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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A Benediction

September 5, 2008 at 6:28 pm (Random Thoughts, Real Life, Spiritual) (, , , )

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

Amen.

So, I recently made a video for HUmanity. It was lots of fun, though it was raining during filming, and I thought it would be  a good way to introduce the Freshmen to what our group was all about. It consisted of me and three others reading the above blessing, spliced together. So, pretty much, the video hopped from person to person each line. We had some great scenery given the topic of the benediction, and one of the guys was kind enough to donate his time taping and editting it.

It was supposed to show during announcements after chapel. No one got to see it.

I figured, at first, that it just hadn’t turned out well. Or that there hadn’t been enough time to get it all together. But that wasn’t it at all, I discovered. The video couldn’t be shown because Calea and I were praying in it.

That annoys me quite a bit. Though I am not one to say women should be preachers, should lead worship, etc, this wasn’t either of those. We weren’t praying, but reading a benediction. And it wasn’t in worship. In fact, a girl read the transcript during the announcements.

I understand Harding has to hold to certain standards. No, I don’t think a woman should lead in chapel. But is it now wrong for me to say God Bless? It’s the same idea, right? Am I not allowed to talk about God? Should I even be allowed to ask a question n my Bible class or speak my opinion? How far does this go?

Now, while I will probably never support women leading worship (it’s a personal thing and it has to do with different roles in the body), I know women did things in the early church. They are called to be silent with the men in regards to prophecy, tongues, etc. The had to cover their heads while praying. Of course, that could be silent prayer. As stated, though, I think leading worship is the man’s job. Sorry guys, but the responsibility’s yours.

My problem is when I feel as if I can’t speak about God at all in a public assembly here. What if I wanted to make an announcement and talked about how God lead me to whatever it was I felt so strongly about? The end of the year, Seniors make speeches. They are very careful to make sure the girls speak after the closing prayer, but would I then not be able to speak about God’s role in my life? That’s a pretty big part.

So, I’m not really sure why I’m writing this. I guess I’m just ranting a bit. I think they take a rule to the point of absurdity. I’m not calling for any massive change, either. I’m not entirely sure where I even stand on the policy. I don’t know where the line should be. But, I have my convictions which are standing sure. It’s just that I sometimes don’t know exactly what I am supposed to do if I want to express myself.

It’s frustrating. It sometimes feels like my religion cannot be of use to anyone else because I am female. I don’t think that was ever the intention. No, I should not be a church leader. But I do have a voice. I do have a story.

I want to show you that you can help. I want to be able to make a difference with my faith.

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A Few Random Thoughts

August 25, 2008 at 9:22 am (Random Thoughts, Real Life, Spiritual) (, , )

I’m sitting in my dorm with a cup of delicious (though mildly burnt) coffee and a huge chocolate muffin. Well, okay, the coffee leaves a little to be desired, but hey. My throat feels like I might have been eating steel wool last night, so any little bit, no matter how burnt. But, regardless, I have an hour until my next class and my blog is in sore need of updating.

I was going to write a back to school blog. But, ninety percent of the people reading this are back to school, so it would be pointless. I don’t want to waste your time writing about what you already know. Instead…well, I’m not really sure what will happen instead.

I’ve had a lot of really random thoughts floating around my head recently. Sorry if I’ve seemed distracted, but I kinda have been. The first few days of class always scare me. I’ve overcome it enough to finally be able to actually sleep the night before, but it still has me jittery all day. Fortunately at college I get two first days of school. Isn’t that considerate?

I read the Screwtape Letters and loved it! It was a nice, easy-reading book, but really pretty insightful. C.S. Lewis was a pretty bright guy, ya know? It had one concept that I thought was absolutely intriguing. A long life is a battle that only the strong survive, from a faith standpoint especially. To die young is to miss out on most of the hardships that wear and grate on the soul. To die young is to save the soul from a thousand attacks and stumbles. There’s no denying this; my life and faith were much simpler before I got out on my own. And I’d rather die young than fall away from the faith. From a purely calculating point of view, the odds simply increase the more times the soul is tried.

But to live a long life in the faith, now that is truly an achievement. To overcome and prevail in the end, despite Satan throwing everything at you.

It was an interesting idea. It got a hook into my thoughts and just kept coming back. I like things that won’t let you be, no matter how hard you try to shake them. Those are the things to reflect on, weigh, evaluate, and judge. I don’t know if I entirely accept the idea, but it is a novel one to think about. And, in the end, it’s all opinion anyways. As far as this is concerned.

Well, time for school. I have to make a sandwich and find all the eleventy hundred books I need. So, until later my friends.

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