Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘break’

How Can This Be?

John 3:1-9

ASBWISCLast week, I participated in the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia’s Interfaith Encounters Alternative Spring Break program for college students. I journeyed with students, faculty, and college staff professionals to encounter seven different religious traditions, including: Reconstructionist Jewish; Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian; Sikh; Quaker; Won Buddhist; Hindu; Black Muslim and Sunni Muslim. There is no way to express how much I learned and experienced during that week. I am sure that as time passes, the stories will come to the surface and I will continue to discover meaning as a result of what we saw, heard, and felt. Keep in mind that this week was not about touring religious communities simply in order to gather information and knowledge about religions. This week was about meeting people and experiencing their cultural and religious practices. It was about connections between faith practice and actual life practice.

This week was about embracing my full humanity and the full humanity of others.

After all, if you are capable of stripping away all the surface stuff that we obsess over [how we dress, what we eat, how we pray, how we believe or don’t believe in a god, what language we speak, how we worship, what sacred books we read and claim]—if we look past those things—we can discover that any religious encounters we have with others are human encounters. Throughout the course of the week, we met people and shared stories; and food; and prayers; and silence; and songs; and handshakes; and hugs. We sat together; stood together; bowed together; we lived together and cooperated across lines of difference.

Last Saturday, in the first few hours we spent together, our group discussed asking good questions and what that would look like during our week. After all, we wanted to be respectful and curious as we interacted with people from various traditions. We talked about the difference between a curious question and a judgmental question. Then, I asked all the students to write down a major question they had about what they were going to experience during the week. They wrote it on the back of their name tags so as to carry it with them the entire time.

Questions are important. They don’t have to lead us to answers, though. Sometimes asking honest and curious questions leads us to more questions…and even better questions.

So the questions I am asking today after this experience are:

How can we love, heal, help, learn, cooperate, and celebrate together as human beings of diverse traditions?

How do we pray, read sacred texts, sing, meditate, or sit in silence?

And what do those behaviors encourage us to do and be?

The story in the gospel of John is about questions. This question-asking is prevalent in most religious traditions and is a way that ideologies and spiritual practices develop. A student will ask the teacher a question. Often the teacher will not give a concrete answer but rather, another question for the student to consider. This teaching method is utilized by Jesus of Nazareth quite often.

In this case, the student is Nicodemus. The name Nicodemus means “peoples’ victory” and is a name of a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Council in Jerusalem at that time. He’s also called a Pharisee and a leader of the Judeans. Pharisees studied scripture intently and prayed a lot. The issue for the Pharisees [and I would argue, for most “religious” people], is that they often got too caught up in the appearance of religious practice.

The institution of the temple, for some Pharisees, had become more important than the actual practice of their faith.
Now THAT sounds familiar….

Nicodemus met Jesus at night. And in place of asking a curious question, Nicodemus made a statement full of assumptions. We know that you are a teacher who has come from God. Jesus, however, changed the subject. No one can see God’s kingdom without being born from above. That phrase “born from above” is not the US version “born again.” Born from above is about a new vision for life and not about having superior knowledge.

Then, Nicodemus does indeed ask a good and curious question:

How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coat

Jesus’ answer is not very scientific: Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Or maybe it was actually scientific. Water, after all, is a real thing. It is one of the known elements of nature and human beings. We are mostly water. Water goes around, under, and through things. Spirit, or wind, as Jesus calls it, is wild and free and creative. It blows where it wants to and cannot be controlled. You also don’t see it.

wind

Nicodemus’ mind was blown. Previously, his categories for life and religion were limited to what he saw in a temple and what he had read.

And I interpret Nicodemus’ final question to Jesus as a really, really good one:

How can these things be?

Yes, I’m with you, Nicodemus…how can these things be?

How can we live by water and spirit—free and unattached to traditions and dogmas and doctrines and prejudices? How can our religious practices make us alive in such a way that we actually live as better human beings?

How can these things be…

In me?

In you?

In all of us?

There were many surprises for us this past week. One such surprise happened at the Egyptian Coptic Church. A baby was baptized; the same baby was then immediately confirmed by the priest; the same baby then immediately received the sacrament of communion. The community walked around in circles with this baby. Everyone sang and some people shouted in celebration. The water was free. The baby was free. The community celebrated.

On Tuesday, at the Buddhist temple, during silent meditation, the wind blew outside. We could hear it. We could sense it. But we couldn’t see it. Our soft gazes continued with eyes half shut. And the wind blew. It blew as it wished. It was free.

Friends, let’s ask good and curious questions about our faith practices.

