Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘encounters’

Who Do You Meet on the Road?

Luke 24  

 path

Not that long ago if we needed to walk, drive, or take public transportation to a place we asked other people how to get there. Then, we used paper maps. After that, we typed the address into a computer and printed out Mapquest directions. Remember that?

mapquest

Then the GPS with the somewhat unreliable suction. And now, of course, when we want to go somewhere we simply tell our phone where want to go, the mode of transportation, and we not only get directions to that place, but how long it will take us, alternative routes due to traffic, construction, or a Godzilla attack, and also we get to see our progress on the screen, right before our eyes.

The roads we travel have seemingly become more accessible with this kind of technology. It is true—we are traveling more now as a human species than ever before. We honestly don’t have the same excuses for not going places and the whole “I got lost” argument usually falls pretty flat these days. All that aside, traveling the road to a destination is an important metaphor in life. I invite you to think about all the different kinds of roads you have traveled on—and all the different kinds of places those roads led you to.

When I was younger and living in rural Iowa, country roads [and even gravel roads] were part of life. I spent a lot of my time walking down these roads, as public transportation was scarce and I didn’t have a car. Where we lived in Central Iowa, the roads rolled over hills [yes, Iowa has hills!] and at the top of certain hills you could see for miles. Before you got to the top of the hill, though, you couldn’t see anything. Gravel roads are interesting, mainly because anything or anyone that has traveled ahead of you kicks up dust. The general rule when you are walking on a gravel road is to wear sunglasses or to walk backwards. Otherwise, you’ll be begging for eye drops in a hot second. The other type of road in Iowa I remember distinctly is highway 65/69. That thing went on forever, and when we had to go to faraway places, at times I felt that it would never end. The speed limit is 75 and you still feel like you’re crawling along. Maybe it’s the eternal stretch of cornfields on your way through Nebraska? Think about all the different kinds of roads you have traveled on.

The reason that the road is a an oft-used metaphor for life isn’t hard to understand, is it? Because all of us use all kinds of roads to get from one place to another. The roads wind and turn and go up and down and stretch for miles. They are made of dirt, cobblestone, gravel, asphalt, grass, and rock.

Sometimes we can see what’s ahead on the road; sometimes we can’t see anything at all.

The other part of the road is life metaphor is who you meet on that road. Believe it or not, even on lonely, country roads in rural Iowa I met people, or sometimes other living beings. As you can imagine, along a country road in Iowa, there were animals. Cows, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, deer, and all sorts of creatures. Just when I thought I was completely alone on the road, they greeted me with a sound or a smell or a movement. And from time to time I encountered a farmer, or a person walking their dog, or someone on a tractor. Kids would appear on bikes or motorcycles. Cars whizzed past. It honestly makes me think a lot about life. There have been many times when I have felt like I was walking down a lonely stretch of rural Iowa roads—not sure if I would encounter anyone, not convinced that the road would ever come to an end. And then, I was surprised. I was surprised by life I didn’t expect to see—connections with people that recharged my batteries and picked me up off the mat.

Those connections with people on the road of life, whether short or long ones, helped me get to know myself better and reminded me that I was not alone.

Of course, part of the road has also included recognizing that unfortunately, some people I meet on the road are not kind and not healthy for me to be around. Those encounters [and the consequent walking on/moving on from those relationships] taught me a lot about the kinds of people who really do care and truly accept me.

The story in the Gospel of Luke 24 is often called “The Road to Emmaus.” It involves two people, former followers of Jesus of Nazareth, walking on a road after Jesus’ death. Emmaus, according to historians and scholars, probably was not a real place at all. Further, the two people on the road are not identifiable. So this is the storyteller saying to us: You are Cleopas. You are walking on that road with someone. You don’t know where that road will take you—Emmaus? Timbuktu? A hole in the space-time continuum? We are walking down that road. And we don’t know where it leads. But where we are going/where the two disciples are going, isn’t the point.

The point is who they meet on the road.

A stranger. Any random person you may encounter while at the grocery store, a park, on a street corner. A stranger. You have no expectations for this encounter. But the stranger seems to care about what you’re going though. You’re sad, lost, distracted. The stranger listens. This stranger then seems to share some of your sacred stories and important feelings. The stranger accepts you as you are, where you are on that road to seemingly nowhere. Eventually, the two travelers in the story recognize the stranger. It was Jesus—their teacher, their friend. They felt connected again, but only after they ate together. Must have reminded them of their favorite moments on the road. In fact, their eyes were open and they even saw themselves as newly alive.

Now I know that for many of you, maybe Jesus won’t be the stranger you meet on the road. Maybe that religious narrative isn’t where you are right now. We get caught up with the name and concept of Jesus too much, if you ask me. So just consider—if you were to meet a stranger on the road who listened to you, accepted you, and inspired you to open your eyes—who would that person be?

And, are you open enough to affirm that this person could actually be anyone? The person next to you pumping gas? The child laughing at the playground? A teacher? An acquaintance at church, or school, or work?

