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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Reflections on the Seasons

August 9, 2008 at 11:54 am (Random Thoughts) (, , , , , )

I walked outside yesterday and was shocked. Completely and totally at a standstill because of a hint of something in the air. It felt like autumn. It smelled like autumn. It was one of the most refreshing things I have experienced in a long while. Now, fall is still a good ways off here. We have to fight through the end of August and beginning of September to even begin to glimpse it, but it was there yesterday.

That got me thinking. Years ago, if you asked me my favorite season, I would say winter. Because then, obviously, I appeared more adult by saying so. It showed that I was wise and knew how cruel and cold winter was. It proved that I had seen and experienced enough to be jaded. Surely you had to take me seriously? I was dark and brooding, my eyes focused to the oh-so distant future, not distracted by the toil of everyday life.

Or, at time, I would answer spring. Because that answered showed me as happy and optimistic. You could trust me like you could trust anyone with a smiling face. I was your typical teenager, happy to be alive, excited about the fresh and new. I was content and pleased with the pretty things in life.

Or, I would say summer. I was a student, right? Of course summer was my favorite! No school, no responsibilities. Vacation, friends, late nights and later mornings. I was care-free and definitely not a nerd. Being out of school was my favorite thing! You could depend on me to be the fun one, up for anything, enjoying living life in the now.

But now…now I know that I like autumn. Not because of what it tells you about me, but because of how much I enjoy waiting for it to come. The color of the tress, the smell of bonfires and musty leaves. The way the air cools down into downright cold. And I still like winter–it’s a period of calm and patience. It clears my head and keeps me from worrying about things I cannot control. And I still like spring–there is rebirth after winter. The color returns, life comes back, and everything stretches into life after a good long sleep. It’s time to come back outside and enjoy the world. And I will always like summer–there is a bit of release and carefreeness. No school, no homework, no deadlines. There’s ample time for a friend or twelve. It gives the mind a rest before getting back to the grind.

But, I’ll always live for the fall. Everyone’s different. Every season means something different to every person. But, I’m happy now. Cause this time, my answer isn’t for anyone else. My answer’s for me, and I like it that way.

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