well as I did my own faith. The two are forever intertwined. They sang mostly in Hebrew, explaining throughout in English for all the visitors. After numerous songs and passages, the Torah was brought out and read from for a fairly long time. After more songs, the rabbi stood up and presented a lesson about culture and Judaism that was very interesting and, fortunately, in English. Worship, a two and a half hour process, ended with a song led by the children, announcements, and then a reception. They had prepared cakes and drinks for us, and we all ate and talked before returning to the auditorium to ask questions. Our friend there was more than helpful and gladly answered any questions we had. He was a amiable, kind man and it was a pleasure to hear him speak and articulate so well the answers.

These two different meetings contrasted so sharply in my mind. Both are ancient faiths (though Judaism is the older by far), and both spent most of their time in a language that I was hopeless to understand, but they were really so very different. Soka Gokkai says the power is within the self, the inner Buddha nature, to accomplish all. Judaism relies on God among the whole of Israel to provide and save. One had very few guidelines, another has many times been defined by their multitude of regulations. In Judaism, I see people who have sought and found something everlasting, but I cannot say the same for Buddhism. Those in the Soka temple were looking for temporary relief in this world through inner strength, but Judaism finds comfort in the Lord. I do not know the Lord’s intent for those practicing Judaism today, and I would feel very arrogant trying to determine the Lord’s mind and will for anything, not to mention something so huge as the eternal fate of His once-Chosen people, but I do know that, if I had to choose one religion of these two, one would be fulfilling and provide something that I could truly call religion. Not that I would convert, of course, because I think Christianity is the way, but in a purely hypothetical realm.

And next time I will conclude with the trip, speaking about the Hindu Temple and Sikh service. Both were very interesting and inspiring, in their own way, but that must wait for a later time.
Until then,

God Bless.


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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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Looking Back at Where I’ve Been

June 20, 2009 at 10:33 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

The spring is gone. My summer is…busy. I managed to go from sitting at home all day, to only seeing my house long enough to go to sleep and maybe say hi to Mom and Dad. Life has a funny way of doing that to you.

I am beginning to realize now how amazing last semester truly was. I always knew that it was an incredible experience, but it was reality. Reality is normal; it is what you live in day in and day out. I couldn’t understand what I was living, because I was there. It was all first hand, a thousand memories and feelings to sort through each night as I tried going to sleep. I enjoyed myself immensely, it’s just that not it is really starting to sink in. The Adventure is moving from reality to memory, with it returns that sense of wonder and awe at all the people I met, the ways they changed me, the things I saw, and the steps I took to becoming a stronger and better person.

For anyone who may not know, after being in school in Florence, I traveled to Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Bern, Venice, Rome, Southern Italy, Apennines, Cinque Terre, Munich, Prague, Berlin, Luxembourg (to catch a train), Brussels, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London before finally heading home. It was a long journey, but one I am so glad I took.

I really am so grateful for every single person who spent those three months in the villa with me. Each person brought something new and interesting to the mix, each person had their special place. For the most part, we all got along wonderfully. There was always someone there to encourage and support you, a shoulder to cry on, or someone to laugh with. We really turned into a family. Everyone had their own struggles throughout the semester, and each time, people jumped at the chance to help their brother or sister. I had the most wonderful roommates. WE talked and teased and stayed up way too late, but it was all fun. Our room was probably too small to have the three of us crammed in there, but we survived, even with a bathroom built for maybe half a person. And it was fun. When life got tough, there were always two girls who would be there to put things into perspective. I have so many wonderful memories of the people I spent last semester with. Climbing up into the shadowed heights of Vernazza after a beautiful seaside devotional. Dancing on tables our last nights together. Running around Florence in crazy costumes for the Carnivale that apparently wasn’t celebrated. Sipping hot chocolate at Abetone with as many people as could fit around a table. Sitting in the basement and singing, praying, and praising God with such a beautiful group. I could go on and on. So many people that just made my heart feel so light. I know that every single person, student or staff alike, was a blessing I can hardly comprehend.

