Sharing Faith

In my communication class we recently covered a chapter on interpersonal communication. Basically it talked about how we choose our friends. A big part of this decision relies on similarity.

 

One of the similarities given as an example was upbringing. 

 

I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years now. He’s a year older than me so we began a long distance relationship a year ago when he left for college. Long distance was hard enough then when I was still in high school, but it has only gotten harder now that I’m in college too with all new people. 

There are plenty attractive people on this campus. That’s just a fact. After being here for over a month, however, I have realized that there’s not a single person I would ever get along with like I do with my boyfriend because we share something deeper that mutual attraction and common interests. We share our faith.

 

Faith is a powerful thing on its own, but shared between people its power multiplies. Religion has banded people together for centuries in pursuit of shared beliefs. People have fought and died for faith. It obviously has the power to bond people very strongly. That is something I feel with my family, in my church congregation both here at school and at home, and with my boyfriend. We understand each other on a whole other level because we share a faith.

 

Sometimes when we talk at night, we have conversations about our faith that last for hours. Sometimes we contemplate faith more than our daily activities. And it is awesome. 

 

I love having someone whom I can tell my deepest thoughts too.

Sharing faith can bring a relationship, whether between friends, family, or couples, to a whole new level.

 

He lives in the “Bible Belt” and attends a very Christian school so he always has new stories and ideas to bring to the table. I don’t have any other friends whom I feel l can talk about my faith with like I can with him. It’s definitely a special relationship in that way, and I am blessed to have it.

 

Sometimes we take for granted things that we grow used to and comfortable with. There are definitely days when I forget how lucky I am to be able to share something so personal as my faith with someone without judgement.

Advertisements

Counter-Instinctual Humanity

My first year seminar class is on the topic of zombies, their metaphor, and their meaning in American popular culture and meaning. This morning we finished watching George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. After the movie we discussed some of the themes and topics that stuck out to us.

One of the characters, Barbara, witnessed her brother die at the hands of zombies within the first few minutes of the movie and remains in a state of shock for the rest of the film. She spends most of the movie sitting on a couch helpless and detached from everything. Someone asked how the character managed to be one of the last two survivors. This brought to light a very interesting part of human nature: humans take care of those who cannot. 

In any other species the weak are left behind. Survival of the fittest. With humans the situation is very different. We act counter-instinctually. We take care of the weak who cannot care for themselves. We run into burning buildings to save people who are trapped.We run toward gunfire and war to defend our country.

We turn to the unknown for comfort instead of running from it.

 

For the most part, things that scare us are things that we don’t fully understand. So why do we turn to the sacred reality that we can’t see or understand to answer our biggest questions and comfort us when faced with tragedy?

We are truly a counter-instinctual species. So many of the things we do go against our natural instincts. So what makes us act and behave in this manner?

 

Is it possible that interaction with something sacred and greater than ourselves allows us to act and think beyond our instincts? Is the will to protect and care for those who cannot do so for themselves a way we mediate the sacred.

 

It seems pretty believable to me. All animals have these natural instincts. But humans have something more. We have the ability to interact with the sacred.

Religion in Words.

My first thought when trying to answer this question was to consult good-ole Merriam-Webster. And you know what they told me? Religion is the belief in a god or gods.

Well, that’s pretty simple, right? Is religion really so simple? 

It’s actually really funny (to me, anyway) that the most complex things are defined most simply.  So either we just gave up or trying to actually fine the complexity that is religion, or we acknowledged that it’s impossible and defined it in such a way to help people understand it in its simplest terms.

Merriam-Webster also gives you some nifty information about a words popularity. According to the online dictionary, “religion” is in the top 1% of lookups and is the 77th most popular word. Wow. That’s really saying something when you consider how many words are in the MW dictionary and all the much more complicated words that people could be searching for the meaning of. 

 

I did SAT prep with a teacher at my school, and we worked diligently on vocabulary. I would say that about 70% of the words in the prep books we used were words I had never even heard before. Students all over the world are coming across new vocabulary as they work, learn, study and read; they’re looking up the meanings online. And you want to know where those big SAT vocabulary words fall in lookup rates?