See, I think that Jesus never meant for us to be so reliant on some religious idea of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. I think that Jesus meant for his followers and friends to find resurrection in themselves, along the journey, on the road, and to have their eyes opened by the encounters with people on that road. Because when we share with each other, we feel less alone and more connected. When we open ourselves to random encounters and distance ourselves from the unhealthy encounters—the ones that try to change our story and don’t accept us as we are. When we do that, I think we can be surprised. We can meet each other on the road and find encouragement and connection. Because this road is not a straight line. And sometimes you will feel alone and disconnected. But keep walking your unique road. Encounter people who will truly listen to you and accept you. May our eyes be opened.

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The Great Life Adventure

Matthew 14:22-33

Hobbit_coverThe Hobbit, a book by JRR Tolkien, begins with this line: “in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The author Tolkien lets us the reader know that this is not a nasty or unkempt hole, like the lair of a mouse, but rather a cozy place, filled with fine furniture, doilies, and a well-stocked kitchen. Bilbo Baggins is this particular hobbit, and it is from this comfortable space that he is called to a great adventure.

It is Gandalf, a wizard, who initially interrupts Bilbo’s comfortable life.

Let’s watch a scene from the movie version of the story: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

 

Obviously, Bilbo is not very enthusiastic about the idea.

And after meeting the large group of dwarves who will “contract” him for this adventure—Bilbo is even less enthusiastic. They are messy and rambunctious and not of his kind. Why would he choose to go on an adventure with them?

Of course.

Why leave a place of complete comfort and predictability to enter a life of challenge, risk, and uncertainty?

Why?

This is the theme presented to us in another story of adventure—the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples. We are looking at Matthew’s version.

It’s easy to get distracted in these stories by the seemingly “miraculous” things that Jesus does. Case in point—walking on water as if it’s nobody’s bizness.

But we shouldn’t let ourselves get too distracted by the “miracles” that we so often associate Jesus with. The push of Matthew’s story is not to dazzle us with Jesus’ magic tricks. Matthew’s author wants the reader to recognize the calling of Jesus of Nazareth—to that group of friends he called disciples—but also a calling to the wider community. It is up to you how you want to interpret the so-called miracles stories of the Bible. My point of view is that miracles do not require Divine intervention to be a miracle. I think that unexpected, extraordinary things happen each day when we participate in the world and when we are fully human.

And there’s another twist to this story, of course—one that I invite you to think about. Consider this scene of the disciples on a boat without Jesus. When they “see” him, they see a ghost. They hear familiar words [take heart, do not be afraid] and then Peter makes his attempt to scurry across the lake like one of those cool, green lizards in the rain forest. To me, this story looks just like the other resurrection appearance/vision stories after Jesus’ death. The disciples were alone, Jesus appears; they see a ghost or something else, Jesus assures them with peace and do not be afraid; then, someone in the disciples group says or does something that makes it a teaching moment. Then, the group as a whole finds renewed strength to continue their journey.

As I always say, it’s up to you. I choose to see this story in that way [and not literally at all], but you need to develop your own perspective.

Regardless, one of the clear themes of the story is getting rid of fear and then journeying out to the unknown. It’s about a great adventure that involves taking risks and facing doubts and fears.

I think Bilbo’s story is quite similar in the Hobbit.

Let’s watch another clip of The Hobbit, in which Bilbo’s cozy house is back to normal. The dwarves and Gandalf the Wizard have gone. His dishes, bowls, and plates are all in order. It seems like nothing ever happened. Perhaps Bilbo was able to rid himself of that adventure idea that he was so set against.

What made Bilbo decide to leave his cozy house and comfortable existence?

Why did he choose the adventure?

After all, the adventure would be scary at times. Hungry trolls who rather enjoy the taste of hobbits; nasty orcs; giant spiders; a fire-breathing dragon.

But Bilbo chose to go on this adventure anyway.

He chose to leave behind the comforts of his material things.
He chose to befriend and share life with creatures of different kinds and cultures.
He chose to journey into the unknown.
He chose to face the evils in the world—the scary things.

Bilbo faced his doubts, his fears, his complacency, and his attachments.

And on the adventure, Bilbo learned about gifts and talents he never knew he had; he learned how to love; how to give; how to be an adventurous hobbit.

And so it is, friends.

The world is indeed a scary place sometimes
There are winds that blow and we feel unstable.
There are times when we feel alone and useless.
Sometimes you may feel that you don’t have a purpose at all.

But the great adventure of life itself is a gift worth embracing.

Jesus of Nazareth called his friends and companions to greater things. They were asked to take risks and to leave their places of comfort.

Why?
Because on the journey of their adventure, they discovered, learned, grew, and transformed.

Will you consider the adventure of life over the routine of comfort?

You have undiscovered gifts and talents to explore and try out.
You can discover how to love people in honest ways.
You can learn how to give freely without expecting something.
You can learn how to empty yourself of all the fears and anxieties that keep you locked behind closed doors.