I saw things I never imagined. I think back now at all the places I went, all the images that will be forever in m memory. Why was I so blessed? I saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Coliseum, Park Guelf, Big Ben, Pedro the Bernish Bear, the market Easter Sunday in Prague, the Berlin Wall, and finally the image that will never leave me, that of the Doumo in the heart of Florence. That’s only a few of the wonders I saw. I never really imagined getting to see so much in such a short time. So beautiful. All the Churches, Cathedrals, Crypts, Monuments, and fountains that seemed to rise majestically around every single corner. Sants Chapel in Paris is still something that makes me marvel. Thank you God for such an amazing opportunity.

And I definitely gained a new appreciation for my family through all of this. I missed them a lot, so it’s nice to get to see them more than once a week now. I never could have gone if not for their financial and emotional support. I love them a lot, and it was hard to be away. But, sometimes you have to get away from all you know to finally appreciate who you are and what you have.

My greatest blessing for this trip was definitely the one that has been a blessing in my life since I met him. Sam stood by me for all of this, watching me run around the globe, sometimes disappearing for days on end so that I could finish my adventure. Thank you, Sam. You were always a ray of sunshine in my day, especially when I started to feel homesick or tired. You never let me give up on this experience. You always encouraged me to take hold of it with all I had and enjoy it to the fullest. If I had a dime for every time I cried missing you, I would be set for life. But, through all of that, we came out stronger. You are one of the greatest things to ever happen to me, and I am so thankful that God saw fit to put you in my life. Thank you for waiting for me to come back, even though the waiting was never easy. Thank you for all the things you had to put up with from me, the frustrations and annoyances that I vented to you. Thank you for taking time out every day to talk to me. Thank you for caring about the stories I had to share. Thank you for being a phenomenal boyfriend.

So, I have finally gotten a chance to look back. It was good. It was an experience I needed. It was difficult. But, God put me there for a reason, just like everyone else. And in the end, I just have to thank Him for leading me safely through it with a smile (most of the time) on my face.

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A Busy Few Weeks

February 26, 2009 at 9:07 am (Uncategorized)

Well, time has been flying past. In a week, I leave for spring break free travel. I’ll be going to Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris before returning to the villa. But it seems as if there are a thousand things to do before we get there! We’ve gotten plane tickets, but there’s many more reservations to make and plans to finalize. I’ll be traveling with Robert Cook, Maggie Davis, and Lindsay Wagner. We’re a small group, but that just gives us more flexibility in our plans.

It’s been packed getting to this point. A week ago, I had just returned from a ski trip in the Apennines. It was a really fun trip; I actually learned how to ski. Sadly, one of the girls broke her leg and had to return home for surgery and physical therapy. We were all very sad to see her leave, but reports say everything is going well.

Since I last wrote, we’ve been to Siena and San Gimignano, both very old and beautiful cities. They are just a few hours from Scandicci, so it wasn’t very long trip. We saw i Pagliacci in Italian, of course. It was a slightly modernized version, though all the songs were original, from what I can tell. (We cheated and watched it with subtitles at the villa before actually going to see it.) I had a taste of Italy where I ate entirely too much food. They served 15 different items and I sampled each. There was a chocolate festival in Scandicci that had free samples.

We’ve been to a Fiorentina soccer game and watched them win in the final seconds. The stands went crazy. And we even had a chance to celebrate Carnevale with masks and traditional desserts. And tacos, which, for some reason, I don’t think are traditional Italian.

Tomorrow we finally get to see the Uffizi. I’m very much looking forward to that. We’ve seen some very incredible works of art. Next Monday, we leave for Lucca/Pisa, and then on to Cinque Terre. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about this trip. I have a day and a half back, and then it’s off to Spain. Time is just flying past.

Love and miss everyone. God Bless!

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Day Two

October 27, 2008 at 11:14 pm (Uncategorized)

Well, it isn’t all sunshine and daisies over here. No pun intended. There are actually a lot of daisies around. Some over my computer, and a billion in the Shanties Club Books. It’s just gonna be a long week.