How can we love, heal, help, learn, cooperate, and celebrate together? How do we pray, read sacred texts, sing, meditate, or sit in silence? What do those behaviors encourage us to do and be?

After all, every single human being is of water and spirit—regardless of the categories we place on ourselves and others.

We are all made of water and spirit.

May we meet all people and share and embrace all stories; and may we share food; and prayers; and silence; and songs; and handshakes; and hugs. May we sit together; and stand together; bow together; help together; work for justice and peace together; may we live together.

How will this be in us?

Advertisements

Interfaith Encounters Day 7

masjidullahOur last day began and ended at Masjidullah in Northwest Philly.

This Muslim community recently moved to this new space in January. Previously, the building was a Jewish synagogue and then a Christian church.

MasjidOutside

First, we were greeted by Adilah, one of the leaders of their community. She had set up some refreshments for us and helped us feel very welcomed in the space.

MasjidFood

We sat together in a meeting room where resident Imam Mikal Shabazz told us about this particular Muslim community and answered some questions. Other leaders joined us periodically and shared with us. The amount of stories within this community is overwhelming.

MasjidIMAM

MasjidConversation (2)

Then, we all walked together to the prayer space for Jumu’ah [Friday prayer].

MasjidEntrance (2)

First, a senior student from LaSalle University shared a message. He spoke about the violence occurring in Philadelphia and the need for the Muslim community [and others] to stand up against such injustice and violence. He reminded everyone that any injustice happening to another does indeed affect us all and is an injustice we must stand up against.

Then, the prayers began with the melodic words of the Qur’an in Arabic. If you have never experienced this type of prayer, it certainly can be powerful. Standing side by side with others, feet together in a unified configuration–the power of human touch and community is evident. We were all welcomed and encouraged to participate as much or as little as we wished.

After the prayers, there was much conversation and new friendships were formed.

MasjidPrayerSpace MasjidWomenconversation MasjidGreetings

Some of us were able to check out the dining hall space and to read a little bit more about this community which has an incredibly rich history worth learning about. As always, I encourage you to learn more about Islam and the diversity of practice within that particular faith tradition by visiting a mosque or Islamic school. This is the best way to learn!

MasjidLearning

Finally, we headed back to Masjidullah Inc.’s Administration offices for some closing Q & A with the LaSalle student who spoke, Imam Mikal, and others.

MasjidSpeaker

As we said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts, we also prepared to say our own goodbyes. This was our last encounter of the week. 7 different faith communities. 5 different service-learning partners. And a van.

ClosingGoodbyeVanWhat did this week mean to us?

I asked the students to keep thinking about that. My guess is that ALL of us will be finding more and more meaning as we have some time to reflect on all that we have experienced.

From my perspective, I learned a lot from the students. Their questions while with people of different faith traditions, were respectful, curious, and important. They had a true sense of excitement each time they entered a new environment. They thoroughly enjoyed meeting people, hearing their stories–sharing their own stories.

It is a lot to take in. Tonight–tired and full of thoughts–I am grateful for this opportunity. The journey of this week has challenged and enlightened me in many ways.

Most of all, this week [for me] was about embracing my full humanity and the full humanity of others.

How can we love, heal, help, learn, cooperate, and celebrate together? How do we pray, read sacred texts, sing, meditate, or sit in silence? What do those behaviors encourage us to do and be?

After all, the encounters were human encounters. We met people and shared stories; and food; and prayers; and silence; and songs; and handshakes; and hugs. We sat together; stood together; bowed together; we lived together.

And for that I am grateful and hopeful.

MasjidGROUP

Interfaith Encounters Day 6

On Day 6, we traveled to NE Philly to Aid for Friends.

affentranceThe mission of Aid for Friends ( AFF)  is to alleviate the hunger and loneliness of isolated homebound individuals.  All their services are provided for free.

aff-top-logo– AFF provides home-cooked meals and the gift of friendship to people in the five-county Philadelphia region.

– Volunteer coordinators meet with each referred friend to determine needs, assess the situation, and assign a volunteer visitor.

– Empathetic visitors spend time with each friend on a weekly  basis as they deliver meals (frozen, home-cooked dinners, soups, breakfast bags and supplemental foods) and develop true friendships.

– Meals are provided by individuals and through group cooking events organized by boy and girl scout troops, schools, and other organizations,  Meals are then stored in freezers housed in churches, synagogues and community centers throughout the region and in the Aid for Friends warehouse/outreach center.