Blandishment? That’s an SAT word. It’s in the bottom 40%

Feckless? A little better; top 30%

Eschew? Top 10%

Theses are just a few of the words I remember studying during my SAT prep… and forgetting, and looking up online multiple times. They’re not words you hear in everyday conversation, but they come up in academics. Which is why people so often have to look them up. 

But I word such as religion exists in everyday language. It’s common. And yet it is looked up more than any of these vocabulary words.

It’s like religion is so complex that we don’t trust that we actually know what it is. So we look it up. And for some reason we expect Merriam-Webster to hold the answer to they complex mystery that is just an eight letter word.

But the dictionary gives us the simplest answer. Maybe that satisfies some people. But knowing what religion is and understanding religion are two completely different things.

To understand religion first we have to accept that we can’t understand it through words. It’s to complex for that. It’s like love. What is love? You can try to define it, but you can’t understand it until you experience it.

So what is religion. Well, we can call it many things. Belief in a god or gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group. But we can’t truly understand religion until we accept that it goes beyond those words, and we must experience religion to truly know.

Religion can’t be found in words.

The Power of Belief.

The human mind is a powerful and mysterious thing. Within the mind is our imagination; our power of belief.

 

Believing in something is said to give it power. We see examples of this everywhere. 

Every year my high school would bring a hypnotist to the school as a treat to the students during the week before homecoming. His name was Astonishing Neal. One year I volunteered to be part of the act. He took maybe 50 volunteers up onto the stage and said that he would be able to tell who was faking, and he would send the fakers back to their seats. 

I had never been hypnotized before and I wasn’t sure I really believed in it or not, but I wanted to try. 

So I got up there and followed Astonishing Neal’s voice. I did everything he said, just as he said it, and I was never sent back to my seat like about 40 other people were. But the thing is, I know I wasn’t hypnotized. I told my friends that after the assembly. Apparently I put on a convincing performance, but I knew I was only did the things Astonishing Neal said because the other volunteers were as well and I didn’t want to be sent back to my seat. 

So I decided there are a few types of minds in this kind of situation: those who believe in hypnotism and can be successfully hypnotized, those you believe in hypnotism but cannot be successfully hypnotized (me), and those who do not believe and can therefore not be hypnotized.

Hypnotism is just a mental game. Astonishingly Neal even said at the beginning of his act that if your mind is closed to hypnotism, you can’t be hypnotized. It can’t be force upon an unwilling mind.

 

If you don’t open your mind to something, it will not occur to you.

If you don’t open your mind to the possibility of the sacred, it won’t be forced upon you.

If you don’t open your mind to speaking in tongue, it won’t just happen spontaneously to you.

 

But then there exist the gray area where you believe and still something does not quite reach you. This is the area I fell into regarding hypnotism. I had my mind open to it and was fully prepared to let it happen, but it didn’t. Some people (Dr Toole) may be open to new practices such as speaking in tongues, but despite their open-mindedness, it just doesn’t happen for them. 

 

This occurs because certain things are beyond our cognitive thought. We can’t control them. We can be open to them and give them the ability to interact with us, or we can be closed to them and shut off access for interaction. But we cannot force the interaction.

 

The Sacred Quest contains a statement that the sacred is beyond human will. This is especially evident here. The sacred can pull open the curtain and interact with us, but we must keep our minds open to it. We must allow our eyes to be open with the curtain is pulled back. And we open our eyes to the sacred through our belief and faith; opening our minds without seeing or knowing prior.

Christian Rock

I am a fan of Rock. I’m honestly a little lost now living in the South with all this country music everywhere.

But I will listen to any subgenre of Rock. If you ask me if I listen to Christian Rock, my first reaction wouldn’t be to say yes. After doing some research, however, I would argue that most people, including myself, rock out to some Christian Rock on a daily basis. It’s everywhere: on the internet, on our iPods, on the radio. And I bet you wouldn’t guess that some of your favorite bands are actually Christian bands. They span every genre and are found in some unexpected music scenes.

I was honestly surprised when I found out that a good amount of the bands I listen to actually fall into the category of Christian. I was even more surprised that I never noticed that bands I have listened to for years have Christian themes right in their most popular songs and lyrics.