I miss my friends. I miss dinner with everyone. It kinda feels like those first few days I was back home for the summer, when nothing quite clicked how it should. I’m on one crazy schedule for being a Full Member, others are running on a new member’s schedule, and it feels like the two paths never cross. I was praying to see someone when I went into the caf today that wasn’t in Shantih. Not because I don’t love those girls, but because I need something that isn’t club in my life. That prayer wasn’t answered, which is probably God’s way of telling me to suck it up. It’s only a week.

Don’t get me wrong; tonight was a BLAST! But it’s the afternoons that hurt. When I’m the only one without a single thing to do. It’s lonely. I wish I had a thousand papers to write so that I wouldn’t have all this time to be stuck in my head. Oh well. At least the evenings are fun.

The girls are doing really great. Tonight was a lot of fun with their little skits. Got some very creative ones to be sure! And the cheering was a lot of fun. Most people who know me are probably fairly shocked to hear me say that. But…it’s more because it’s just screaming for my club, my sisters. They did really well. Oh so very loud. I’m really pretty impressed.

So many memories. Last year was a lot of fun, running around like a crazy person, trying to decide which homework actually had to be done, meeting new people. Orange crushing (I think Kaleb broke my rib earlier tonight…) Lots of good memories. Even when I got in trouble….thinking back, I kinda did that a lot. Hm. Rough night was awesome though. I’ll have to put that story up sometime. So much fun. I miss that side of pledge week.

But, there it is. A bittersweet week. Lots of fun meeting new people, a constant heartache missing my other friends. What’s a girl to do?

Eat chocolate? Sounds good enough to me!

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Club Week From the Other Side

October 26, 2008 at 9:33 pm (Uncategorized)

Well, last year was fun. It was crazy, a lot of fun, and a good deal of stress. I don’t know how I managed to do the club stuff, hang out with friends, do homework, and get to bed at a decent hour. But I did. Probably because I was a Freshie and classes were easy. It’s possible as a Sophomore or Junior, I know, but I’m glad I’ve done it. Cause I probably wouldn’t be in a club if I hadn’t joined last year. Not that it will be that bad for those who are in that boat (deep breath, calm down), I just don’t care enough to put myself through any great deal of stress. 😛 Well, it’s going to be interesting. To my lovely friends going through it all, best of luck. You’ll survive (maybe even thrive), and probably end up looking back fondly. I know I do! I’ll be praying for ya’ll. I’ll try to be understanding. And I love you. And God loves you. Hey, remember, no matter what, we’re all going to heaven. 🙂

But, it’s interesting on the other side. A lot less work, I’m sure. I mean, I can’t be sure yet, but looks that way. I’m so hyped for all club devo! Especially since I don’t have to get up in front of everyone and cheer. It’s really a lot of fun. And it ends a lot earlier than I thought. All Club at 10? Eh, whatever. There’s more than enough to keep everyone busy. 😉 There’s some really fun stuff planned. I’m not entirely excited because, just like last year, it means taking a big step away from friends and towards the club. Not that I don’t LOVE my club, but I really do have the most amazing friends of anyone on campus.

The new girls seem really awesome. They’re very diverse, and it’s going to take time to learn everyone, but it’ll be an adventure. Now, it’s their job to learn everyone’s name and get my signature. Mwaha. But, I’ll be nice. You know me. It’s going to be fun. Yeah, there’s some not-so-positives about this week, but it’s only a week. No matter what, it can only go on for so long. And, awesome Honors Halloween Party on Saturday. Can’t wait. It’s only a week. I’ve been through worse.

Pretty much, it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to have it’s bad days (there are some people I’m going to miss talking to…a lot.), but it’s going to be fun no matter what. Hehe…Tuesday’s gonna be incredible.

So, here it goes. Best of luck, friends. I’m here 24/7. And you ought to know my cell is ALWAYS on. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Though I really don’t think it will. 🙂

Much Love.