First, we got an orientation about the work of AFF. Then, we toured the facility.
affwarehouse affclothes
Then, we started to work. Some students sorted toiletry items; others prepared bags of food; others lifted, moved, and organized boxes.
aff aff3 aff2
Afterwards, we shared lunch together.
Then, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech groups headed off to their next activity and we said our goodbyes.
Though only able to share a short amount of time with the students and leaders of these two Virginia schools, I was very encouraged by their openness to interfaith cooperation and their willingness to work together.
That afternoon, Bryn Mawr and Haverford students participated in interfaith case studies workshop with Interfaith Center ED, Abby Stamelman Hockey and then they had some much-needed free time.
Tomorrow, Friday, is our last day together.

Interfaith Encounters Day 4

UrbanTree

Our day began with Sue Witte and the folks from Urban Tree Connection! And…what amazing weather!

Urban Tree Connection  is a nonprofit organization that engages children and adults from some of Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods in community-based, urban-greening projects.

UTC believes that community-based urban greening is a great way for residents of all ages to bring about positive change in their neighborhood. In addition to beautifying the neighborhood, urban greening projects also provide a variety of economic, environmental, health-related and social benefits.

We met Sue and others at the Merion Ave. site where amazing projects will soon begin. Currently, the huge lot is an open space with still quite a bit of brush to clear. But in a few months…

utc5

utc6

utc

utc3

utc2

utc4

Volunteering with Urban Tree Connection is something you cannot do just once. You want to return and check on the soil that you cared for earlier; or the seeds you planted in the spring; or the flower beds you prepared for winter. Eventually, this vacant lot we helped clear will be transformed. Fruits, vegetables…green, green, green! It was a pleasure to be part of the positive movement to engage Philly’s neighborhoods in creating more green space and more accessibility to fresh produce.

MORE PICS HERE: https://www.facebook.com/urbantreeconnection

DAY 4 Part II: Ravel/Unravel Workshop: What’s Your Story?

Next up was a workshop led by yours truly, making good use of Project Interfaith’s Ravel/Unravel project.

ravelunravel

Ravel/Unravel is  a multimedia exploration of the tapestry of spiritual and religious identities that make up the world. The project seeks to ignite a movement for people to openly and respectfully learn, talk and share about topics which are typically taboo but often define our interactions and experiences as humans: identity, religion, spirituality and culture.

Ravel/Unravel is a community-based project. All the people are real people and not actors and were interviewed in the Omaha, Nebraska general region.

This project is about identity.
Its purpose is not to examine, judge, or monitor the orthodoxy of one person’s statements.

RavelUnravel is designed to foster understanding, conversation, and community, not agreement.

I asked the students to explore 3 traditions with which they were less familiar. Each of the two groups watched videos of people who share their perspective about their tradition. Afterwards, I asked the students to share what they learned and appreciated, and surprised them.

I also asked them to share their thoughts about what types of questions are most helpful and effective when people are asked to share about a particular tradition. I learned a lot from the students and have much to think about.

In the end, the most important conclusion I came to after this was that everyone has a legitimate story to tell and we ought to tell it! The more we share our authentic stories, the less we categorize, judge, and misinterpret. I’m hoping that I also will continue to find ways to tell my own story so as to promote pluralism and cooperation for the common good of all.

DAY 4 Part III: Won Buddhist Temple Faith Encounter

Tuesday night ended with an incredibly wonderful experience at Won Buddhist Temple.

IMG_6255Won Buddhism is considered a reformed Buddhism in that it embraces the original Buddha’s teachings and makes it relevant and suitable to contemporary society. It revitalizes and modernizes Buddhism, so that an ever increasing number of people can use Buddha’s teaching for practical and useful purposes.

The name Won Buddhism (Won-bul-kyo in Korean) is a compound word meaning the universal truth, enlightenment, and teaching. Won means unitary circle, which symbolizes the ultimate truth; Bul means enlighten to the Truth; and Kyo means to teach the Truth. Won Buddhism is a religion that teaches the ultimate Truth so that people can awaken to this Truth and carry it out in their daily life.

The members of the Won Buddhist community embrace and accept those of other faiths and have made a lot of effort in inter-religious dialogue.

Once inside the temple, we were greeted by members of their community and Rev. Sungsim Lee. Strikingly, Won Buddhist temples do not have a statue of the Buddha inside the prayer space. Instead, they have, at the center of the temple, the Il-Won-Sang, a circular symbol representing the origin of all beings in the universe, the truth that all buddhas and sages enlighten to, and the original nature of all living beings.

IMG_6261

Inside the temple, we sat down in a circle to prepare for meditation.