There’s actually a website devoted to Christian music artists. Christian Music Zine is site that features Christian bands and artists of various genres. In March of 2012 a list was posted of the top 10 Christian bands in the mainstream. Some of the bands listed didn’t surprise me at all. Relient K took spot number ten and is pretty widely recognized as a Christian band. At spot number one was Owl City. In a  Q & A with Christianity Today, Adam Young (aka Owl City) responded to a question about how his faith plays a role in the creative process: “‘…my prayer has always been, “Lord, just give me the songs you want me to write so I can record them, release them, put them in the can, and reflect all glory and praise back to you.”” 

So is it fair to say that musicians use their gift as a way of mediating the sacred? It’s definitely something interesting to think about. Our textbooks and theorists have suggested that different groups of people have different vehicles for the sacred: people, places, and objects. So can we make the assumption that music is perhaps a form of meditation or prayer? Just as the writers of the books of the Bible were said to be inspired by God, are modern bands and music artists inspired as well? 

It goes back to how Eliade says that a sacred rock is just a rock until the sacred reveals itself to you.  But for all others to whom the sacred has not revealed itself, it is just a rock. So maybe sometimes music is simply a profane art. But maybe some other times, music is the result of a heirophany. For some people, music is created out of interaction with God.

In Christ alone, my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song

This cornerstone, this solid ground

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease

My comforter, my all-in-all

Here in the love of Christ I stand

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the world by darkness slain

Then bursting forth in glorious day

Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me

For I am His and He is mine

Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death

This is the power of Christ in me

From life’s first cry to final breath

Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man

Can ever pluck me from His hand

Till He returns or calls me home

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

This song by Owl City is one of his more obviously Christian themed songs. It definitely sounds like something you might hear used in a prayer service.

The themes in other songs aren’t always so obvious. On example is his song Kamikaze. 

Certainly not something you would hear at a Church or prayer service, but closer inspection of the lyrics reveals what seems like a reference to the save power and presence of God.

My captain on the snowy horse
He’s coming back to take me home
He’ll find me fighting back the terrible thwarts
‘Cause I’m not afraid to die alone

Owl City is just one of many popular modern artists who presents Christian themes in his music.

Would you be surprised if I said that U2 has Christian themes at the heart of most of their songs? Here’s just a few examples: 

“40” from War has lyrics lifted from Psalm 40:
I waited patiently on the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry / He lifted me up out of the pits / And out of the miry clay.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a straight-up gospel song:
I believe when the Kingdom comes / Then all the colors will bleed into one / But yes, I’m still running / You broke the bonds / You loosened the chains / You carried the cross / Of my shame / You know I believed it / But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Most of the songs on Pop are about a crisis of faith, and “Wake Up, Dead Man” directly addresses Jesus Christ:
Jesus / I’m waiting here, boss / I know you’re looking out for us / But maybe your hands aren’t free / Your father, He made the world in seven / He’s in charge of heaven / Will you put a word in for me? / Wake up, wake up dead man.

 

I found these examples on a BuzzFeed music post from earlier this year. The title of the piece: 11 Bands you Might Not Realize Are Christian. It’s pretty interesting. U2 was at the number one spot and number two was Mumford and Sons. In a 2010 interview, Marcus Mumford said that his lyrics are “a deliberately spiritual thing but not a deliberately religious thing. I think faith is something beautiful, and something real, and something universal.”

“Sigh No More”
Serve God, love me and mend / This is not the end / Lived unbruised, we are friends / And I’m sorry / I’m sorry.

“Below My Feet”
And I was still but I was under your spell / When I was told by Jesus all was well / So all must be well.

“Whispers in the Dark”
Whispers in the dark / Steal a kiss and you’ll break your heart / Pick up your clothes and curl your toes / Learn your lesson, lead me home / Spare my sins for the ark / I was too slow to depart / I’m a cad but I’m not a fraud / I’d set out to serve the Lord.

 

 

Music has always been a prominent form of expression and story-telling. Musicians don’t write songs  about things they haven’t experienced, they base their music off their lives and experiences. So naturally religion becomes a theme.