On the adventure, you can learn to be free of attachments.

No matter what stage of life you are in, the adventure can begin again.

Today.

You are staring at the door; will you venture out into the open?

Leaving the Church to Find God

 John 4:5-26

What are some specific places or activities that cause you to feel the presence of G-d?

Where or when is God especially absent from you?

 

Where do we think that God or the Divine or the Great Spirit or the Eternal Consciousness is?

Here?
[Sikh Gurdwara]
gurdwara

 Or here? [Hindu deities]
twindeities

Or here? [Mosque]
mosqueprayer

Or here? [Buddhist meditation]
WonFullMeditationCircle

 Or here? [La Sagrada Familia, Spain]
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Or here? [nature]
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Or here? Where you currently are…

Where and when we think that the Divine is present matters. Usually, it is in a building, a structure, a religious site supposedly constructed for the purpose of experiencing the Divine—whatever we call it—G-d, Jehova, Elohim, Allah, Brahma, the Eternal Consciousness, the Great Spirit…

What I learned last week as I visited seven different religious communities is that the Divine is definitely contained and limited by us.

Religion certainly can inspire and organize people to do amazing things that bring about peace and unity and justice. But religion, because of its limitations of the Divine, can also be so destructive that it turns people against one another—even leading to violence and killing and war.

Religion, in its extreme form, can limit our views and cause us to hold on to many prejudices and convictions that separate us from others.
It can isolate people and limit their imagination and creativity.
Religion can lead people to claim that they know where G-d is and where G-d is not.

But somehow this Divine Being or Eternal Consciousness we call G-d claims to live outside of walls, outside of religions, a G-d completely present with all kinds of people in many different places. G-d says no to restrictions.

Philosopher Paul Tillich once wrote: God is inescapable. God is God only because God is inescapable. And only that which is inescapable is God.

G-d is inescapable, not limited to buildings or even religions.

And this idea is promoted in the Gospel of John: the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Talk about an encounter with someone outside of your comfort zone—this was it. Jesus of Nazareth, of course, was not a Samaritan. Jesus’ “people” and her “people” did not like each other and thought each other’s religions were false. Jesus’ religious temple was in Jerusalem and her religious site was on Mount Gerizim. They both read different scriptures. Their two religious traditions both made competing truth claims about G-d. The divisions seemed to be too much to overcome, right?

But unlike John’s story about Nicodemus, another character who encountered Jesus, the Samaritan woman meets with Jesus during the day—not at night. And unlike Nicodemus, a prominent Sanhedrin member [religious elite], the Greek rendering of Samaritan woman is like a double negative. She was powerless in society.

She doesn’t even get a name in the story.

What she gets instead is living water.

What is that? In her case, a new identity in life. No person [much less a Rabbi], had ever made her feel that she was fully human. In John’s Gospel, the word salvation is not about saying some words and “getting saved” by joining some religion. In this Gospel, salvation is being delivered from something that holds you back.
In her case, she was delivered from the limitations placed on her life.

But…

As I mentioned before, our religions [and our G-d-buildings] often prevent us from experiencing the Divine at all. Our religious limitations also lead us to prejudice, misunderstanding, and misconceptions. So it still was for the woman.

She was still caught up in the where of G-d’s presence. Wasn’t the Divine limited to a certain mountain? Jesus’ response is liberating, I think:

Believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

All well and good, Jesus. But her religious traditions were so strong that she still was convinced that the Divine presence was limited to the future coming of a messiah.

Jesus responds, but he doesn’t say I am he.
He says simply:
I AM.

G-d is here. In this moment. You don’t have to wait for some messiah, you don’t have to run to some mountain or some temple—the Divine is here with you. The Divine is not limited to a certain space or even a certain time.

The Divine just is.

I don’t know what names you give to the Divine. I’m not sure where you think G-d resides. Truthfully, all of us around the world give different answers.

That’s okay, actually.
What we cannot do, though, is to insist that the Divine is surely in our churches or in our temples. What we cannot do is to claim that our religious buildings and traditions have more G-d in them than others. All the symbols, buildings, icons, and traditions that we create are simply meant to be reminders that the Divine is with us. That’s all. But they don’t contain or limit the experience of the Divine.

That’s why sometimes you will have to leave the church to find G-d. I am serious about this.

You will benefit from walking away from stained glass and pews and crosses and all that is familiar and religious to you. The Divine can be found and experienced all around you—sometimes in other people’s temples and places of prayer; other times outside amongst trees and birds and flowing water; or when you sit down with strangers or friends and share good food; or when life is heavy and sad and someone shows you compassion; or in a breath, a sunrise, a smile, a merciful act.

Let’s stop limiting the Divine to only what we know or think we know.
Recognize that religion is something that we humans come up with in order to give some cultural form to faith in a G-d we cannot see.

But if the Divine is a presence we believe to be merciful, loving, and universal—then the Divine cannot be limited to our spaces, times, and cultures.

May this impact how you live.

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?

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…

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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