WonFullMeditationCircle  wonmeditation2

One of Won’s community leaders and Rev. Lee led us in some chanting and then we practiced silent meditation for about 25 minutes.

wonMeditationAfter stretching a bit, we practiced walking meditation.

One foot.

Then the other.

Slowly around in a circle.

IMG_6264 IMG_6265One of the students at Won Institute then shared a message with us.

wonSpeaker (2)

Afterwards, we spent some time in small groups for Q&A.

   wonsmallgroup WonSmallgroup2 WonSmalGroup3 Upon leaving the Temple, Rev. Lee sent us off with many good memories, fruit, and cookies!

IMG_6279 IMG_6278

Message that sticks with me:
You can read scripture and practice meditation, but above all, you must practice the scriptures and apply the meditation to your real life–doing good and treating others compassionately.

Interfaith Encounters Day 3

SHARE

Our morning began with volunteer work at SHARE in the East Falls neighborhood of Philly. The SHARE Food Program is a nonprofit organization serving a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. SHARE promotes healthy living by providing affordable wholesome food to those willing to contribute through volunteerism.

Their motto:

“Do Good. Feel Good. Eat Good.”

The focus of the service-learning this week is food security. We will be working with various organizations that seek to help provide enough nutrition to people of all ages in the Greater Philadelphia region and beyond.  Organizations like SHARE rely on volunteers and donations to help pack boxes and organize the tons of food that arrive at their warehouse so they may distribute the food to the thousands of food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens in the region.  Sadly, malnutrition and food deserts are a serious problem in Philadelphia. Many, many people especially do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

And so we worked in the warehouse–doing whatever was needed.

working2 working

We were also fortunate to meet up with another group of college students from the University of Georgia.

workingGeorgia

And there were plenty of smiles to go around.

smilesworking workingwhat

SHAREgroup

Day 3 Part II: Workshop with Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger

hungercoalWe headed back to Haverford College for a workshop with Rachel Aistrop, an Americorps VISTA who works as the Immigrant Outreach Coordinator at the Coalition. The Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger strives to build a community where all people have the food they need to lead healthy lives. The Coalition connects people with food assistance programs and nutrition education; provides resources to a network of food pantries; and educates the public and policymakers about responsible solutions that prevent people from going hungry.

Rachel led us in an interactive workshop about hunger issues. We learned about the startling facts related to the millions of people who do not have access to nutritious foods. We discussed the numerous health, psychological, educational, and community problems that arise because of hunger.

hungercoalitionThen, we split up into small groups and participated in a role play. We were each tasked with creating a budget for families on the SNAP program. Based on actual experiences of families, these case studies proved to be difficult for us to work through. In the end, it was nearly impossible to find a way to pay for food, health care, transportation, etc….even with SNAP!

Rachel challenged us afterwards to be more aware of policies related to food stamps, hunger, farming, and social programs. We look forward to workshop #2 on Wednesday.

Day 3 Part III: Quaker Meeting

We traveled to Chestnut Hill to the home of a member of the Friends Society. We sat down in a circle in the living room and got comfortable. Then, Susan Lee Barton, Conference Associate for the Friends General Council Conference, led us in a time of silence. quakers

Many Friends meetings follow the tradition of gathering in silence. Anyone may speak or sing or read something if he/she is so moved. In our case, only one person felt moved to share. The rest of the group sat in silence–most with closed eyes–for about thirty minutes. This time of silence ended as we held hands in the circle.

Afterwards, we shared a little bit about ourselves. Then, we shared a potluck meal and had the opportunity to reflect on our experiences.

quakers2 See you tomorrow!

Tag Cloud

My Journey 2 My Peace

Overcoming Anxiety and learning to live Positively

Deeper in me than I

eloquia oris mei et meditatio cordis mei

Mind Squirrels

Ideas that Work

Silence Teaches Us Who We Are

Silence, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Jesus, God, and Life.

Casa HOY

On the road to change the world...

myrandomuniverse

a philosophical, analytic, occasionally snarky but usually silly look at the thoughts that bounce around....

"Journey into America" documentary

Produced by Akbar Ahmed

Interfaith Crossing

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Prussel's Pearls

An Actor's Spiritual Journey

The Theological Commission's Grand, Long-Awaited Experiment

Modeling Civility Amidst Theological Diversity

a different order of time

the work of a pastor

learn2practice

mood is followed by action

Imago Scriptura

Images & Thoughts from a Christian, Husband, Father, Pastor

the living room.

117 5th Street, Valley Junction__HOURS: M 9-5, TW 7-7, TH 7-9, F 7-7, S 8-5, S 9-4

the view from 2040

theological education for the 21st century