Whether artists express their beliefs explicitly or implicitly, I think that it shows that for some people, music is a way of interacting with God, or the sacred. If artists create songs about the experiences of their life, love, loss, dreams, etc… and spirituality is included, it just goes to show that experiences with God (or the sacred in general) have occurred. Something sacred has affected these people in such a way that they are so inspired as to create music based around these sacred experiences.

 

One of our textbooks (or maybe it was a documentary) stated that one aspect of the sacred is its ability to inspire something great. The people of Easter Island were inspired by SOMETHING to build hundreds of huge statues from a single quarry and then place them around the island! Creating music is not an easy thing. Not everyone can do it. And even the people who are gifted with such talent can’t always create on command. Music is inspired.

 

Maybe I’m biased because I’m a huge fan of music, playing, singing, listening, meditating to, etc, but I truly believe that there is something sacred about music. The fact that so many popular artists express their faith in their music does not surprise me at all. I think it’s awesome that so many bands and artists, regardless of genre, keep faith at the heart of their art. 

 

There were times in my life when I was confused.
There were things between me and God that were blocking my view.
So I prayed,
“Oh dear Lord, take these things away so I can see.”
He answered my prayer and at the sight of Him
I fell to my knees. 

And until I went onto that fateful trip.
I thought I was on a sinking ship. 

Until,
I went on a balloon ride
(I could see everything from up there).
I went on a balloon ride
And now everything seems clear. 

I strive towards infinity.
Though sometimes I don’t know what to do.
When other people laugh at me
All I do is look towards You. 

Well on my through this life yet something was gone.
I looked round and round and then I found I needed some one.
So I prayed,
“Oh dear Lord, fill me up and make me whole.
Present in my life Jesus Christ, save my soul.”

Inter-religious Practices?

The last time my class met, someone brought up that they were raised Christian but are currently exploring Buddhism. She went on to say that she felt she could never truly call herself Buddhist because she only picks and chooses the Buddhist practices she wants to follow.

I really like the idea of dabbling in other practices and pulling pieces from them.

It’s kind of like a Pandora bracelet. When I got a Pandora bracelet for my mom, I first picked the specific band that I wanted. When you look through the catalogue, each band has a picture of suggested looks and charms that you can buy. Or you can browse everything individually and choose the bead and charms for your band regardless of what the catalogue suggests.

The suggested bracelets are beautiful and stunning, but it becomes so much more personal when you pick the individual charms that catch your eye and add them to the band that acts as your base.

I have been Catholic all my life; I was raised in a Catholic family and attended Catholic school. I’ve never really had any friends who practiced other faiths because I made all my friends in my Catholic school setting. And because of this I was never really exposed to the idea of practicing inter-religiously.

Watching the video of Buddhist chanting really intrigued me. At first it sounded strange to me. Chanting in general usually sounds out of place and foreign to me especially chanting in a foreign language. But listening to people explain it and how it works opened my eyes and mind to it. There’s something beautiful about that kind of focus.

I am already a big fan of meditation. That’s not necessarily inter-religious. Some form of meditation exists in every religion, I’m sure.
I can be a very anxious person at times. Little things upset me, and I stress over pretty much everything. I’m pretty good at keeping up a facade of cool, calm and collected, but when things don’t go as planned, there’s a good chance I’m freaking out on the inside. I frequently turn to meditation and prayer for solace.
Like I said, I’m not sure if I would consider this inter-religious because my usual forms of meditation include going to Mass and praying. Sometimes I pick up my guitar and reflect using that as a medium to expel stress and relax.

The idea of chanting is something I would like to try. I wonder if I could actually do it. I’m a big fan of silent meditation and music. So I’m not entirely sure I could get myself to focus while chanting. It’s definitely something I would like to try.

Yoga is another practice that has stemmed from religion but has become part of American culture. When I was at home, one of my favorite things to do was yoga on my WiiFit. Now, when you’re doing yoga with a virtual instructor, religion isn’t the first thought that pops into your mind. The central purposes of yoga, concentration and focus on breathing and discipline, mental and physical, are still present.

It’s definitely possible to engage in inter-religious practice. No one can tell you that your faith is wrong. If you are a Christian who finds comfort and peace in some Buddhist practices, some Hindu views, and some Confucian ideas, well…then you are simply a Christian who engages in Buddhist practices, appreciates Hindu views, and Confucian ideas. Simple as that. Are some people going to deny that such practice is appropriate or allowed? Of course.

