January 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a Non-Initiate

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, God, interfaith experiences, Mormonism, Relationships, religion, school and academics, Spirituality tagged , , , , , at 6:09 am by Eostre

I am taking a class this semester on the Literature of Mormon Women. It is a great topic, and I am really excited about it. There is one thing that has me a little apprehensive, though. I am the only non-Mormon in the class. I know, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is really a strange situation, for multiple reasons.

First, the obvious, it is weird being the only one in the class who isn’t an initiate. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t recognize most of the names, and I didn’t know before last week that the Temple and the Tabernacle were two different buildings. I am on the outside looking in. I have studied Mormonism, but that is very different from actually being a Mormon. Sure, I can name the four canonical texts, but I don’t use them for my devotions. All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to bridge that gap.

The second, and less obvious reason, is that I have not been in a really religious environment for almost two years. My faith since coming to Claremont has been largely a private thing, I haven’t participated in any faith-based communion for a while, mostly on purpose. Going to this class I have been struck by how far I have gone from when I was comfortable in an insular religious environment. It doesn’t matter that this doesn’t happen to be my religion, the attitudes are strikingly similar even though the trappings aren’t. There is a certain way that religious people speak, think, and act, that I have been away from for a long time. If you are (or have been) religious in America I am sure you know what I mean. There is an insularity, an us and them mentality, that I had forgotten about.

This is challenging me in completely unexpected ways. I expected the discomfort of being the only non-Mormon in a class, but I did not expect the vertigo that I experience when I walk through that door and into a world that I don’t think I belong in any more. That religious life and mindset just doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. It’s like trying to jam my feet into shoes I outgrew a year ago.

The semester has only just started, but I can tell that this is going to be a huge personal challenge. Can I re-enter that world? Do I want to?

November 12, 2009

Jesus loves Orthodox people too?

Posted in Faith Transformations, interfaith experiences at 7:15 am by Eostre

Mary and JesusI hate to harp on the whole “I was naive and sheltered and now I am an aware and savvy grad student” thing, but with this weeks topic it was too good to pass up. When I started college I made friends with a girl who had been raised Eastern Orthodox, and was still (mostly) a part of that denomination. For me, this was an interfaith experience! We stayed up late many many nights talking over the issues of converting from the Orthodox Church to “Christianity”. That’s right, you read that correctly. To my 18-year-old self Orthodox faith with it’s sad eyed Jesus icons and pedo-baptism was alien and thus, well, unorthodox.

We would stay out all night talking very seriously about whether or not she needed to be re-baptized, and if venerating the saints was idolatry. Of course, the answer we came up with was yes on both counts. With the strict formalities (she had to cover her head when she went to church! Oh no!) and strange liturgies, she might as well have been bowing towards Mecca, and we both felt it.

Now I would like to say that this ended with me going to church with her and realizing that hey, the Orthodox (and even Catholics!) are just like me! But it didn’t. We drifted apart, and as far as I know she is still a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which for the record I fully recognize as Christian, now) and it wasn’t until a couple years later, when I was a junior in college, that I accepted that Christianity takes many forms, and wearing a head scarf or using wine instead of grape juice doesn’t really matter in the end. If anything, I identify more with liturgical traditions now than I do with Evangelical denominations.

So this wasn’t an interfaith experience in the strictest sense, but it is what imediately came to mind when I started thinking about this weeks topic. Like Gina said, religious literacy is abysmal in America, and I would add to that by saying that it is even worse in the Church. When presented with a tradition that predated mine by thousands of years I had no idea how to react. I hadn’t even heard of Orthodoxy before I met my friend, and I was attending a religious university!  All of my inter-religious knowledge came from a perspective of evangelism and conversion, which is pretty narrow. I can’t help but think that I missed out, and that thousands of kids just like me did too.  I was lucky, was able to break out and interact with people who actually did have a different faith than I did, but it could just have easily gone the other way.

I was lucky. I had professors who pushed me to understand different faiths and different perspectives. I wish everyone could be so lucky. And really, with the world the way it is just now, Jesus has a good reason to have sad eyes, so maybe the Orthodox Church got it right.

November 11, 2009

Different is Good

Posted in interfaith experiences, Relationships at 1:45 am by LadySophie

Is there anything more difficult than meshing two differing worldviews? I want to approach our weekly topic from a different direction. Can you be sincere, heart friends with someone who differs with you in deep, meaningful ways? They are liberal and you are conservative. Can you be close friends with someone who has a core religious belief that is directly in contrast to your own? They believe in God and you do not. I always have people in my circles that are quite different from who I am. I love the diversity and the richness of it all.

This romantic relationship in my life has helped me think about meshing two different lives. We are both used to being single and have some deep rooted ideas about how things “should” be done. He is used to being a parent, I am not. He is about to start professional school, I am just finishing. He is Filipino, I am Texan/ Californian. He is a careful saver of money, I am a skilled spender of money. We are talking about merging our lives and it is easy to focus on differences.