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It’s 11:30…

July 3, 2008 at 10:49 pm (Random Writing, Uncategorized)

It’s 11:30 and I’m fighting to keep my eyes open. It’s some last ditch effort to remain a wild and crazy teenager. But, there’s no denying that some part of that has died. Now, I work, I come home tired, and all I want is rest. I want a shower, supper, pajamas, and a good book or dumb TV. Nothing more. No late night gallivanting, no speeding around the city. I’ve grown up (though I’ve still got the heart of a kid) and part of me realizes that it’s okay. I want to work, get through the summer, and get back to school. There, I can play and stay up till all hours of the night watching Disney. Or spend an evening splashing through puddles and mud. Or have a fight with fistfuls of frozen bubbles. But here, Nashville, is about Work. It’s about making the money I need to feed my habit (school and friends, that is). It’s about keeping connected to my family and brushing away the hindrances.

And so it’s 11:30 and I’m ready to fall asleep. But, that’s okay. I had a long day, but I’ll have a great weekend. That’s when I live. No responsibilities on the weekend, no early morning alarms. No kids running and screaming and begging to play just one more game.

I don’t even drive fast anymore. I enjoy going the limit, listening to music, and watching the road dwindle by under my tires. I know, it seems an odd thing to remark on. But, it’s one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed. Besides being constantly tired. That’s because I spend all day trying to wear out a six and three-year-old. The driving thing is something I decided on. It’s calming. I don’t drive for a rush anymore, but just to be. The journey is more important than the destination. It would, of course, be better if I had better company. Me and myself occasionally have a spat or two.

It’s 11:40 and my eyes are closing. There’s that pressure in my head that I know means it’s been working for too long now. It wants a break before it goes on strike. So I sip at tea and watch the numbers turn on the clock. Because part of me says I should stay awake a little longer. Push it a little farther. But, I’ll feel much better if I turn in now. I just finished my book, I just finished my tea, and the house is silent.

It’s 11:50 and I’m going to bed.

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Where From Here?

May 28, 2008 at 2:13 pm (Uncategorized)

“I was thinking, over thinking
‘cause there’s just too many scenarios
To analyze,
Look in my eyes
‘cause you’re my dream please come true.”

Well, I just got back from one of the best weekends ever. Spent it all with Sammy. The only bad thing is that I now miss him more than ever. It’s going to be an eternally long summer, then a short fall, and then…Florence? I’m having doubts about that trip. We’ll see what the next few months do to my thoughts. Perhaps I’ll end up somewhere completely different, some time I didn’t imagine. Who knows.
I really haven’t felt as unsure of anything since, well, since I left for Harding last August. I guess that ended up pretty perfectly, though. Only now…
I was driving to Wal-Mart today, listening to my radio. A song came on that I like enough to turn it up and sing along. As I did, I realized something sounded wrong. My voice sounded so weak and tiny, so alone. Then it hit me that it had been ranked on the DC top 500 rock songs of all time. And I had sung it only days before, but with Sam. And so I just turned it up and tried to drown out thoughts of hundreds of miles and thousands of days. I know it will get easier. It always does. I fall into a pattern where I talk to him whenever I can, and hold onto those conversations to get me through the rough times. It will come. Only right now….it’s hard. I can’t wait to start working. It’ll be something I can bury myself in, live mechanically so that day falls after day and August is here. I know I can survive if I can make it to El Salvador. I know I will survive; there is no alternative. I am strong enough for this. I am strong enough to overcome distance and separation. He means too much to let some technicality come between us, at least in my book. What I really need right now is my wonderfully blunt Benjamin to look at me, tell me to stop dwelling, and push me of the couch so he can take a nap. It’s worked when I freaked out in the past.
I know, strange post from me. Oh well. I’m going to post another college lesson either tomorrow or Friday. Maybe Saturday if I get swamped baking for the wedding shower. It’ll either be on Faith or Love. Perhaps I should see if I could manage a Hope entry too, just to keep things interesting. 😛
By the way, Kiss the Girl from the Little Mermaid is an awesome song. I mean, come on, it’s got a talking crab and instruments made from animals. How much better does it get? I was listening to my Disney Princess CD during commercial breaks and I may just have to watch the Little Mermaid again.

Gotta love Disney. Never gets old.

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