Even in such a case, I doubt a person would actually refer to himself or herself as a Christian-Buddhist-Hindu-Confucian. Like the girl in my class stated, she wouldn’t call herself Buddhist even though she engages in Buddhist practices. One would still probably refer to him(/her)self by their primary religion or the religion of their family, but it is certainly possible to practice inter-religiously.

 

There isn’t an example I can think of that would suggest that any religions are completely incompatible. I’m not going to pretend that I know a lot about religious traditions outside of Catholicism. In fact, I’m not familiar with the traditions of most other forms of Christianity. How embarrassing, right? When I first chose the college I would be attended, my boyfriend  would ask me every day “Does it have a religious affiliation? What is its religious affiliation?” And it was never a big deal to me so every time he would ask I would forget to look it up and actually find out. Eventually he went on the school’s website and did it himself (lol). But basically if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have found out that my school is Methodist until….ever, probably. Now he told me and my reaction was, “oh….ok.” And then he gave me a speech about how I should really care about that. But I wasn’t familiar with Methodist Christianity at all. I proceeded to ask him to enlighten me.
So, are there religious traditions that are incompatible? If followed strictly, yeah I’m sure there are. But in reality don’t we adapt. Yes. So any practice or tradition we might be interesting in pursuing, we would adapt to fit out beliefs.

 

Inter-religious practice really interests me. At their heart, aren’t all religious so similar in purpose? They are simply different lenses which we use to see the same scene or subject. Can we take filters from many lenses and use them with one lens? Why not!

The Secret of Kairos.

The Kairos retreat was a huge thing at my high school for juniors and seniors. People used to claim that you went away for four days to be brainwashed and you would come back totally and irreversibly “Kai-high.” 

 

I went through stages of forming an opinion on Kairos. Freshman and Sophomore year, the majority of my friends were juniors and seniors. One of my closest friends went on the retreat and loved it so much! She was someone whose opinion I knew I could trust. I decided then that I could not wait to be able to go on the Kairos retreat.  The next year, when I was a junior, my best friend went on this retreat. Now, when people come back from Kairos they follow one of two paths: they have a fantastic experience and come back happy and open and pick back up where they left off, OR they have a fantastic experience but take the whole meaning of Kairos the wrong way and dump all their friends and cling desperately to their “kairos friends” and are forever changed…for the worst! My best friend followed that second, not so good path. It happens to a fair amount of people who go, but no one predicted it happening to him. Let’s just call him Joe. Joe and I met my freshman year and had at that time been inseparable for about three years. He came back a completely different person, and I couldn’t understand it. That was when I decided that I would never ever go on Kairos. I didn’t want to come back and abandon all my friends and do to them what Joe did to me.

 

Well, senior year rolled around and I signed up for Kairos. I can’t say what happens or what I experienced because the secret is the biggest and best part about it. But I loved it. And I didn’t follow the dark path of no return. I talk of it lightly now, but it really was a devastating thing to experience. Your best friend whom you know everything about and who knows everything about you, going away for four days and coming back and telling you that he found real friends who really care about him and understand him more than you ever could.

 

Excuse me, what?

 

Enough ranting, that’s just the back story to my main point.

Religious retreats such as Kairos are aimed at creating a strengthening the bond between peers. It’s all about realizing that there is way more to the people around you than you think. Most people wouldn’t consider bonding activities ways of interacting with the sacred, but there were various moments during the retreat when I felt as though we, as a group, experienced something sacred.

 

I went to a Catholic high school so the other participants in the retreat were all Catholic. Our common belief probably played a pretty significant role in our experience. It’s easier to share an experience like that when you share the same religious beliefs. I wonder, however, if my college were to have a Kairos retreat, or any religious retreat similar to it, would having people of varied beliefs affect the experience. Can a group of people with different beliefs share in a sacred experience together? Can you still mediate the sacred together if you have different ideas about the sacred?

 

It’s definitely something I would like to see happen. Kairos was the greatest experience ever for me, and I would love to bring that kind of experience to my school.