The same is true for interfaith conversations. Do we focus on similarities or differences?

He loves to learn and so do I. He keeps his faith at the center of his life and so do I. We have no idea where our lives are headed, but that doesn’t seem to bother either one of us too much. We keep circling back to those things and finding common ground.

Can we apply the same strategy to interfaith relationships? To friendships with political opposites? I think we can. I have some kind of tireless hope that people can overcome differences and arrive at sincere, meaningful relationships. 101_0109

November 8, 2009

Immortality: Surprising Confluences Between Feminist Theology and Mormonism

Posted in interfaith experiences, religion at 3:57 am by Gaia

On the whole, I like the Mormon concept of immortality. I like the idea of being with my family forever. I like the idea of being able to love and live with a child or spouse or parent that might have died too young. I like the idea of being eternally engaged in learning and working with others. Ok, I am put off by the idea that I as woman might be an eternal baby maker, and the status of Heavenly Mother – my immortal role model – is angst inducing if I sit down and think about it for very long. But in my positive moments, I have some hope that my husband and I would actually be equals in the next life – that the patriarchy of our church and of our world is just a natural consequence of the fall and of human fallibility.

So I initially found it a bit jarring yesterday as I read about one Christian feminist theologian’s take on immortality. Ruether, author of Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, is a founding mother in the field. She questions whether or not the idea of immortality is an outgrowth of a Western (and she would also say male) concern with self-perpetuation as well as an abstraction from the real life processes of growing, birthing and dying. She has reason for this latter concern: in traditional Christian theology, immortality is static, and according to some church fathers, the resurrected female body (not the male) will have its sexual organs neutered in some way so as to not be able to inspire lust.

Ruether proposes that we explore a feminist theology that moves away from thinking so much about the ego’s everlastingness and instead accepts our own finiteness and embraces death as part of a natural matrix of humans and non-humans, who spring from the earth and eventually return from it in a nutritive regenerative cycle. Rather than hoping for the ideal in the next life, she urges us to use this present moment to create a just and good community for our children.

I have mixed feelings about Ruether’s rather negative take on immortality. On the one hand, I very much appreciate her ideas about valuing the body, accepting change, and restoring balance between human and non human. On the other, I really like the idea of existing eternally, that there is something so important about my soul that it is co-eternal with the divine (even if that idea is a bit egotistical).

So it might appear that Mormonism and Ruether’s feminist theology might not have a lot of common ground to work with regarding the concept of immortality. But I actually see some surprising confluences. Mormonism’s concept of immortality is very different than the one Ruether is rejecting. Our immortality not only accepts change, it expects and embraces it. Rather than a heaven that is never-changing perfection, Mormonism’s concept of eternal life is all about working to make progress and evolve. There is an embracing of the body, sexuality, and natural life processes in our ideas of eternal reproduction. In a nutshell, I see Mormonism’s concept of eternal life as a merging of both traditional Christian ideas about immortality and of Ruether’s feminist emphasis on the body and change.

November 5, 2009

Generation G: Living in a Glocal Town

Posted in Faith Transformations, Generation G(lobal), interfaith experiences, pluralism, religion, technology tagged , , , at 6:53 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

interfaithI’m just a small town girl, livin’ in a global world. Well, glocal, really. Because I still live in a bubble. The little area I live in is so immaculate, it looks like a movie set sometimes. And I fail to watch the news like I should. Confessions, confessions. Still, my little bubble is more diverse than the one I remember as a young teenager, when I thought the only history I knew was the US and Ancient Greece and Egyptian and British. Lots of British.

So what happened? I think I owe a lot to my continued education and perhaps (I admit with much guilt) leaving the sweet fields of waving wheat and WASPs. Not that Oklahoma isn’t super diverse, but. . . there is a fabulous Hispanic population as well as Asian. I had best friends of many ethnicities. But I never really learned too much about other religions and other cultures. Everything was in an American, Western context. And I’m not sure why.

Why didn’t we read Asian literature? What about the philosophies of the Dalai Lama or Ghandi or the story of the Gita? Why didn’t we discuss global issues, how capitalism looked from the perspectives of developing countries; why didn’t we do more than just reduce everything to stock characters and settings? Why wasn’t our education more comparative?

It is almost impossible for my generation to not be globally aware, although I still feel I have so much left to learn. I always felt that traveling was a bit more for the privileged than me, but school has helped me travel at least around the country, and helped me to participate in the conversations that have turned my focus outward.

There have been so many benefits to being in a religious studies program specifically, but graduate school in a place different than I grew up in general. I’ve learned not to be afraid of others or my own curiosity, although there is still some residual fear concerning what still doesn’t seem familiar or known. I’ve been blessed to catch a glimpse into the richness that is other cultures and religions and lifestyles. My experiences have helped me live life more fully and helped me understand that, as good and innocent of a person I have always thought myself to be, I need to work harder to understand my interdependence, and contribute to the good of the world.